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When The Reading Light Went On

March 26, 2000

John P. Crossley, 70, director of USC's School of Religion, who specializes in 19th and 20th century theological ethics.

I started reading in early grade school and the thing that turned me on to reading was my mother's taking me to the Oakland Public Library every week. I started out reading animal stories.

In high school, I started reading serious novels. I read in study hall all the time. They were usually stories of people doing entrepreneurial things. One book was about a guy who went into the business of blueberry growing. Another was about a guy who started out with a Model T truck, then got a Model A truck and, by the end of the book, owned several trucks. This was capitalistic propaganda, teaching kids to be entrepreneurial.

I also remember "Forever Amber" in high school. It wasn't pornographic, but it was a sexy story about a young woman named Amber who experimented sexually a lot. It was definitely on the forbidden list, but everybody read it.

In college--that's when I got interested in philosophy first. I started reading a lot of classic philosophy that I never read before. John Locke was very influential, and that took me to read Jonathan Edwards, who is famous for his sermon "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God." But he wrote more than that. He wrote "The Nature of True Virtue," a lovely book. And that's when I realized that my own background, my own heritage, was a strange combination of Enlightenment philosophy, a la Locke, and Calvinistic theology. Edwards was the first person that I ever read who could put those things together harmoniously. So that's when I decided to go to seminary.

I became a Presbyterian minister, and then I went to school for a PhD and continued to read theology and philosophy. On the other hand, my wife and I have for several years belonged to a book study group, where we pledge to read a novel every two months and then discuss it. The last novel I read is "Waiting," by Ha Jin, the story of an army surgeon in China during the Cultural Revolution from 1965 to 1976.

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