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Spiritual Envy: An Agnostic's Quest Paperback – February 7, 2012

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 264 pages
  • Publisher: New World Library (February 7, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 160868069X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1608680696
  • Product Dimensions: 0.8 x 5.5 x 8.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (41 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #868,133 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. The contention between the "new" atheists and the devout is causing a resurgence in agnostic studies. Krasny (Off Mike) is a public radio host and a self-declared agnostic, maintaining a position that "stands open to verification of either side of the God question." Deftly balancing biography and literary scholarship, the book is both a personal examination of agnosticism and a balanced voice in the complex debate over faith's role in society. Krasny grew up a strong believer in his Jewish faith, until adolescent questioning led him to declare he just wasn't sure. Despite a lost connection with God, the young Krasny continued to seek a divine presence, even admitting to feelings of envy toward those possessing "the consolation of faith." In this book, agnosticism is a tool to philosophically engage with various manifestations of faith including organized religion, spiritual-but-not-religious sentiments, and even paranormal theories. Readers expecting a late chapter conversion will be disappointed; Krasny remains agnostic to the end, even while declaring his respect for the benefits religion can bring to believers. (Oct.) (c)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Booklist

Books by agnostics about their agnosticism (unlike the prolific atheists) are anything but a dime a dozen. In fact, Krasny’s latest is one of only a dozen or so published this century. Krasny may be a university professor, but he doesn’t address his questions as an academic. He explores agnosticism the way he explores topics on his daily NPR show—in a thoughtful, informed, and almost conversational tone. The main difference is this isnt just any issue; it’s Krasny’s own story. The author’s honesty begins with the book’s title. He obviously envies the feelings of peace and comfort that people of faith experience. Keeping him from it, though, are innumerable questions. The book presents these ruminations with only hints to the answers. The questions involve issues like the Ten Commandments, God’s existence, evil, and tolerance. Along the way, Krasny brings many people into the conversation—fellow agnostics like Thomas Huxley, atheists like Richard Dawkins, and even biblical characters like Job. The author’s nondogmatic stance will please virtually all readers. --Wade Osburn --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

Customer Reviews

The book was easy to read, yet on a topic that's heavy enough.
I don't actually think of atheism and agnosticism as that far apart so I thought Krasny and I might have some common ground.
S. Anne Johnson
Judged by these criteria, Michael Krasny's Spiritual Envy book eloquently and effortlessly achieves both.
Bruce B. Razban

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

44 of 47 people found the following review helpful By John L Murphy TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on September 30, 2010
Format: Hardcover
Neither with the triumphalism of some neo-atheists, nor the steady conviction of many believers, Krasny offers a philosophy grounded in uncertainty, yet one that demands that the right questions are asked, even if answers elude the agnostic.

Unbelievers and theists both assert they have proof. Krasny finds that atheists "resembled fundamentalists in their atheism," yet he cannot accept their reduction of a creator to "the traditional, anthropomorphic God tied to religion's dark history." Instead, he looks to his childhood Judaism for a moral code based on the Ten Commandments yet open to an existentialist honesty enriched by his literary and cultural inspirations, whether Mort Sahl or Samuel Beckett, Ernest Hemingway or Mel Brooks, San Quentin's prisoners or his accountant who doubled as a magician. This combination of the personal anecdote and the erudite explication deepens the impact of Krasny's account.

This attempt to overcome such dualism between denial and verification of God's presence derives from a comfort with the unknowables. Yet, oddly, Krasny skims past Richard Dawkins' "The God Delusion" where he admitted that atheists cannot ultimately verify the divine absence. They may edge towards very dogmatic agnosticism. Krasny rushes past his own radio interview with Dawkins, a summary of which might have enriched this discussion.

These deep questions, as Krasny spends over two hundred thoughtful pages considering, may continue to elude us no less than, say, what happened before the Big Bang. Yet, as scientists ask, so does he as an agnostic. He calls himself a "spiritual wallflower on the sidelines watching and learning and absorbing without the willingness or inability to cast off doubt and skepticism and join in the dance.
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24 of 26 people found the following review helpful By Jack Bowen on October 19, 2010
Format: Hardcover
Krasny jokes that this book provides no answers: it's a book about not knowing, after all. On the one hand he is correct. Part of this book is one thoughtful man candidly sharing his own spiritual journey. That in itself is an enjoyable read. And part of this book is an exercise in posing the right questions--something that is not necessarily easy to do. If you're genuinely interested in your own pursuit of this topic, this is the book for you.

But (on the other hand) he also sneaks in some real philosophy. He correctly illuminates the fact that agnosticism is not a half-way point between atheism and theism. And he frames agnosticism in the only way it can truly make any sense: as not just an "I dunno'" position but instead an admitting that the object of hoped-for belief--i.e. God--cannot be known, and thus one is forced into agnosticism. I'm still not personally convinced, but this is the best framing I've seen of the position.

Lastly, a warning: if you're an avid reader, you'll find Krasny's multitude of references hard to resist and will then find yourself back at the bookstore with another stack of books. He references them not in the academic way (though many are "academic" sources) but in a much more accessible, conversational manner, dropping little nuggets in his writing in much the same way he does as an interviewer.

This is a book that should be included amongst the recent fervor of atheists and theists (and deists, etc.) as it aims not to be polemic but, instead, to provide a foundation for understanding and reflection.
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59 of 74 people found the following review helpful By S. Anne Johnson on November 25, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
A friend suggested Michael Krasny's Spiritual Envy to me because I write a blog, "The Spiritual Life of An Atheist" (at wordpress). I don't actually think of atheism and agnosticism as that far apart so I thought Krasny and I might have some common ground. And Krasny and I, an avowed atheist, are in many respects fellow travelers.

* We share the same position--no God until proven otherwise. Krasny writes: "Agnosticism is a position that denies the existence of absolutes and hidden spiritual forces behind the natural or material world until they can be empirically proven."

* Krasny and I agree that no guiding hand in the sky is behind life's events: "I knew, unfortunately at a young age, that we were deceived if we believed a guiding hand was behind tragedy or that faith could move the cold hand of death, let alone mountains."

* We both think the popular image of God is a human self-projection writ large: "Thinking of God having needs or expectations where we poor mortals are concerned is another product of anthropomorphic imagination, that in us which insists on creating the creator."

* Neither of us believes that prayer is going to save someone's life: "Of course, I did not believe prayers would wrest my father from the jaws of death. . . ."

* We don't believe in souls: "I assume death means the end of consciousness, and that souls neither actually exist nor transmigrate, but as with most matters of agnostic thought, I don't really know because I cannot."

* And not surprisingly, we don't believe in life after death: "Though I remain agnostic, I nevertheless believe this one life is all there is.
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