Thoughts on completing plus sized reading lists

Here are the five steps to help you read more:

  1. Make a list
  2. Schedule time to read
  3. Shorten it by reading books or taking off pointless/boring books.
  4. Don’t read too many things at once.
  5. Leisure reading is no substitute for religious reading if you’re religious.

Overly Personal Introduction
Many of us have too many books to read. I know I do. There are good reasons for this:

  1. You need to keep up with your field of study.
  2. You are really ambitious to know more about the world.
  3. You genuinely want to decrease your television/non-print/social media consumption.
  4. You want to add specific skills to your repertoire.

There are also bad reasons for this:

  1. You have spread yourself too thin and will not give up on interests that add nothing to your vocation.
  2. You want to impress people whether or not the book is a worthwhile read.
  3. You have no realistic concept of yourself or your capabilities.

Anyway, I always have a humongous list to books to read. This reasons for this vary:

  1. I’m a math teacher. So, I try to read books about mathematical philosophy, symbolic logic, motivational psychology, memory, and pedagogy.
  2. I’m a research and rhetoric teacher. Thus, I try to read books about rhetoric, logic, epistemology, inference, and critical thinking.
  3. I’m a college student. This means that I try to read books about physics, statistics, and computer programming.
  4. I’m a Bible teacher, chaplain, and a seminary graduate. For this reason, I try to read books about ancient history, ancient culture, Greek linguistics, theology, philosophy, and Old Testament theology.
  5. I’m also a nerd. So I read science fiction and have interests solely for fun like warfare, strategy, and tactics, philosophy of mind, and scientific perspectives on fitness.

For the reasons listed above, at any given time my book list (really my to read list, because it includes articles and book chapters) is absurd. It really is. It is not laudable, it is simply silly. In fact, if you talk to people who know me behind my back, they would probably tell you that I read too much, talk too much, and do too little.


Anyhow, here is my strategy to get my reading done:

  1. Make a list
    I make a list and divide into topics. This helps me tremendously. You might even find it helpful to prioritize books by putting numbers next to them in terms of urgency or personal importance. There is a difference between urgency and importance. A self-help book might change your life. But a chapter in your math text book might help you pass a test tomorrow.
  2. Schedule Time to Read
    If you do not plan to read and you are not already a reader, then you will not read. If you want reading to become your default pastime, then you must force yourself to do it until it is as natural to read when you have down time as it is to eat when you’re hungry.
  3. Cross things off the list
    When you finish a book, cross it off the list and write a few comments about it: what you learned, whether you would recommend it to others, what could have been better, etc.
    Another reason to cross things off is because you decided not to read them or finish them. If you skim a book and realize it would not enrich your life (it is not important) and it has no data that you need to know that is otherwise inaccessible (it is not urgent), then put it down and cross it off the list with a note: not worth reading.
  4. Never read more than two things at once
    There are obvious exceptions to this such as doing research or having text books to read aside from leisure reading. But exceptions aside, I recommend having a non-fiction book and a fiction book or two non-fiction books. The fiction book could be used to replace television and the non-fiction is something you read in a very intentional way. You might set aside time for a non-fiction book the way you set aside time for golf, going to a movie, or a doctor’s appointment.

    Example: If I’m reading The Everlasting Man by Chesterton and The Hobbit by Tolkien I would read the Hobbit when I have time to burn, but I would read Chesteron and his long ponderous sentences during moments when I commit to sit down and finish a whole chapter.This principle also can apply with articles and chapters for research or lesson prep. If you have time to burn, use the fiction book as a carrot: I will read and briefly summarize this journal article/book chapter before I commit to reading my fiction book.

    In my own world of reading I actually make my books for lesson prep and college into prerequisites for even reading non-fiction that is personally interesting.

  5. Religious Reading is Separate (but not really)
    Religious reading, like reading Scripture daily or studying it in depth every Sunday morning prior to church is something that can be leisurely. Still, Scripture reading, does not necessarily fit the paradigm of leisure reading. If you are a Christian I still recommend scheduled time for reading Scripture that cannot be infringed upon by other reading delights or duties. Of course, such reading must be performed in proportion to other duties.

Those five steps have already been very helpful for me this year.


Here are some aphorisms that may help you to read more fully:

  1. If you feel like scrolling on the internet, read instead.
  2. If reading feels like a chore, read anyway.
  3. Some land really just has gold on the surface and skimming can be better than reading.
  4. A steak and some salad is much healthier than fifty pieces of candy.
  5. Don’t talk about reading until you’ve read.
  6. Don’t whine about the books you want to read until you’ve read the books you have.
  7. This one isn’t mine, “Love not sleep, lest you come to poverty; open your eyes, and you will have plenty of bread. (Proverbs 20:13)
  8. Neither is this, “Whoever is slothful will not roast his game, but the diligent man will get precious wealth.(Proverbs 12:27)”*

*The lazy will not read the books they own, but the diligent will reap the wealth of knowledge and experience available to them.

Atheism and Definitions

An atheist is one who denies the existence of a personal, transcendent creator of the universe, rather than one who simply lives life without reference to such a being. Atheist is one who asserts the existence of such a creator. Any discussionof atheism, then, is necessarily a discussion of theism. –

Le Poidevin, Robin. Arguing for Atheism: An Introduction to the Philosophy of Religion. Routledge, 2003, xvii
When I was a coffee shop worker and a seminary student and found myself hanging around drinking the black brew I often found myself talking with intellectual types (we were all faux intellectuals). When atheism would come up it was often defined thus, “An atheist is not somebody who believes there is no God, an atheist is somebody who lacks a belief about God.” This to me was intolerably stupid for two reasons:
  1. One would be an afideist (a person not having belief), but etymology and dictionaries are often ignored in such discussions.
  2. The rhetoric behind this definitional change was clearly a ruse. Whenever these discussions came up, it was usually when I was memorizing vocabulary for some dead language or reading a giant tome about rhetoric in Romans or ancient patronage practices and minding my own business. Then somebody would ask what I was studying, and suddenly imply that I mustn’t understand science. Because you know, random coffee shop folks do so much science. If I did get science, I would know there was not a God. But as soon as I started pointing out various arguments for God’s existence….BOOM: “Whoa man, I’m an atheist. I don’t believe there isn’t a God. I simply lack belief in a God, don’t try to convince me. [mike drop]”

Anyway, Le Poidevin’s book about atheism and why one should be one and what one is might clear things up.

Note: I am not an atheist, I’m just saying that if anybody wishes to be one, let it be done accurately.

Update: An old friend (not his age, I see him as a young guy like Data from the Goonies), noted that “lack of belief” has become an accepted definition of the term. While I accept that, I still hypothesize that this usage, which was in circulation amongst certain academic atheists even prior to 2003, was not typical until it became rhetorically useful. For instance, Richard Dawkins, in the mid 2000s wrote the God delusion which included his infamous Boeing gambit argument for God’s non-existence, not an argument for lack of belief one way or another. But I’ll accept the facts if the usage has been so transformed. Also, I don’t hang out in coffee shops any more, so the point is practically moot.

The New Oxonian and Losing Faith

Over at the New Oxonian, this question is asked:

I therefore put to the succeeding symposiasts the simple central questions, “What would have to occur or to have occurred to constitute for you a disproof of the love of, or the existence of, God?”

For the second part of the question, there really couldn’t be disproof of God’s existence in an event. When I was in my teen years and I was thinking about constants in physics, it hit me that even those were contingent in some way. As I went on thinking, I realized that if everything that is, doesn’t have to be then there must be some prime thing that causes other things to be the way they are. That particular argument and the more sophisticated ones I have found has forced me to belief in God regardless of which religion is true.

In terms of God’s love, the author means, from earlier in his post, the love of God insofar as it is love like a human father. I don’t typically see God’s love quite that way. The analogy in the New Testament for God’s love is of an ancient patron, not of a modern day father. In that respect, God’s love is for the whole world, insofar as God invites those who believe the gospel into everlasting life. So his love is expressed in that sense. God loves the whole world of humanity in the specific way that he invites members in the household of the world (or as John’s gospel puts it, of the household of the prince of darkness) into his own. In that respect miracles of healing and even mystical experiences of God’s love are secondary to an eschatological expression of God’s salvation from sin. This is not meant to qualify my belief in “God’s love is like a human father’s love,” but my attempt to explain what I see God’s love to mean in the New Testament.

That being the case, I suppose if somebody could demonstrate that the New Testament authors made it all up, then I’d have to stop believing in God’s love in the Christian sense.

But to make some event capable of disproving God’s existence sort of misunderstands how I, and I presume many people, came to believe in a monotheistic deity in the first place.

It really is a good question though, it forces people to put some teeth to their beliefs.

A thought from a recent friend.

I recently made friends with a man who has a philosophy degree and was taking engineering classes to go to graduate school for computer programming. He became very interested in New Testament studies and his philosophical and logical training from his two fields of expertise led him to make this remark:

I was shocked at the leaps in logic and the variety of strange assumptions about dates and authorship that do not have any basis in actual evidence.

When one is an insider in a field, outsider remarks can often stink of terrible dilettantism. But I think that occasionally outsiders from sister subjects (philosophy is remarkably similar to the practice of history when it comes to carefully reviewing the foundations of knowledge) can notice important gaps of knowledge when a field becomes insular.

Leonard Euler once made a similar remark concerning apparent contradiction in mathematics that are reconcilable to how the Freethinkers treat the New Testament and any difficulty therein as instantaneously culpable or demonstrative or absolutely contradictory.

Mathematics is regarded as a science in which nothing is assumed that cannot be derived in the most distinct way from the primary principles of our knowledge. Nevertheless, there have been people far above average who have believed to have found great problems in mathematics, whose solutions are impossible; by this they imagined themselves to have deprived this science of all its certainty. Indeed, this reasoning that they propose is so deceptively attractive that much effort and insight is required to refute them precisely. However, mathematics is not lessened in the eyes of sensible people, even when it does not clear up these problems entirely. So then what right do freethinkers unwaveringly think they have to reject the Holy Scripture because of a few nuisances which mostly are not nearly as considerable as the ones in mathematics?

My point isn’t that the Bible has no contradictions, but only that within the field of New Testament studies the data set is not taken merely as a given. It is often taken as a hopelessly flawed given that can only yield true data if the content of the text is, not so much doubted (that would be a useful exercise), but assumed to be disingenuous or inferred to be disingenuous because it contains certain difficulties.

Confusion with Calvinism

I used to be a Calvinist. I’m not one these days. But I wish to voice my thoughts about a linguistic aspect of Calvinism that has always been confusing. This post is not about whether Calvinism is true. It is about using words in a confusing way that, incidentally, does come up in debate between Calvinists and non-Calvinists from time to time.

And here is the confusing bit in a nutshell:

The modern popular level Calvinist’s phrase for God’s control over every event of history is “the sovereignty of God.” The but in normal English usage, to be sovereign simply means to be a ruler of some sort. Thus, in Calvinist discourse the language of God’s kingdom in the gospels is often confused with the Calvinist language about God’s control over all events because synonymous words are used to refer to completely different things.

The lexical issue
For instance, John Piper says this:

…[H]ere’s what I mean by the sovereignty of God: God has the rightful authority, the freedom, the wisdom, and the power to bring about everything that he intends to happen. And therefore, everything he intends to come about does come about. Which means: God plans and governs all things.

When he says, “I will accomplish all my purpose,” he means, “Nothing happens except what is my purpose.”

The issue is not whether this statement is true. The issue is that the word sovereignty, in any other context means:

  1. supreme and unrestricted power, as of a state
  2. the position, dominion, or authority of a sovereign (ruler/king/prince/etc)
  3. an independent state

In other words, sovereignty means kingdom or rulership.

But, in the technical terminology that is used in this form of theology, sovereignty is disconnected from God’s kingship (his right to rule the cosmos as he sees fit and judge the peoples therein) and is directed to God’s relationship to cause and effect (in Piper’s case, God is seen as the omnidirective  immediate cause of all events).

The Gospels, the Kingdom of God, and the language of Sovereignty
The issue, for many Christians who are Calvinists or who flirt with its doctrines (I saw this problem a lot on BSM mission trips when I was younger) is that they start reading the meaning sovereignty as a technical term about God’s control of everything into Jesus’ language about God’s kingdom. This is only natural because in normal English usage, kingdom and sovereignty are synonymous.

The problem that immediately arises while reading the gospels is that God’s kingdom is something that has arrived in history (Mark 1:14-15), something that is prayed for (Matthew 6:9-13), something that is to be entered into (Mattew 5:20), and something that is opposed by the world as it currently stands (Luke 17:21).

So the problem (and again this is not meant to falsify or argue against Calvinism) is that the kingdom of God language in Scripture is the language of God’s opposition to evil, his offer of forgiveness to those who would repent, and his judgment of those who refuse it. Kingdom language is, by definition, not language about God’s control over all events. It is, by definition, language about God’s interruption of the normal course of human events.

The language of sovereignty in Calvinist thought is the language of affirming that everything that happens everywhere is God’s will is always God’s will. If this meaning is imported into Jesus’ language about God’s kingdom coming, then the language makes no sense:

  1. “The kingdom of God is at hand” would mean “God is doing his will perfectly in all of creation just like always”.
  2. Praying for God’s kingdom to come would mean “pray for everything to happen as usual.”
  3. “Enter the kingdom” would mean “be in the cosmos as usual.”

Piper demonstrates that even Calvinists with doctoral degrees in Biblical studies succumb to the problem when he says this of God’s kingdom on page 27 of his book God is the Gospel:

“Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel’” (Mark 1:14). In other words, the
reign of God has broken into this world to set things right for the sake of his people; therefore repent and believe this good news. In fact, if you do, you are part of his people. In a world so full of brokenness
and sin, there simply can be no good news if God does not break in with kingly authority. If God does not come with sovereign rights as King of the universe, there will be only hopelessness in this world.

He gives a marvelous description of Jesus’ announcement of the kingdom breaking into the world. But right at the end of it he uses the word sovereign according to it’s typical English usage. He notes that God has sovereign rights. I agree with this statement fully, yet it is confusing if we interpret this statement with Piper’s normal meaning for God’s sovereignty. God would not need to assert his sovereign rights as King of the cosmos, because in Piper’s view every event that happens is God’s will.

One other issue
In discussions with people wherein one denies the Calvinist notion of God’s sovereignty (that God does everything that happens in the world), the Calvinist often incredulously asks why you deny God’s kingship or rights over the universe. This is a clever rhetorical trick, but it is only possible because of a lexical confusion. Many rhetorically honest Calvinists don’t do this. But many others may only do it by mistake.

I propose that Calvinists come up with a new term (they won’t) for God’s direction of all events so that people don’t get confused when reading the gospels. Maybe even the old term “meticulous providence” will do. This is similar to the need of coming up with a better term for Christian growth than sanctification (because the Bible uses the word differently than the theologians). This step has been taken with the doctrine of the Trinity: when referring to Jesus as the second person thereof, we often say, “God the Son” because “son of God” rarely means “second person of the Trinity” in the Bible (in the Old Testament, son of God can mean a king, the elders of Israel, the angelic host, and by implication of the genealogies, Adam).

Are we being Sabotaged?

Today I read a book from the 1940s titled, “The Simple Sabotage Field Manual.”

I don’t know why I read it. I guess I wanted to know if it would bear similarity to how I thought in my early twenties.

What I noticed was that the last section of the book describes ways to sabotage businesses that are strikingly similar to the way that the average human being operates at work. There are also hilarious similarities to “best practices” in management, education, and leadership theory:

Don’t order new working materials until your current stocks have been virtually exhausted, so that the slightest delay in filling your order will mean a shutdown.

In making work assignments, always sign out the unimportant jobs first. See that the important jobs are assigned to inefficient workers of poor machines.

Insist on perfect work in relatively unimportant products; send back for refinishing those which have the least flaw. Approve other defective parts whose flaws are not visible to the naked eye.

Above is modern work for a giant corporation. Below you’ll see a description of any job with frequent meetings or incompetent staff.

When training new workers, give incomplete or misleading instructions.

To lower morale and with it, production, be pleasant to inefficient workers; give them undeserved promotions. Discriminate against efficient workers; complain unjustly about their work[The Peter Principle at work.].

Hold conferences when there is more critical work to be done[It works every time for not working every time].

Multiply the procedures and clearances involved in issuing instructions, pay checks, and so on. See that three people have to approve everything where one would do [While you’re at it, put the new cover page on those tps reports].

It even has a prophecy about how people will behave at movies:

Audiences can ruin enemy propaganda films by applauding to drown the words of the speaker, by coughing loudly, and by talking.

The next section must be reproduced in total because it describes the modern worker or student:

  1. Work slowly. Think out ways to increase the number of movements necessary on your job: use a light hammer instead of a heavy one, try to make a small wrench do when a big one is necessary, use little force where considerable force is needed, and so on.
  2. Contrive as many interruptions to your work as you can: when changing the material on which you are working, as you would on a lathe or punch, take needless time to do it. If you are cutting, shaping or doing other measured work, measure dimensions twice as often as you need to. When you go to the lavatory, spend a longer time there than is necessary.[Good strategy for getting paid not to work!] Forget tools so that you will have to go back after them.
  3. Even if you understand the language, pretend not to understand instructions in a foreign tongue.
  4. Pretend that instructions are hard to understand, and ask to have them repeated more than once. Or pretend that you are particularly anxious to do your work, and pester the foreman with unnecessary questions[How many meetings have you experienced like this?].
  5. Do your work poorly and blame it on bad tools, machinery, or equipment. Complain that these things are preventing you from doing your job right[If you’re a teacher you’ve heard, “My printer broke.”].
  6. Never pass on your skill and experience to a new or less skillful worker.
  7. Snarl up administration in every possible way. Fill out forms illegibly so that they will have to be done over; make mistakes or omit requested information in forms.
  8. If possible, join or help organize a group for presenting employee problems to the management. See that the procedures adopted are as inconvenient as possible for the management, involving the presence of a large number of employees at each presentation, entailing more than one meeting for each grievance, bringing up problems which are largely imaginary, and so on.[It’s like the writers said, “Use unions to ruin everybody’s day.”]

In conclusion, this book could totally be used as a guide to ruin things you don’t like or, more nobly, it could be used as a guide to what not to do at work.

Note: This is meant to be funny, but due to its description of reality, it accidentally seems plausible.