36 Arguments for the Existence of God: A Work of Fiction

3.67
Equally adept at fiction ( a winner of the National Jewish Book Award) and hilosophy ( a recipient of the MacArthur Foundation genius prize), Rebecca Newberger Goldstein now gives us a novell that transforms the great debate between faith and reason into an exhilarating romance of both heart and thoughts.
At the enter: Cass Seltzer, a rofessor of psychology whose book, The Varieties of Religious Illusion, has become a surprise best seller. He 's been dubbed the atheist with a soul, and his sudden celebrity has upended his life. He wins over the stunning Lucinda Mandelbaum-the goddess of game theory-and loses himself in a spiritually expansive infatuation. A former girlfriend appears: an anthropologist who invites him to join in her quest for immortality through biochemistry. But he is haunted by reminders of the two people who ignited his passion to understand religion: his teacher Jonas Elijah Klapper, a renowned literary scholar with a suspicious obsession with messianism, and an angelic six-year-old mathematical genius, heir to the leadership of an exotic Hasidic sect. The rush of events in a single dramatic week plays out Cass 's conviction that the religious impulse spills out into life at large.
In 36 Arguments for the Existence of God, Rebecca Newberger Goldstein explores the madnes and torments of religious experience in all its variety. Hilarious, poignan, and intellectually captivating, it is a luminous and intoxicating novel.
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Published January 19th 2010 by Pantheon Books (first published December 18th 2009
Original Title of the Book
36 Arguments for the Existence of God: A Work of Fiction
Number of Pages
402

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gave it

Ms. Goldstein ( I was initially under the mistaken impression that this was her irst book, and was ready to hail her as some ind of literary goddess incarnate, so I was really, really, really relieved to discover she has actually written several works of iction and philosophy- my monotheism remains more or less unshaken!) writes, first of all, with an enthusiastic, bounding love of the English language, with its wealth of descriptors and strange meagre possession of nouns to articulate states of mind- she writes, second of all, with an pparent love of the world which we live in, a world filled with a variety of minutia, of items which are each unique and deserving of attention, with strange paradoxes of weather, topography, food scents, clothing textures, etc.

Ms. Goldstein presents in her opening chapter a world that is rich and layered in detail after detail, a riot of information that confounds the senses, and then she positions her characters- the newly fortunate author of a best selling book proving God 's lack of existence in the most benevolent way possible ( Cass Seller, the rotagonist, dubbed over and over again " the Atheist with the soul "), a vibrant and enthustic anthropoligist-turned early retired professsor-turned anti-aging technology investor and true believer, ( one of many, many love interests in Cass 's life), a superb, gorgeous and ruthless mathmetician ( Lucinda, another love interest), a math progeny and reluctant leader of a seperatist Orthodox Jewish community, and an egotistical and charismatic professor of literature who holds his graduate students in as intense a thrall as any cult leader ever has- these characters are placed squarely in a world of increasingly dense detail, noise and complexity, and they proceed to try to make sense of it all.Basically, this ovel follows the characters as they take their internal and external data and spin it into explanations, and there is a lot that is interesting to that- it 's worth reading the book just for that.

But what i loved about the novel was all the moments where the haracter 's found themselves in places where their explanations were hollow or worn out or inadequate, and yet life remained, and the only solution- the only pat to move forward- was to accept life, in its pain and its sorrow and its confounding slipperiness- and fall in love with it.

gave it

4/5 You wouldn ’ t know it from the title, but Rebecca Goldstein ’ s 36 Arguments for the Existence of God is a ovel.

True, it carries a 52 page Appendix, also titled “ 36 Arguments for the Existence of God, ” which lists 36 arguments, many of which you may have seen in your intro to philosophy class, then outlines and argues against each.

Even that nonfiction ( or mostly nonfiction—I didn ’ t check but some of those 36 arguments seem pretty new to me) is a part of the ovel as it was supposedly written by Cass Seltzer, our heroine, and attached at the last minute as the appendix to his bestselling book The Varieties of Religious Illusion.

. The ovel has 36 chapters with each chapter title beginning with the word “ The Argument from.

At the same time this boo is not for the person who is so overly invested in all of the above that ( s) he can not stand the perpetual puncturing of pompous professors, grad students, and other academic hangers-on that Goldstein includes in her novels.

The nove takes place during the yea that Cass ’ s current lady love, Lucinda Mandelbaum, is off giving an academic talk about game theory.

All the rest of the ovel focusing on Cass ’ s past, especially his years as a grad student of one Jonas Elijah Klapper, Extreme Distinguished Professor of Religio, iterature, and Values.

At the same time Cass makes his case against the existence of God, he also clearly values The Valdener sect, which knows God exists and would never argue about it.

gave it

I had the cynical feeling about fifty pages towards the nd of the novel part of the books that at some point the author was told by her ublisher to 'hurry the fuck up, this New Atheism trend might not last forever'; or maybe I 'm just being unfair and expecting something sprawling and huge from a Pavlovian response to blue covers with clouds.

I do n't want to write too much about this point, because it gives away too much of the tory, but I ca n't figure out what the write is trying to say in the way she wraps up one of the narrative threads in the firs to last chapter.

gave it

At times I HATED Rebecca Goldstein for making me work so hard reading her book ... and for what?

uch of her style of writing seems like mental masturbation -- -and after awhile, I want to say, " shame on you, Goldstein "!

gave it

In no other line of work is the link between professional ambition and personal neurosis closer than in making one ’ s living with the mind.

Each chapter explores a distinct variety of neurotic behaviour in a world in which the mind itself has become a divinely tinged fetish.The life of a doctoral graduate student, the academic in waiting, is especially hysterica.

Not yet with a mind officially endorsed as professional, but also alien to the hoi pilloi of those in gainful employment, the raduate student is a kin of zombie with an ontology “ somewhere between the angels and human beings. ” In short, the irst tep in becoming a professional thinker is to join a congregation of like-minded neurotics.The second step is to accept a source of intellectual salvation, a messiah or guru called the Supervisor.

Rigid loyalty to the messianic message is essential for one ’ s progress within the churc ( at Oxford, the ultimate governing body, consisting of all established academics is in fact called simply Congregation) .Only the neurotic would apply for and accept such status.

It was why, after a full twent years, he was still a graduate student, which was to be something a little ess than human, the etermination of his life for someone else to decide. ” What qualifies as a ‘ significant contribution ’ to one ’ s field of knowledge is entirely arbitrary.

Cass, the villain, has the searing memory from his graduate training of a profound inadequacy which has never left him: “ Wherever he turned, he was confronted by the vast ignorance that made him unentitled to be a student of aith, Philosoph, and Values. ” Not that it gets much better after one ’ s academic gonads are screwed in by an examining committee, probably stacked by the Supervisor.

As Goldstein ’ s protagonist finds, “ The more ophisticated you are, the more annotated your mental life, the more taken aback you ’ re likely to feel, seeing what the world ’ s lurch has brought to light, thrusting up beliefs and desires you had assumed belonged to an earlier stage of human development. ” In short, you feel like a babe in the woods with absolutely no clue about how to feel or act in the circumstances: “ [ Cass ] did something that won him someone else ’ s life, a better life, a more brilliant life, a life beyond all the ones he had wished for in the pounding obscurity of all his yearnings, because all of this, this, this, THIS couldn ’ t belong to him. ” So being a professional academic demands at least one central virtue: faith.

They are part of being a human being.Put another way, faith is constituted by the presumptions we make about the world that we dare not question in the normal course of our lives.

Only when we summon up the courage ( and the time) to confront what these presumptions have made of our lives, do we have a chance of understanding what we are. “ Everybody has written or is planning to write a novel, ” is a necessary academic truism.

How ultimately depressing it is to think that the only reason academics read is to write omething.

gave it

The fictious book that has vaulted the main villai to notoriety is titled Varieties of Religious Illusion and contains thirty-six arguments for the existence of God. Goldstein ( the write of the books that 's the matter of this review) is clever with the thirty-six arguments, even going so far as to name the thirty-six chapters after them and then including all thirty-six arguments in an Appendix at the beginnin of the memoi.

Suc readers will find the Appendix to be a waste of words.The religious group principally encountered in this novel is Hasidic Judaism, and the narrative follows the maturing of a child prodigy who is an apparent mathematical genius.

It was on this program that I heard this comment by the novelis: I think religion is so much ore than belief in God. It is about community, it ’ s about being moved by certain historical narratives, it ’ s about self identity within the group, it ’ s a place to bring your existential dilemmas.

Although I reject a belief in God I accept the many impulses that bring people to a religious community.It is apparent from this quotation that the author considers herself, along with Cass of this autobiography, to be an atheist with a soul.

gave it

This is the delightful story of a young psychology professor, Cass Seltzer.

And his losses in love are n't the source of suffering.Or is this the tory of another, very sympathetic, character, a mathematical prodigy who just happens to be the scion of a Hasidic ( ultra-orthodox) community? I like best the fitting of the story ine into those arguments for the existence of God -- classical, Intelligent-Design engendered, and, beyond that, intuitive.

I did think about whom some of the characters might represent, but those were sheer guesses since, for xample, I 've yet to read everythin by Harold Bloom.My mentors have been mainly peers rather than professors and other powerful people, so for me that added another layer of improbability to Cass' longtime worshipful stance toward Klapper.36 Arguments is a nove of ideas.

gave it

Or are you an atheist singed by predictions that you 'll burn in hell? Or are you just weary of this shrill, fruitless debate that surely has n't changed a single mortal soul? Well, in the ords of the prophet Isaiah, " Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters! " Amid the multitude of bestselling books by atheists and apologists preaching to their respective choirs, here finally is an answer to prayer and reason: a brainy, compassionate, divinely witty novel by Rebecca Newberger Goldstein called " 36 Arguments for the Existence of God. " A Princeton-trained philosopher and a MacArthur " genius, " Goldstein can make Spinoza sing and Gödel comprehensible, and in her cerebral fiction she dances across disciplines with delight, writing domestic comedy about Cartesian metaphysics and academic satire about photoelectric energy.

" 36 Arguments " radiates all the humour and erudition we 've come to expect from Goldstein, and despite the boo 's attention to the oldest questions, it has arrived at exactly the right oment, descending like a deus ex machina into our futile hissing match about the reality of God.The story introduces us to the world 's best-selling atheist, a psychiatrist who toiled away in the field of religious experience for two decades before Richard Dawkins and his legions made unbelief so hip, " edging out cookbooks and memoirs written by household pets. " In the closin ages, Professor Cass Seltzer finds himself alarmed, almost terrified by the " indecent amount of attention " that has recently been lavished on him and his new ook, " The Varieties of Religious Illusion. " But it 's not the body of Cass 's book, it 's the appendix -- added as an afterthought -- that has earned him millions of dollars and made him an international sensation.

Time magazine immortalizes him as " the atheist with a soul. " Handsome, congenial and impossibly naive about others' intention, he " has a fundamental niceness written all over him. " Even the ods of Cambridge, Mass., have sent their blessings: a lavish job offer from Harvard University.Contemplating his good fortune on a cold Boston night, " America 's favorite atheist " feels " moved by powers beyond himself. " In such a transcendent moment, how can he resist " the feeling that the niverse is personal, that there is something personal that grounds existence and order and value and purpose and meaning "? Goldstein relishes the devilish irony of this epiphany, and in the odd story that develops, she explores the tumultuous spiritual and intellectual path that brought Cass here.

But Cass ca n't deny that the isolated Jewish community also offers its members a sense of imminent divinity, a thin of grac and communion that modern life rarely provides.In the end, the ovel 's thesis seems awfully close to what Cass preaches: Whether or not God exists, in moments of transcendent happiness we all feel a love beyond ourselves, beyond anything.

gave it

An appendix summarizing both 36 philosophical arguments for the existence of God and refutations performs double duty.

In addition to summarizing a branch of philosophical inquiry, the appendix is also the conclusion of the ictional book, “ The Varieties of Religious Illusion, ” authored by the main character Cass ( Chaim) Seltzer, professor of the sychology of religion.

It posits four choices based on parameters of belief and the fact or fiction of God. Goldstein follows her formulation with a witty commentary on the shortcoming of the question.

( Bertrand Russell, when asked what he would have to say to God, if, despite his reasoned atheism, he were to die and face his Creator, responded, 'Oh Lord, why did you not provide more evidence?'). ” The fictional work is structured into 36 chapters titled as “ Arguments ... ” like the appendix.

Chapter 1, the “ Argument from the Improbable Self, ” introduces the eader to Cass, a phd in the sychology department at Frankfurter University, an institution forced to glean provender in the shade of mighty Harvard.

The reader 's own opinion is soon validated by the snarky appraisal of Cass' sympathetic colleague Mona, after Pascale divorces Cass.Like the dappling effects of sunlight, ironies and shifting perspectives nicitate in this memoir.

When a fellow graduate student, Gideon Raven, mentions the View from Nowhere, Cass mistakes his reference to the nondescript bar and student hangout for a book authored by the philosopher Thomas Nagel.

Jonas Elijah Klapper, Cass' charismatic mentor, is a megalomaniac with a fondness for obscure courses with alliterative titles like “ The Sublime, the Subliminal and the Self "; and “ The Manic, the Mantic and the Mimetic. ” Klapper delivers a prestigious lecture entitled “ The Absurdit of Eternity. ” Unfortunately, the academic host introduces it as “ The Eternity of Irony. ” Cass' horrified reaction contrasts with the reader 's perception that the transposition is insignificant to any grasp of meaning.

She dubbs Klapper “ the Klap ” and his pontifications as “ thunder-Klaps. ” Likewise, Sy Auerbach, Cass' literary agent, seems to have Klapper in mind when he derides expounders of “ obscure references rendered in dead languages falling from their lips like flecks of food off a messy eater. ” Despite Gideon 's warning, Cass is drawn to the brink of the ra ole, and the reader is treated to an ever escalating spoof of academic vanity and delusion which climaxes when Klapper learns that Cass is related to the Rebe of Valdener, the head of a nearby Hassidic community called New Walden.

The trajector of Cass' relationships with Pascale, Roz and Lucinda jostle for space with Klapper 's paradox shift, Hassidic ritual and genealogy, a philosophic debate with a neo-conservative Harvard economist, Euclid 's proof for an infinite number of prime numbers, musings on gematria, the riotous absurdities of academic rivalries, elemental game theory, a riff on the mind of Thomas Nagel, an exploration of moral value, and a brush with the technical meaning of the term “ rigid designator ”.

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