Books, Religion and Ethics

August 24 2018
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“It’s the journey not the destination that’s going to count,” said Kieran Flanagan at the start of Redland Library’s recent Desert Island Books event on ‘Books, Religion and Ethics’.

  Although Kieran’s comment referred to his own choice of books, it soon became clear that he had identified the main theme of the evening; the value of the journey and its potential for change.

A large crowd of 60 people turned up for the event which was organised by Friends of Redland Library, who asked an expert panel to recommend a book on religion and ethics, together with a ‘wild card’ - a book in any genre that they would like to take with them to a desert island.

Along with Dr Kieran Flanagan, Senior Research Fellow, University of Bristol, the panel included: George Ferzoco, Research Fellow, University of Bristol; Reverend Dr Tim Gibson, an Anglican priest and Senior Lecturer, University of the West of England; Reverend Rachel Haig, Community Minister, Tyndale Baptist Church, Bristol and Rabbi Monique Mayer, The Bristol & West Progressive Jewish Congregation.

Kieran began the discussion by recommending Crossways by Guy Stagg, a book that charts the author’s pilgrimage from Canterbury to Jerusalem and his struggle to recover from years of mental illness.  Along the way, Stagg becomes fascinated by Christianity and although he does not find faith, he does find healing.

Rachel’s pick was William Horwood’s Duncton Wood, the story of a mole empire and the struggle between good and evil, love and hate, traditional and modern values. Against these classic themes, the book also highlights the value of the simple things.  “It’s life-changing,” said Rachel, “and that’s not something you can often say about moles.”

With a warning that his choice is a harrowing – but rewarding - read, Tim selected The Enduring Melody by Michael Mayne.  While writing this meditation on a lifetime of faith, Mayne was diagnosed with terminal cancer.  Looking back over his life, he traces and celebrates ‘the enduring melody’, which as Tim explained, is the rhythm that affirms our relationship with God. 

Monique developed the theme of the spiritual journey with her pick, Everyday Holiness: The Jewish Spiritual Path of Mussar by Alan Morinis.  Mussar is an ancient system of ethical ideas and practice that can guide us through life, helping us to change our behaviour not only for our own benefit, but also to improve the world.

Dante’s The Divine Comedy charts one of the great journeys in literature and this was George’s recommendation.  George teaches Dante at the University of Bristol and talked about the poet’s life and work, giving the audience an insight into the beauty and complexity of his desert island choice.

Staying in Italy, George’s ‘wild card’ was The Story of a Humble Christian by Ignazio Silone, a book about an elderly hermit who briefly became Pope Celestine V in 1294, abdicating when he came into conflict with the realpolitik of Church bureaucracy.  From the historical past to a dystopian future, Rachel chose The Power by Naomi Alderman, an easy read which she said, helps us to think through many of the difficult questions we face today. A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness was Monique’s ‘wild card’, a book she said, that raises powerful issues around truth and lies.

For his ‘wild card’, Kieran recommended The Samurai by Shusaku Endo, a pilgrimage into Christianity that gradually uncovers the differences between Eastern and Western psychology and faith.  The evening’s final journey was across France’s Haute-Auvergne with Tim’s ‘wild card’ The Wisdom of Donkeys by Andy Merryfield, a very good book, he explained, “for cheering people up”.

The next Desert Island Books event is: Books & Poetry, which will be held at Redland Library at 7pm on 13 September (doors open at 6.45pm).