Each year I set a goal for the books to be read. Not the number because, to be honest, some of the books on the list will take awhile to get through; but books that are worth reading. Books that ought to be read.

I identify five books because I know that other books will come up that I need to read: books related to something I write or books by authors I want to interview. Tightly scheduled reading plans just don’t work for me and five as a goal has worked out to be a good number

Against Celsus by Origen

For the past couple of years, a major theological work has been on my list of five books to read. In 2020, that book was City of God by Augustine. Last year in 2021, I read Against Heresies by Irenaeus of Lyons. This year, that book is Against Celsus by Origen.

Origen of Alexandria was a second century Christian scholar and theologian. Origen lived in what was a tumultuous time for Christians. Christians, including his father, were martyred and many heterodox groups and heresies were coming on the scene. The church was under attack both within and without.

Origen advocated pacifism, but he waged war with words. He wrote over 2,000 works in all areas of theology. As a child, he had wanted to follow his father into martyrdom and was prevented by his mother. But after a very productive life, he eventually got his wish. He was tortured for his faith in 250 AD and later died from his injuries.

He is known for his Hexapla, which was a critical edition of the Hebrew Old Testament and compared six translations side by side. He is also known for the controversy he raised, both during his life and after. But his work, Against Celsus (Contra Celsum) is still known today as one of the greatest works of Christian apologetics ever written. It is a response to a pagan philosopher, Celsus, who claimed that belief and Christianity is irrational.

A Secular Age by Charles Taylor

The second book on my list of books to read in 2022 is A Secular Age by Charles Taylor. Against Celsus is a theologians response to a challenge of philosophy. A Secular Age is a philosopher’s response to our lack of theology, or knowing God. The premise is that secularism as a historical construct has affected how we interact with each other and how we operate in society. I haven’t read the book yet, but that is my understanding going in.

I also came across Alasdair MacIntyre, Charles Taylor, and the Demise of Naturalism: Reunifying Political Theory and Social Science by Jason Blakely which integrates A Secular Age by Taylor and After Virtue by Alasdair MacIntyre, which I read last year.

A History of Western Philosophy by W.T. Jones

A little bit of a back story as to why this book is on my “to read” list. We are currently reading Orthodoxy by G.K. Chesterton in the book club I’m in. During a discussion, a couple of the members kept saying “this is Nietzsche” about a point Chesterton was refuting. I haven’t read Nietzsche. I haven’t read a lot of the modern philosophers that will come up in discussions. There a modern and post-modern philosophy class that is part of the cultural apologetics program I went through, but I didn’t take it. I took quite a few special topics so my degree plan looks different than the standard plan.

So, I asked them what I should read of Nietzsche’s that would give me an understanding of the topics being discussed. Nietzsche’s beliefs are very prevalent in our culture today and have had a disastrous impact in the century and a half since he wrote. His glorification of the “Ubermensch” or the perfect and ultimate human, as well as his idea of “will to power” which puts power and domination as the ultimate goal of humanity fueled Nazi ideology and the Holocaust. I think we also see Nietzche in the “Me First, Me Only” attitude we see today where people think “freedom” means they can do whatever they want regardless of the impact it has on other people. (It certainly doesn’t have anything to do with Jesus of Nazareth.)

My friend, Annie, suggested a book Kant and the Nineteenth Century which is volume IV in The History of Western Philosophy. Jones includes excerpts of different philosophers and explains the progression of thought in Western Philosophy.

I went to track the book down and it turns out there are six books in the series.

(Yes, there are two “volume 5’s”) It turns out these volumes are the second (and sometimes third) editions of a book originally published in 1952 in one volume. If you search for these books on Amazon or Ebay, you will find that the books range anywhere from $40 to over $200 for a new book. Sometimes even the used books are pricey. (A rental alone for the last volume is $18 on Amazon).

But I happened to find a used copy of the first edition for $1.99. You can’t even get a cup of regular coffee at Starbucks for that. The first edition ends with a chapter on the “contemporary” scene with a discussion on Bertrand Russell. Obviously, subsequent editions have covered more of the works written in the past 70 years.

The downside of the original work is that it is a huge book and extremely heavy. It is definitely a stay-in-your-library type of book. If you want something that you can read on the go or take anywhere, you might want to go with the individual volumes.

The Annotated Alice by Lewis Carroll and Martin Gardner

I bought this after watching Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland and was struck by the message of free will and determinism in the story. I made a comment about it in my book club, and a member said that there was all kinds of philosophical ideas embedded in the book. It’s been a long time since I read Alice in Wonderland, so it looks like it’s time to read it again. My friend recommended The Annotated Alice which is, from the book description:

The Annotated Alice: 150th Anniversary Deluxe Edition compiles over half a century of scholarship by leading Carrollian experts to reveal the history and full depth of the Alice books and their enigmatic creator. This volume brings together Martin Gardner’s legendary original 1960 publication, The Annotated Alice; his follow-ups, More Annotated Alice and the Definitive Edition; his continuing explication through the Knight Letter magazine; and masterly additions and updates edited by Mark Burstein, president emeritus of the Lewis Carroll Society of North America. In these pages Lewis Carroll’s mathematical riddles and curious wordplay, ingeniously embedded throughout the Alice works, are delightfully decoded and presented in the margins, along with original correspondence, amusing anecdotal detours, and fanciful illustrations by Salvador Dalí, Beatrix Potter, Ralph Steadman, and a host of other famous artist

Waverly by Sir Walter Scott

Sir Walter Scott was a Scottish novelist and playwright who lived from 1775 to 1832. Modern readers may be more familiar with him from his poem The Lady of the Lake which is still shows up in popular culture or from a movie adaptation of his novel Ivanhoe or Rob Roy. However, he had a huge influence on 19th century writers as a whole and whether you read  philosophy, theology, or fiction written during that time, you are likely to come across a reference to one of Scott’s works. If you enjoy historical fiction, you can thank Sir Walter Scott who is considered the pioneer of that genre.