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Agnostic: A Spirited Manifesto Hardcover – April 5, 2016
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“In Hazleton’s vital, mischievous new book, the term [agnostic] represents a positive orientation towards life all its own, one that embraces both science and mystery, and values the immediate joys of life…In each of her wide-ranging reflections….she remains intimately grounded and engaged in our human, day-to-day life.” –New York Times Book Review
"A beautiful, inquisitive, energetic 200-page tribute to uncertainty... that’s about 50 times as charming as anything Sam Harris has ever written and 500 times more inspiring than any of Joel Osteen’s books...You might give yourself windburn turning these pages." –Seattle Review of Books
“Provocative…[Hazleton] paddles the river of doubt with energy and exuberance.” –Seattle Times
“Hazleton makes a compelling case for why agnosticism matters, and sets out a comprehensive and though-provoking definition of what it means. It’s a powerful and deeply humanistic argument, told deftly through these pages.” –Vol. 1 Brooklyn
"The title of Hazleton’s “manifesto” on agnosticism is not a contradiction: she imbues the middle ground between belief and non-belief with spirit by showing that agnosticism itself is a disposition in favor of intellectual and emotional dexterity. A book that should be read as much by the believer (the religious or atheist) as anyone else." –Flavorwire, "A Must Read"
"A heady romp through the mind of an intellectual adventurer who relishes curiosity and questioning over the dubious comforts of dogma and certainty.” –Seattle Met
“To be agnostic is not to sidestep the question of belief, for Hazleton, or to commit to a wishy-washy moral framework. It is instead to have enough backbone to stand firm in the liminality of uncertainty. She wants readers to give agnosticism a fair shake, and many will be convinced by her appealing voice and accessible prose.” –Publisher's Weekly (starred)
"Here, with clever elucidation, are artful essays that celebrate the wonder of the unknown… Hazleton does not deny possibilities; she denies only assured and implacable dogma.” –Kirkus Reviews
“Personably persuasive … Informed by science, philosophy, literature, history, travel, hiking, and more, Hazleton’s manifesto makes the suspension of conviction as attractive as any theist or atheist testament.” –Booklist
“At last, a liberating antidote to the either/or thinking of the atheist/believer debate. Hazleton makes an impassioned and persuasive case for the insights–and joys–to be gained from a stance of not-knowing.” –Reza Aslan, author of Zealot and No God but God
“It's a fraught enterprise to take on the big questions–God, meaning, mortality, existence–but Hazleton has done it here with remarkable aplomb, and in a singular voice devoid of pretension. Her manifesto is, for me, a celebration–a welcome infusion of joy in an arena preponderantly inhabited by dogmatists.” –David Guterson, author of Snow Falling on Cedars
“As a rabbi whose search for religious meaning is constantly renewed by doubt, I loved Lesley Hazelton's book. It is vibrant, challenging, extremely interesting, funny and profound. It is wise in its embrace of paradox, mystery and science.” –Rabbi Rachel Cowan, Former Director of the Institute for Jewish Spirituality
About the Author
Lesley Hazleton is an award-winning writer whose work focuses on the intersection of religion, history, and politics. She reported on the Middle East from Jerusalem for more than a dozen years, and has written for Time, The New York Times, The New York Review of Books, Harper’s, The Nation, and The New Republic, among others. Her book After the Prophet was a finalist for a PEN Center USA Literary Award, and she is the recipient of The Stranger’s Genius in Literature Award. Hazleton lives in Seattle.
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This book spoke to my beliefs. It identifies what an agnostic is and how they view the world around them. It was well written, easy to read and thoughtful. I would recommedn it tio any person who has doubts about their religious beliefs and especially those that identify as "spiritual but no religious" as I have done for a number of years.
Her chapters stand as self-contained essays on this open-ended search for meaning. She confirms that doubt is "the heart of the matter," as Graham Greene's novels or John Patrick Shanley's play dramatize. For this humility keeps religion tethered to the human. Banishing doubt, "faith is rendered moot." Without doubt, not faith but "absolute, heartless conviction" remains as a cold, chilly "Truth." Hazleton opts for inquiry rather than dogma. She quotes Emily Dickinson: "I dwell in possibility."
Her approach remains easygoing, more than two other recent studies of this stance. Robin Le Poidevin in his Agnosticism: A Very Short Introduction tackles philosophical and theological arguments for and against belief. Aimed at an intellectual readership, his book compresses considerable erudition. Michael Krasny's Agnostic Envy (see my review) blends his personal search with a survey of agnosticism as it has emerged in Western thought, but it too aims at that history of ideas audience. Hazleton does not shy away from learning, but she emphasizes the numinous as seen in the natural.
Perusing the writings of William James and of Albert Einstein side by side, Hazleton witnesses the juncture of the paths of these two pioneers, the psychologist and the physicist. They both open themselves to mystery and ambiguity. This common search unites believers with skeptics and with atheists. Citing Ernest Becker, she asks that we "be recognized as an object of primary value in the universe" rather than as its paragons or pawns. This humanistic foundation inspires Hazleton's quest.
She critiques platitudes from fellow seekers. Rick Warren's The Purpose-Driven Life seems a "just-so story" where we live in a universe God designed for us. She rejects any predetermined divine purpose for humanity. She also turns away from any reduction of the complex human struggle to "meaning" alone. Drawing from her climbs up Mt. Sinai and Mt. Rainier, she regards the ascent itself as a fitting reminder of our own significance as pitted against the cosmos. She reminds readers that romanticism aside, mountains themselves lack any inherent meaning. They are simply part of the patterns we project upon our surroundings to invest them and ourselves with more weight than they truly merit.
On flat land, Hazleton reflects upon a provocative Silicon Valley futurist, Peter Thiel. She links his transhumanist exhortations to those of the early Church Fathers. He boasts that "if people think they are going to die," that this is "demotivating." (Recall the parody of Thiel on the series Silicon Valley.) Immortality, naturally, then motivates. Hazleton fears this optimism. If mortality is but an enemy to be overcome, a technical problem merely waiting for a (non-)killer app, what does this portend? She prefers solace not from the standard consolation given to a mourner in Judaism, "I wish you long life," but its opposite. One life is plenty, she avers. She does not yearn for any eternal sustenance.
After her stint in Jerusalem, she tires of walls. She welcomes gates, for they open up to that mixture of infinity and finitude upon this earth that humans can only claim to possess for a brief span. Rooted in the soil, she affirms its universal appeal to all humans, free of denomination or affiliation. For Hazleton, and an increasing number of contemporary sympathizers, this is enough to live with, at last.