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The Crossroads of Secular and Spiritual: A Reading List

Emily Perper | Longreads | October 4, 2015 | words

The following four essays take on saints, proselytization, prayer and coincidence: abstractions that may have great impact on our everyday lives, regardless of faith tradition.

Posted inNonfiction, Reading List

The Crossroads of Secular and Spiritual: A Reading List

The following four essays take on saints, proselytization, prayer and coincidence: abstractions that may have great impact on our everyday lives, regardless of faith tradition.
Photo: digitalpimp.

The line between faith and, well, everything else, is not as stark as I was taught. The “secular” world is not any more evil than the religious world. Sometimes, they aren’t even that different, despite what my Focus on the Family teen magazines would have me think.

I studied American literature as a freshman at my conservative Christian college. My best friend and I walked, bleary-eyed, to our 8 a.m. survey course, and made fun of the sloppily-dressed upperclassmen as a way to stay awake. We dressed up, sometimes in matching outfits, to endure a torturous semester fraught with angry Puritans. By second semester, my friend lost interest. I stuck around, and I’m glad I did.

Re-examine all you have been told at school or church or in any book, dismiss whatever insults your own soul, and your very flesh shall be a great poem…” 

The Transcendentalists—especially Ralph Waldo Emerson and the above-quoted Walt Whitman—caught me by surprise. I had not known these people created their own modern theology. Evangelical Christians sometimes deride “Cafeteria Christians”—Christians who pick and choose the parts of tradition that gel and leave the rest. Though my professor and classmates gently disagreed and discarded Transcendentalism, I read and reread our assigned readings. This was the first time I witnessed humanist tendencies colliding with traditional religion, and the result was captivating.

I’m drawn to this intersection, this give-and-take: A borrowing, or an appropriation. Eternal life/immortality, fate/(pre)destiny, passion/”calling”—these concepts are two sides of the same coin, a coin placed in the offering plate or handed to the homeless woman on the corner. The following four essays take on saints, proselytization, prayer and coincidence: abstractions that may have great impact on our everyday lives, regardless of faith tradition.

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