ILLUMINATIVE SECULAR CLASSICS (non ecclesial works capable of providing elemental context to Western secular thought and culture):
Homer: The Iliad
This Greek epic poem, portraying events from the Trojan War and employed as a means of pedagogy, penetrated ancient Greek and Roman culture so deeply, it is essential reading for apprehension of the Greco-Roman mindset of the New Testament period. Link to Volume I and Volume II of Murray translation. Alternative ISBN: 9626344288.
Homer: The Odyssey
The continuation of the Iliad – portraying Odysseus’ ten year odyssey home after the War – and of like importance. Link to Volume I and Volume II of the Murray translation. Alternative ISBN: 014305824X.
Herodotus: The Histories
Ancient account (c. 440 B.C.) of the wars between the Greeks and Persians; the rise of Cyrus the Great; and the culture and customs of the Greeks, Asians, and Egyptians, from the origins of the Trojan War to the Greek repulsion of Xerxes I. Provides historical and cultural context to the Old and New Testaments. Links to Volume I, Volume II, Volume III, and Volume IV of Godley translation. Alternative ISBN 078618969X
Arrian: Anabasis of Alexander
The most complete classical era account of the exploits of Alexander the Great, perhaps the most exalted general of Classical antiquity. Study of its hero, provides insight into values held dear by the Greco-Romans and their offspring. Image links to Chinnock translation. ISBN recommendations: 0674992601, 0674992970; alternative ISBN: 192971842X .
Livy: History of Rome
Written in the late 1st century B.C., a monumental and fascinating chronicle of the history and traditions of the ancient Romans. The following link to Volume I, Volume II, Volume III, Volume IV, Volume V, Volume VI, Volume VII, Volume VIII, Volume IX, Volume X, Volume XI, Volume XII, Volume XIII of Harvard University Press translation.
Aristotle: Nicomachean Ethics
Written if the 4th century B.C., an extensive and enduring contemplation on the pursuit and attainment of happiness by one of the most influential thinkers of Western civilization. Insofar as philosophy is in accordance with truth, it is not opposed to Christ. Image links to Ross translation.
Epictetus: Discourses and Encheiridion
Marcus Aurelius: Meditations
Applying the teachings of Epictetus and Stoicism, Emperor Marcus Aurelius’ meditations regarding practical attainment & maintenance of philosophic happiness. Image links to Long translation.
Bernal Díaz del Castillo: The True History of the Conquest of New Spain
Conquest does not seem synonymous with evangelization and the conquistadors appear more like Roman imperialists than apostles in their mode of mission. Nevertheless a fascinating and saddening account of the encounter between two widely diverse cultures. Links to Volume I, Volume II, Volume III, Volume IV, and Volume V of Hakluyt Society edition.
John Locke: A Letter Concerning Toleration
The Christian faith is a free gift freely accepted – it is not imposed by coercion. Christ manifests “the way” to communion with God by means of word and example, not by force. If, in our mission, we are to follow the dictate: “love your neighbor as yourself”, we must extend goodwill to all – even those outside church or tribe. Thus Locke considers “toleration to be the chief characteristical mark of the true church.”
Mary Wollstonecraft: A Vindication of the Rights of Woman
Women too have the right and duty to pursue wisdom and happiness by means of reason, experience, and virtue. Image links to Matsell 1833 edition.
John Stewart Mill: On Liberty
In a free, pluralistic society, what are the expedient limits of individual liberty? Image links to John W. Parker and Son, 1859 version.
David E. Stannard: American Holocaust
What kind of people engage in genocide? “Christians.” A profound cultural critique of the European colonialist invaders to the New World. Image links to Google Books entry.
Karl Popper: The Open Society and Its Enemies
Popper sees civilization as aiming at humaneness, reasonableness, equality, and freedom; a civilization still in infancy and continuing to grow and transition from the tribal or ‘closed society’ – with its blind submission to tribal leaders, traditions and prejudices – to the ‘open society’ which sets free the critical powers of man. In opposition to the transition, reactionary movements have tried, and still try, to overthrow the open society and return to tribalism (20th century totalitarian regimes present recent examples). The struggle is as old or young as our civilization itself and can be traced as far back as the political philosophies of Heraclitus, Pericles, and Plato. The open society seeks to solve as many problems as possible by an appeal to reason, i.e. to clear thought and experience, rather than by an appeal to emotions and passions, to employ an attitude of readiness to listen to critical arguments and to learn from experience: an attitude of admitting that ‘I may be wrong and you may be right, and by an effort, we may get nearer to the truth’. It is an attitude which does not lightly give up hope that by such means as argument and careful observation, people may reach some kind of agreement on many problems of importance; and that, even where their demands and their interests clash, it is often possible to argue about the various demands and proposals, and to reach—perhaps by arbitration—a compromise which, because of its equity, is acceptable to most, if not to all. In short, the rationalist attitude, or, as he labels it, the ‘attitude of reasonableness’, is very similar to the scientific attitude, to the belief that in the search for truth we need co-operation, and that, with the help of argument, we can in time attain something like objectivity. The fact that the rationalist attitude considers the argument rather than the person arguing is of far-reaching importance. It leads to the view that we must recognize everybody with whom we communicate as a potential source of argument and of reasonable information; it thus establishes what may be described as the ‘rational unity of mankind’.
The open society, as described by Popper, seems not incompatible with Christ’s command to ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’ and preferable to the forms of tribalism which portray the world as ‘Us vs. Them’, dehumanize those outside the ‘tribe’, encourage blind obedience to authority, stratify society into classes, castigate dissenting opinion, and – for the sake of maintaining an oppressing status quo – suppress universal cooperation, solidarity, and advancement. Image links to Princeton University Press edition.