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Summary and book reviews of 36 Arguments for the Existence of God by Rebecca Goldstein

36 Arguments for the Existence of God

A Work of Fiction

by Rebecca Goldstein

36 Arguments for the Existence of God by Rebecca Goldstein X
36 Arguments for the Existence of God by Rebecca Goldstein
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  • First Published:
    Jan 2010, 416 pages
    Paperback:
    Feb 2011, 416 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Judy Krueger
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About this Book

Book Summary

A hilarious, heartbreaking, and intellectually captivating novel about the rapture and torments of religious experience in all its variety.

After Cass Seltzer's book becomes a surprise best seller, he's dubbed "the atheist with a soul" and becomes a celebrity. He wins over the stunning Lucinda Mandelbaum, "the goddess of game theory," and loses himself in a spiritually expansive infatuation. A former girlfriend appears: an anthropologist who invites him to join in her quest for immortality through biochemistry. And he is haunted by reminders of the two people who ignited his passion to understand religion: his mentor and professor—a renowned literary scholar with a suspicious obsession with messianism—and an angelic six-year-old mathematical genius who is heir to the leadership of a Hasidic sect. Each encounter reinforces Cass's theory that the religious impulse spills over into life at large.

36 Arguments for the Existence of God plunges into the great debate of our day: the clash between faith and reason. World events are being shaped by fervent believers at home and abroad, while a new atheism is asserting itself in the public sphere. On purely intellectual grounds the skeptics would seem to have everything on their side. Yet people refuse to accept their seemingly irrefutable arguments and continue to embrace faith in God as their source of meaning, purpose, and comfort.

Through the enchantment of fiction, award-winning novelist and MacArthur Fellow Rebecca Newberger Goldstein shows that the tension between religion and doubt cannot be understood through rational argument alone. It also must be explored from the point of view of individual people caught in the raptures and torments of religious experience in all their variety.

Using her gifts in fiction and philosophy, Goldstein has produced a true crossover novel, complete with a nail-biting debate ("Resolved: God Exists") and a stand-alone appendix with the thirty-six arguments (and responses) that propelled Seltzer to stardom.

The Argument from the Improbable Self

Something shifted, something so immense you could call it the world.

Call it the world.

The world shifted, catching lots of smart people off guard, churning up issues you had thought had settled forever beneath the earth’s crust. The more sophisticated you are, the more annotated your mental life, the more taken aback you’re likely to feel, seeing what the world’s lurch has brought to light, thrusting up beliefs and desires you had assumed belonged to an earlier stage of human development.

What is this stuff, you ask one another, and how can it still be kicking around, given how much we already know? It looks like the kind of relics that archeologists dig up and dust off, speculating about the beliefs that once had animated them, to the best that they can be reconstructed, gone as they are now, those thrashings of proto-rationality and mythico-magical hypothesizing, and nearly forgotten.

Now it’s all gone unforgotten, and minds that ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
About this Book
A hilarious, heartbreaking, and intellectually captivating novel about the rapture and torments of religious experience in all its variety. After Cass Seltzer’s book becomes a surprise best seller, he’s dubbed “the atheist with a soul,” and becomes a celebrity. He wins over the stunning Lucinda Mandelbaum, “the goddess of game theory,” and loses himself in a spiritually expansive infatuation. A former girlfriend appears: an anthropologist who invites him to join her in her quest for immortality through biochemistry. And he is haunted by two people who ignited his passion to understand religion: his mentor and professor, and a six-year-old mathematical genius, heir to the leadership of a ...
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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

For a book whose title sounds like an affirmation of faith but whose story is about an atheist refuting the existence of God, reading it is a spiritual experience... Many of the positive reviews laud the wit and entertainment Goldstein provides, but honestly, the breadth and depth of ideas covered require close and thoughtful reading... This novel can be read on a few different levels: a romance, a mystery, an intellectual thriller or a philosophical/religious treatise. In any case, some grounding in science, math and philosophy or at least a willingness to explore those subjects would be helpful...continued

Full Review (760 words).

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(Reviewed by Judy Krueger).

Media Reviews

New York Times
[T]he pleasures to be found in “36 Arguments for the Existence of God” are scattershot. But there are a great many of them, and this novel’s bracing intellectual energy never flags. Though it is finally more a work of showmanship than scholarship, it affirms Ms. Goldstein’s position as a satirist and a seeker of real moral questions at a time when silly ones prevail.

Washington Post
Amid the multitude of bestselling books by atheists and apologists preaching to their respective choirs, here finally is an answer to prayer and reason: a brainy, compassionate, divinely witty novel... Goldstein doesn't want to shake your faith or confirm it, but she'll make you a believer in the power of fiction.

Huffington Post - Rabbi David Wolpe
This is a charming story, deftly told, crackling with intelligence. If I can be granted the license to end with a rabbinic flourish the book itself would frown upon, I would say this work is evidence of the gifted novelist's ability to create world in imitation of the Author of all.

Los Angeles Times - Jane Smiley
[Goldstein's] style is so effervescent and knowing that even if we have only the dimmest grasp of certain concepts, we are carried along. And so 36 Arguments for the Existence of God is also an education in math, philosophy, academia, psychology and Jewish culture.

Christian Science Monitor
Thoughtful, witty, and – I cannot stress enough – really entertaining, 36 Arguments is part campus comedy, part romantic farce, part philosophical treatise... how many works of fiction can tackle thorny questions such as theodicy and still make you laugh? Not since The Tao of Poohhas philosophy been so much fun.

Kirkus Reviews
Always smart and intermittently very funny, but the shifts in tone, leaps in chronology and changes of focus can induce whiplash.

Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. Irreverent and witty, Goldstein seamlessly weaves philosophy into this lively and colorful chronicle of intellectual and emotional struggles

Library Journal
A psychology professor copes with his celebrity present and haunting past after writing a best seller called The Varieties of Religious Illusion. An award-winning novelist and MacArthur Fellow for her work in philosophy, Goldstein has the wherewithal to discuss a hot topic—where our religious impulses originate and how they shape us.

Booklist
Starred Review. Goldstein is entrancing and unfailingly affectionate toward her brilliant yet bumbling seekers in this elegant yet uproarious novel...

Author Blurb Jonathan Safran Foer, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close
Rebecca Newberger Goldstein does it all. She has written a hilarious novel about people's existential agonies, a page-turner about the intellectual mysteries that obsess them. The characters in 36 Arguments For the Existence of God explore the great moral issues of our day in a novel that is deeply moving and a joy to read.

Reader Reviews

Richard Fauber

Varieties of Character
This is not a book about God at all but one of the roots of identity and discovering oneself. What I found most attractive was the variety of vivid characters, all of whom resemble people I have known but are their own individuals. Goldstein ...   Read More

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Beyond the Book

Baruch Spinoza
Rebecca Newberger Goldstein received a PhD in Philosophy from Princeton University, has taught philosophy at Bernard College and written five previous philosophically motivated novels. Her most recent book of nonfiction is Betraying Spinoza: The Renegade Jew Who Gave Us Modernity. Bertrand Russell considered Spinoza "the noblest and most lovable of the great philosophers."

Spinoza (1632-1677) also figures in 36 Arguments for the Existence of God. In fact, the 35th argument is based on Spinoza's philosophy. Though raised in the Jewish faith and receiving a rabbinical education, Spinoza was expelled from the synagogue at Amsterdam for defending heretical opinions in 1656. He went on to develop his own philosophy, ...

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