Baker Reading Shelf: Professor Don Hatcher
Professor of Philosophy Don Hatcher provided us with his reading list for this edition of the Baker Reading Shelf. Thank you, Don!
Franny and Zooey by J. D. Salinger.
I read Franny and Zooey the summer after I graduated from high school in 1965. It changed my life. It is the story of Franny Glass, bummed out by her freshman year in college, who goes home to seek a religious epiphany or enlightenment by saying the Jesus Prayer, “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me, a miserable sinner.” as if it were a mantra. The irony is, as her brother Zooey points out, she has not done her homework. How can one seek religious enlightenment with minimal understanding of religion, especially Christianity? It was the first book that made me curious about a world beyond 57 Chevies, six-pound bass, and Pabst Blue Ribbon beer. Through the use of tantalizing quotes, it contained what turned out to be a terrific reading list including references to many of the classics of Western literature, Eastern religion, and ancient philosophy. One of my favorites is from Issa, a Japanese Haiku poet, “O snail, Climb Mt. Fuji, slowly but slowly.”
The Second Sex by Simone de Beauvoir.
I read this seminal work in feminism while I was still a graduate student. Besides providing some terrific insights into the situation, character, and plight of the typical female of our species, Beauvoir showed how her education in philosophy could be used to analyze and understand an important social issue like the oppression of women. Consequently, I wrote my dissertation on the book, predictably entitled The Philosophical Foundations of Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex.
Moral Man and Immoral Society by Reinhold Niebuhr.
Niebuhr, theologian and political advisor to numerous presidents, argues for a view of human nature that makes achieving social justice, which everyone claims to desire, impossible without societies first achieving relative equality of power and wealth. That is, where inequality exists, so does social injustice. My favorite chapter is “The Ethical Attitudes of the Privileged Class,” where Niebuhr debunks the standard rationalizations, ones we still hear today, of the rich to justify their inequality of wealth (and power). While it was once required reading for all BU seniors in LA 401, I still require it in my History of Political Thought II course which means that at least all Political Science and Philosophy majors must confront Niebuhr’s ideas.
Fast Food Nation by Eric Schlosser.
Being careful not to sensationalize the problem, Schlosser carefully lays out the far-reaching and negative effects of the McDonald Corporation’s (and others of its ilk) business practices on the environment, the economy, food production, other nations, families (especially children), and people’s health. I did not eat a hamburger for years after reading it
God is Not Great by Christopher Hitchens.
This is one of five books, recently on best-seller lists, that is very critical of organized religion. The others are Sam Harris’s The End of Faith and Letter to a Christian Nation, Richard Dawkin’s The God Delusion, and Daniel Dennett’s Breaking the Spell. Having taught the Philosophy of Religion for thirty years and given that religious belief is so prevalent in the U.S., I was curious what it was that made this book (as well as the other four) best-sellers. The answer may well be that the title is catchy, and, as a well-educated, widely-traveled, and successful writer, Hitchens’s book entertains the readers with much antidotal evidence for his thesis that religion has had and continues to have a negative effect on human well-being. Even if he is guilty of ignoring the positive consequences of religious belief, Hitchens has written a stimulating, entertaining, and provocative book worthy of study.