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An essay by Susan Humphreys

Proselytizing: My response, and
how I should have responded
A group of recommended books.

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A man showed up at my front door this morning saying “I’d like to talk to you about the Bible and marriage.” I simply replied that I was not interested, thank you, and shut the door.

I should have said sure and sat down to talk to him. However, I dislike confrontations. Also. I had food cooking on the stove and didn’t want to have to turn off the stove to sit down for a chat. As I thought about missing a chance to either “set the guy straight” or “help him have a better understanding” of the Bible, I wondered what I might have said instead.

First I should have said sure but let me ask you four questions before we proceed. Then you can decide if you want to continue the conversation.

1. Is the Bible the work of men or the work of God? I believe that the right answer is: the work of men who claimed -- although they did not necessarily have -- divine inspiration.

2. Is the Bible to be read and understood literally or metaphorically? I believe that the Bible is a combination of mythical and metaphorical stories, poetry and prose. Myths, metaphors and poetry should never be read literally.

3. Are the stories about Jesus uniquely his own or are they similar to or copied from the stories of figures in other world religions? Many of the stories in the Bible incorporate myths from older cultures and religions that were common in the area during the time the stories were written down and compiled. This includes the stories about creation, floods, virgin births, miraculous healing powers, death and resurrection.

4. Does the Bible support same sex marriage? The Bible contains many references to men married to one or more women. However, it appears silent about same sex marriage.

Perhaps I should add a fifth question. Have you read any of the sacred texts from other world religions or the writings of some of our great secular thinkers and philosophers? If not I think you will be at a great disadvantage and perhaps you need to do a little reading before we sit down and talk about: marriage and salvation, truth and lies…… 

I have a reading list here to get you started:

  • book cover image "Siddhartha," by Herman Hesse. Read reviews or order this book safely from online book store. Publisher's review: "In the novel, Siddhartha, a young man, leaves his family for a contemplative life, then, restless, discards it for one of the flesh. He conceives a son, but bored and sickened by lust and greed, moves on again. Near despair, Siddhartha comes to a river where he hears a unique sound. This sound signals the true beginning of his life -- the beginning of suffering, rejection, peace, and, finally, wisdom."

  • book cover image "The Upanishads," Translated and edited by Eknath Easwaran, Read reviews or order. Amazon's review: "Among the oldest of India's spiritual texts, the Upanishads are records of intensive question-and-answer sessions given by illumined sages to their students."

  • Book cover image "The Bhagavad Gita," Translated and edited by Eknath Easwaran, Read reviews or order. Amazon's review: "... the most famous and revered of all Hindu Scriptures ... teaches the paths of knowledge, devotion, action, and meditation, becoming the seed for all the Hindu systems of philosophyand religion that followed."

  • book cover image "The Analects of Confuscius," Edited and with commentary by Edward Singerland. Read reviews or order. Amazon's review: "The ideal edition for a survey course or a course in which the Analects is one of several works studied, this volume provides a representative selection from Slingerland's acclaimed translation of the full work, including passages covering all major themes. An appendix of selected traditional commentaries keyed to each passage provides access to the text and to its reception and interpretation. Also included are a concise general Introduction, bibliography, notes, and three additional appendices: Traditional Chinese Commentators Cited; Disciples of Confucius; and Glossary of Terms."

  • Book cover image "The Tao teh Ching," by Lao Tzu; translated by John C.H. Wu. Read reviews or order. Amazon's review: "... the Tao Teh Ching teaches that the qualities of the enlightened sage or ideal ruler are identical with those of the perfected individual."

  • Book cover image "The Gospel of Thomas," Translated from Coptic & Greek originals with New Testament parallels and notes by Dr. A. Nyland, Read reviews or order. Review by Kasele Myers, an Amazon purchaser: "Most translations have commentary. I like to get the straight translation first and allow my own questions, opinions, and thoughts to flow before I read someone else's commentary. (Nyland's translations are all about the text itself...not ideas about the text.) Then (if it is something I want to explore more) I look for other translations with commentary."

  • book cover image The True Believer, by Eric Hoffer, winner of the Presidential Meadal of Freedom. Read reviews or order. Amazon's review: "... The True Believer is a visionary, highly provocative look into the mind of the fanatic and a penetrating study of how an individual becomes one." Rated 5 stars out of 5 by 138 customer reviews.

  • book cover image Beyond Religion: Ethics for a Whole World, by Dalai Lama. Read reviews or order. Huffington Post review: "A book that brings people together on the firm grounds of shared values, reminding us why the Dalai Lama is still one of the most important religious figures in the world."

  • book cover image The World As I See It, bu Albert Einstein. Read reviews or order. AudioFile review: "The twentieth century's most brilliant scientific thinker shares his views on the meaning of life, governments, economics, disarmament, war, and Judaism. Written mostly in 1932, these short pieces are affecting mainly because they predate WWII, the Holocaust, Israeli-Palestinian wars."

  • book cover image "If Grace Is True, Why God Will Save Every Person," by Philip Gulley and James Mulholland. Read reviews or order. Amazon's review: "Quaker ministers Philip Gulley and James Mulholland expand upon their belief in eternal salvation for all through God’s perfect grace. For seekers, for thoughtful Christians, and for the simply curious."

  • book cover image "50 Ideas you really need to know, Religion' bt Peter Stanford. Read reviews or order. Amazon's review: "The need to understand religion and the role it plays in our world has never been more pressing. The beliefs of the planet's 2 billion Christians, 1.2 billion Muslims, 800 million Hindus and 700 million followers of other religions have an impact on every aspect of war and peace, ethics, politics, reproduction, family and social structure across all civilizations and continents."

  • Also: Any of the books by: Karen Armstrong, Joseph Campbell, Dalai Lama, Bart Ehrman, or Elaine Pagels.

Webmaster's note:

The one book that influenced my life more than any other was John S. Mill's "On Liberty." I would also recommend books by John Dominic Crossan, Sam Harris, Bishop Carlton Pearson, Gregory J Riley, and Victor J. Stenger.

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