Newhall explores the porous boundary between skepticism and belief in this debut work of nonfiction.
In a time when religious people and atheists both seem to be taking a harder line, Newhall considers those whose spiritual leanings fall somewhere between faith and doubt; a category into which she herself fits. After a childhood of strong belief, she found, in adulthood, much more reason to question God’s existence: “Every once in a while…I’ll feel God’s presence. And for a breathless moment, I’ll remember and think, yes, God is here. Of course God is here. How could it be otherwise? But that is only some of the time. Most of the time I have lived with the otherwise.” She tells the stories of similar people she’s met: a Catholic who left the religion of his childhood for Buddhism; an atheist who attempts to prove God’s existence by asking that he lift a pea; a Muslim musician who is distraught by the changing face of Islam; a Congregationalist minister who questions her faith after losing a pregnancy. The book contains representatives of many traditions: Evangelicalism, Mormonism, Hinduism, the religion of the Miwok of California. Most end up erring on the side of belief, yes, but only after periods of uncertainty. Told with the practiced rhythms of a longtime storyteller (Newhall has been a staff writer at a number of newspapers), the prose is crisp and accessible. The accounts of her subjects are told in the first person, which lends a bit of intimacy to their experiences. The book will likely find its readership among those people who see themselves reflected in its pages—those who have been looking for but not finding God. It succeeds in its reminder that while religious certainty may be an ideal, it’s far from the norm: most are unsure of what powers might exist at the other end of death or prayer or enlightenment. Readers are unlikely to come away feeling closer to any cosmic truths, but they may feel a bit less alone.
A thoughtful, well-written sampling of religious uncertainty.