Technically, Lucindas a psychologist, like Cass, only not like Cass at all. Her work is so mathematical that almost no one would suspect it has anything to do with mental life. Cass, on the other hand, is about as far away on the continuum as you can get and still be in the same field. Hes so far away that he is knee-deep in the swampy humanities. Until recently, Cass had felt almost apologetic explaining that his interest is in the whole wide range of religious experiencea bloated category on anyones account, but especially on Casss, who sees religious frames of mind lurking everywhere, masking themselves in the most secular of settings, in politics and scholarship and art and even in personal relationships.
For close to two decades, Cass Seltzer has all but owned the psychology of religion, but only because nobody else wanted it, not anyone with the smarts to do academic research in psychology and the ambition to follow through. It had been impossible to get grants, and the prestigious journals would return his manuscripts without sending them out for peer review. The undergraduates crowded his courses, but that counted, if anything, as a strike against him in his department. The graduate students stayed away in droves. The sexy psychological research was all in neural-network modeling and cognitive neuroscience. The mind is a neural computer, and the folks with the algorithms ruled.
But now things had happenedfundamental and fundamentalist thingsand religion as a phenomenon is on everybodys mind. And among all the changes that religions new towering profile has wrought in the world, which are mostly alarming if not downright terrifying, is the transformation in the life of one Cass Seltzer.
First had come the book, which he had entitled The Varieties of Religious Illusion, a nod to both William Jamess The Varieties of Religious Experience and to Sigmund Freuds The Future of an Illusion. The book had brought Cass an indecent amount of attention. Time magazine, in a cover story on the so-called new atheists, had singled him out as the only one among them who seems to have any idea of what it feels like to be a believerto write of religious illusions from the standpoint of the regretfully disillusionedand had ended by dubbing him the atheist with a soul. When the magazine came out, Casss literary agent, Sy Auerbach, called to congratulate him. Now that youre famous, even I might have to take you seriously.
Next had come the girl, although that designation hardly does justice to the situation, not when the situation stands for the likes of Lucinda Mandelbaum, known in her world as the Goddess of Game Theory. Lucinda is, pure and simple, a wondrous creature, with adoration her due and Casss avocation.
And now, only today, as if his cup werent already gushing over, had come a letter from Harvard, laying out its intention of luring him away from Frankfurter University, located in nearby Weedham, Massachusetts, about twelve miles downriver from where Cass is standing right now. Cass has spent the last two decades at Frankfurter, having first arrived to study under the legendary Jonas Elijah Klapper, the larger-than-life figure who had been Casss mentor and Casss tormentor.
After all that has happened to Cass over the course of this past year, hes surprised at the degree of awed elation he feels at the letter bearing the insignia of Veritas. But hes an academic, his sense of success and failure ultimately determined by the academys utilities (to use the language of Lucindas science), and Harvard counts as the maximum utility. Cass has the letter on him right now, zippered into an inside pocket of his parka, insulating him against the cold.
It will be a treat to tell Lucinda about Harvards offer. He can see the celebratory clinking of flutes, her head thrown back in that way she has, exposing the tender vulnerability of her throat, and thats why hes decided to wait out the week until she comes home to tell her. Theres no one in all the world in a better position than she to appreciate what this offer means to Cass, and no one who will exult more for him. Lucinda herself has known such dazzling success, from the very beginning of her career, and she has taught him never to make apologies for ambition. Ambition doesnt have to be small and self-regarding. It can be a way of glorying in existence, of sharing oneself with the world and its offerings, of stretching oneself just as wide to the full spread of its possibilities as one can go. Thats how Lucinda goes about her life.
Excerpted from 36 Arguments for the Existence of God by Rebecca Newberger Goldstein Copyright © 2010 by Rebecca Goldstein. Excerpted by permission of Pantheon, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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