Spir­i­tu­al Envy: An Agnos­tic’s Quest

  • Review
By – December 5, 2011
Michael Kras­ny’s Spir­i­tu­al Envy is, above all, a book of ques­tions. It is a book about a per­son­al jour­ney from faith to agnos­ti­cism, from child­hood doubts to adult philo­soph­i­cal strug­gles. The more Kras­ny read the more he ques­tioned, not only God, but the com­mand­ments as well. Is it pos­si­ble to accept some com­mand­ments but not all of them? Are the com­mand­ments absolute? Is it right for some­one to be pun­ished for steal­ing bread in order to sur­vive? Does the com­mand­ment not to kill include ani­mals and plants? I con­clud­ed,” he writes tongue in cheek, to be absolute­ly moral, one had to not eat.”

Kras­ny’s intel­lec­tu­al range is impres­sive. There’s a dizzy­ing array of sci­en­tists, philoso­phers, and writ­ers. Dar­win, Nietsche, Hawthorne, Der­ri­da, all make an appear­ance (to men­tion a few). Even come­di­an George Car­lin shows up for his riff on the com­mand­ments. Kras­ny’s search for God was noth­ing if not thor­ough and what dri­ves the search is a deep long­ing for spir­i­tu­al­i­ty.

Kras­ny searched also in reli­gions oth­er than his own Judaism. He learned about the codes that are cen­tral to Hin­duism (Laws of Manu) and Bud­dhism (the Vinaya). In the end he tries to do what we all do: fig­ure out how to live with what he calls a spir­i­tu­al smor­gas­bord stocked by both the East and the West and not nec­es­sar­i­ly catered by God.“

In lat­er chap­ters Kras­ny address­es a wide array of reli­gious expe­ri­ences. He talks about rein­car­na­tion, evan­gel­i­cals, and even the neu­ro­science of God. The one con­stant is the search. I pre­ferred the idea of hav­ing such knowl­edge arrive via my intel­lect, but I was open to its arrival by means of mys­ti­cal vision or the mirac­u­lous,” he writes.

In the end, the book is a won­der­ful jour­ney for any­one who ques­tions. Kras­ny’s easy prose takes us through lit­er­ary, reli­gious, and philo­soph­i­cal anec­dotes and through refresh­ing­ly naughty sto­ries from his own life. Those for whom God is not a ques­tion but a non-enti­ty will still find the book rich and reward­ing, but they will encounter the same flaw in rea­son­ing that has played out many times over in this dis­cus­sion. Kras­ny writes, What refutes athe­ism is the sim­ple fact that one can­not prove a neg­a­tive.” But this is akin to say­ing we can’t prove there is no Diana, god­dess of wis­dom, so we have to remain agnos­tic. The more inter­est­ing ques­tion Kras­ny asks is, How do I, or any who seek answers … to ques­tions of God’s exis­tence, cre­ate God?” And when God is seen as a metaphor, I might argue that we are all try­ing to cre­ate God.

Among Kras­ny’s pow­er­ful part­ing words: If no spir­i­tu­al pow­er is vis­i­ble behind life’s ele­va­tions, … if we doubt the ori­gins of moral or spir­i­tu­al authority…and if we can­not deter­mine what is worth dying for…then how do we derive pur­pose, our code, our mean­ing? The answer appears to be: from what­ev­er sources we choose.”

Discussion Questions