A list of great books that aren't overtly religious
I have just started some of the publicity for my new book, The Prodigal You Love: Inviting Loved Ones Back to the Church and I have found that a lot of people want to buy the book to give to their fallen-away loved ones.
I don’t think this is a bad idea.
I actually think my book would be helpful for fallen-away Catholics who are open and lingering around the door, wondering whether to make a move. It also would be helpful for Catholics who are going to church regularly or semi-regularly but need a boost. Or for Christians interested in a Catholic perspective on evangelization. Basically, my book has a pretty wide potential audience, although the main audience is clearly active Catholics who are concerned about loved ones who are away from the faith.
But for some groups of fallen-away Catholics, especially those who are really alienated from the Church, my story as an atheist-turned nun plus evangelization advice may not be particularly moving or interesting. (I say “may” because the Holy Spirit can do anything so give my book to someone if you feel inspired!)
I recently met a woman who is an atheist and I mentioned to her that I also used to be an atheist.
“Whatever floats your boat,” she said and shrugged her shoulders.
I understand. I used to be one of those people.
But I also understand the desire that some Catholics have to give a book to their loved ones who are away from the Church.
So, I asked some of my former fallen-away Catholic friends for ideas and we came up with what I think is a pretty good list of books that do not have Catholic messages that are so obvious that our loved ones will roll their eyes and add it to the “So-and-so wants to convert me” section in their bookcase. Instead, we picked books that communicate the grace and mystery of our faith in a way that is subtle, surprising, attractive and respectful.
In no particular order:
1. The Power and the Glory by Graham Greene: The protagonist in this book is an alcoholic priest who has fathered a child in an illicit relationship. He is on the run from authorities during the persecution of Catholics that occurred in Mexico in the 1930s. The story juxtaposes an atheistic worldview, found in the character of the Lieutenant, with a supernatural worldview, found in the unlikely antihero, the “whisky priest.” But what I love about this book is that Greene surprises us with his answers. The holy people in his book are weak, sinful and confused and those who have rejected God are strong, selfless and passionately work for what they see as the good of their people. The story is a beautiful exploration of the mystery of holiness which can, and often is, found in the most unlikely of places.
2. The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky: This book is for serious readers but if the fallen-away Catholics you know are, then I recommend it wholeheartedly. After you get past the confusing Russian names, it is a fascinating look into the deepest questions of human existence and the different philosophical answers to these questions. Perhaps one of the most well-known sections of the book is The Grand Inquisitor which is a compelling argument for atheism. This is precisely why I love Dostoevsky. He does not castrate the arguments of unbelievers. Instead, he juxtaposes faith and doubt in a way that is filled with mystery and respect for free will. If the choice were obvious after all, it would not require faith.
3. Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh: I recently heard a radio interview with a woman who wrote a book about her experience with cancer. She rather proudly insisted that the experience had done nothing to change her. Evelyn Waugh does not write about such people. He instead writes about people who face life and change, grow and mature. This book is about conversion, grace and faith and though it was called an apologia for Catholicism, it does not give easy answers or portray predictable piety, something I think would be appealing to those away from the Church.