My Top Ten List of Most Influential Non-Fiction

1. The Bible

2. Her Kind: Stories of Women From Greek Mythology by Jane Cahill

tied with The Essence of Christianity by Ludwig Feuerbach

3. Sexism and God-Talk by Rosemary Radford Reuther

4.The Dance of the Dissident Daughter by Sue Monk Kid

5. Alone of All Her Sex by Marina Warner

6. The Virtue of Selfishness by Ayn Rand

7. Adam, Eve, and the Serpent by Elaine Pagels

8. The Chalice and the Blade by Riane Eisler

9. The Seven Storey Mountain by Thomas Merton

10. The Wisdom of Insecurity by Alan Watts

All of these books radically altered my worldview. Obviously the Bible ranks as number one because before I could think critically, I imagined, as all fundamentalists are taught, that everything I needed to know was in this “book.” When I had an encounter with God, without the help of a Bible, and decided I needed to go to church, the Bible was introduced as a marvelous document. Before I understood the art of reading in context and before I knew the definitions of objectivity and subjectivity or the special language of philosophy, I naively imagined the book as magically endowed with supernatural powers, the mere recitation of which could alter reality, the mere reading of which could alter my thought patterns and connect me directly with God. Bizarre you say? Well, that’s what fundamentalists believe when it comes right down to it. To them, reading it is the answer to all of life’s problems. Reading it connects you directly with God and drives away doubt. Reading it keeps you safe from danger and memorizing it helps repel Satan.

CahillWhen I started college and took a mythology class, I was introduced to the second book on my list. Cahill’s book opened my eyes to the true nature of myth with this statement,

The stories that we call Greek myths are men’s stories….their substance is the stuff of men’s lives and fantasies…victory in war, glorious death on the battlefield, heroic enterprise, the slaying of monsters, the fathering of sons. None of this has much to do with women…Female characters in myth are mothers or wives or virgins, defined always in terms of men…most of them are bad or unusual women…so the versions of the stories that are familiar now are not only concerned with men’s affairs, they are also reported from a male point of view…

She also revolutionized my ideas about the historical staying power of oral and written myth and made me realize the mythological fluidity of what is called “history” by writing,

Ovid took whatever stories he wanted from Greek myth and slotted them into his framework (his theme was “change”), leaving out the details that didn’t fit and enhancing those that did…

This is what “historical writing”is all about, in a nutshell. Myths have tremendous power. Victors and those in power write history. Men had power, so men made up myths. Men could change their myths at will to fit the political or ideological needs of their society. All history was oral up to a certain point, so change was common and accepted. Nobody could transmit legend verbatim and no one was expected to. Yet, written documents, when introduced for the first time, somehow became static and sacrosanct. The point is that Cahill’s book radically altered the way I viewed written texts. From that moment on, I could never look at a written document the same way again. feuerbachThe rest of the list merely reinforced this new viewpoint. I slowly began to understand that there is no such thing as an objective point of view. We are all subjective persons writing from our own subjective viewpoints. Men began with their own experiences and extrapolated outwards to include even the gods in their imaginings. Feuerbach’s brilliant assessment of God as the Divine Predicate sealed this concept for me. Ayn Rand expanded on the concept of objectivity by teaching me that virtue is not inherent but learned and earned. Elaine Pagels brought a new perspective about when men’s ideas concerning women and the concept of evil emerged. Reuther challenged my perspective about the Christ and the church. Watts and Merton convinced me that liturgical church was more in tune with deity than preacher-oriented ones were. Since reading any of these books, I have never been the same.