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SO WHO IS GOD, ANYWAY?

AN UNORTHODOX THEORY FOR DOUBTERS, SKEPTICS, AND RECOVERING FUNDAMENTALISTS

A well-written and convincing rumination on the divine.

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A nonfiction work that explores core philosophical questions of faith, life, and spirituality.

“The question of whether God exists” is as old as humanity itself, and has been the driving query asked by philosophers for more than two millennia. A self-described philosophical “hobbyist” who’s read and studied the canon of philosophy’s greatest minds for nearly 30 years, Payne approaches the question of God’s existence in a “logical, rational way.” The book begins with an epistemological survey of “What Can Be Known,” ultimately concluding that “we cannot prove God by experience (direct awareness) or science (a form of empiricism).” Subsequent chapters examine what the author calls the “Big Ten” propositions that philosophers, especially Christian apologists, have used to argue God’s existence. These propositions range from Pascal’s wager (whereby one makes a potentially life-threatening gamble in rejecting God’s existence) to the “prevalence of religious experience” among humans throughout history. Payne’s well-informed yet eclectic religious beliefs are what he labels “Panentheist Christian Absurdist Buddhist.” Thus, while he attends Christian church services and “conceptually” finds beauty and meaning in the faith’s rituals, he is attracted to the philosophy of Buddhism, particularly its emphasis on the absurdity of life and its views on suffering. “Panentheism,” the author contends, is a “metaphysic that goes back thousands of years and has presented itself in myriad ways,” particularly its emphasis on a universal spirit that can be found in all things. This panentheistic notion, Payne effectively demonstrates, has long existed within strains of Christianity, Judaism, and Islam, in addition to Eastern spiritualities. Another chapter, “Taking the ‘Fun’ Out of Fundamentalism,” is critical of theologies that are defined by their “exclusionary nature.”

The book also critiques literal interpretations of Scripture, highlighting the similarities between The Epic of Gilgamesh and the biblical book of Genesis, which the author admits “reads a heck of a lot like myth.” A particularly well-crafted chapter on the difficulties of reconciling the existence of God with the prevalence of evil asks probing questions that will force readers to reexamine their definitions of what is “Good.” Backed by a wealth of endnotes that demonstrate a solid command of philosophy, from ancient Greek and medieval Christian thinkers to Enlightenment and postmodern figures, this book is an effective primer on how these sages have historically grappled with the existence of God. “Using the knowledge of the smart guys, but the language of real people,” and coming in under 205 pages, the volume is extraordinarily accessible, given the esoteric nature of its sources. A copywriter and a ghostwriter of dozens of memoirs, Payne is especially skilled at introducing difficult concepts with an engaging, often humorous prose style. A multipage glossary of philosophical jargon complements the book’s successful mission “to not allow ourselves to be intimidated by the big thinkers of history.” While the author expresses his personal opinions in the work, he’s generally fair to philosophers and theologians who have come to differing conclusions, opting to revel in the nuances of spiritual inquiry rather than browbeating readers into accepting his idiosyncratic yet well-argued conclusions. Indeed, the author’s only request of readers is to take a 90-day challenge whereby they become more cognizant of the “larger, universal consciousness” in hopes that their lives will feel “richer, deeper, more connected.” A well-written and convincing rumination on the divine.

Pub Date: May 2, 2024

ISBN: 9798989474905

Page Count: 222

Publisher: Five Boroughs Media & Publishing, LLC

Review Posted Online: March 3, 2024

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A WEALTH OF PIGEONS

A CARTOON COLLECTION

A virtuoso performance and an ode to an undervalued medium created by two talented artists.

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The veteran actor, comedian, and banjo player teams up with the acclaimed illustrator to create a unique book of cartoons that communicates their personalities.

Martin, also a prolific author, has always been intrigued by the cartoons strewn throughout the pages of the New Yorker. So when he was presented with the opportunity to work with Bliss, who has been a staff cartoonist at the magazine since 1997, he seized the moment. “The idea of a one-panel image with or without a caption mystified me,” he writes. “I felt like, yeah, sometimes I’m funny, but there are these other weird freaks who are actually funny.” Once the duo agreed to work together, they established their creative process, which consisted of working forward and backward: “Forwards was me conceiving of several cartoon images and captions, and Harry would select his favorites; backwards was Harry sending me sketched or fully drawn cartoons for dialogue or banners.” Sometimes, he writes, “the perfect joke occurs two seconds before deadline.” There are several cartoons depicting this method, including a humorous multipanel piece highlighting their first meeting called “They Meet,” in which Martin thinks to himself, “He’ll never be able to translate my delicate and finely honed droll notions.” In the next panel, Bliss thinks, “I’m sure he won’t understand that the comic art form is way more subtle than his blunt-force humor.” The team collaborated for a year and created 150 cartoons featuring an array of topics, “from dogs and cats to outer space and art museums.” A witty creation of a bovine family sitting down to a gourmet meal and one of Dumbo getting his comeuppance highlight the duo’s comedic talent. What also makes this project successful is the team’s keen understanding of human behavior as viewed through their unconventional comedic minds.

A virtuoso performance and an ode to an undervalued medium created by two talented artists.

Pub Date: Nov. 17, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-250-26289-9

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Celadon Books

Review Posted Online: Aug. 30, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2020

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CALYPSO

Sedaris at his darkest—and his best.

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In which the veteran humorist enters middle age with fine snark but some trepidation as well.

Mortality is weighing on Sedaris (Theft by Finding: Diaries 1977-2002, 2017, etc.), much of it his own, professional narcissist that he is. Watching an elderly man have a bowel accident on a plane, he dreaded the day when he would be the target of teenagers’ jokes “as they raise their phones to take my picture from behind.” A skin tumor troubled him, but so did the doctor who told him he couldn’t keep it once it was removed. “But it’s my tumor,” he insisted. “I made it.” (Eventually, he found a semitrained doctor to remove and give him the lipoma, which he proceeded to feed to a turtle.) The deaths of others are much on the author’s mind as well: He contemplates the suicide of his sister Tiffany, his alcoholic mother’s death, and his cantankerous father’s erratic behavior. His contemplation of his mother’s drinking—and his family’s denial of it—makes for some of the most poignant writing in the book: The sound of her putting ice in a rocks glass increasingly sounded “like a trigger being cocked.” Despite the gloom, however, frivolity still abides in the Sedaris clan. His summer home on the Carolina coast, which he dubbed the Sea Section, overspills with irreverent bantering between him and his siblings as his long-suffering partner, Hugh, looks on. Sedaris hasn’t lost his capacity for bemused observations of the people he encounters. For example, cashiers who say “have a blessed day” make him feel “like you’ve been sprayed against your will with God cologne.” But bad news has sharpened the author’s humor, and this book is defined by a persistent, engaging bafflement over how seriously or unseriously to take life when it’s increasingly filled with Trump and funerals.

Sedaris at his darkest—and his best.

Pub Date: May 29, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-316-39238-9

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Feb. 19, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2018

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