Diamonds in the Rough (ly Secular)


Recently, Adam de Ville over at Eastern Christian Books extolled the virtues of studying Marx and Freud as guides to understanding modern society.  He is criticizing Rod Dreher, among others, for their lack of attention to the early work of Alasdair MacIntyre, which focused in part on Marx.  I have to confess I never found Marx to be terribly illuminating or insightful.  My impression is that truly great thinkers, even if their general philosophies are wrong will still yield many particular insights in their works. This is something I haven’t found much of in Marx’s works.  Marx had one big idea, and was right on one major point–the influence of capital in modern society–but his prescriptions for the ills he diagnosed were all wildly off the mark because of his blinding adherence to deterministic materialism.  Freud, on the other hand, I think yields some valuable observations about human nature, even for Christians, though I obviously disagree with his philosophy overall.

All of which got me to thinking:  which books by atheists/secularists (defined broadly) do I think would benefit a faithful Christian?  I came up with a provisional list which does include Marx):

  1. Sigmund Freud, Future of an Illusion; Civilization and its Discontents
  2. Friedrich Nietzsche, Twilight of the Idols; The Anti-Christ
  3. Max Weber, “Science as a Vocation”
  4. Bertrand Russell, “The Worship of a Free Man”
  5. Michel Foucault, Madness and Civilization; Discipline and Punish; Power/Knowledge
  6. R.G. Collingwood, The Idea of History
  7. J.J. Rousseau, Discourse on Inequality; The Social Contract
  8. Karl Marx & Frederich Engels, The Communist Manifesto
  9. J.S. Mill, On Liberty

Most of these you would find familiar from college surveys on philosophy, or history. Freud has some interesting things to say about human psychology, which I think hold up even outside of his dreary view of human sexuality and society.  Nietzsche is probably the most profound, and important thinker on this list; I can’t recommend him highly enough. He is a dangerous critic of Christianity, because he knew it so well, but is worth listening to for that reason.  Weber is best known as the theorist of capitalism and bureaucracy, but his little essay on what the vocation of a “scientist” (an academic, basically) contains several keen insights on the nature of modern life.  Michel Foucault is worth reading, although for the layman or woman I recommend the set of interviews with him entitled Power/Knowledge, which gives a much more digestible view of his overall philosophy, but the two works above contain valuable insights about two modern institutions, the clinic and the prison.  I admit that Collingwood’s book is something of an outlier; I am a British historian by training, so that is how I know the book.  It is partly a history of history as a discipline, but I list it because of the latter part of the book where Collingwood makes observations about the modern academic discipline of history that are important for understanding modern society.  Rousseau should not need much justification, I think, though both his and Mill’s works are more important for knowledge about modern philosophies than modern society.

Anyway, that is a short list off the top of my head.   What books would you recommend? Feel free to list them in the comments.

~ by Alypius on May 2, 2017.

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