A seasoned reporter on religion and an old hand on the Middle East beat, Hazleton (The First Muslim: The Story of Muhammad, 2013, etc.) is Jewish by blood and convent-educated by nuns. After more than a decade in Jerusalem, she finds that accepted pious practice is not for her.
For the author, doubt is not a problem but a blessing. She does not seek assurance of an all-encompassing intelligent design but, rather, revels in the prospects that just might yet be discovered by mankind. For this agnostic, there is delight in mystery. Her faith is in not knowing everything. Humanity, certainly, is subject to misadventure, yet it is for humans to determine what is truly significant. Meaning, in her book, is not the responsibility of a force beyond us; how we behave is our choice and our obligation. The old aphorism is clear to Hazleton: man created God, not the other way around, and she sees Him (who is consistently male) as an anthropomorphic metaphor for something bigger. “If there is one thing that can really be said with any certainty about God,” she writes, “it is that the name is utterly insufficient to the concept.” Throughout the book, the author dissects the manifestations of religious devotion. Religious belief is seen as binary, a true-or-false proposition. Where, she asks, is the nuance? Is our universe unique or only one in a greater cosmos? How can we comprehend what is beyond infinity? The agnostic mind finds no satisfactory answers in canonical tracts or fundamentalist piety. There’s no need to reckon with evil, infidels, or visiting angels. Here, with clever elucidation, are artful essays that celebrate the wonder of the unknown.
Atheists and devout worshipers alike may never accept the agnostics’ philosophy. But even in defense of simply not knowing, Hazleton does not deny possibilities; she denies only assured and implacable dogma.