Saturday, February 21, 2015

The Problem With Strictly Consensual Sex

A heated conversation on Facebook the other day got me thinking about sexual ethics.  It seems to me that there’s been growing concern with the topic.  I am specifically referring to such things as slut shaming, consent and the definition of rape.  The problem, I think, is that the prevailing wisdom is misguided, and dangerously so, due to the unqualified reliance on consent as the foundation for sexual ethics.  This is compounded by the emphasis on personal choice in sexual relationships so that there is no model of what one should strive for.

In the online discussions, consent is heralded as the champion of modern sexual ethics.  It has a lot to commend to itself.  It eliminates all the bad sex that people want to fence out while leaving all the freedoms that people want to keep in.  It’s a simple and easy ethic and best of all it is exactly congruent with Postmodernism’s concern for individual choice and its scepticism with institutionally mandated ethics.  Although it is a simple idea, we’re still in the midst of figuring out details about what is meant by consent.  For example, it was recently announced that in Californian universities, consent no longer is entailed by “no means no” but rather the much stricter “yes means yes”.  All in all, there seems to be an optimism about the project’s success and these little changes represent the final touches before its completion.  Although I once would have been unable to find fault with the idea I now think it’s rather like a builder touching up the paint on the foundation when the reality is that it is about to be crushed under the weight of the building. 

I should state that I am in complete agreement with the necessity of consent.  It is the sine qua non of healthy sexual relationships.  However, it is nowhere near robust enough to protect people from damaging sexual relationships.  This should be obvious from the simple fact that people regularly consent to all sorts of damaging behaviours.  People consent to try crystal meth for the first time, some consent to gamble away the rent check, others consent to eat cheeseburgers until their heart gives out, some risk their jobs checking facebook at work, many text and drive and some consent to play video games all night instead of studying for the big exam.  Most people make bad personal choices on a regular basis, or at least I do.  It should be incontestable that many are going to consent to sex when it is definitely not in their best interests.  

Granted freedom is important and an entailment of freedom is the freedom to choose badly.  The difference with sex is that there are two people involved.  While I would defend a friend’s right, for example, to abuse alcohol I would feel morally culpable if I were to offer that alcoholic friend beer or invite them down to the pub for drinks.  If I thought it would help, I would go so far as to intervene in their life trying to prevent them from consenting to actions that I know to be harmful.  Should one not take some thought towards whether their partner’s best interests are met by having sex, even if they consent to it?

I strongly believe that in addition to consent, all healthy sexual relationships require that one has the interests of the partner at an equal to or higher priority as one’s own.  On the one hand this seems like it should be uncontroversial, but on the other it opens a whole host of difficulties, chief of them being that the agency of choice no longer remains entirely with the individual.  If you have a moral obligation to disregard your partner’s consent and refrain from sex if you think that it would not be in her best interests, then you have effectively usurped her ability to make her own decision. This is inconsistent with the ethic of consent.

The problem is that consent fails to deal with some important questions.  If a partner consents to sex but you know that she uses sex as a means of validation can you in good conscience sleep with her?  If he consents to sex in the moment but you know that he will regret it in the morning can you sleep with him without guilt?  If a partner consents to sex but you know that sleeping with him or her is not in their best interests, can you claim that their consent gave you moral license to do so?  There are all kinds of bad reasons that motivate people to have sex, to deal with self-worth issues, due to peer pressure, loneliness or out of depression.  In these cases there is consent but sex will likely only serve to compound the issue that motivated sex in the first place. 

It is easy enough to think of a situation where the conditions of consent are met but engaging in sex would not be appropriate.  Here’s an example: Two people are in a relationship.  He is deeply in love but she is not.  She knows this but likes his company and is currently content.  He suggests sex thinking it will be a meaningful way of taking their relationship to a deeper level.  She agrees to it, for somewhat baser motivations, fully aware that she has no long term plans with him and also aware that the pain of the breakup for him will be considerably more severe after having sex than before.  She tells herself that he is capable of making his own decisions and living with the consequences.  Perhaps she feels it would be patronizing to question his consent. 

The easy reply is that they should have had an honest discussion about expectations.  Had they done so he would have realized that he shouldn’t sleep with her and made a better decision to withhold consent.  One might want to say that healthy sexual relationships entail good communication and especially discussions about expectations.  I’d agree that’s true but that conclusion cannot be reached using the standard of consent.  To get to that conclusion requires a previously held ideal of sexuality.  Our definition of healthy sexuality is that it is consensual, which is the case in this instance.  If consent is the only criterion, the woman has no guilt for sleeping with him even knowing the consequences her actions would cause when she walked out his door in the morning, never to return. 

I would think that most people would fault the woman for her actions.  I am certain her partner would.  But we cannot fault her unless we also provide some justification for why. Herein is the problem. Consensual sex is the definition for healthy sex.  We are told we should only consent to healthy sex but healthy sex is defined as anything that is consensual, an unhelpfully circular logic.  Our culture’s only message concerning healthy sex is that it’s the individual’s choice to decide what works for them.  The obvious result is that each person is sentenced to their own individual trial and error process.  Maybe the man will learn from the experience to seek out better communication in future relationships.  Or maybe he will mistakenly chalk things up to his poor sexual performance and he will seek out ways to improve his technique so one day a woman will be willing to commit herself to him.  Or maybe his self-esteem won’t recover and he won’t date again.  He’s on his own; we can wish him luck but we can’t tell him where he went wrong.

I have to believe that people consent to bad sex all the time out of ignorance.  Let’s use polyamory as an example.  I recently read an article advocating its merits but there was an interesting quotation.  The woman in the relationship told her partner, the author, that she’d rather he sleep with five women one time than one woman five times.  That doesn’t sound like a glowing testimonial of polyamory, it sounds like a testimonial of monogamy but with a low view of the intimacy of sex.  

What is needed is an honest assessment of where sexual satisfaction is best met.  This is entirely my opinion, but too many people consent to sex when their view of sex is almost solely based upon media portrayals of sex, or worse yet from pornography, which are misleading at best.  For prudent decisions, wisdom is required and the courage to denounce certain practices as harmful.  To continue with the polyamory example, I have read accounts of people proclaiming the happiness and satisfaction that they have found having multiple partners.  Even if that is the case, and I’m doubtful, is that actually a reasonable endorsement for the practice?  Finding a 98 year old pack a day smoker doesn’t disprove the danger of cigarettes. 

Promiscuity is another timely example.  Anyone who criticizes it runs the strong risk of being accused of slut-shaming because people should be allowed to do what they want with their own bodies. Be that as it may but it’s probably worth investigating to see what sort of long-term satisfaction promiscuity tends to bring.  Just like cigarette manufacturers need to market the dangers so that consumers don’t unknowingly consent to risks, the associated emotional risks of various practices ought to be taught, not just the physical risks.  It’s not a matter of restricting freedom, but rather of offering people the freedom to make informed decisions.  Furthermore, I think we have to recognize that by only teaching consent as the determining factor of sexual ethics we are teaching a dishonest, harmful and selfish ethic.  One must have their potential partner’s interests in mind but that is meaningless and indeed impossible if consent is our only guide. 

To return to the smoking analogy, one could, in good conscience I feel, either ban smoking completely while leaving the education of smoking's dangers unstated or one could permit smoking while providing excellent education about the associated risks.  However, it would be the height of irresponsibility to permit and even encourage smoking while denying anyone the right to offer warnings of possible harms.   In a remarkable example of unfortunate timing, enormous freedom is given at the same time that guides are being silenced.  Because our culture is championing personal freedom of choice, dissenting voices are criticized.  “What is right for you might not be right for other people.”  The responsibility of making wise choices is left up to the individual at precisely the same time that the relevant information is withheld.  By moving towards consent based sexual ethics we have effectively divorced commitment and love from sex.  It should be no surprise when the result is casual and loveless sex.  

Or maybe I’m wrong and most people are in fact employing their freedom to good effect, managing to find, without guidance and with minimal missteps and emotional harm, the sorts of fulfilling sexual relationships that provide deep satisfaction.  Maybe we can just trust that our partner’s consent is unquestionably the best personal decision for them and we shouldn’t insult them by taking anymore thought on the matter.  In any case, feel free to ignore my opinion if you don’t like it.  We’re all entitled to live our own lives! 

But personally, I continually grow fonder of Mr. Chesterton’s perspective on the matter. 

I could never mix in the common murmur of that rising generation against monogamy, because no restriction on sex seemed so odd and unexpected as sex itself. To be allowed, like Endymion, to make love to the moon and then to complain that Jupiter kept his own moons in a harem seemed to me (bred on fairy tales like Endymion's) a vulgar anti-climax. Keeping to one woman is a small price for so much as seeing one woman. To complain that I could only be married once was like complaining that I had only been born once. It was incommensurate with the terrible excitement of which one was talking. It showed, not an exaggerated sensibility to sex, but a curious insensibility to it. A man is a fool who complains that he cannot enter Eden by five gates at once. Polygamy is a lack of the realization of sex; it is like a man plucking five pears in mere absence of mind.

And from his masterful A Defense of Rash Vows:

The revolt against vows has been carried in our day even to the extent of a revolt against the typical vow of marriage. It is most amusing to listen to the opponents of marriage on this subject. They appear to imagine that the ideal of constancy was a yoke mysteriously imposed on mankind by the devil, instead of being, as it is, a yoke consistently imposed by all lovers on themselves. They have invented a phrase, a phrase that is a black and white contradiction in two words — ‘free-love’ — as if a lover ever had been, or ever could be, free. It is the nature of love to bind itself, and the institution of marriage merely paid the average man the compliment of taking him at his word. Modern sages offer to the lover, with an ill-favoured grin, the largest liberties and the fullest irresponsibility; but they do not respect him as the old Church respected him; they do not write his oath upon the heavens, as the record of his highest moment. They give him every liberty except the liberty to sell his liberty, which is the only one that he wants.

It is exactly this backdoor, this sense of having a retreat behind us, that is, to our minds, the sterilizing spirit in modern pleasure. Everywhere there is the persistent and insane attempt to obtain pleasure without paying for it. Thus, in politics the modern Jingoes practically say, ‘Let us have the pleasure of conquerors without the pains of soldiers: let us sit on sofas and be a hardy race.’ Thus, in religion and morals, the decadent mystics say: ‘Let us have the fragrance of sacred purity without the sorrows of self-restraint; let us sing hymns alternately to the Virgin and Priapus.’ Thus in love the free-lovers say: ‘Let us have the splendour of offering ourselves without the peril of committing ourselves; let us see whether one cannot commit suicide an unlimited number of times.’

Emphatically it will not work. There are thrilling moments, doubtless, for the spectator, the amateur, and the aesthete; but there is one thrill that is known only to the soldier who fights for his own flag, to the aesthetic who starves himself for his own illumination, to the lover who makes finally his own choice. And it is this transfiguring self-discipline that makes the vow a truly sane thing. It must have satisfied even the giant hunger of the soul of a lover or a poet to know that in consequence of some one instant of decision that strange chain would hang for centuries in the Alps among the silences of stars and snows. All around us is the city of small sins, abounding in back ways and retreats, but surely, sooner or later, the towering flame will rise from the harbour announcing that the reign of the cowards is over and a man is burning his ships.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Doggone Dogs: On Acquiring a Dog in Mexico. (Easier than one may think)

"Is there a dead dog over there?" I asked Lisa.  Her lovely home in Jalisco, Mexico has a lot of space including a large covered patio which currently was the (final?) resting place of a strange dog.

Lisa's reply was one of curious scepticism, until she looked over and saw what indeed looked to be a dog on it's side, two of its short legs elevated in the air.  There's certainly no shortage of stray dogs around here but the property is entirely fenced off and it's rare that any would find their way inside.  Perhaps a dying dog would be tempted however, to find a quiet place away from the busy road to die in peace.

We went over to investigate.  The dead dog experience a remarkable recovery and ran away.  I say ran, but really it was more of a waddle.  This dog wasn't dead, but she was pregnant, and evidently had been for a while.  Luckily she ran off.

Lisa and Luis have a dog already, a cute little Cocker Spaniel Puppy.  They got it by mistake.   Their friend and landlord was talking with Lisa about dogs.  He was saying how they'd like a dog but didn't have the space at their personal house, "but look at all this space here!  This property would be perfect for a dog!"  What's more, he knew of a dog who just had puppies.  Lisa agreed and said it would be great to have a dog here, thinking that the landlord wanted to have a dog but keep it at the rental house.  A simple translation problem lead to the confusion.

The miscommunication was later sorted out.  Lisa agreed with Luis that they definitely didn't want a dog of their own.  They decided that they needed to call their friend to let him know about the "change of heart".  The phone call was postponed during the craziness of Christmas time.  Shortly afterwards however, they were saved the trouble of making the call themselves.  Their friend called to let them know he had their dog for them.  It had been in their house for a week now and could they please come and pick her up.  They decided to name her Galleta, Spanish for "cookie".

In the evenings I've enjoyed sitting on the patio reading.  The nights are warm and the stars are bright.  It would be incredibly relaxing except for the fact that Galleta likes to play then.  Playing involves biting at my toes, hands and, if all this fails to get a reaction, my face.  I've been thinking that I would like a dog for some time now so generally I can be tempted to leave my book to chase her around the yard in the soft glow of the patio light.  Two nights in a row I saw a small creature slip off into the night when Galleta and I play in the dark.

A day or two later Lisa and I saw this same pregnant dog hovering around the edge of the property.  I brought a small bowl of food to her and tried to tempt her off the property.  I wanted to feed her but didn't want to encourage her to associate the house with food.  Evidently hungry, she followed closely for a ways and then stopped and went back.  She was in the same area that I saw her the night before, by some assorted detritus leaning against the fence, and I speculated to Lisa that she had her puppies there.  I left the bowl near her and she ate it.

Yesterday we were enjoying Easter lunch when we spotted her.  We explained to friends Juan and Cynthia about her.  Juan later went to the area to look for evidence of a litter  He came back and said that indeed there was a puppy there, but it had died.  She continued to hang around.

This morning, while Lisa was out, I was changing Santiago's diaper, simultaneously trying to clean him up, keep his feet out of the dirty diaper and the Cocker Spaniel puppy from taking the used wipe for a toy, when I spotted movement in my peripheral vision.  It was the little stray puppy who had braved the trip to come up to the house and peek inside.  I finished changing the diaper and rushed outside to chase the dog away.  Can't turn the house into a shelter for all the strays, that's for sure.

I ran out shouting and looking as threatening as possible.  The dog rolled onto her back, looking up submissively, her swollen teats all too evident.  I'm the kid who cried when Bambi's mother died.  I didn't not grow up into the sort of man who can hit a dog who's lying on her back looking up at me like one who expects nothing else.  I poked her with the end of a broom, a trick I learned from little old women in the cartoons.  I went into the house.

Lisa came home and I explained what had happened.  We saw the dog later on.  I barbequed chicken for lunch.  The chickens here are sold with organs and feet included.  I grilled them up and fed them to the dog.  Lisa suggested that since there's almost certainly contact between the stray and Galleta we should throw some flea powder on her.  I agreed.  The instructions said that the powder must be rubbed in so that it gets to the skin.  I followed the instructions.  I can't blame the dog if she felt that she was being petted in an affectionate manner.

I have found myself petting her absentmindedly while sitting reading a book.  I wonder if I'll soon have a fuller understanding of the idiom "lie down with the dogs, get up with the fleas."  Lisa looked at her and proposed that we could name her even if we didn't have intentions of keeping her.  I agreed.  We sat on the patio chairs and looked at her trying to think of a good name.  "Mango!" Lisa submitted.  Instantly I knew that it was a great name.  "Mango Unchained!" I said.  She is, after all, a stray.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Habemus Papam

I just heard on the radio that a new pope has been elected.  As of yet, exactly who has been elected isn't known.  The smoke signals only tell us so much.  I heard that there's a decent possibility that a Canadian cardinal, Marc Ouellet will be the first North American to receive the honour.  The patriotic part of me hopes for this, but on the other hand he's conservative by Catholic Cardinal standards which is quite a few shades too conservative for me.

I understand that it's possible to bet on papal elections.  I'm not one to gamble; I hate losing money far too much but I think that if I were to bet on anything, it would be this.  For one thing, part of the fun would come from the fact that the opportunity comes so intermittently.  For another thing, historically it's been quite difficult to anticipate who will be chosen.  This means, I would think, that there's a better chance of getting a good payout by supporting a dark horse.  I would think that the odds are not going to be quite as accurate as other forms of gambling, such as sports gambling where there's much more historic precedent to base the odds on.  Plus, it seems like a good way to get an idea of what sort of people are in the upper echelons of the Catholic Church.  I'm not sure if such knowledge provides any practical benefit, but it couldn't hurt to know it.

Thinking about this lead me to a rather brilliant and novel novel idea.  The plot would involve a scandal where the mob rigs the papal election in order to cash in on gambling.  Boom.  It seems like a safe bet that today's public would go mad over that plot.  Aspiring writers, you're welcome.

I've included some artwork courtesy of Calvin French.  The text at the bottom reads, "I once was only a cardinal.  Now I am Pope."  Crayon is an underutilized medium among artists, I feel.

I should also mention that the new pope has been announced, formal cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio from Argentina.  I applaud the liberality of the cardinals in being so bold as to choose not just a non-Italian but a non-European pope.  Glad I didn't vote on this election.  I suspect I would be out some money.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

How To Change

I recently read/am reading two books, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey and What Good is God by Philip Yancey.  Philip Yancey is one of my favourite authors and The Seven Habits is one of my favourite books, one that I'm now reading for the second time.  It was interesting though, because of something I realized only through my concurrent reading of What Good is God.

In it, Yancey describes several different places where Christianity is making a positive difference in peoples' lives.  Maybe my favourite chapter was the one that described Alcoholics Anonymous meetings and the role spirituality plays in their treatment.  One of the steps in the Twelve Step program is admission that you are an alcoholic and that you are unable to overcome alcoholism.  (Perhaps that's two of the steps, I don't know)

In any case, members are instructed to seek help from a higher power in order to stay sober.  Of course not everybody agrees with this mentality.  However, it does a beautiful job of leveling the members.  All come together from a place of weakness and humility.  There is no need for posturing or pretension because everyone is on an equal plane, one of mutual dependence and support.

In The Seven Habits, the reader is implored to self-improvement through personal effort.  In the same way that the alcoholics are urged to change their behaviour during the meetings, the reader is urged to change her behaviour and to adopt the seven habits through force of will.  Success comes from within, rather than from beyond.

The two ideas are diametrically opposed and yet I want to accept them both.  Both have merit.  Both, if taken unrestrictedly, lead to dangerous positions.  There is the risk of accepting a victim's stance if you agree to the alcoholic's inability to change but if you think change comes entirely from within there can be big psychological penalties for failing in one's attempts to change and judgement for those who keep destructive habits.

Well, I've just about lost interest in writing this post.  I just thought it was interesting to see these two ideas side by side.  Makes you wonder.  (Well, makes me wonder at least)

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

On Underwear and Good Living

Yesterday as I was getting dressed I realized that it was time to throw out the pair of boxer shorts I was wearing.  Retiring underwear always follows the same routine.  One day I look down and all of a sudden realize that my underpants are well past their prime.  I never notice the first little hole or two, so finding several large holes always comes as a surprise as if everything deteriorated in one final washing.

These underwear were however, if not special, at least notable.  There are, in my experience, two ways of getting new underwear: they arrive in my stocking at Christmas or I buy them on that day when I realize I don't want to do laundry but nor do I want to wear the same underwear for even another moment.  These underwear did not arrive in either way.  These ones came to me almost miraculously.

One summer while spending time with my sister and brother-in-law Lisa showed them to me and asked if they were mine and had become mixed up in her laundry.  I was certain that they weren't mine but Luis was equally certain they weren't his.  They had just appeared somehow with the rest of Lisa and Luis' laundry.  Lisa told me I could keep them.

Wearing underwear that isn't mine is not something I ever liked the idea of.  However, I do like things that are free.  However, I don't like intimate second hand clothing because, well I don't have to explain do I.  Anyway, I eventually reasoned that my discomfort was mostly in my head.  I've often slept in hotels without a thought of the sheets that have enveloped other slumbering bodies, or even worse, non-slumbering bodies.  I've gone to restaurants and used forks that have been in countless other mouths.  So if those boxers have been washed with lots of detergent in extra hot water, what's the problem?

So I wore them.  I never liked them.  They were always last in my underwear rotation.  First my comfy MEC boxers, then some well-fitting cotton ones, then the ones that are prone to giving me a wedgie and then finally, if there's nothing else available, I'd use these ones.  They were last because, what bothered me more than the fact that they were second hand, was that they were Playboy boxers.  On the front of the elastic was the iconic bunny.

I don't understand why people would want the Playboy's emblem on their clothes.  When I was in Spain I remember often seeing young girls who had Playboy T-shirts and I always thought it was the saddest thing.  Now there are a few things that Hugh Heffner, Playboy's founder, is known for and therefore called to mind by the bunny.  Perhaps these are the images that one wishes to evoke by sporting Playboy clothing.

The first is sex with beautiful young women, many beautiful young women.  I suppose that biology dictates that at a base level, there's something attractive about this.  However, Hugh Heffner is now in his eighties and has continued his playboy lifestyle, sometimes simultaneously having multiple girlfriends who are young enough to be his granddaughters.  Whatever mystique there is about being a playboy suddenly seems like a dirty farce, about as attractive as second-hand underwear.

To a certain extent, Heffner is also famous for luxury living.  He lives in the Playboy Mansion and enjoys the finer things in life.  This for me is more tempting than sleeping around with hordes of lovely nubiles, but it's not what really tempts me about Heffner's lifestyle.

Hugh Heffner is famous for wearing pyjamas all the time.  Silk pyjamas.  Although I wouldn't necessarily say that I want to wear pyjamas all day every day, I know myself well enough to know that it's a habit that I could easily fall into.  I am naturally somewhat lazy and can spend the day undressed and unproductive just through inertia.  I don't like this quality and therefore I often have to talk myself into being more productive.

So, today I throw out my Playboy underwear, gratefully because wearing good underwear is an important first step towards having a good day.  I know that throwing the underwear out won't automatically make me productive but it's a good reminder of what life I don't want to have.  Heffner can try to sell the desirability of his playboy lifestyle but I'm not buying it.

That being said, I should remain mindful of the fact that I didn't buy my Playboy underwear; it just fell into my lap so to say.  I need to make sure that the pyjama lifestyle does not.  (So far I haven't had to worry about either wealth and luxury or beautiful nymphomaniacs falling into my lap.)

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Recommending Book Part II

So yesterday's post inspired me to see if there are other authors who have published lists of their favourite books.  What I did find is a page that had 40 famous people name their favourite books.
Of course the question of what is your favourite book is really difficult, at least for people who don't like lying.  Because as we all know, the real question is, "what book do you like that will win you respect for liking?"  It's a safe bet that someone will be tempted to answer Ulysses, by James Joyce and that same person will be lying.

Confession time.  Writing my list yesterday made me think of a book that challenged what I thought about nuclear weapons.  That book did not make the list because it's The Sum of All Fears by Tom Clancy.  Not much respect earned for reading that book.  Or John Grisham's The Chamber which challenged what I think about capital punishment.  I'd like to include the caveat that I read both these books when I was considerably younger, but that's disingenuous because I still like books that are almost certainly merely escape fiction.

So I've thought of a more objective criterion for measuring my favourite books.  It has its own flaws, but adds a different perspective.  I should mention that my list yesterday was specifically not a list of my favourite books, but ones that have influenced me the most.  This blog is more a list of books that I've enjoyed the most, sort of.

Here's a list of books that I've read multiple times.

I would guess I've read each of these at least four times:

Flint, Louis L'amour
Blue Like Jazz, Don Miller
Orthodoxy, G.K. Chesterton
Reaching for the Invisible God, Philip Yancey
Yeager: an autobiography, Chuck Yeager
Treasure Island, R.L. Stevenson
A Short History of Nearly Everything, Bill Bryson
In a Sunburnt Country, Bill Bryson
The Lost World, Michael Crichton
The Dog Who Wouldn't Be, Farley Mowatt
The Sacred Diary of Adrian Plass, Adrian Plass
and perhaps some of the Harry Potter novels.

If I include at least three times read there's a bunch more Bryson, Mowatt, Yancey, Crichton and some Clive Cussler I believe.  I've probably read a couple of Terry Pratchett novels three times, certainly twice.  The Godfather would be on the list and probably some Lee Strobel books.  If I were to guess, there are at least a dozen Louis L'amour novels that I've read at least three times.  Also the Hobbit.

A list of books that I've read at least twice would include a few dozen Louis L'amour, most Crichton books, several Grisham books, several Clive Cussler and a fewTom Clancy.  It would have some Sherlock Holmes stories, several James Herriot stories, maybe some Ken Follet.  It would include both  Brave New World and 1984, all the Harry Potter books except the last one, some Leon Uris and The Spy Who Came in from the Cold.

So what are my favourite books?  Tough question.  I can tell you that I'd happy to read many of the books I've listed above again; I don't know if that's true of The Brothers Karamazov!  When asked my favourite book though, many of those listed above would not be mentioned, they're just too shameful!

Recommending Books

I recently took a trip to and saw a list of the "best christian books" as voted by users.  I looked up good christian nonfiction because I'm tempted to think that good christian fiction is an oxymoron.  (The Sacred Diary of Adrian Plass being a shining counterexample)  The first book was Mere Christianity, which I have no problem with.  Second was a book by Francis Chan that I haven't read, but I'm certainly sceptical about its position in the number two spot.  Third was one of the Lee Strobel apologetics books.

I'll forgo a in depth critique of the list.  Let it just suffice as another damning example of the ills of democracy.  It's a nice idea to give everyone a voice into choosing what are the best books, but the end result is an uninspiring list.

In contrast to the goodreads list, I went over to Philip Yancey's website where he has a list of his favourite books.  Now I understand that I'm pretty biased towards Yancey, and his individual point of view cannot offer the breadth of opinion that a democratic list would, but regardless his list is far superior.

In many of his books, Yancey describes how these authors and books have shaped him and consequently I've chosen to read many of them.  It's interesting to find what influences people, especially when it's a person you admire.

It made me think about what I'd include if I had a list of books that had most shaped me, if only by challenging my way of thinking.  Upon short reflection, here's my list.  I've spent little to no time ordering it.  Books with asterisks are those I read because Phil recommended them.

1. *Orthodoxy, G.K. Chesterton
2. Reaching for the Invisible God, Philip Yancey
3. What's So Amazing About Grace, Philip Yancey
4. Mountains Beyond Mountains, Tracy Kidder
5. Shake Hands with the Devil, Roméo Dallaire
6. The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, John LeCarré
7. Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis
8. *Becoming Human, Jean Vanier
9. The Practicing Mind, Thomas M. Sterner
10. Lullabies for Little Criminals, Heather O'Neill

I think that I should read more of the books that Yancey recommended.

A question for my either of my readers.  If you could choose one person, whose list of book recommendations would you pick?