“Vital” –The New York Times Book Review
“Provocative…[Hazleton] paddles the river of doubt with energy and exuberance.” –The Seattle Times
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.
Though Hazleton's subtitle boasts a manifesto to follow, she advises readers early that this manifesto is "strange" in that it "makes no claims to truth, offers no certainties, eschews brashly confident answers to grand existential questions... because to be agnostic is to cherish both paradox and conundrum." Hazleton immediately sets herself in relation (and in opposition) to the conversation among the four most prominent "new atheists" (she calls them H2D2) Harris, Hitchens, Dawkins, and Dennett. Their "contemptuous" tone toward the religious is problematic, in her opinion, and they often substitute "wittily phrased generalizations for clarity of thought." Hazleton flies through the history of various thinkers in concise and fluid prose, treating the reader to a quick yet thorough journey through theology and philosophy. 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.