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.

Margaret Placentra Johnston interviewed on Mormon Discussions podcast


Hi book club peeps! I thought you all might be interested in checking out this episode of the Mormon Discussions podcast in which the author of our last book (Faith Beyond Belief) was interviewed. I appreciated the Q&A that focused on the faith journey in the Mormon context. Click here for the episode’s webpage, or copy/paste the whole URL below.



Date/location change for June meeting


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


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

December 2019 ‘Talking to strangers: What we should know about the people we don’t know’ by Gladwell: Through a series of puzzles, encounters and misunderstandings, from little-known stories to infamous legal cases, Gladwell takes us on a journey through the unexpected. You will read about the spy who spent years undetected at the highest levels of the Pentagon, the man who saw through the fraudster Bernie Madoff, the suicide of the poet Sylvia Plath and the false conviction of Amanda Knox. You will discover that strangers are never simple.
February 2020 ‘The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are’ by Brown is 138 pages long. An acclaimed professor of social work offers a powerful and inspiring book that explores how to cultivate courage, compassion, and connection by embracing your imperfections and recognizing that we are enough.
April 2020 ‘Start Where You Are: A Guide to Compassionate Living’ by Chödrön is 176 pages long. We all want to be fearless, joyful, and fully alive, but we are bombarded every day with false promises about how to do that. A Buddhist nun shows us that, until we get to the heart of who we are and really make friends with ourselves, everything we do will be a superficial fix.
June 2020 ‘Ladder of Divine Ascent’ by Climacus is 129 pages long. In a spiritual classic, the 6th-centuray abbot of Sinaie compares the spiritual life to a ladder of thirty steps, explaining in detail the challenges presented by each.
August 2020 ‘The Gnostic Gospels’ by Pagels is 218 pages long. In 1945, an Egyptian peasant unearthed what proved to be the Gnostic Gospels, 13 payrus volumes that expounded a radically different view of the life and teachings of Jesus Christ than that of the New Testament. This landmark study of the long-buried roots of Christianity is widely-recognized as one of the most brilliant and accessible histories of early Christian spirituality ever published.
October 2020 ‘The Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment’ by Tolle is 229 pages long. We’ve all heard that living in the now is the truest path to happiness and enlightenment. Tolle gives us an excellent manual of what that means.

Books we’ll get to eventually

Top picks under consideration:

Brief description


‘God: A Human History’ by Aslan is 321 pages long. A professor of religion, the author narrates the history of religion as an attempt to understand the divine by giving it human traits. Our innate desire to humanize God is hardwired into our brains, making it a central feature of nearly every religious tradition. Amazon GoodReads
‘Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth’ by Aslan is 296 pages long. A renowned author and professor of religion, Aslan gives a meticulously-researched biography that challenges long-held assumptions about the man we know as Jesus of Nazareth. Amazon GoodReads
‘Book of Mormon Girl: A Memoir of an American Faith’ by Brooks is 216 pages long. A Mormon feminist describes how Mormonism set her apart from others and the challenge of leaving childhood innocence behind and embracing adult faith. Amazon GoodReads
‘The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are’ by Brown is 138 pages long. An acclaimed professor of social work offers a powerful and inspiring book that explores how to cultivate courage, compassion, and connection by embracing your imperfections and recognizing that we are enough. Amazon GoodReads
‘The Rhetoric of Religion: Studies in Logology’ by Burke is 327 pages long. Burke demonstrates how language and religion affect eachother. Religious systems are systems of action based on communication in society. Amazon GoodReads
‘Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking’ by Cain is 333 pages long. The author argues that we dramatically undervalue introverts. She charts the rise of the extrovert ideal throughout the 20th century and explores how deeply it has come to permeate our culture. Amazon GoodReads
‘Start Where You Are: A Guide to Compassionate Living’ by Chödrön is 176 pages long. We all want to be fearless, joyful, and fully alive, but we are bombarded every day with false promises about how to do that. A Buddhist nun shows us that, until we get to the heart of who we are and really make friends with ourselves, everything we do will be a superficial fix. Amazon GoodReads
‘Ladder of Divine Ascent’ by Climacus is 129 pages long. In a spiritual classic, the 6th-centuray abbot of Sinaie compares the spiritual life to a ladder of thirty steps, explaining in detail the challenges presented by each. Amazon GoodReads
‘Astrophysics for People in a Hurry’ by deGrasse Tyson is 224 pages long. An astrophysicist and best-selling author, attempts to answer some of the most challenging questions of our time: What is the nature of space and time? How do we fit within the universe? How does the universe fit within us? Amazon GoodReads
‘The Name of the Rose’ by Eco is 536 pages long. In 12th-Century Italy, a Franciscan monk investigates bizarre deaths using the logic of Aristotle, the theology of Aquinas, and the empirical insights of Roger Bacon. Amazon  GoodReads
‘How Jesus Became God: The Exaltation of a Jewish Preacher from Galilee’ by Ehrman is 416 pages long. The claim that Jesus is God is not what the original disciples believed or what Jesus claimed. Ehrman explains how this belief came to be. Amazon GoodReads
‘How Not to be Wrong: The Power of Mathematical Thinking’ by Ellenberg is 480 pages long. Math touches everything we do, allowing us to see the hidden structures underneath the messy and chaotic surface of our world. Math is a science of not being wrong, hammered out by centuries of hard work. Ellenberg pulls from history as well as the latest theoretical developments, to help us understand how math answers some of the (slightly less compelling) questions of our time: How early should you get to the airport? What does ‘public opinion’ really represent? Why do tall parents have shorter children? Who really won Florida in 2000? How likely are you, really, to develop cancer? Amazon GoodReads
‘Thinking, Fast and Slow’ by Kahneman is 499 pages long. This groundbreaking book takes us on a tour of the two systems that drive the way we think: System 1 is fast, intuitive, and emotional. System 2 is slower, more deliberate, and more logical. This book exposes the extraordinary capabilities and the faults/biases of fast thinking, and reveals the pervasive influence of intuitive impressions on our thoughts and behavior. Amazon GoodReads
‘The Gnostic Gospels’ by Pagels is 218 pages long. In 1945, an Egyptian peasant unearthed what proved to be the Gnostic Gospels, 13 payrus volumes that expounded a radically different view of the life and teachings of Jesus Christ than that of the New Testament. This landmark study of the long-buried roots of Christianity is widely-recognized as one of the most brilliant and accessible histories of early Christian spirituality ever published. Amazon GoodReads
‘The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature’ by Pinker is 528 pages long. The author explores the idea of human nature and its moral, emotional, and political colorings. He shows how many intellectuals have denied the existence of human nature by embracing three linked dogmas: The Blank Slate, which is the idea that the mind has no innate traints; the Noble Savage, which is the idea that people are born good and corrupted by society, and the Ghost in the Machine, which is the idea that each of us has a soul that makes choices free from biology. Each dogma carries a moral burden, so their defenders have engaged in desperate tactics to discredit the scientists who are now challenging them. Amazon GoodReads
‘Factfulness: Ten Reasons Why We are Wrong About the World – and Why Things Are Better Than You Think’ by Rosling and Rosling is 342 pages long. The authors define “factfulness” as “the stress-reducing habit of only carrying opinions for which you have strong supporting facts. Our problem is thatwe don’t know what we don’t know, and even our guesses are informed by unconscious and predictable biases. When we worry about everything, instead of embracing a worldview based on facts, we can lose our ability to focus on the things that threaten us the most. Amazon GoodReads
‘The Essential Rumi’ by Rumi (author) and Barks (translator) is 416 pages long. Translated by a gifted artist, this book of Rumi’s poetry makes the ecstatic, spiritual poetry of the thirteenth-century Sufi mystic lyrical. Amazon GoodReads
‘The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark’ by Saga and Druyan is 459 pages long. How can we make intelligent decisions about our increasingly technology-driven lives if we don’t understand the difference between the myths of pseudoscience and the testable hypotheses of science? A Pulitzer Prize-winning astronomer argues that scientific thinking is critical, not only to the pursuit of truth, but to the very well-being of our democratic institutions. Amazon GoodReads
‘Behave: The Biology of Humans at Our Best and Worst’ by Sapolsky is 790 pages long. The author attempts to answer the question of why we do what we do by starting in the moment of action, and then moving back in time from there, in stages, ultimately ending up at the deep history of our species and its evolutionary legacy. Sapolsky explains the neurobiological and cultural forces at work in producing our behavior. Amazon GoodReads
‘A Course in Miracles’ by Schucman is 1312 pages long. A complete course used by three million students worldwide teaches forgiveness as the road to inner peace and the remembrance of God. Amazon GoodReads
‘The Knowledge Illusion’ by Slowman and Fernbach is 304 pages long. Humans have built hugely complex societies and technologies, but most of us understand very little. Two cognitive scientists argue that our survival, despite our mental shortcomings, comes because we are constantly drawing on information stored outside of our heads: in our bodies, our enviornments,  possessions, and others. We are error-prone, irrational, and ignorant. Nonetheless, our collaborative minds enable us to do amazing things. Our true genius lies in the ways we create intelligence using the world around us. Amazon GoodReads
‘The Darkening Spirit: Jung, Spirituality, Religion’ by Tacey is 182 pages long. 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. Amazon GoodReads
‘Mistakes Were Made (but Not by Me): Why We Justify Foolish Beliefs, Bad Decisions, and Hurtful Acts’ by Tavris and Aaronson is 304 pages long. A revelatory study of how lovers, lawyers, doctors, politicians — and all of us — pull the wool over our own eyes. Amazon GoodReads
‘The Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment’ by Tolle is 229 pages long. We’ve all heard that living in the now is the truest path to happiness and enlightenment. Tolle gives us an excellent manual of what that means. Amazon GoodReads
‘A House Full of Females: Plural Marriage and Women’s Rights in Early Mormonism, 1835-1870’ by Ulrich is 512 pages long. 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. Amazon  GoodReads
‘The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma’ by van der Kolk is 443 pages long. A world expert on trauma uses scientific advances to show how trauma literally reshapes both body and brain. Amazon GoodReads
‘American Nations: A History fo the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America’ by Woodard is 371 pages long. This illuminating history of North American’s eleven rival cultural regions explodes the red-stage/blue-state myth. North America was settled by people with distinct religious, political, and ethnographic characteristics, creating regional cultures that have been at odds with each other ever since. Subsequent immigrants didn’t assimilate into a single “American” or “Canadian” culture, but into one of the eleven distinct regional ones that spread over the continent, each staking ut mutually exclusive territory. Amazon GoodReads
‘Leaving My Father’s House: A Journey to Conscious Femininity’ by Woodman is 375 pages long. 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. Amazon GoodReads
‘The Evolution of God’ by Wright is 567 pages long. 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. Amazon GoodReads

Other selections:

‘The Divine Comedy’ by Alighieri is 798 pages long. Dante’s classic recreation of the depths and heights of human experience, beginning in the first year of the 12th century. Amazon GoodReads
‘The Story of Latter-Day Saints’ by Allen and Leonard is 722 pages long. A candid and historically accurate history of the LDS faith through 1975 Amazon GoodReads
‘Confessions’ by Augustine is 341 pages long. A 4th century philosopher explains his theological and philosophical questioning of God’s nature and what it is to be human. Amazon  GoodReads
‘Meditations’ by Aurelius is 304 pages long. The philosopher and Roman emperor describes his insights as he struggled to understand himself and to make sense of the universe. Amazon GoodReads
‘Religion in an Age of Science’ by Barbour is 297 pages long. A comprehensive examination of the major conflicts between science and religion in today’s world. Amazon GoodReads
‘Christmas: The Original Story’ by Barker is ### pages long. A Bible scholar explores the nature of the Christmas stories and the use of Old Testament prophecy. Amazon
‘Creation: A Biblican Vision for the Environment’ by Barker is ### pages long. The author contributes a characteristically Christian voice to the contemporary theological debates on the environment. Amazon
‘King of the Jews: Temple Theology in John’s Gospel’ by Barker is ### pages long. Only John’s Gospel says that Jesus was cricified as the King of the Jews. Jesus was the keeper for the ways of the first temple. Amazon
‘The Gate of Heaven: The History and Symbolism of the Temple in Jerusalem’ by Barker is ### pages long. A British biblical scholar explores the origins and afterlife of traditions about the Temple in Judaism. Amazon
‘The Great Angel: A Study of Israel’s Second God’ by Barker is ### pages long. What did “Son of God,” “Messiang,” and “Lord” mean to the first Christians when they used these words to describe their beliefs about Jesus? Amazon
‘The Great High Priest: The Temple Roots of Christian Liturgy’ by Barker is ### pages long. Whereas most scholarship has concentrated on the synagogue, Margaret Barker’s work on the Jerusalem temple contributes significantly to our understanding of the meaning and importance of many elements of Christian litergy. Amazon
‘The Mother of the Lord: Volume 1: The Lady in the Temple’ by Barker is ### pages long. Old Testament roots of the veneration of the Blessed Virgin Mary Amazon
‘Servants of the Map’ by Barrett is 320 pages long. A collection of short stories ranging across 2 centuries from western Himalaya to an Adirondack village. Amazon  GoodReads
‘Ship Fever: Stories’ by Barrett is 256 pages long. A 1996 National Book Award-winning collection of short stories about the love of science and the science of love in the 19th century. Amazon  GoodReads
‘Confessions of a Mormon Historian: The Diaries of Leonard Arrington, 1971-1999’ by Bergera is ### pages long. An account of the first LDS Church Historian’s ten-year stormy tenure, full of controversy.
‘Jesus Feminist: An Invitation to Revisit the Bible’s View of Women’ by Bessey is 256 pages long. Through a thoughtful review of biblical teachings and church practices, one woman shares how following Jesus made a feminist out of her. Amazon GoodReads
‘The Maiden King: The Reunion of Masculine and Feminine’ by Bly is 264 pages long. A Jungian interpretation of a primordial folktale about the reunion of masculine and feminine. The Maiden King is a tale of an absent father, a possessive stepmother, a false tutor, and a young man overwhelmed by a beautiful maiden. Amazon GoodReads
‘Authoring the Old Testament: Genesis-Deuteronomy’ by Bokovoy is ### pages long. A Mormon and Bible scholar dives into the Pentateuch, showing how and why textual criticism has led biblical scholars to understand the first five books of the Bible as an amalgamtion of multiple texts into a single, complicated narrative Amazon
‘Mormon Women Speak: Collection of Essays’ by Bradford is 237 pages long. A collection of essays by Mormon women, in the style of the essay “Lusterware” by Laurel Thatcher Ulrich. Amazon GoodReads
‘No Man Knows My History: The Life of Joseph Smith’ by Brodie is 576 pages long. A classic biography of Joseph Smith, written by David O. McKay’s niece, who was later excommunicated. The book eventually became a source for the church-sanctioned biography of Joseph Smith, Rough Stone Rolling by Bushman. Amazon GoodReads
‘A Short History of Nearly Everything’ by Bryson is 544 pages long. The author seeks to understand how we got from nothing to us. To that end, he has attached himself to the world’s most advanced (and obsessed) archaelologists, anthropologists, and mathematicians, traveling to their offices, laboratories, and field camps. This book is a profound, funny, and entertaining adventure into the realm of human knowledge. Amazon GoodReads
‘Dead White Guys: A Father, His Daughter and the Great Books of the Western World’ by Burriesci  is 266 pages long. A father’s and daughter’s experience with reading 26 great books, from Plato to Karl Marx. Amazon GoodReads
‘The Hero’s Journey: Joseph Campbell on His Life and Work’ by Campbell is 288 pages long. Campbell describes his monomyth, or “the one great story of mankind,” which he posits is the backbone of every story. Amazon  GoodReads
‘The Power of Myth’ by Campbell is 320 pages long. Campbell describes the mythology of heroes and applies it to recent history, such as the murder and funeral of John F Kennedy. Amazon  GoodReads
‘The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains’ by Carr is 280 pages long. A compelling exploration of the Internet’s intellectual and cultural consequences. Inferences from what’s known about how human thought has been shaped through the centuries and recent discoveries in neuroscience, Carr explains how the internet is remaking us in its own image. Amazon GoodReads
‘The Awakening’ by Chopin is 195 pages long. One of the first feminist novels ever written, in 1899, The Awakening shocked readers with its honest treatment of female marital infidelity. Amazon GoodReads
‘In Sacred Loneliness: The Plural Wives of Joseph Smith’ by Compton is ### pages long. A historical volume about the lives of 33 of Joseph Smith’s wives. Amazon
‘Vivian Apple at the End of the World’ by Coyle is ### pages long. A seventeen-year-old girl returns home after the Rapture to find all that’s left of her parents are two holes in the roof. Amazon
‘Why I am Not a Feminist: A Feminist Manifesto’ by Crispin is 151 pages long. A critique of modern feminism. Amazon  GoodReads
‘The Origin of Species’ by Darwin is 703 pages long. The classic volume in which Darwin explains his theory of natural selection and challenges orthodox thought and belief about creationism. Amazon  GoodReads
‘The Second Sex’ by de Beauvoir is 746 pages long. This classic volume is de Beauvoir’s groundbreaking observationsa about the inequality and otherness of women. Amazon  GoodReads
‘The Red Tent’ by Diamant is 336 pages long. A novel about the biblical figure Dinah. Told in Dinah’s voice, this novel reveals the traditions and turmoils of ancient womanhood. Amazon  GoodReads
‘All the Light We Cannot See’ by Doerr is 531 pages long. A blind French girl and a German boy struggle to survive the devastation of the war in occupied France. Amazon  GoodReads
‘Notes From the Underground’ by Dostoyevsky is 136 pages long. (To be added) Amazon GoodReads
‘The Story of Philosophy’ by Durant is 704 pages long. An account of the lives and ideas of the great philosophers, from Plato to Dewey. Amazon GoodReads
‘Forged: Writing in the Name of God — Why the Bible’s Authors Are Not Who We Think They Are’ by Ehrman is ### pages long. A controversial work of historical reporting that explains why the Bible was not written by Jesus’ disciples. Amazon
‘Jesus, Interrupted: Revealing the Hidden Contradictions in the Bible and Why We Don’t Know About Them’ by Ehrman is 304 pages long. A compelling account of the central challenges faced when attempting to reconstruct Jesus’ life and message This book addresses the larger issue of what the New Testament actually teaches, and it’s not what you think. Amazon GoodReads
‘Identity and the Life Cycle’ by Erikson is 192 pages long. Erikson’s insights into the relationship of life history and history, beginning with observations on a central stage of life: identity development in adolescence. Amazon GoodReads
‘The Square and the Tower: Networks and Power, from the Freemasons to Facebook’ by Ferguson is 592 pages long. A brilliant recasting of the turning points in world history, including the one we’re living through, as a collision between old power hierarchies and new social networks. Amazon GoodReads
‘Bread Not Stone: The Challenge of Feminist Biblical Interpretation’ by Fiorenza is 256 pages long. This book explores the ways in which women can read the Christian Bible with full understanding of both its oppressive and its liberating functions. Amazon GoodReads
‘Man’s Search for Meaning’ by Frankl is 184 pages long. Frankl’s memoir of his experience in Nazi death camps and lessons for spiritual survival, such as that we cannot avoid suffering, but we can choose how to cope with it, find meaning in it, and move forward with renewed purpose. Amazon GoodReads
‘Grendel’ by Gardner is 174 pages long. Beowulf’s most terrifying monster tells his side of the story. Amazon GoodReads
‘The Literary Message of Isaiah’ by Gileadi is 624 pages long. Gileadi suggests that the ancient writings of Isaiah bridge the gap between the Old and New Testaments. Amazon GoodReads
‘The Language of the Goddess’ by Gimbutas is 388 pages long. The goddess is the most potent and persistent feature in the archaeological records of the ancient world. In this volume the author resurrects the world of goddess-worshipping, earth-centered cultures, bringing ancient matriarchal society to life. Amazon GoodReads
‘Wrestling the Angel: The Foundations of Mormon Thought: Cosmos, God, Humanity’ by Givens is 424 pages long. An account of the Mormon fath’s foundations in 19th-century restorationist thought and the subsequent influence of that foundation on the modern church. Amazon  GoodReads
‘Outliers: The Story of Success’ by Gladwell is 309 pages long. What makes high-achievers different? Gladwell says we can’t know by paying attention to what successful people are like; we have to pay attention to where they are from: Their cultures, families, generation, and idiosyncratic experiences of their upbringings. Amazon GoodReads
‘The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference’ by Gladwell is 301 pages long. The tipping point is the magic moment when an idea, trend, or social bheavior crosses a threshold and spreads like wildfire. Amazon GoodReads
‘The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom’ by Haidt is 297 pages long. An award-winning psychologist examines the world’s philosophical wisdom through the lens of psychological science, showing how a deeper understanding of enduring maxims (such as the golden rule) can enrich and transform our lives. Amazon GoodReads
‘Confessions of a Latter-Day Virgin’ by Hardy is 304 pages long. In her memoir, Hardy describes the crossroads she encountered when she aged out of LDS YSA wards and came face-to-face with the discordance between the life she’d envisioned and the one she was living. GoodReads
‘The Mormon Church & Blacks: A Documentary History’ by Harris and Bringhurst is 232 pages long. Thirty official or authoritative Church statements on the status of African Americans in the Mormon Church and an analysis of how they reflect uniquely on Mormon characteristics in the context of history, race, and religion. Amazon GoodReads
‘One Hundred Birds Taught Me to Fly: The Art of Seeking God’ by Hoiland is 212 pages long. An exploration of the complexities of faith in everyday life, with a particular focus on the Mormon faith. Amazon  GoodReads
‘The Middle Passage: From Misery to Meaning in Midlife’ by Hollis is 127 pages long. A book that uses Jungian analysis to show us how we may travel the Middle Passage consciously, thereby rendering our lives more meaningful and the second half of life immeasurably richer. Amazon GoodReads
‘King Leopold’s Ghost’ by Hothschild is 402 pages long. 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. Amazon GoodReads
‘The Varieties of Religious Experience’ by James is ### pages long. 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.” Amazon GoodReads
‘From Housewife to Heretic: One Woman’s Spiritual Awakening and her Exommunication from the Mormon Church’ by Johnson is ### pages long. 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’ by Joseph is 292 pages long. An American nun explains the rules, definitions, and guidelines of language and the pathway to becoming a liberal artist. Amazon GoodReads
‘Man and His Symbols’ by Jung is 432 pages long. 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 Amazon GoodReads
‘French Lessons’ by Kaplan is 256 pages long. 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. Amazon GoodReads
‘The Wise Heart: A Guide to the Universal Teachings of Buddhist Psychology’ by Kornfield is ### pages long. An accessible, comprehensive, and illuminating guide to Buddhist psychology. Amazon
‘In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler’s Berlin’ by Larson is 448 pages long. 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. Amazon  GoodReads
‘Why Won’t You Apologize?: Healing Big Betrayals and Everyday Hurts’ by Lerner is ### pages long. 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. Amazon
‘The Great Divorce’ by Lewis is 146 pages long. An allegorical bus ride through heaven and hell that producees insights about the nature of good and evil. Amazon  GoodReads
‘Her Body and Other Parties: Stories’ by Machado is ### pages long. 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. Amazon
‘Down Girl: The Logic of Misogyny’ by Manne is 368 pages long. An exploration of misogyny in public life and poltics by a moral philosopher. Amazon GoodReads
‘The Road’ by McCarthy is 241 pages long. 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. Amazon GoodReads
‘Love Warrior: A Memoir’ by Melton is ### pages long. A memoir of betrayal and self-discovery that chronicals a beatufiul, brilliant journey to find deeper, truer relationships and a more abundant, authentic life Amazon
‘Sweet Lamb of Heaven’ by Millet is ### pages long. A young mother escapes her cold and unfaithful husband, who chases her from Alaska to Maine as they go into hiding. Amazon
‘Sexual Politics’ by Millett is 424 pages long. An expository view of patriarchy as a socially conditioned belief system masquerading as nature. Amazon GoodReads
‘The Sociological Imagination’ by Mills is 256 pages long. 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. Amazon GoodReads
‘King, Warrior, Magician, Lover: Rediscovering the Archetypes of the Mature Masculine’ by Moore is 192 pages long. A book of four Jungian archetypes about manhood, masculine energies from myth and literature Amazon GoodReads
‘To Save Everything, Click Here: The Folly of Technological Solutionism’ by Morozov is 415 pages long. This book urges us to abandom monolithic ideas of “the Internet” and to show how to design more humane and democratic technological solutions. Amazon GoodReads
‘Leonard Arrington and the Writing of Mormon History’ by Prince is 432 pages long. A biography of the first and only professional historian to lead the Mormon church in its history division. Amazon  GoodReads
‘Becoming Human: A Servant of the Map’ by Randall is 256 pages long. Essays about author’s journey to discover how to reshape his existence as a “servant of the map.” Amazon  GoodReads
‘At the Pulpit: 185 Years of Discourses by Latter-day Saint Women’ by Reeder and Holbrook is 452 pages long. Hand-picked by Reeder and Holbrook, 54 speeches given by LDS women from 1831 to 2016. Amazon  GoodReads
‘Religion of a Different Color: Race and the Mormon Struggle for Whiteness’ by Reeve is 352 pages long. The 19th century Protestants’ view that Mormonism represented a racial departure from the mainstream, and the 200-year church response to fight that view. Amazon GoodReads
‘The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom (A Toltec Wisdom Book)’ by Ruiz is 168 pages long. 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.” Amazon GoodReads
‘Exploring the Connection Between Mormons and Masons’ by Scharffs is 211 pages long. 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? Amazon GoodReads
‘Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margin of Error’ by Schulz is 405 pages long. 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. GoodReads
‘The Intellectual Life: Its Spirit, Conditions, Methods’ by Sertillanges is 266 pages long. This classic by the 17th-18th century French Catholic philospher Sertillanges recommends habits of the mind for aspiring scholars. Amazon GoodReads
‘The Mormon Mavericks: Essays on Dissenters’ by Sillito and Staker is 388 pages long. Biographical essays from Mormon dissenters who were troubled by some aspects of church history, doctrine, policies, or politics. Some left and some stayed. GoodReads
‘The Big Disconnect: The Story of Technology and Loneliness’ by Slade is 306 pages long. 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. Amazon GoodReads
‘Mormon Midwife’ by Smart is 480 pages long. A 1997 Evans Handcart Prize-winner, the compliete diaries of Patty Sessions, details the early life of early Mormons from Illinois to Utah. Amazon GoodReads
‘Why Religion Matters: The Fate of the Human Spirit in an Age of Disbelief’ by Smith is 304 pages long. The human spirit is being suffocated by the dominant materialistic worldview of our times. Amazon GoodReads
‘Religion as Metaphor: Beyond Literal Belief’ by Tacey is 286 pages long. 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. Amazon GoodReads
‘Antifragile: Things That Gain from Disorder’ by Taleb is 521 pages long. 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. Amazon GoodReads
‘Well-behaved Women Seldom Make History’ by Ulrich is 320 pages long. A volume about women in history who achieved power and influence. Amazon GoodReads
‘Bonds that Make Us Free’ by Warner is 368 pages long. 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?’ by Warren is 336 pages long. A non-Mormon Christian view of life’s meaning. Amazon GoodReads
‘Leaving the Fold: A Guide for Former Fundamentalists and Others Leaving Their Religion’ by Winell is 462 pages long. Psychologist Winell outlines what people can do to reclaim a healthy human spirit after beginning to question literal belief.