Sunday, July 14, 2019

BOOK REVIEW Agnostic: A Spirited Manifesto (2016) by Lesley Hazleton

Agnostic: A Spirited Manifesto (2016) by Lesley Hazleton

Lesley Hazleton is a very interesting author whose work focuses on the intersection of religion and politics. Two of her most recent books that are selling at Popular & MPH bookstores all over Malaysia are The First Muslim (on the life of Muhammad) and After the Prophet (about what happened to the teachings of Islam and after Muhammad died). Very interesting books indeed. So when I read Agnostic, I was surprised to know that Lesley is not a Muslim but an agnostic Jew, which simply means, according to Google dictionary, “a person who believes that nothing is known or can be known of the existence or nature of God” [refer the diagram below to know the different].

In the first chapter Beyond Either/Or after she explains her religious background and journeys, she writes, “And there’s the problem - right there in that phrase ‘one way or the other.’ It sees the world in binary terms: yes or no, this side or that. It insists that I can be either agnostic or Jewish but not both, even though both are integral parts of this multi-faceted life that is mine.” I agree. “To be agnostic is to love this kind of paradox,” she continues. “Not to skirt it, nor merely to tolerate it, but to actively revel in it. The agnostic stance defies artificial straight lines such as that drawn between belief and unbelief, and shakes off the insistence that it comes down on one side or the other.” I agree.

I stand tall in my agnosticism because the essence of it is not merely not-knowing, but something far more challenging and infinitely more intriguing: the magnificent oxymoron inherent in the concept of unknowability. This is the acknowledgment that not everything may be knowable, and that not all questions have definitive answers - certainly not ones as crudely put as the existence or non-existence of God.” Although I’m not an agnostic - theist, if we want to use a term here - I agree with this statement so far. “At its best, however, agnosticism goes further: it takes a spirited delight in not knowing... it’s a recognition that we need room for mystery, for imagination, for things sensed but not proven, intuited but not defined - room in which to explore and entertain possibilities instead of heading straight for a safe seat at one end or the other of a falsely created spectrum.” Very persuasive statement and I like what I read.

I agree with Lesley’s one of good points in the book: doubt is essential to faith. If I believe in something without having questions about it, this becomes dogma [and so this book is very helpful to challenge my beliefs], but asking questions, good to great questions will shed more and more light on the subject until it becomes a clear truth for me [so contrary to Lesley’s idea, I do believe that there are absolute truths and its knowable but most may remain mystery]. And that’s why I still believe in the living Jesus Christ, the Son of God!

Watch a wonderful TED Talk by Lesley HERE: 


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