These authors and books significantly influenced me away from traditional Christianity and eventually to abandon the entire religion, or at least supported my journey already in full motion that direction:
Original Blessing: A Primer in Creation Spirituality Presented in Four Paths, Twenty-Six Themes, and Two Questions by Matthew Fox (My all-time favorite book and author.)
Apology For Wonder by Sam Keen (The most profound and comprehensive text I’ve read on the meaning of life and what a humbly consistent and honest philosophy/theology looks like.)
Evil and the God of Love by John Hick (The deepest book that I’ve read since those two by Fox and Keen, and it’s considered by many leading philosophers/theologians to be the best text on theodicy in the past fifty years.)
Philosophy of Religion by David Elton Trueblood
Letters to a Christian Nation by Sam Harris (He said here so many things that I’ve been trying to communicate to American Christians for much of my adult life.)
Care of the Soul: A Guide for Cultivating Depth and Sacredness in Everyday Life by Thomas Moore (Contemporary author, not the one from the 1500s.)
Why Evolution Is True by Jerry Coyne (I was raised in an environment where young earth creationism was very common. Shortly after college, I changed my beliefs to that of old earth or progressive creationism, and now hold to theistic evolution.)
The Sins of Scripture: Exposing the Bible’s Texts of Hate to Reveal the God of Love by John Shelby Spong (I especially appreciate his analysis of how the biblical injunction from Genesis to “be fruitful and multiply”, “have dominion”, and “rule and subdue” the Earth, although being helpful and liberating in several respects, has many times had devastating consequences upon global ecological health during much of Western history, especially from the early modern era up until today. This has occurred because theologians and Christian teachers often emphasize an uncritical interpretation toward these scriptural ideas regarding the value of infinite growth in human progress, whether in commerce, personal wealth, technology, national economics, etc.)
God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything by Christopher Hitchens (This book really boldly expresses serious problems that Christianity must admit and address; I’ve enjoyed and learned much from many of his debate videos available on YouTube. But, I think the best dialog between a Christian and non-Christian regarding these kinds of issues is between Dinesh D’Souza and Bart Ehrman, entitled “Theodicy, God and Suffering”. Here, Ehrman says, almost word for word, what I’ve attempted to explain to my Christian friends for many years and recently through this blog site.)
But Is It Science: The Philosophical Questions in the Creation/Evolution Controversy, edited by Robert Pennock and Michael Ruse
Myths America Lives By by Richard T. Hughes (Best critique on American culture, politics and religion that I’ve read.)
The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined by Steven Pinker (This remarkable book shows that, contrary to traditional Christian forecasts of inevitably high rates of violence in our “monstrously corrupt and sinful world”, the planet has become far more peaceful than in any other time in history. The Bible’s apocalyptic imagery doesn’t seem as probable nowadays since things like warfare, rape, murder, legal and illegal slavery, bullying, lynchings, racism, sexism and animal abuse are all in radical decline. This process started when societies began to organize away from hunter-gatherer communities between 7,000-10,000 years ago into structured civilizations, but shifted to an accelerated level of reform during the 18th century’s Age of Enlightenment. Though many modern Christian writers have argued that the reduction in violence has its roots in biblical values, the historical changes didn’t occur during previous 1400 years of Judeo-Christian dominance over much of the world. Even today among Western nations and individual states within the U.S., those which are the most conservative and religious are the most violent and plagued with far greater social problems in categories like overall crime, economic mobility, infant mortality, environmental abuse, teen pregnancy, incarceration, life expectancy, poor educational systems, murder, healthcare efficiency, business opportunities, average worker to CEO pay ratio, paid maternity leave, obesity, income inequality and minimal worker’s benefits. For example, on the Quality of Life Index for 2010, the United States – the most religious and conservative country in the developed world – ranked 33rd overall, 39th in health, 24th in education, 17th in wealth, 15th in democracy, 77th in peace, 38th in environment.)
Thank God for Evolution: How the Marriage of Science and Religion Will Transform Your Life and Our World by Michael Dowd
Sins of the Spirit, Blessing of the Flesh: Lessons for Transforming Evil in Soul and Society by Matthew Fox
The Universe Story: From the Primordial Flaring Forth to the Ecozoic Era–A Celebration of the Unfolding of the Cosmos by Brian Swimme and Thomas Berry
Sexism and God Talk: Toward a Feminist Theology by Rosemary Radford Ruether
The Way of the Earth: Encounters with Nature in Ancient and Contemporary Thought by T.C. McLuhan (Marshall McLuhan’s daughter)
The Hidden Spirituality of Men: Ten Metaphors to Awaken the Sacred Masculine by Matthew Fox
The Oxford Handbook of Religion and Ecology, edited by Roger Gottlieb
When God Was A Woman: The Landmark Exploration Of The Ancient Worship Of The Great Goddess And The Eventual Suppression Of Women’s Rites by Merlin Stone.
Theology And The Arts by David Baily Harned (In the two page introduction, he makes clear his belief that Christianity has made a huge mistake by emphasizing Christ much more as Savior instead of as His actually much larger role in the cosmos as Creator. His book continues this line of thought by showing how most theologians, even liberal ones like Paul Tillich, Nikolai Berdyaev and Reinhold Niebuhr, excessively focus on the cross and the sin/salvation paradigm. This has seriously handicapped the role of art and artists in society when they’ve tried to fully realize their capacities for the promotion of livelihood, humanism and abundance. Instead, the result of cross-centered theology has often been dark images, melancholia, violence, cynicism, dread, pessimism, and fatalism, all of which are extremely common in Western art and philosophy after Christ. This kind of theology continually directs people to look at everything that’s imperfect in the world and themselves in contrast to the supposed perfection of the non-physical realm and God. It invites escapist and immoderately abstract/disembodied mentalities to flourish. In doing so, the beauty, sustainability, non-anthropocentrism and relative security of the natural world are largely overlooked. Instead, they are quite regularly feared, opposed and hated. And this is much of the reason why the modern Western view toward nature became that humanity must overcome and control it, even if this led to an outstanding sense of alienation and dehumanization.)
Anatomy Of The Sacred: An Introduction To Religion by James Livingston (This book’s insight regarding theodicy had a strong effect on me.)
The Earth Shall Weep: A History Of Native America by James Wilson (It’s a very sad thing to see how much abuse and murder was unleashed upon the “heathen” Native Americans because European and European-American Christians thought they were doing God’s work by following a pattern of genocidal and colonial warfare toward any “idolatrous” religions and “savage” cultures, just as God had repeatedly directed the Israelites to do in the Old Testament. The Bible only offered this one role model when it came to “godly” political and governmental structure and behavior.)
Another major change in my thinking occurred through research in almost a dozen books on world mythology. I was truly amazed at how much was available outside the Western monotheistic traditions in the forms of spiritual teaching, wisdom, stories and cultural ideas. The arrival of Christianity truly demythologized most of the world. Nowadays, when Westerners and most other people think about divinity, it’s almost always restricted to some being very similar to the Judeo-Christian God. The perennial habits and beliefs of so many past (and some current) civilizations involving polytheism, animism, pantheism and panentheism have largely been suppressed, but they still remain part of the human experience, intellect and imagination. At the same time, a mass movement in Western society during the past few centuries has been inviting alternate viewpoints such as these to be included in it’s universally human longing and seeking for greater wholeness, sustenance, power, joy, knowledge, a deep existential sense of security, moral transformation, creativity, success and an ability to trust in the natural cycles of life. This has been especially true since the 1960s through the increase in ecological/environmental consciousness (often inspired through the aid of non-monotheistic religions and non-Greco-Roman philosophies), as many people have realized that industrialized nations must lead the way in quickly embracing a much more organic and sustainable foundation for home/professional energy usage, transportation, commerce, government, spirituality, economics, conflict resolution, religion, technological advancement and psychology.
The texts listed above are mostly from liberal writers (some mild and some radical). I consider myself to be a left-leaning moderate in my entire worldview (political, theological, economic, etc.). I still accept and honor many conservative principles, but to a smaller degree. I do this partly because American society (and much of it’s effect on world society), both religiously and economically, is so overwhelmingly conservative—-always has been. I also chose my current views because the greatest sense of creation/Earth/nature-centeredness, the value system and perspective that I think is most essential and effective toward healthy individual/collective/ecological fulfillment, that I ever found in conservative evangelicalism in print was still so far astray from, or at least severely lacking in, what I intuitively and intellectually knew was true. I am speaking of The Divine Conspiracy: Rediscovering Our Hidden Life In God by Dallas Willard and Heaven Is Not My Home: Living in the Now of God’s Creation by Paul Marshall. In the mid-2000s, I felt strongly motivated in my quest to find a more comprehensive and accurate worldview than found in Christianity (Roman Catholic, Anglican, Eastern Orthodox, Protestant) and the Bible, which excessively focuses on the sin/salvation paradigm and machoism/masculinity. For example, reading the third chapter of Willard’s book in early 2006 for a class at my then church (conservative evangelical) provoked me to make my final decision about leaving evangelicalism as a whole within the next few weeks. Willard there explained that God not only loves us, but that He also likes us, inhabits the universe intimately like a human soul takes residence in a human body and that the cosmos is essentially a safe place for humanity because of God’s deep concern, power and presence. This is not new information to anyone well versed in theology and the Scriptures, but these truths have been rarely emphasized with their full weight in church history, especially when compared to the profusion of other supposedly more “urgent” topics such as the remarkably disproportionate focus on the damnation/salvation issue within the Bible and Christianity. The result is that the broader and deeper truths have not been presented thoroughly: how wonderful and satisfying life can be (with or without church or Christianity), and that we exist to flourish here in a fascinating place, enjoyable and yet difficult as it is. The far less dominant biblical teachings or extra-biblical philosophies regarding abundant living, that can appeal in a general sense to so many people and help them significantly, get overlooked while the epic struggle between good and evil, God and Satan, heaven and hell get almost all of the attention. Because the theology of the cross and salvation from a sinful condition that humans are born into are so uncompromisingly central to Christianity and the Bible, there’s no other intellectually honest option for theologians and ministers. They have to continue believing and practicing, with relatively few alterations, as people in the Judeo-Christian tradition have been since the early Jewish leaders began writing the first few books of the Old Testament. Marshall’s book was stuck in this same problem, just as expected, because, even though it admirably elaborated on the Bible’s message of the high value of the created order as God made it and the innumerable areas of life in which the Christian doctrine of creation and early Genesis creation-mandate direct us to enjoy life, build societies, learn about science, produce art and all the other things that sane human beings engage in, the text still had to follow the cross-centered theological framework. So, it excessively criticized humanity’s lack of perfection in behavior or attitude (even though God is ultimately responsible for the kinds of creatures He/She has invented, with their various strengths and weaknesses).
I didn’t officially become a non-Christian until 2010, when I admitted to myself that since I didn’t believe that 1) Adam and Eve brought sin into the world by rebelling against God in the Garden of Eden and therefore all people afterward would unavoidably deserve hell through genetically inherited sinful natures (even if they avoided every sin, which the Bible said was impossible anyway) or that 2) Jesus died for humanity’s sins or that 3) God was all-good or that 4) the Bible was necessarily superior in it’s truth claims to general/natural revelation and individual/collective human conscience as it had evolved in a non-linear and fallible manner through the ages. I couldn’t accurately describe myself as a Christian anymore. This was a painful reality, both psychologically and sociologically, since this faith and special type of community had been an integral part of my life and worldview for the first thirty-four years of my existence. However, I’m very thankful that I was able to make these changes and move ahead. I’m much happier and healthy now. In 2009, I found a new “church” or “faith” in Unitarian Universalism, in which I’ve been encouraged and challenged to continue to search, share and learn without having to accept a type of God or religion that is full of so many contradictions and misleading ideas. I don’t expect that everyone ought to become a UU participant, but I think that the world will be much better off if we develop a greater appreciation for the kinds of values and applications taught within such a tradition.