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Recommended religious and spiritual books

Tentatively scheduled books
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We feel that these books should be of interest to everyone:

  • Those who follow a conservative Christian belief system should find the books helpful when proselytizing. It is important to know what Christians from other faith traditions, religious liberals, and secularists believe and why they believe it.

  • Agnostics, Atheists, and other secularists should find the books helpful because they may increase their understanding of their own beliefs, and those of various organized religious traditions.

  • Everyone may benefit from these books because they combat with reason the high levels of sexism, homophobia, transphobia, Islamophobia, hatred and mistrust of Atheists, religious intolerance, etc. in the North American culture and the rest of the world.

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Previous months' recommendations

Current month's selection

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2014-May's selection

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"The Last Circle," by Gretchen Blickensderfer

Read reviews or order this book safely from Amazon.com online book store.
$4.50 in Kindle format
, $18.86 plus postage in Paperback, and $32.36 plus postage in Hardcover.

Amazon.com book description:

" 'If you will not be saved, there will be consequences.' Based upon platforms and quotes from Conservative political and church leaders, The Last Circle chronicles the rise to power of a United States Evangelical theocracy and the small group of Pagan and LGBT friends who must escape the country to survive. A terrifying chase through the southern states tests the limits of their friendship and someone from among them is secretly tipping off their pursuers."

Some book reviews:

  • "The thing that is so chilling about this book is, given our current political and social climate, it is easy to imagine this REALLY happening in our country today. I enjoyed the author's vivid descriptions of her characters and the thrilling journey that she took them on. There were certain points in the story where I could not put the book down and it stayed with me after I finished reading it. This story is about much more than acceptance; of yourself and others and standing up for what you believe in in the face of great danger and retribution. It is about abuse of power, a fanatical belief system, and a single-minded ruthlessness. That is the truly scary part of this story - it's very clear parallels to our world today." Sue Keller, Amazon.com customer.

  • "Gretchen Blickensderfer has painted a chilling portrait of what could happen if the United States was taken over by the Christian far-right. She describes a country in which certain groups (including, but not limited to, the LGBT community, pagans, and nonbelievers) who don't conform to the views of the Evangelical theocratic government, have their rights and freedoms, slowly but surely, stripped away until they have no choice but to hide or run. The story becomes even more terrifying as you realize that many of the policies and punishments that are enacted by this fictional government have a basis in reality. Blickensderfer begins each chapter with quotes from right-wing pundits, pastors, and politicians that openly support many of these policies. The author also delivers an excellent cast of multi-faceted characters, at once familiar and surprising. At a time when America is once again becoming more socially and politically polarized, this story offers us words of warning, about what could be, and words of hope, about what should be." by an Amazon.com customer.

  • "... I was bowled over. As I started out, part of me thought, "this couldn't REALLY happen, (could it) ?" But considering that Gretchen has placed real quotes from 'public figures', the reality sinks in as you read. As a Christian myself, I often grieve that so many will use their belief as an excuse to persecute. This story gives you characters who are attacked for no other reason other than they are different. I should note that Gretchen does not paint all Christians as bigots, just the ones who seem to believe their hatred is 'divine'. But this is not a story that preaches, it is a thriller with twists and turns, (some you will not see coming !). Totally worth your time!" Eric Dinse, Amazon.com customer, and friend of the author.

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2014-June's selection

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"Open Mind, Faithful Heart," by Pope Francis (Author), Jorge M Bergoglio (Author), Gustavo Larrázabal (Editor), and SJ Owens Joseph (Translator)

Read reviews or order this book safely from Amazon.com online book store. $9.01 in Kindle format. & $22.19 plus postage in Hardcover.

Amazon.com book description:

"Pope Francis connects with people, especially the young, the forgotten, and the forlorn. The cameras show him in Rome, in Brazil, in Lampedusa reaching out to the crowds, holding infants, embracing the disabled. What is the source of his energy, and his spiritual vitality? This book is perhaps the best introduction to what makes the Pope the engaging pastor he is.

The inspiration needed to address the urgent challenges to our world and human living today is clearly outlined in this book. The spiritual foundation for much of what Pope Francis has surprised the world with since his election, radically reframing the Catholic contribution, is found in these texts which their author wished to gather just before expecting to retire--but then being called to Rome instead. Open Mind, Faithful Heart offers an irreplaceable window into the heart and soul of the pope who is changing how the world sees the Church.

The strong scriptural orientation of the Pope is evident in the countless references to both the Old and New Testament. To help the reader, this edition supplements the original text by providing scriptural citations. The language of these pages speaks to the heart as much as to the mind."

Some book reviews:

  • "The well-deserved initial public adulation for Pope Francis is giving way to an ardent desire to know more about this inspiring man and his previous work. This unique volume of reflections of Bergoglio, carefully selected and superbly translated, fills the void. Reading these four dozen brief texts of conferences Francis gave to pastoral workers will help anyone encounter Christ anew, and encounter the Pope in a new way as well. I highly recommend this volume as instructive and illuminating spiritual reading for all audiences. Thomas Massaro, SJ.

  • "The Jesuit who translated this book into English calls it 'a path for prayer and a guide for life.' An Archbishop says 'in this book is found the secret of Pope Francis.' I agree with them both.

    This is a powerful handbook, accessible, but not something to read and forget. I've enjoyed and benefited from the initial reading, now as I reread it's clear this will be a constant companion.

    It is a compilation of Pope Francis's writing that he and others painstakingly pulled together and edited into this book shortly before he was called to be our new Pope. It is not something thrown together at the last minute.

    I'm going to suggest we discuss this in our online Jesuit Guide Faith Sharing Group, if you'd like to join the conversation see http://Facebook.com/groups/Jesuit.Guide.Group, John Wren, Amazon purchaser.

  • "Pope Francis' Public Exhortation is a well reasoned approach to understanding the role of the Catholic Church in the twenty first century. Without changing the essence and essential truths of the Church, we must be open and available to the needs of the wider world around us. This new openness does not signal a change in Church doctrine, but a call to practice the essence of the Gospel of John, as outlined in John 3:16, that God so loved the world that he gave us His only Son", so we too, must also love one and another. It was another early Church father, St. Polycarp of Symirna who said that if we loved one another, and worshiped the Holy Trinity, we are doing the most important work of the Church.

    As the word Mass in Latin means to be sent forth, we are sent forth each Sunday not just to exist in a secular world, but to boldly proclaim our faith and to make a positive difference to those we encounter in our daily lives. Those who read the Holy Father's words cannot help but to be energized by his level of humility and enthusiastic support for the Catholic faith." John P. Minogue, Amazon purchaser.


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2014-July's selection

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Elaine Pagels, "The Origin of Satan: How Christians Demonized Jews, Pagans, and Heretics"

Read reviews or order this book safely from Amazon.com online book store. $13.50 in Kindle format& $12.46 plus postage in Paperback.

Amazon.com book description:

"From the religious historian whose The Gnostic Gospels won both the National Book Award and the National Book Critics Circle Award comes a dramatic interpretation of Satan and his role on the Christian tradition. With magisterial learning and the elan of a born storyteller, Pagels turns Satan's story into an audacious exploration of Christianity's shadow side, in which the gospel of love gives way to irrational hatreds that continue to haunt Christians and non-Christians alike."

Some book reviews:

  • "... ground-breaking. Many times in the course of reading her explications I found myself saying, 'Of course, why hasn't someone said this before?' By showing how the sectarian demonization of the 'intimate enemies'--Jews and heretics--shaped early Christianity, the book helps us to understand the power of irrational forces that still need to be confronted in contemporary society. -- S. David Sperling, professor of Bible, Hebrew Union College.

  • "Pagels ... here examines the New Testament tendency to associate the Devil with Jews resistant to the teachings of Christianity." Reed Business Information, Inc.

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2014-August's selection

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Jennifer R. Prince, "The Handy Bible Answer Book"

Read reviews or order this book safely from Amazon.com online book store. $15.11 plus postage in Paperback. Not available in Kindle format.

This book explains what the Bible says about thousands of topics. It usually interprets the Bible neither through a conservative or liberal lens. Thus, for example, it discusses what the creation stories say in Genesis. It talks about various estimates that have been made about the age of the Earth. It does not take sides on whether the earth and the rest of the universe is less than 10,000 years old or more than 4 billion years old. It discusses what the flood story says; it does not take sides on whether the worldwide flood actually happened or not.

Amazon.com book description:

"... The importance of the Bible, whether as a master work of literature, a historical artifact, or religious canon, can not be overestimated. The Handy Bible Answer Book helps readers dig deeply into the Bible to analyze the foundations of Judaism, Christianity, Western civilization, and the teachings of Jesus. This comprehensive guide also leads readers through the Old Testament, the foundation for both Judaism and Christianity and the moral and political cornerstone for many nations of the Western world. The Bible is not always read cover-to-cover, and The Handy Bible Answer Book's layout and index allows quick access to any of its passages. ..."

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2014-September's selection

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Robert Boston, "Why Religious Freedom Doesn't Give You the Right to Tell Other People What to Do"

Read reviews or order this book safely from Amazon.com online book store. $12.26 plus postage in Paperback. Available in Kindle format for $7.86.

Robert Boston has written a concise and lucid explanation of what religious freedom is and isn't.

Amazon.com book description:

"Increasingly, conservative religious groups are using religious liberty as a sword to lash out at others. In this forcefully argued defense of the separation of church and state, Robert Boston makes it clear that the religious freedom guaranteed in the First Amendment is an individual right, the right of personal conscience, not a license allowing religious organizations to discriminate against and control others. The book examines the controversy over birth control, same-sex marriage, religion in public schools, the intersection of faith and politics, and the 'war on Christmas,' among other topics.

Boston concludes with a series of recommendations for resolving clashes between religious liberty claims and individual rights."

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Originally written: 2008-MAR-16
Latest update and review: 2014-APR-04
Author: B.A. Robinson

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