Summary and book reviews of Agnostic by Lesley Hazleton

Agnostic

A Spirited Manifesto

by Lesley Hazleton

Agnostic by Lesley Hazleton
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     Not Yet Rated
  • First Published:
    Apr 2016, 224 pages
    Paperback:
    Apr 2017, 224 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Kim Kovacs

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Book Summary

A widely admired writer on religion celebrates agnosticism as the most vibrant, engaging - and ultimately the most honest - stance toward the mysteries of existence.

One in four Americans reject any affiliation with organized religion, and nearly half of those under thirty describe themselves as "spiritual but not religious." But as the airwaves resound with the haranguing of preachers and pundits, who speaks for the millions who find no joy in whittling the wonder of existence to a simple yes/no choice?

Lesley Hazleton does. In this provocative, brilliant book, she gives voice to the case for agnosticism, breaks it free of its stereotypes as watered-down atheism or amorphous "seeking," and celebrates it as a reasoned, revealing, and sustaining stance toward life. Stepping over the lines imposed by rigid conviction, she draws on philosophy, theology, psychology, science, and more to explore, with curiosity and passion, the vital role of mystery in a deceptively information-rich world; to ask what we mean by the search for meaning; to invoke the humbling yet elating perspective of infinity; to challenge received ideas about death; and to reconsider what "the soul" might be. Inspired and inspiring, Agnostic recasts the question of belief not as a problem to be solved but as an invitation to an ongoing, open-ended adventure of the mind.

Excerpt
Agnostic

THERE ARE SOME FOUR HUNDRED houseboats in Seattle. Many, like mine, are little more than shacks on rafts, but this may be the only one with a mezuzah at its entrance. If I were religious, the small cylindrical amulet would hold a miniature scroll inscribed with the Shema, the Jewish equivalent of the Lord's Prayer or the Islamic Shahada. But mine doesn't, partly because the scroll kept falling out when I put the mezuzah up on the doorpost, and partly because I don't believe a word of the prayer anyway. I'm not sure what happened to it. I may have thrown it out in a tough-minded moment, or it may be squirreled away at the bottom of a drawer somewhere. No matter. Most of the time I don't even notice the mezuzah, and neither does anyone else. But I know it's there, and that does matter.

Yet why should it? I am firmly agnostic, and haven't been to a synagogue service in years. Decades, in fact. So is the mezuzah an empty sentimental ...

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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

The author generally avoids attacking any one perspective; her purpose is to explain the agnostic point of view rather than convert the religious or ridicule people of faith. She does, however, condemn the conviction of those who are certain about facets of existence which by their nature can't be known (God, Heaven, one's soul, etc.) – and that includes not only evangelical Christians such as Rick Warren but avowed atheists like Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens as well. According to Hazleton, Agnostic is meant to be "an ongoing adventure of the mind," and she accomplishes this goal admirably. Her well-reasoned arguments and explanations of huge theological concepts from an agnostic viewpoint will definitely give readers much to think about and doubtless win her many fans among people of faith as well as those who harbor doubts.   (Reviewed by Kim Kovacs).

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Media Reviews

Seattle Times

Provocative…[Hazleton] paddles the river of doubt with energy and exuberance.

Seattle Review of Books

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.

Kirkus Reviews

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.

Booklist

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.

Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. 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.

Author Blurb Reza Aslan, author of Zealot and No God but God
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.

Author Blurb David Guterson, author of Snow Falling on Cedars
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.

Author Blurb Rabbi Rachel Cowan, Former Director of the Institute for Jewish Spirituality
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.

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The Pew Research Center

In Agnostic, author Lesley Hazelton states: "The most respected polls on faith and belief are run by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, which has been taking the pulse of both the American and the international soul, as it were, since 2001."

According to their website, "Pew Research Center is a nonpartisan fact tank that informs the public about the issues, attitudes and trends shaping America and the world. It conducts public opinion polling, demographic research, media content analysis and other empirical social science research. Pew Research Center does not take policy positions." The center states its mission as generating "a foundation of facts that enriches the public dialogue and supports sound decision-making. We are ...

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