WORKING ON GOD by Winifred Gallagher


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For the benefit of the skeptical would-be faithful (dubbed here “neoagnostics”), journalist Gallagher offers an autobiographical, selectively bicoastal look at liberal religious experience in America today. Gallagher (I.D: How Temperament and Experience Create the Individual, 1996) updates Immanuel Kant’s classic formulation of humanity’s three principal questions (What can I know? What ought I do? What can I hope?) to: What is real? What do I feel?, What are my choices? The update reflects the influence of what Gallagher calls millennial religion, by which she means those experiential, nonjudgmental, pluralistic ways of being religious that characterize the spiritual life of some, mostly urban, Americans. (“Millennial” is an unfortunate coinage for this use, since for traditional Christians it implies apocalypse, while for religious non-Christians, who measure time otherwise than from Christ’s birth, it has little currency at all.) Casual and breezy language characterizes much of this self-consciously journalistic romp between such diverse religious centers as Congregation B—nai Jeshurun (a popular synagogue in New York City), the Cathedral of St. John the Divine (also in New York), and the Sonoma Mountain Zen Center (California). Gallagher’s book comprises recountings of worship, meditation, and study experiences she has had at these and like religious institutions, as well as interviews with their respective leaders and flocks. The focus primarily on Judaism, Christianity, and Zen Buddhism reflects the author’s confessed status as a Catholic-bred, meditation-practicing spouse of a Jewish man. The casual style breeds some errors, as in the retelling of the biblical story of the burning bush (which Moses turns toward initially, not away from, as Gallagher narrates), or the medieval Jewish reaction to Maimonides (who in his own lifetime never faced a serious threat of excommunication, as Gallagher implies). But the author has a good ear for the memorable remark, as of the contemplative nun who said of her life, it “is sheer faith most of the time. Very sheer.” An occasionally successful attempt to capture in journalistic prose some varied depths of (post)modern religious experience. (Author tour)

Pub Date: March 1st, 1999
ISBN: 0-679-44794-6
Page count: 352pp
Publisher: Random House
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15th, 1999


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