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How Good Do We Have to Be?: A New Understanding of Guilt and Forgiveness Hardcover – September, 1996

4.6 out of 5 stars 65 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Library Journal

Jewish and Christian religions reinforce feelings of guilt and inadequacy by using the story of the Fall of Adam and Eve to teach that humankind's spiritual inadequacies are inherent. Rabbi Kushner (When Bad Things Happen to Good People, 1981) here retells the Genesis story of the primeval couple to demonstrate that the imperfections of humankind do not merit the loss of God's love, nor should they foster the guilt and anxiety that they often do in a society driven by a misguided attachment to perfection. Combining psychology and spirituality, Kushner invokes the power of acceptance and forgiveness as a means of overcoming the insidious consequences of a preoccupation with perfection. For most libraries.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Booklist

Kushner, best known for his best-selling When Bad Things Happen to Good People (1985), here deals with an equally vexing topic, overcoming shame and guilt. As in his other books, Rabbi Kushner turns to the Bible to find answers to hard questions, and when it comes to guilt and shame, there is no better place to start than at the beginning, with the story of Adam and Eve. The disobedience shown in the Garden of Eden came to be known as original sin, sort of a gene for badness that is passed down from generation to generation. But Kushner has a different take on the Adam and Eve story, seeing the duo as brave rather than disobedient, willing to risk paradise to become fully human. It must be said that Kushner tends to twist a tale until it fits the point he is trying to make (this is especially true in his discussion of Cain and Abel); nevertheless, his arguments, directly stated, are always thought provoking and people centered. Kushner is clearly writing to bring comfort and to show his audience how to find forgiveness in their own lives, whether that forgiveness is directed toward others or oneself. This is one psychological self-help book that deserves the popularity it is likely to achieve. Ilene Cooper

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 181 pages
  • Publisher: Little Brown & Co (T); 1st edition (September 1996)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0316507415
  • ISBN-13: 978-0316507417
  • Product Dimensions: 1 x 5.8 x 8.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (65 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #409,521 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Harold S. Kushner is Rabbi Laureate of Temple Israel in Natick, Massachusetts, where he lives. His books include the huge bestseller When Bad Things Happen To Good People and When All You've Ever Wanted Isn't Enough.

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
I was asked recently in my bible study group who I would most like to meet. It was an easy answer -- Harold Kushner. I struggled for many years (after a private Baptist school upbringing) to come to terms with my doubts about God, who was presented to me as a cruel, vengeful God. My struggle turned toward anger. After reading Rabbi Kushner's book, I felt as if a great weight were lifted from me. My soul just seemed to breathe a sigh of relief. God, as introduced by Rabbi Kushner, makes sense to me now. I have begun to see that God has simply been poorly represented by so many. This book gave me (a hard sell if there ever was one) peace. I began to study the Bible with new eyes. I began to look at myself and others with greater compassion. This is a simple book -- with life altering implications. Buy this book. Read this book. Share this book with others. (Note: Kushner's other books are wonderful as well!)
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Format: Paperback
I don't know if it is because I've read 3 other books by Rabbi Kushner, or because from the first words to the last words reading this book I feel like I am having a conversation with him. This includes many questions about life, the human condition, and religion that I have carried with me for a long time.
If someone had mentioned religion, God, or related words to me before discovering both Rabbi Kushner, and Dennis Prager, I would have been ready to bolt for the nearest door, because that had signaled what I called "Bible-thumpin time."
So, no matter where you stand on religion, politics, or the human condition, I invite you to open your mind to the possibility of forgiveness.
With the subtitle being "A New Understanding of Guilt and Forgiveness," it's nice to notice that throughout this book Kushner discusses many examples of what guilt has been for us.
He uses "The Original Sin;" "Paradise Lost;" and many other stories that show how we have interpreted God's expectations of us to mean that we are born sinners who must become perfect. Which of course is not, as he points out, God's expectations of us.
Kushner adds, "My experiences as a clergyman and a counselor has taught me that much of the unhappiness people feel burdened by, much of the guilt, much of the sense of having been cheated by life, stems from one of two related causes: either somewhere along the way, somebody - a parent, a teacher, a religious leader - gave them the message that they were not good enough, and they believed it. Or else they came to expect and need more from the people around them --- their parents, children, husbands, or wives - than those people could realistically deliver.
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Format: Audio Cassette
Having been raised in a family of six children, I was certainly able to relate to the sibling rivalry that existed because of original sin. This book was read in one day, and removed from me a whole lifetime of guilt from not understanding the bigger picture of my family's hardship. All of my other brothers and sisters are getting this book as a present this year, so that they too can understsand how God's love for us as individuals overcomes any childhood adversity we may have had. In addition, the myth of how Eve was created as a second to Adam was destroyed forever. Now as I prepare to enter into a marriage with 'my better half', I am able to realize the importance of finding the other person that completes you spiritually, emotionally, and physically. Thank you Harold Kushner!
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Format: Hardcover
The wisdom of Rabbi Harold Kushner transcends Judiasm. It finds applicability to people in all wallks of faith. In "How Good Do We Have to Be?" he puts feelings of guilt and inadequacy into perspective. Even if the reader does not agree with all that Kushner writes, the big picture is highly agreeable.

The best statement of the book is on page 180-181, "Life is not a trap set for us by God, so that He can condemn us for failing. Life is not a spelling bee, where no matter how many words you have gotten right, if you make one mistake you are disqualified. Life is more like a baseball game, where even the best team loses one-third of its games and even the worst team has its days of brilliance. Our goal is not to go all year without ever losing a game. Our goal is to win more games than we lose, and if we can do that consistently enough, then when the end comes, we will have won it all." God does not expect us to be perfect as this is not part of human nature. While the guilt and shame that haunt us as part of sin are normal consequences of our sins, it is functional to know we are in error.

Kushner also explores the Garden of Eden and the concept of original sin. He suggests that original sin allows us to feel the same discomfort God feels when he sin. This was the wisdom we earned from the tree of knowledge. We are forced to feel the same stress when our children fail as when God sees us fail. Yet we still love our children. This takes us to the main point of the book. God will love us despite our failings.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Self-help books have a (deserved) reputation of being both trite and loaded with psycho-babble.

This book is an exception. I liked the reinterpretation of Eve's act of eating and sharing the apple. It was an act of liberation for mankind, one of the bravest acts in human history - in fact, it made possible humanity *entering* history by finally giving us a choice of good and evil

It is perhaps the sincerity and simplicity of Kushner subsequent message that moved me: You don't have to be perfect to be loved, nor should you expect people you love to be perfect. You should love the whole person; not disregard their faults ("blind love"), but accept the person with their quirks and iconoclastic behavior.
Whenever I get angry with someone I love, I think about that, and my anger vanishes.

I bought a copy for my sister.
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