Self-Help Books and Religion

As I said previously, I read a lot of self-help books, and, for the most part, I do find them worthwhile. Sometimes all I find is one or two nuggets buried under pages of platitudes and cliches, but occasionally I’ll read something that really does change how I think about something or approach the way I tackle a project.

But I’ve found a recurring issue while reading these books, and I’m trying to understand whether it’s a problem or an opportunity.

Most self-help books are written from a non-religious perspective, which makes sense because they are targeting a wide audience. Using a religious perspective would naturally narrow their target market. But sometimes, I get the distinct feeling that the author is either going out of her way to hide that she’s drawing from Christian teachings, or she is genuinely unaware that her message has been anticipated by the Biblical authors.

For example, I’m currently reading The Gift of Imperfection by Brene Brown. I don’t know anything about her religious background. I’m only halfway through the book, and it’s full of new information and perspectives, and I’m pretty sure this will become one of those “changed the way I do things” books. But in the introduction, she talks about how the three aspects of what she calls “wholehearted living” are “connection, courage, and compassion”.

And I couldn’t help but be reminded of St. Paul,

“So faith, hope, love remain, these three; but the greatest of these is love.” 1Cor 13:13

I don’t know if the author deliberately chose the parallel but obscured the source to reach a wider audience, or if she honestly didn’t see the connection because she’s never considered religion to be a valid source of knowledge.

In a similar vein, I recently read The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron, and she does deliberately go out of her way to point out that even though she uses words like God and prayer, she does not mean for them to reference religion but rather a personalized spirituality unchained from any tradition. And yet, I find her advice easiest to use when I interpret it in an explicitly Catholic way.

Specifically, she is famous for inventing the concept of “morning pages,” which are hand-written, stream-of-consciousness pages written quickly first thing in the morning (or as close to it as possible). And she explains how this is a way of getting all your frustrations and subconscious blocks out of your head and onto the paper, freeing up your mental bandwidth, so to speak, for more important things.

I am finding this practice tremendously useful, but especially so when I use it explicitly to pray. Over half my pages are usually directly addressed to Jesus, either asking him for help with a problem or just thanking and praising him for revealing things to me as I journal. I’m sure I’m not the only one who does this, but it’s certainly not the “correct” way to use them. And yet, I can’t personally connect to a vague “Source,” when I could just as easily connect with (pray to) a personal God, the same Holy Spirit that inspired the Biblical authors, and countless other writers down the ages.

These authors’ exclusion of God from their writings, whether deliberate or unintentional, does occasionally make me wonder if I ought to be reading different authors – ones who explicitly espouse Christianity. On the other hand, had I not read some of these books, I would potentially have missed out on learning some major life-changing concepts, ones that eventually did lead me closer to God.

So I read any book that seems useful, despite its stated religion (or lack of one), and then seek to “baptise” the message in light of Catholic teaching. Kind of in the same vein as Thomas Aquinas did with Aristotle, but obviously with far lower stakes!

I hope to share some of my insights from these books here on this blog. Does that seem like something you would be interested to read?

Are there any non-Christian books you’re fond of that have led you to grow closer to God? Let me know. I’m always looking for new books to read!

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