Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Book Review: 36 Arguments for the Existence of God

36 Arguments for the Existence of God: A Work of Fiction36 Arguments for the Existence of God: A Work of Fiction by Rebecca Newberger Goldstein

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This novel stands for the proposition that someone who is very smart, and may have very good and clear philosophical ideas, may yet be unable to write good, believable fiction.

The novel centers on Cass Seltzer, a professor of the psychology of religion who has become famous for writing a best-selling book about religious belief, and his relationships with his academic mentor, his girlfriend, who is also a professor, his university (Brandeis, thinly disguised as "Frankfurter University"), and the Hasidic community his mother abandoned as a young woman.

I freely concede that the author has more inside knowledge of the politics and inner workings of academia, and I have no problem believing the ego and political conflicts present there. What I do have trouble believing is that anyone would take serious Jonas Elijah Klapper, the inflated gasbag Seltzer chooses to be his mentor.

Cass Seltzer, the main character, is well drawn and generally believable. The difficulty I had with him, though, is that until the climactic debate on the question Resolved: God Exists, his life choices and credulity give no hint of the intelligence he displays in the debate. He's supposed to be smart, but it's not good enough for the author to tell us: some evidence would be helpful. The other characters are weak, almost to the point of being props.

There are definite scenes of academic humor, and the god debate is pretty well done, but if Goldstein intended this as a novel of ideas, in which the questions of faith and doubt, religion and disbelief are played out in an engaging and believable way, I'm afraid she's missed the mark.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

I must agree. I enjoyed it but was underwhelmed. The appendix was good.


August 04, 2010 10:10 AM  
Blogger Jack McCullough said...

Yup. The appendix was the best part of the book.

August 04, 2010 6:00 PM  
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July 18, 2016 3:13 AM  

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