Spiritual Envy: An Agnostic’s Quest
An award-winning interviewer asks the age-old questions without airtight answers
Are you a good person? How do you know? Some people say they are because they follow God’s commandments. What, then, do atheists do? Agnostics? And if you find your answer in your faith, are the Ten Commandments always right?
- — If we shall not kill, what should have been done with Hitler?
- — If we shall not steal, what do we do if we have a starving child and no money?
- — Honor our parents? What about those who abuse?
If you can wave these bothersome questions away, consider these:
- — Are coincidences random or planned by some power we can’t see?
- — Why should we heed Google’s “Don’t be evil” motto when evil seems to be everywhere — from a child’s being diagnosed with cancer to the Holocaust?
- — If God is love, what do we make of “acts of God” like tsunamis and earthquakes?
- — Does the impermanence of our own life, or that of a perfect rose, make life and beauty meaningless — or more precious?
Some questions have no easy answers, and most of us live most of our lives without even trying to answer them. But what we believe, why we believe it, and how we walk this talk affects every aspect of our lives — from how we make a living to who we love and even how we die.
If questions can’t always be answered, ace questioner Michael Krasny shows that there is still value in asking better, deeper, more soul- and mind-stirring questions. And asking questions is at the heart of agnosticism, which, unlike atheism, hasn’t closed the case. Agnosticism doesn’t say there is no God; it says that God’s existence — or nonexistence — can’t be proven. Many agnostics take comfort in religious ritual and community, and, as Krasny’s Spiritual Envy describes, agnosticism does not preclude spiritual hunger.
While atheist writers like Sam Harris (who said, “Science must destroy religion”), Richard Dawkins (who has compared religious education to child abuse), and Christopher Hitchens (who speaks of the need to prepare for a war against religion) loudly assert their way of thinking, Krasny instead champions thinking. Persistent wondering about, seeking, and even envy of religious certainty can feature in a good life, Krasny asserts. This is good news for all those who live with doubt and uncertainty rather than adamant belief or disbelief. Krasny’s book is “for seekers who long for answers” but who have found that definitive “answers can lead to some of the most vexing [events] of our civilization’s history.” Rather than saying “Amen!” or “No way!” he journeys with doubters and seekers. Revealing himself — working class, Cleveland born, once devout — and sharing his wide-ranging knowledge and often surprising experiences as a radio personality, university academic, husband, father, and even poker player, he joins with readers in defining a good and meaning-filled life and exploring every worry- doubt-, and joy-filled aspect of how we live it.
The author, Michael Krasny, is the award-winning host of NPR/KQED’s Forum with Michael Krasny, a veteran interviewer for NPR’s nationally broadcast City Arts and Lectures series, an English professor at San Francisco State University, and a widely published scholar and critic. He lives in Marin County, California.