Thursday, April 03, 2008

Books of significance

I was too busy to take more than a cursory glance at my favourite blogs last week; one post I really wished I had time to respond to was 'Choose just five books - or maybe six' over on 60goingon16. D planned to make her selection from books that were not necessarily favourites or most-read, but which had been of significance in changing the way she saw or understood the world or other people.
This is
obviously a task requiring a great deal of consideration so I am going to take my lead from D and choose just one book at this point in time and maybe come back to the subject again later. My choice is Thomas Merton's The Way of Chuang Tzu.

Merton is among my favourite writers and I might have selected almost any one of his books but it was his Note to the Reader at the beginning of this volume that helped my development of the distinction between faith and religion.

It is hard to imagine now just how revolutionary it was forty years ago for a Trappist monk to write about the wisdom of the East. The discovery of Merton at that time undoubtedly helped me to look beyond the narrow constraints of my religious upbringing and led me on to deeper and wider studies. Ultimately, I suppose, the introduction to
The Way of Chuang Tzu is responsible for my continuing membership and active involvement in the Catholic church.

A few snippets from that introduction:
"This book is not intended to prove anything or to convince anyone of anything that he does not want to hear about in the first place. In other words, it is not a new apologetic subtlety (or indeed a work of jesuitical sleight of hand) in which Christian rabbits will suddenly appear by magic out of a Taoist hat."

" I simply like Chuang Tzu because he is what he is and I feel no need to justify this liking to myself or to anyone else."

What a breath of invigorating air this was after a lifetime of being told exactly what to read, how to interpret it and how to teach it to the next generation. I hasten to add that those attitudes have changed!


  1. What an interesting idea, and one I want to reflect on myself. The books that shift the world in some way (be that in perception of others or myself) are the ones I treasure most.

  2. Yes, I'm grateful to Diane for suggesting it. I'm looking forward to seeing where I'm led next.

  3. I think that books that enable adults to make sense of the religious ideology that got heaped on them through childhood are probably a common choice here, as it tends to leave so much baggage.

    My own choice would be Paine's 'The Age of Reason', which seemed to release me from any irrational perception of the world, and which I found at exactly the right time of my life (around 19 - 20). The text for this is happily up online:

    Paine was born not far from here; to the extent that his existence is acknowledged in England he is regarded as 'local'.

    I think that there's an error with your link to Diane's original post that you will wish to correct.

  4. Thanks for pointing out the wrong link, Stephen. I've corrected it now. Thanks too for the Thomas Paine link, I haven't read him since I was a student!

    I expect religious ideology is the most common issue in people's unwanted baggage but I see that Diane has raised a few more in her subsequent posts.

  5. Well, thanks to you, M, I already have Merton on the ever-growing 'must read' list. With a bit of luck I might have made a small dent in this in about, say, five years' time.

    I suspect that people have all sorts of 'ology' baggage lurking somewhere or other. Maybe we should just go to Terminal 5 at Heathrow and hand it all over to British Airways; it would never be seen again.

  6. What a great idea, D, that would justify all those millions on ineffective technology.


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