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36 Arguments for the Existence of God: A Work of Fiction

3.52  ·  Rating details ·  1,838 Ratings  ·  444 Reviews
From the author of The Mind-Body Problem: a witty and intoxicating novel of ideas that plunges into the great debate between faith and reason.
At the center is Cass Seltzer, a professor of psychology whose book, The Varieties of Religious Illusion, has become a surprise best seller. Dubbed “the atheist with a soul,” he wins over the stunning Lucinda Mandelbaum—“the goddess
Paperback, 528 pages
Published February 1st 2011 by Vintage (first published December 18th 2009)
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Jan 16, 2010 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
1. In the mid-eighties, while becoming strangely entangled with a slightly-older woman, I had a moment of what seemed to be psychic insight. I don't want to say too much about this woman, or said entanglement, but it's crucial to know that she was a fervent believer in Eckankar, a new-agey mash-up of cool stuff from Buddhism, Hinduism, the Judeo-Christian mishegoss--your mind could go anywhere, could do anything, it was all god, and you were god, too, and if you just let go you would be one with ...more
Dec 22, 2010 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Rebecca Goldstein is a very bright woman: NO QUESTION! --- I wanted to love this book (having enjoyed "The Mind-Body Problem" several years ago), ----but this book is a PRETENTIOUS MESS. ----sometimes leaving the reader with an unquenchable desire to scream! At times I HATED Rebecca Goldstein for making me work so hard reading her book...and for what? why? Yet---I kept reading....(with discomforting intensity).....Excruciatingly at times! (but I would not give it up). Much of her style of writin ...more
One, this novel needed a few hundred more pages. There is the feeling at the start of the book that something much more epic is about to take place in the book. For the number of interesting characters created and different narrative threads going there feels like there should be more. I had the cynical feeling about fifty pages towards the end of the novel part of the book that at some point the author was told by her publisher to 'hurry the fuck up, this New Atheism trend might not last foreve ...more
May 25, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Christopher Hitchens is a public intellectual whose witty sentences I admire and, frankly, covet, and whose opinions I generally find so inexplicable that I am beginning to wonder if he and Ann Coulter have joined in some kind of rivalry as to who can spout off the most unlikely nonsense before getting caught out as BS artists. So when I read that Christopher Hitchens was publically promoting this novel as a brilliant work of athiest literature, I was almost primed to dismiss it as so much blath ...more
Clif Hostetler
Mar 13, 2014 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: novel
I read this book with the expectation that it would provide the definitive, though fictional, wrapping up of the era of "New Atheism" literature (circa 2004-2008). It did that, sort of, but I found it to be even more of an ironic rendering of the academic environment found on a typical American college campus.

This book follows the story of Cass Seltzer, a bestselling author considered an “atheist with a soul.” While he doesn’t believe in God, he takes faith seriously. Before the unexpected succ
This novel stands for the proposition that someone who is very smart, and may have very good and clear philosophical ideas, may yet be unable to write good, believable fiction.

The novel centers on Cass Seltzer, a professor of the psychology of religion who has become famous for writing a best-selling book about religious belief, and his relationships with his academic mentor, his girlfriend, who is also a professor, his university (Brandeis, thinly disguised as "Frankfurter University"), and the
Feb 08, 2010 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: book-club
I hated this book so much I cannot compose a coherent review. It is both tedious and wildly annoying. It made me hate academia. None of the characters were remotely believable and most were unlikeable as well. No thank you to this book.
Mar 21, 2015 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
36 ARGUMENTS FOR THE EXISTENCE OF GOD pairs philosophy and fiction as if they were conjoined twins. An appendix summarizing both 36 philosophical arguments for the existence of God and refutations performs double duty. In addition to summarizing a branch of philosophical inquiry, the appendix is also the conclusion of the fictional book, “The Varieties of Religious Illusion,” authored by the main character Cass (Chaim) Seltzer, professor of the psychology of religion. The attentive reader should ...more
Ron Charles
Are you a person of faith offended by claims that your savior is just another fanciful invention, like an elf or a unicorn? Or are you an atheist singed by predictions that you'll burn in hell?

Or are you just weary of this shrill, fruitless debate that surely hasn't changed a single mortal soul?

Well, in the words of the prophet Isaiah, "Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters!" Amid the multitude of bestselling books by atheists and apologists preaching to their respective choirs, he
Jan 12, 2010 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Rebecca Goldstein's new novel takes a look at some of the issues raised by the new atheist movement through the lens of fiction.

Cass Seltzer is a psychology of religion professor at an obscure college who has been thrust into the spotlight by the sudden success of his book, The Varieties of Religious Illusion. Both Seltzer's fictional book and this novel contain an appendix, 36 Arguments for the Existence of God. The appendix is not actually an argument in support of god, but rather details the
For all those who think you can't tell a book by its cover, I offer 36 Arguments for the Existence of God: A Work of Fiction as Exhibit 1 against the proposition. Clearly, the title says it all -- logical arguments proving the existence of God are numerous, but are all works of fiction. Tackling that topic is a tall order to fill, and Goldstein gives it a good,although not entirely successful try. Her book is witty, erudite, and clever. It is also at times tedious and a bit too clever. And it dr ...more
Feb 26, 2010 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I almost didn’t finish this book, and I wish someone had told me that the chapter on the Harvard debate (toward the end) and the Appendix (36 actual arguments and rebuttals for the existence of God) were the only parts worthwhile. These could stand alone and make a great 5 star book; so I'm glad I finished the book, otherwise I would have missed some great writing.

The best parts of the book were not part of the novel. In the novel, the characters were empty (Azarya is the exception), the dialogu
Brian Bohmueller
Aug 18, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
36 Arguments for the Existence of God: a work of fiction

Rebecca Newberger Goldstein's novel builds a backbone around the depiction of the life of Cass Seltzer as he rises to become the world renowned “atheist with a soul.” The non-linear plot development creates an intriguing look inside Cass's critical moments along his path as romantic pursuer, academic achiever, and simple human being.

Nontheists will revel in this book's assertive position of godless living. As the title implies there is an u
Jan 18, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Susan by: Rebecca Fitting
How can I resist any book that includes the following sentence in its first page: "It's a tiresome proposition, having to take up the work of the Enlightenment all over again, but it's happened on your watch."? It would be easy to pick this book apart. I can argue that it's plot points are a little too pat, that there is a quality of post-modern cleverness that can be annoying, that the narrative structure is a bit disjoint, that I'm not sure about the philosophy/choice that underlays the conclu ...more
Feb 19, 2011 rated it liked it
Shelves: american-fiction
There is no point in writing my review, as Mike has already thoroughly and beautifully covered every point I might wish to make. His criticisms are well-justified and true, and his wrestling with the issues presented are synonymous with my own. This is a philosophy text disguised as fiction, and yet the characters do not quite perfectly transport the theme as the author intended, but it is an admirable attempt at a formidable ideal. After a long preamble of establishing its context, the book end ...more
Gerald Camp
Jun 20, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Here are a few things I learned from this book.
1. PhDs only associate with other PhDs (or a child genius that certainly would have been a PhD by the end of the book if he hadn't decided instead to accept his obligatory heritage to become head Rabbi of a Hassidic sect.)
2. PhDs do not say "I love you" without first computing the probability that to do so will result in a) bliss, or b) hell.
3. If you write this year's best selling book on athiesm you may get offered a professorship at Harvard. (But
Greg Zimmerman
This here is one of them there smart folk books. And as such, in order to enjoy it, you have to really enjoy weeding your way through smart folk stuff, like mazes of logical proofs, esoteric Jewish mysticism, faith vs. reason debates, and metaphysical philosophy. Believe it or not, though, 36 Arguments for the Existence of Godactually is a work of fiction with characters and a plot and the whole nine yards.

To be clear, it's not "a novel," it's "a work of fiction." And you have to believe that so
Hearing about this book being praised for having a unique ability to explore the religious belief "from the inside", and realizing that it was actually the explicit aim of its author, I really can't help but giving it a low rating. I believe it fails as regards its central premise, and apart from that it had a boring story that didn't at all provide me with an enjoyable experience while reading the book.

Apart from the fiction part of the book, there is an appendix that actually examines 36 seri
Jason Pettus
(Reprinted from the Chicago Center for Literature and Photography []. I am the original author of this essay, as well as the owner of CCLaP; it is not being reprinted illegally.)

As I've mentioned here many times before, it's always a dicey proposition anymore when a modern author chooses to set a novel within an academic environment: get it right, like for example how Michael Chabon does in his early hit Wonder Boys, and you end up with a real winner, a deeply moving tale that use
This book is written in two halves, as is my review:
A fantasy of mine is that instead of going back to school for a second degree in advertising, I would have returned and continued my art degree and received my MFA and become a professor.
In this dream, I've painted a perfect postmodern portrait of myself as a feminist art prof spinning pots while Parrish cherub nymphs swirl about me gaily in my academic ivory tower. Butterflies and bees hand me tools as students rap at the tower door below. My
Paul Clayton
Dec 06, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I just finished 36 Arguments for the Existence of God: A Work of Fiction. I gotta say that I was kind of snookered into reading it. Someone recommended it to me online at a time in my life when I find myself interested in this topic. And when I went to Amazon to order it, I misunderstood the sub-title, thinking the ‘fiction’ referred only to using that technique to make the argument (for the existence of God). After finishing the novel, I went to the book’s Amazon page and read the description b ...more
Mar 30, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
It's interesting having a book that's primarily about atheists. Many books have atheist characters, to be sure, but I've never seen one that focuses so much on them as atheists, rather than people who happen to be atheist. Presumably this has something to do with the still relatively taboo nature of atheism in the US (e.g., 1/535 members of the national Legislature say they're not religious - this would be about 80 if it were proportional to the number of admitted nonbelievers in the country, th ...more
Brian O'Dea
Feb 16, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
36 Arguments for the Existence of God is an education in itself. There are so many things in this wonderful book I wish to remember, to know more about. It is so much like a cake I first tasted a while back. My friend, Bonnie Tiegel, producer of Entertainment Tonight brought this cake to another friend's (Barry Levenson) house, right after Michael Jackson's funeral, where she had just been. "This was Michael's favourite cake" she proclaimed as she cut stout pieces for us. "It's called 'Champagne ...more
Jul 15, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction, religion
There doesn’t seem to be a single true-to-life character in this book, and it is is organized very strangely, yet there is so much to get out of it that I will happily give Goldstein leeway on everything. The book is captivating to read and often it is brilliant. I have not yet worked my way through all 36 of the refutations of arguments for the existence of God that compose the appendix – those are well-constructed arguments and require a good bit of effort for anyone who did not major in philo ...more
John Pappas
Jul 27, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Rebecca Newberger Goldstein's novel takes up as its subject the intersections of faith and science as well as the reasons for and methods of human existence. Through Cass Seltzer, a former member of an orthodox sect, now turned psychology of religion professor who has written a best-selling book called The Varieties of Religious Illusion, his girlfriend, Lucinda Mandelbaum ("the goddess of game theory"), Jonas Klapper, a domineering charismatic and cultish professor of Faith, Literature and Valu ...more
Bookmarks Magazine
Feb 08, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: mar-apr-2010
A book of ideas rather than of plot or characters, Goldstein's ambitious, dense, and dazzling novel fuses a fictional storyline with scholarly debate on religion, the nature of morality, and the human capacity for faith. Narrative continuity and well-rounded characters are not Goldstein's strong points, and the mathematical proofs, poems, and fragments of game theory peppering the story do not make for light reading. However, critics touted her biting satire and penetrating philosophical questio ...more
RH Walters
Nov 07, 2012 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: sampled, unreadable
Do you ever get the sense with some writers that they're too clever and have no peace in their lives to distil anything? This is a sentence from page 4.
"Rummaging in the front closet for some extra protection, he had pulled out, with a smile he couldn't have interpreted for himself, a long-forgotten item, the tri-color scarf that his ex-wife, Pascale, had learned to knit for him during the four months when she was recovering from aphasia, four months that had produced, among other shockers, an
Very enjoyable in the beginning, but I got to about 250 pages in and just could not care less what happened.
May 01, 2010 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: jewish
A kinder reviewer might call this a "novel of ideas." Which means, I guess, thin plot and thinner characterization, all crafted as transparent excuses to give voices to different philosophical arguments on a range of topics. In other words, a novel of the genre of (the admittedly inferior and diametrically opposed) With All My Heart, With All My Soul.

Cass Seltzer is a man of Hassidic origin, thoroughly secular, dubbed "the atheist with a soul" after the publication of his wildly successful book
Stephen Gallup
May 26, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
In the hands of a gifted writer, even dry philosophical debates from bygone centuries can make delightful drama. This is a case in point.

The actual 36 arguments, included in an appendix to this novel, are familiar to me, as I've pondered many of them from time to time and in particular was exposed to the turmoil of a college roommate who spent a fruitless year trying either to prove or disprove logically the existence of God. (Neither endeavor is possible.)

The drama here is in the life of Cass S
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Rebecca Newberger Goldstein grew up in White Plains, New York, and graduated summa cum laude from Barnard College, receiving the Montague Prize for Excellence in Philosophy, and immediately went on to graduate work at Princeton University, receiving her Ph.D. in philosophy. While in graduate school she was awarded a National Science Foundation Fellowship and a Whiting Foundation Fellowship.

After e
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“We must believe that he will come but never believe that he is come. There is no Messiah but an uncome Messiah.” 6 likes
“It’s a tiresome proposition, having to take up the work of the Enlightenment all over again, but it’s happened on your watch.” 5 likes
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