Spiritual Envy: An Agnostic's Quest

New World Library  2010

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."

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