WHAT IS GOD? by Jacob Needleman


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Memoir about coming to grips with the concept of God.

Though born into a Jewish family, Needleman (Philosophy/San Francisco State Univ.; Why Can’t We Be Good?, 2007, etc.) grew up without an interest in religion and eventually became an atheist. He spent his young adulthood in complete disdain of religion—one night he burned a copy of St. Augustine’s Confessions—preferring instead to seek truth through the great works of philosophy. However, an early teaching job forced him to begin reading about Judaism and Christianity, and what he learned surprised him. An encounter with the works of Jewish philosopher Martin Buber especially impressed him. Though Needleman did not agree with the theism of the writers he was exploring, he admitted that their teachings were worthwhile. The author narrates a nostalgic, occasionally tedious and angst-ridden intellectual journey, vividly recalling the authors and ideas that helped form his worldview, including metaphysics, Zen Buddhism, Immanuel Kant and many more. Needleman also describes classroom experiences that shaped his understanding of God. Ultimately, it was the writings of the Armenian spiritual teacher George Gurdjieff and the influence of Gurdjieff’s protégée, Jeanne de Salzmann, that most influenced the author. Their teachings led him to see one’s attention as foremost in spiritual experience, and “higher attention,” a sort of energetic self-awareness, as the closest thing to history’s concept of God. Though Needleman declares that these conclusions are not mystical, readers may find only a semantic difference.

An erudite, challenging text full of difficult questions, but it answers the title question with little more than a whispered answer.

Pub Date: Dec. 24th, 2009
ISBN: 978-1-58542-740-6
Page count: 256pp
Publisher: TarcherPerigee
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1st, 2009


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