Family. God. Religion. Hard Work.
All sound like GOOD things, right?
I read Educated when it first came out, and I really enjoyed it. It’s not what I expected because it doesn’t seem to be a story about abuse as much as extreme beliefs. There’s no doubt that Westover’s parents, as depicted in the book, are also extremely intelligent. Without inheriting both this intelligence and their grit, Westover would not have been able to forge her own live, on her own path.
What I found moving about this book is that it’s not just about a way out, but a way back in. She found a way to have a relationship with her family.
We all have a family, whether they are a part of our lives or not, and when we don’t have access to our family, it stays with us.
We also seem to have a psychological need for religion. It is both the most moving and profound part of humanity, yet at the same time, it does the most damage.
As such, it is a topic that has always interested me greatly.
Here are some books, some about the religious experience and some about family, that have stayed with me, for better or worse.
Blood, Bones & Butter isn’t about religion at all in the traditional sense, but the first section is memorable to me for the role that Hamilton’s relationship with her father plays in her relationship with food.
I admire Elisabeth Elliot for her commitment to her beliefs, even when confronted with great personal sacrifice.
If you read Elliot, and you haven’t read Achebe, you should do so for balance. I admire Elliot’s commitment, I don’t necessarily agree with what she and her husband were doing.
To understand the influence of religion in the United States, especially over the last 100 years, The Evangelicals is a must read. A lot of the attitudes explained here shape American politics and culture more than many realize, even among those who are adamantly anti-religion.
The same is true when it comes to the world, especially the large swaths of it dominated by the three major monotheistic traditions.
If you think Tara Westover’s father is over the top as portrayed in Educated, have you ever read about Jim Jones?
I first heard of the Guyana tragedy when I saw the made for TV movie back in the 70’s. I still can’t believe that so many people were willing to follow Jim Jones into South America and willingly die with him.
Why would anyone do such a thing? If this were a fictional story, it wouldn’t be believable.
This is the scariest horror story I have ever read.
Also, if you have ever heard the expression, “drink the Kool Aid,” this is where it came from.
These two books describe the evangelical Christian subculture in the United States, which is similar to the Mormon subculture that Westover stumbles into at BYU.
Note: The Jesus Christ Church of Latter-Day Saints, i.e. Mormons, is a Jesus-based religion, but it is separate from Evangelical Christianity, Orthodox Christianity, the Roman Catholic Church (i.e. the Latin Church, as they in some parts of the world), and Mainstream Protestantism.
The Stages of Faith explains our psychological need for religion in terms of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.
To read Maslow’s original paper on the subject, scroll down.
C.S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity explains and defends the gospel of Jesus Christ, the basis of all Jesus-based religions.
Finally, The Poisonwood Bible is a fictional account of the results of extreme commitment.
A Theory of Human Motivation, the original paper about Maslow’s hierarch of needs.
Excerpt from The Evangelicals, above, courtesy of NPR.
Note on cover photos: Buck Mountain, Tara Westover’s childhood home.
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