36 Argu­ments For The Exis­tence of God: A Work of Fiction

  • Review
By – September 9, 2011

When Rebec­ca Gold­stein won a MacArthur Genius” Award in 1996, the foun­da­tion wrote, In her (Goldstein’s) fic­tion her char­ac­ters con­front prob­lems of faith: reli­gious faith and faith in an abil­i­ty to com­pre­hend the mys­ter­ies of the phys­i­cal world.” The MacArthur Foun­da­tion went on to say that Goldstein’s writ­ings emerge as bril­liant argu­ments for the belief that fic­tion in our time may be the best vehi­cle for involv­ing read­ers in ques­tions of moral­i­ty and existence.” 

While those genius­es at MacArthur couldn’t have antic­i­pat­ed that Google would replace fic­tion as read­ers’ pre­ferred vehi­cle to address ques­tions of moral­i­ty and exis­tence, their praise for Gold­stein and her work was as clair­voy­ant as it was accu­rate. Her char­ac­ters absolute­ly deal with reli­gious faith, faith in self, faith in love, and faith in no less than humankind. 

In her lat­est nov­el, 36 Argu­ments for the Exis­tence of God, psy­chol­o­gy pro­fes­sor Cass Seltzer has just been launched from aca­d­e­m­ic obscu­ri­ty to fame with a new book, The Vari­eties of Reli­gious Illu­sion.” Seltzer, who teach­es at a small lib­er­al-arts col­lege in Boston, is less jarred by fame — being a guest on Jon Stewart’s The Dai­ly Show” or speak­ing to a sold-out crowd at the 92nd St Y — than with under­stand­ing game the­o­ry, which is the aca­d­e­m­ic spe­cial­ty of his girl­friend and fel­low pysch pro­fes­sor at Frank­furter University. 

When we meet the pro­tag­o­nist, he is delib­er­at­ing over a job offer from Har­vard and think­ing of how to tell his com­pet­i­tive yet sen­si­tive girl­friend, Lucin­da Man­del­baum, about the offer. She is away lec­tur­ing. With­out warn­ing, Seltzer’s past begins to catch up with him as eccen­tric char­ac­ters enter the sto­ry to escort him down mem­o­ry lane. Through encoun­ters with a zesty anthro­pol­o­gist ex-girl­friend now on a quest for immor­tal­i­ty and mid­dle of the night email exchanges with an old col­league, Seltzer’s major influ­encers are revealed to the read­er; the list involves Seltzer’s mom, a Has­sidic rab­bi, a zany philoso­pher, and a prodi­gious six-year-old. 

One of the strongest fea­tures of the book is the 50 page appen­dix in the back, which out­lines each of the 36 argu­ments for the exis­tence of G‑d. These argu­ments are quite ratio­nal and very well thought out. Anoth­er asset of the nov­el is the author’s strong knowl­edge of phi­los­o­phy and reli­gion, both of which she breaks down for read­ers into under­stand­able terms. 

The last nov­el that forced me to think about abstract con­cepts and for­age through a dense appen­dix, all the while laugh­ing with the char­ac­ters, was David Fos­ter Wallace’s Infi­nite Jest. While this book can be dif­fi­cult to get through at times, with its hefty and com­pli­cat­ed con­tent, like Infi­nite Jest it is an immense­ly reward­ing read.

Read Rebec­ca New­berg­er Gold­stein’s Posts for the Vis­it­ing Scribe

The Case for (a Fic­tion­al) God

Jew­ish Athe­ism vs. Atheism

Mar­garet Teich is a free­lance envi­ron­men­tal writer and eco-con­sul­tant liv­ing in New York City. Check out her blog, Gspot​ting​.net.

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