Spidey the Mystic

Spidey the mystic


cropped-screen-shot-2017-03-13-at-4-09-41-pm.pngWarning: Spoilers ahead! If you haven’t seen the latest installment in Marvel’s Spiderman franchise, Far From Home, you may want to put off reading this post until you have.

Thanks to those of you who attended our last book club discussion of Faith Beyond Belief. Not everyone loved the book, but we had a robust discussion. While I don’t presume to speak for everyone, this post is my best attempt to summarize the ideas that were discussed along with my own response to the book.


In her book Faith Beyond Belief: Stories of Good People Who Left Their Church Behind, Margaret Placentra Johnston uses Peck’s 4-stage theory of spiritual development as a backdrop against which to present the real stories of people who lived out a god-related twist on the classic Myhrvold drama:

Boy meets god

Of course, the stories were not all about boys. They summarized the experiences of men and women from a range of belief systems, including Mormonism, Islam, and Catholicism, among others. Johnston then used the stories to illustrate key transitional moments in the lives of these individuals, highlighting their progression through Peck’s stages of spiritual development.

What are Peck’s stages of spiritual development?

For those readers who are not in-the-know, here is a quick summary of Peck’s 4 stages, from youngest to oldest (in terms of the age of greatest prevalence):

  • Lawless: Most common in early childhood, this stage is characterized by a lack of principled ethics, where choices are driven by one’s own desires.
  • Faithful: Most people reach this stage later in childhood. It is characterized by black-and-white moral reasoning and blind belief in authority figures, usually out of fear or desire for a promised reward.
  • Rational: In heterogenous religious communities, most reach this stage in late adolescence or early adulthood; in more homogenous religious communities, many reach it later or not at all. This stage is characterized by skepticism and questioning, and much more nuanced moral reasoning. Rational individuals don’t accept things on faith; they require logic and reason.
  • Mystic: Not everyone reaches this stage. Among those who do, it is rarely before mid-life. People in this stage retain their skepticism, but they begin perceiving patterns in nature and developing a deeper understanding of good and evil. Mystics focus on loving others, losing their attachment to the ego, and forgiving their enemies.

The author also maps these stages to the theories of others, including James Fowler. (For those familiar with Fowler’s Stages of Faith, Peck’s “faithful” stage maps to Fowler’s stages 2-3; his “rational” stage maps to Fowler’s stage 4; and his “mystic” stage maps to Fowler’s stages 5-6.)

What does this have to do with Spiderman?

The newest installment in the Spiderman series serves as a useful narrative for understanding Peck’s mystic stage. The villain in the movie, Mysterio, is a highly intelligent inventor and former employee of Tony Stark (who died at the end of the prior Marvel movie). Mysterio is angry at Stark for, among other things, giving stewardship over some fancy piece of tech to the teenaged Spiderman. Mysterio manipulates Spiderman into giving him the tech, which he then uses to create holographic illusions (using pre-programmed drones equipped with holographic projectors) to depict monsters attacking major European cities. The depictions fool everyone. These attacks are followed by further illusions of Mysterio battling and beating the monster. Mysterio does this to persuade the world to see him as a hero.

In the end, Spiderman discovers his mistake and realizes that he must battle the powerful Mysterio, even though he knows that he too is vulnerable to being fooled by the illusions. Spiderman realizes that he can’t rely on his eyes and ears if he is going to win. He must rely on his Spidey-Sense, which is humorously referred to throughout the movie as his Peter-Tingle. (“Don’t call it my Peter-Tingle,” he tells Aunt Mae.) Ultimately, in a scene that is reminiscent of the use-the-Force-Luke TIE-fighter scene in A New Hope (where Luke puts aside his visual sensor and relies on his feelings to destroy the Death Star), Spiderman also has to rely on what seems like a vague, supernatural tingle. In the final fight, his eyes and ears tell him (and the audience) that Mysterio is dying on the floor in front of him, but it turns out to be an illusion. Spiderman surprises us all by reaching up to grab the gun that an invisible Mysterio is actually holding to his head.

Through the lens of Peck’s stages of spiritual development, we can consider both Luke and Spiderman in these scenes to be ignoring their objective (i.e., “rational”) senses and relying exclusively on their “mystical” senses.

Why didn’t everyone in the book group love the book?

Not everyone agreed with the premise that there is a more “advanced” stage of spiritual development beyond the rational stage. I thought this idea could be illustrated by seeing how the Spiderman drama does not have to be seen through the mystical lens. It could be viewed from the rational perspective. The rational person would say that there are scientific explanations for every observable phenomenon. This would include both Mysterio’s holographs, which are produced through the known and quantified (in the movie universe) forces of technology, and Spiderman’s Peter-Tingle. The rational person might point out that the only reason that Spiderman’s Peter-Tingle could be characterized as a sort of supernatural phenomenon is that it is not yet understood as a scientific, measurable phenomenon.

The idea that one man’s science is another man’s supernatural phenomenon is nicely addressed by the hilarious (though potentially offensive to the delicate reader) memes that flooded the internet after the Insane Clown Posse released a song extolling the wondrous “miracles” that are evident in the world — wonders that defy all explanation — such as magnets and rainbows.

To the rational individual, any seemingly supernatural phenomenon will really have scientific explanations. For me, this tendency to explain things with science is useful. But, I admit that it caused me some disappointment when George Lucas demystified the Force in his prequel The Phantom Menace. In that movie, the Force was revealed to be nothing more than microscopic “midichlorians” in the blood of potential Jedi masters like Annakin and Luke Skywalker.

Where do I stand on the idea of a “mystic” stage?

It’s important to keep in mind that these models for faith development are really just constructs — that is, human creations that aid us in our understanding of complex phenomena that are not directly measurable in and of themselves. That said, I lean toward the idea that there is a stage beyond the rational stage as described by Peck. I believe that the rational stage is a transitional stage characterized by grief and anger over having previously allowed feelings to manipulate and shape our worldview. In this window of grief, we temporarily reject all appeals to feeling as flawed, and we attempt to rely exclusively on rationality. We will begin to transition beyond this stage, into Peck’s mystic stage (Fowler’s stage 5), when we begin again to re-integrate feelings into our way of understanding the world.

I don’t believe that the “mystic” stage represents an abandonment of rationality, an idea that is confirmed by Peck’s definitions. Rather, it represents an integration of rationality and feeling, improving humans in two ways:

  1. Feelings can help us bridge the gap between the known and unknown, and
  2. When feelings and reason are in alignment, humans are more successful in their endeavors.
Bridging the gap between the known and unknown

As much as I love science, and as much as I believe that every observable phenomenon will eventually have rational explanations, I also know that there are plenty of things that don’t yet have them. For those things, making use of unexplained phenomena may only be available to those who are open to the mystical.

For example, consider the placebo effect. Science currently cannot explain mechanisms by which the placebo effect works, even among those who know that they are taking a sugar pill. Sure, at some point there will likely be neuroscientific studies that can characterize and quantify every last mechanism by which a sugar pill can improve someone’s depression, but right now it is only an apparently irrational observable phenomenon.

My personal theory is that the mechanisms of the placebo effect will ultimately be revealed to coincide with the mechanisms by which things like prayermeditation, and mindfulness also enable humans to access an as-yet-uncharacterized power for self-healing. Once that power is adequately characterized by science, innovators will likely develop ways to make that power more accessible to all of us. Until then, because they may be the only ones open enough to the unknown to give such strategies a try, that power may only be available to the mystics.

Consider Luke Skywalker in A New Hope. When he went into his TIE-fighter battle to destroy the Death Star, he didn’t know about midichlorians as a scientific explanation for the power of the Force any more than the rest of us did in 1978. However, that lack of knowledge did not stop him from being able to access the power of the Force. If he had been too rational, he might have rejected the idea of an apparently supernatural Force granting him telekinetic powers (and more), and the power of the empire to destroy whole worlds might have gone unopposed. (One shudders at the thought!) It’s because he was open to the possibility of something that seemed irrational to him (and to the audience) — because he was a mystic — that he was able to use his feelings to bridge the gap between the concrete/known and the as-yet unknown power of the midichlorians.

Similarly, Spiderman was also able to access his Peter-Tingle to help him take down the powerful Mysterio only because he believed in a seemingly irrational phenomenon.

So, for every potential unexplained phenomenon, until we have rational explanations for them and until technology advances sufficiently that we can all access the powers they contain, perhaps the mystic path can enable us to access powers that we don’t yet fully comprehend.

The importance of aligning reason with feeling

Personally, I don’t actually believe in human rationality as a saving grace for humanity. That’s because even the most rational of humans has great difficulty seeing beyond their own enormous cognitive biases. Most of us believe that we are thinking our way through this existence, but I believe that we humans are mostly just feeling our way through life.

Jonathan Haidt has a useful analogy to describe how two parts of the human brain work together — the emotional and the rational parts. (Again, these are just constructs; we don’t really have two brains, one observably emotional and the other observably rational.) In this analogy, the human brain is like an elephant and rider. The elephant is the two-ton emotional mind that does all the heavy lifting, and the rider is the little hundred-pound guy on the elephant’s back who is, presumably, doing all the planning. In his analogy, if the human wants to go in a particular direction, he is only going to get there if the elephant wants to go there too.

For example, when I was 22 years old and my first child was about to be born, I was considering going back to school the next semester and embarking on a years-long educational journey that would span the next ten-plus years. I knew that it was a pathway to greater financial security for myself and my family. But as I discovered in the subsequent years, if I didn’t feel like slogging through a series of educational programs for more than a decade, I was not going to be successful. In fact, I almost quit more than once in the years that followed. If I had not been able to align my feelings with my rational goals, then I would have quit. By the time I finished my post-doc at the age of 35, I knew that what it had required more than anything else was motivation, which is all about feelings.

Part of why I like Haidt’s analogy is because of the sheer size difference between the elephant and the rider. Personally, I think that it illustrates the relative magnitudes of energy spent thinking versus feeling in the minds of most humans. It may be hard for us to see, given the extent to which we culturally glorify science and reason, but it probably isn’t unfair to say that the average human mind is more than 99% emotional and less than 1% rational. (And yes, that even includes Richard Dawkins.)

In fact, it may even be valid to question whether we are rational agents at all. The idea that humans are capable of rationality may be a cognitive bias in itself. That’s because some neuroscience research validates the conclusion that Haidt’s elephant is really making all of the decisions, and his human rider is just sitting up there making up stories to persuade himself that the direction he’s taking was his idea all along.

Either way, I don’t believe we can simply ignore feelings in our way of understanding the world. If we choose to try, then we are allowing ourselves to be completely blind to what may be the largest influence on our worldview. Our rationality may help us to understand some objective truths, but unless we can feel our way toward them, then we may not be able to make use of them. To be effective in any potentially rational enterprises, at a minimum, requires us to align our thinking and our feelings.

Where do I position myself on Peck’s spectrum?

If Peck’s model is a useful map of faith development, then I would probably plot myself somewhere between the rational and mystic stages. I don’t think I’m quite fully in the mystic stage as defined by Peck because I have not yet truly forgiven myself and others for being so biased. I am still working through quite a bit of grief and anger about the human inability to see clearly.

On the other hand, I don’t think I’m fully in the rational stage. I’m not sure I was ever really there because I never stopped incorporating feelings into the construction of a new worldview after my faith deconstruction. It may be because I work in science (again, I believe in science) that I can see how foolish we are to rely so heavily on rationality. This mistrust of the human capacity for reason draws me toward the mystical stage out of hope that there are forces out there that we don’t yet understand. I hope for the unknown because, for me, none of the forces that I do currently understand appears to be sufficiently oriented around drawing humans closer to a culture of love, peace, and harmony.

Date/location change for June meeting


cropped-screen-shot-2017-03-13-at-4-09-41-pm.png

I know it seems like it would be the rational thing to schedule our June bookclub meeting on one of June’s 10 weekend days, but contrary to prevailing conventions, we are moving June’s meeting to July! Join us at 7 PM on July 6th in Ronda and Bill’s beautiful backyard where we will either enjoy the book’s ideas, or enjoy criticizing them, or both. Either way, we will enjoy each other’s company!
(Text or PM me if you need an address.)


Myths to Live by

Gods churn 2


cropped-screen-shot-2017-03-13-at-4-09-41-pm.pngThanks to those of you who attended book club last month. Based on a consensus among attendees, we have decided to modify the reading schedule for the remainder of the year. The corrected schedule can be found here. In a nutshell, book club members suspected that the book The Shallows would be too similar to Amusing Ourselves To Death, and opted to skip it. Next month’s book will be Faith Beyond Belief, and we’ll meet on June 15th at 7 PM.


As always, we had a wonderful discussion, though it was sometimes only marginally related to the book, Joseph Campbell’s Myths to Live By. A lot of us had a hard time reading it, especially under time pressure, which mostly seemed to be due to Campbell’s tendency to not say what he means. Campbell uses myths to hit his conclusions home — metaphor — rather than just saying what he means directly and in English.

For example, in the first chapter titled “The Impact of Science on Myth,” Campbell makes the case that science undermines our cultural religious beliefs, but that we should persist in it anyway. He says that science undermines belief by giving us concrete explanations for phenomena that previously required magical explanations. In doing so, he posits that the moral fabric of our society is threatened. That’s why, he says, we have so much badness in our current culture. To clarify, the “current culture” that Campbell was referring to is the late 1960’s and early 1970’s, when our society’s discourse tended toward angsty disarray over fears of the changes that the the civil rights and women’s movements were anticipated to bring us — which may or may not have been realized, depending on your particular bias. Of course, fifty years later, this is still the big fear that most religious authorities are still harping on about.

Although Campbell is a great advocate for science, rather than rejecting that theory outright, Campbell ends the chapter in the telling of the Samudra Manthana, a Hindu  origin myth. In the story, the  gods and the antigods all agreed to set aside their differences and join forces in the churning of the primordial Milky Ocean, with the goal of harvesting the secrets to immortality. They used Mount Mandara as a churning rod and the serpent Vasuki for a twirling-cord, and they started stirring away. The first thing to emerge from the Milky Ocean was a gas that was so toxic that it threatened to destroy all of creation. Fearing destruction, they immediately stopped churning, and then approached Shiva  for protection. Shiva was powerful enough to swallow the toxic gas, enabling the gods and antigods to get back to work, stirring the cosmic waters, until they yielded up all manner of good things.

From this, we are supposed to understand that Campbell’s opinion is that we should keep right on churning — keep pursuing and relying on scientific explanations for observed phenomena — until we get past the era of toxic effects, and we can begin realizing the benefits of science move fully. Campbell’s style is to never quite make those points explicitly, and so his text requires a close reading and analysis. This can be a challenge for casual readers (like us).

Book club on Saturday the 9th!

The ghost of eternal polygamyHi everyone! I hope you’ve been enjoying our latest book, The Ghost of Eternal Polygamy by Carol Lynn Pearson! I also hope you’re planning on coming to book club at the LaFleur house on Saturday night at 7 PM.

The book is an easy, quick read, with a lot of interesting stories — both historical and current — about the toxic effects of polygamy on people’s lives, past and present.

We hope to see you Saturday!

Book club in 1 week

img_6232Hi everyone! We are here sending you this update from lovely California (where we are finally making good on our parental obligation to show our daughter Disneyland) because we can’t wait to see you all 1 week from today when we will be Amusing Ourselves To Death — or at least talking about the book by Neil Postman at the usual place (LaFleur house) and time (7 PM).

If you haven’t read the book yet, don’t despair. The audiobook is only about 4 hours long, or at least that’s what Kendrick gleefully exclaimed when he downloaded it on audible.

If this is the first you are hearing about the new book, it might be because I’m a delinquent emailer, or it might be because you haven’t yet checked out our new schedule for the coming year, which is right here.

See you next week!

 

The beginning of a much larger work

Presentation5

The take-home message in the book Tribe by Junger is that modern societies are really really bad because we don’t feel enough of a sense of community, which is really really important to humans. (Surprise!)

The author illustrates this premise by showing us how happy Native American hunter/gatherer societies were before they were mowed down (and out-bred) by the comparatively more miserable but higher-tech Europeans, by showing us how happy people are in times of catastrophic disasters like wars and earthquakes (Londoners loved the Blitz), and by showing us how miserable our returning veterans are because they don’t feel useful or valued by society. (Frankly, neither does an increasing proportion of non-Veterans feel useful or valued. That’s what it means to be disenfranchised.)

I don’t disagree with any of it. In fact, I’ve actually read it all before: in Guns, Germs, and Steel by Diamond; in Sapiens by Harari; in Genesis by someone claiming to be Moses; and even in The Feminine Mystique by Friedan, where the emphasis was not on the misery of men, but the misery of women.

My theory is that the reason this book is so short is because it is only the premise of a much larger work that the author is, apparently, still working on. I kept waiting for him to propose solutions, but – spoiler alert – he has none. As I read about the utopia of early Native American societies, I thought for a minute that he was going to come out in favor of becoming hunter/gathers again,1 but he didn’t. That kept happening to me. I kept asking myself: Is he pro-war? Is he pro-veteran? Anti-veteran? Anti-welfare? He has no solutions to propose.

Somehow, we are just magically supposed to care about each other more, to stop speaking of others with contempt, to quit tolerating it when greedy financiers steal money from our retirement accounts, to demand that CEO’s quit taking a disproportionate share of the profits, to do a better job of honoring veterans, such as by hiring them and not giving them benefits (unless they really really need them), etc. But, none of these “suggestions” is a solution. Each is really just a restatement of what we already know is a completely intractable problem.

In order to solve these problems it will require us to become, suddenly, very wise, and very capable of achieving a considerable amount of consensus – to an extent that is likely impossible to achieve with our under-funded (anemic) education system, our tightly-gerrymandered oligarchy “democracy” (that prevents us from having anything that a majority of us supports), and our large population of theocracy-seekers whose belief in a type of cosmologically evil boogeyman prevents us from recognizing the evil in ourselves.

Maybe I’m a cynic, but frankly, if the problem requires a greater level of understanding than can be communicated with a pithy internet meme, we are doomed.

Consensus simply ain’t happenin’.


1 Too bad. This is a great idea, one that would bring humans a lot of peace and happiness — but only until the food-producing societies decide they want our land.

Books we’re reading now

7/6/19 Faith Beyond Belief: Stories of Good People Who Left Their Church Behind Johnston MP Stories of an ex-Catholic, a former Mormon, and a clandestine Muslim apostate, for whom trust in human capacity for reason led them to make the necessary (and intermediate) step in faith development, giving up a literal religious interpretation; stories of people at the ‘mystic’ level: those who see paradox in truth.
8/17/19 Women Who Run With the Wolves Chapter 5 – Hunting: When the Heart is a Lonely Hunter (the Skeleton Woman story) Estes CP Skeleton Woman began as a living woman, who suffered brutally from the hands of former lovers/loved ones. Destroyed, she sinks to the bottom of a body of water and her flesh rots away. Later she is discovered by a fisherman, and it becomes a tale of healing and love.
10/19/19 Sapiens Harrari S The story of human history over the last 100,000 years, about how we evolved to be more cooperative, and about how we came to believe in gods, nations and human rights; to trust money, books and laws; and to be enslaved by bureaucracy, timetables and consumerism.
12/21/19 Rough Stone Rolling Bushman R Richard Bushman, an esteemed cultural historian and a practicing Mormon, moves beyond the popular stereotype of Smith as a colorful fraud to explore his personality, his relationships with others, and how he received revelations.

Books we’ll get to eventually

King Leopold’s Ghost Hothschild A A true story of the man who enslaved a nation and of those who fought him: a brave handful of missionaries, travelers, and young idealists who went to Africa for work or adventure and unexpectedly found themselves witnesses to a holocaust.
The Varieties of Religious Experience James W William James’ classic text on religion, which he defines as “the feelings, acts, and experiences of individual men in their solitude, so far as they apprehend themselves to stand in relation to whatever they may consider the divine.”
From Housewife to Heretic: One Woman’s Spiritual Awakening and her Exommunication from the Mormon Church Johnson S Awakening feminism brought Johnson into conflict with church leaders, who excommunicated her for promoting false doctrine. Her husband wanted to divorcer her because he was “tired of working on our marriage.” An account of Johnson’s progression from self-denial to activism.
The Trivium: The Liberal Arts of Logic, Grammar, and Rhetoric Joseph M An American nun explains the rules, definitions, and guidelines of language and the pathway to becoming a liberal artist.
Man and His Symbols Jung CG The first and only work in which the world-famous Swiss psycholotist explains to the layperson his enormously influential theory of symbolism as revealed in dreams
French Lessons Kaplan A Three Americans set off to explore Paris with a French tutor. As they traverse Paris’ grand boulevards and intimate, winding streets, they uncover surprising secrets about one another and come to understand long-buried truths about themselves.
The Wise Heart: A Guide to the Universal Teachings of Buddhist Psychology Kornfield J An accessible, comprehensive, and illuminating guide to Buddhist psychology.
In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler’s Berlin Larson, E A mild-mannered professor from Chicago brings his family to Germany in 1933. At first they are enamored of the New Germany. But as evidence of Jewish persecution mounts, they become alarmed. The novel ends in a climax of violence and murder, revealing Hitler’s true character.
Why Won’t You Apologize?: Healing Big Betrayals and Everyday Hurts Lerner H Renowned psychologist sheds new light on the two most important words in the English language — I’m sorry — and offers a unique perspective on the challenge of healing broken connections and restoring trust.
The Great Divorce Lewis CS An allegorical bus ride through heaven and hell that producees insights about the nature of good and evil.
Her Body and Other Parties: Stories Machado CM The author blithely demolishes the arbitrary borders between psychological realism and science fiction, comedy and horror, fantasy and fabulism, giving literal shape to women’s memories, hunger, and desire.
Down Girl: The Logic of Misogyny Manne K An exploration of misogyny in public life and poltics by a moral philosopher.
The Road McCarthy C A post apocalyptic novel about a father and son who walk alone through burned America observing the ravaged landscape and fighting to preserve the light they cherish.
Love Warrior: A Memoir Melton GD A memoir of betrayal and self-discovery that chronicals a beatufiul, brilliant journey to find deeper, truer relationships and a more abundant, authentic life
Sweet Lamb of Heaven Millet L A young mother escapes her cold and unfaithful husband, who chases her from Alaska to Maine as they go into hiding.
Sexual Politics Millett K An expository view of patriarchy as a socially conditioned belief system masquerading as nature.
The Sociological Imagination Mills CW Mills calls for a way of looking at the world that can see links between the apparently private problems of the individual and important social issues.
King, Warrior, Magician, Lover: Rediscovering the Archetypes of the Mature Masculine Moore RL A book of four Jungian archetypes about manhood, masculine energies from myth and literature
To Save Everything, Click Here: The Folly of Technological Solutionism Morozov E This book urges us to abandom monolithic ideas of “the Internet” and to show how to design more humane and democratic technological solutions.
Leonard Arrington and the Writing of Mormon History Prince GA A biography of the first and only professional historian to lead the Mormon church in its history division.
Becoming Human: A Servant of the Map Randall MM Essays about author’s journey to discover how to reshape his existence as a “servant of the map.”
At the Pulpit: 185 Years of Discourses by Latter-day Saint Women Reeder J and Holbrook K Hand-picked by Reeder and Holbrook, 54 speeches given by LDS women from 1831 to 2016.
Religion of a Different Color: Race and the Mormon Struggle for Whiteness Reeve WP The 19th century Protestants’ view that Mormonism represented a racial departure from the mainstream, and the 200-year church response to fight that view.
The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom (A Toltec Wisdom Book) Ruiz DM Ruiz reveals the source of self-limiting beliefs that rob us of joy and create needless suffering. Based on ancient Toltec wisdom, the agreements are “Be impeccable with your word,” “don’t take anything personally,” “don’t make assumptions,” and “always do your best.”
Confessions Saint Augustine A 4th century philosopher explains his theological and philosophical questioning of God’s nature and what it is to be human.
Exploring the Connection Between Mormons and Masons Scharffs GW Why did Joseph Smith become a Freemason? Who introduced Freemasonry into Nauvoo, Illinois, in the early 1840’s? Do the Masons really descend from the stonemasons who built King Solomon’s temple? Is there a relationship between the Masonic lodge rites and Mormon temple ordinances?
A Course in Miracles Schucman H A complete course used by three million students worldwide teaches forgiveness as the road to inner peace and the remembrance of God.
Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margin of Error Schulz K The editor of Grist magazine explores what it means to be wrong and why humans tend to assume and insist that they are right about almost everything. This book covers the history and psychology of error, from Socrates to Alan Greenspan.
The Intellectual Life: Its Spirit, Conditions, Methods Sertillanges AG This classic by the 17th-18th century French Catholic philospher Sertillanges recommends habits of the mind for aspiring scholars.
The Mormon Mavericks: Essays on Dissenters Sillito J and Staker S Biographical essays from Mormon dissenters who were troubled by some aspects of church history, doctrine, policies, or politics. Some left and some stayed.
The Big Disconnect: The Story of Technology and Loneliness Slade G Using technology to replace face-to-face interactions is not a new phenomenon. The history of the phenomenon explains why we use technology to mediate our connections with other humans.
Mormon Midwife Smart D A 1997 Evans Handcart Prize-winner, the compliete diaries of Patty Sessions, details the early life of early Mormons from Illinois to Utah.
Why Religion Matters: The Fate of the Human Spirit in an Age of Disbelief Smith H The human spirit is being suffocated by the dominant materialistic worldview of our times.
Religion as Metaphor: Beyond Literal Belief Tacey D Despite what tradition tells us, if we “believe” religious language, we miss religion’s spiritual meaning. Religious language was not designed to be historical reporting, but rather to resonate in the soul and direct us toward transcendent realities.
The Darkening Spirit: Jung, Spirituality, Religion Tacey D Jung predicted the demise of secular humanism and claimed we would search for alternatives to science, atheism, and reason; he said we would experience a new and even unfashionable appetite for the sacred.
Antifragile: Things That Gain from Disorder Taleb NN One of the foremost philosophers of our time, Taleb’s book tells us about systems that benefit from disorder. A blueprint for how to behave — and thrive in — a world we don’t undersand and which is too uncertain for us to even try to understand.
Mistakes Were Made (but Not by Me): Why We Justify Foolish Beliefs, Bad Decisions, and Hurtful Acts Tavris C A revelatory study of how lovers, lawyers, doctors, politicians — and all of us — pull the wool over our own eyes.
A House Full of Females: Plural Marriage and Women’s Rights in Early Mormonism, 1835-1870 Ulrich LT The never-before-told story of the earliest days of the women of Mormon “plural marriage,” whose right to vote was given by a Mormon-dominated legislature as an outgrowth of polygamy.
Well-behaved Women Seldom Make History Ulrich LT A volume about women in history who achieved power and influence.
The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma Vanderkolk B A world expert on trauma uses scientific advances to show how trauma literally reshapes both body and brain.
Bonds that Make Us Free Warner CT Why do we get trapped in negative emotions when it’s clear that life is so much fuller and richer when we are free of them?
The Purpose Driven Life: What on Earth Am I Here For? Warren R A non-Mormon Christian view of life’s meaning.
Leaving the Fold: A Guide for Former Fundamentalists and Others Leaving Their Religion Winell M Psychologist Winell outlines what people can do to reclaim a healthy human spirit after beginning to question literal belief.
Leaving My Father’s House: A Journey to Conscious Femininity Woodman M A book about the process required to bring feminine wisdom to consciousness in a patriarchal culture, a struggle presented by the personal journeys of three wise women whose lives can serve as maps.
The Evolution of God Wright R A sweeping view of archaeology, theology, and evolutionary psychology that unveils an astonishing discovery: there is a hidden pattern that the great monotheistic faiths have followed as they have evolved. Spirituality has a role today, but science actually affirms the validity of the religious quest.

Books we’ve read

The Power Alderman N When teenage girls suddenly have the power to cause agonizing pain and even death, not only do we see how the world would change if power was in the hands of women, but we also find an exposition of our contemporary world.
Mormon Feminism: Essential Writings Brooks J, Steenblik RH, and Wheelwright H (eds) A collection of works by Mormon feminists
Daring Greatly Brown B Researcher Brené Brown offers a powerful new vision that encourages us to dare greatly: to embrace vulnerability and imperfection, to live wholeheartedly, and to courageously engage in our lives.
Goddesses: Mysteries of the Feminine Divine Campbell J A collection of Campbell’s lectures on the figures, functions, symbols, and themes of the feminine divine across cultures and epochs.
Myths to Live by Campbell J Joseph Campbell explores the enduring power of the universal myths that influence our lives daily and examines the myth-making process from the primitive past to the immediate present
Women Who Run With the Wolves: Myths and Stories of the Wild Woman Archetype Estés CP A collection of Jungian archetypal stories about injury, healing, love, forgiveness, and self-discovery.
Stages of Faith: The Psychology of Human Development and the Quest for Meaning Fowler JW Building on the contributions of developmental psychologists, Fowler draws on a wide range of scholarship, literature, and firsthand research to present expertly and engagingly the six stages that emerge in working out the meaning of our lives.
The Feminine Mystique Friedan B The classic feminist manifesto by Friedan in which she describes “the problem that has no name,” the insidious beliefs that undermines women’s confidence in their intellectual capabilities.
The Crucible of Doubt Givens and Givens A careful, intelligent look at Mormon doubt and some of its common sources, the challenges it presents, and the opportunities it may open up in a person’s quest for faith.
The God Who Weeps: How Mormonism Makes Sense of Life Givens T, Givens F The Givenses draw on the works of philosophers and poets to explain Mormon theology.
David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants Gladwell M A look at the complex and surprising ways the weak can defeat the strong, the small can match up against the giant, and how our goals can make a huge difference in our ultimate sense of success.
Siddhartha Hesse H The classic tale of a young man discovering enlightenment.
Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging Junger S A critical look at post-traumatic stress disorder and the reasons that many of today’s returning veterans suffer.
In Quiet Desperation: Understanding the Challenge of Same-gender Attraction Matis F and Matis M A Mormon couple describe their path to reconciling their the chasm between their faith and the love and understanding the feel toward their gay son.
Navigating Mormon Faith Crisis: A Simple Developmental Map McConkie W Theories of adult development applied to faith, with a particular focus on the Mormon religious culture.
The Ghost of Eternal Polygamy: Haunting the Hearts and Heaven of Mormon Women and Men Pearson CL Pearson shows that the ghost of polygamy remains in  Mormon doctrine, haunting the living, assuring women of their diminished value relative to men, and leading many to lose faith in the church and in God.
Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business Postman N A book about the ways in which the media shape our lives: television has conditioned us to tolerate visually entertaining material measured out in spoonfuls of time, to the detriment of rational public discourse and reasoned public affairs.
When God Was a Woman Stone M The story of the archeologically-documented religion of the Goddess, under which women’s roles were richer than in patriarchal Judeo-Christian cultures.
Native Son Wright R A novel that illustrates the impact of poverty and racism in the lives of inner-city black Americans.