The Best Things Ever Said About God

The Best Things Ever Said About God

by Ronald B Shwartz


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780380803873
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 10/31/2000
Pages: 160
Product dimensions: 5.31(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.36(d)

About the Author

Ronald Shwartz is a Boston trial lawyer, a former editor of The University of Chicago Law Review, and a former freelance writer whose essays and reviews have appeared in such publications as The Wall Street Journal, The Nation, The American Spectator and The Sewanne Review. He was admitted to the National Book Critics Circle in 1981. He is also the editor of several previous books of quotations.

Read an Excerpt


If the following quotations about God seem incompatible—a fine mess of theology—welcome to my world. I am not an atheist nor, at the other end, have I ever held any religious beliefs at all. At the same time, the term "agnostic" doesn't quite fit either, implying as it does a hedge disguised as intellectual rigor in a realm where logic may be beside the point. As Robert Frost advised, "Don't be agnostic, be something"—and something, or at least an interest in something larger than ourselves and transcendent—is surely better than nothing. In this regard I once interviewed Frank McCourt of Angela's Ashes fame, who said he is obsessed with the notion of faith in God "precisely because I lack faith and don't understand it." My own religious outlook, such as it is, mirrors this paradox. It has always been a kind of black hole, conspicuous by its absence, intense but devoid of light. So I've been reading, far and wide—clergy to cranks—in an effort to see the light, or better define the shadows, and grasp where I stand, or at least where others do.

This interest has led, of course, to pundits who wonder if God is indeed the Ultimate Cause or, as Freud said, the ultimate symptom or, as Jung said, the ultimate cure. Unencumbered by studies in history, philosophy, or scripture, I've read those who risk the stigma of sacrilege by asking if, on balance, the notion of God has bred more good than bad. If more have been saved in God's name than lost to holy wars or stung by guilt or by prayers unanswered. Or preyed on by the likes of Cotton Mather and the Ayatollah Khomeini and latterday felons posed astelevangelists. For all that, I envy the devout. Envy their solace and rapture if not revelation in a secular age—a culture that, for all its addiction to fame, sex, and mutual funds, has run smack into a resurgent interest in spirit and soul. As a recent front-page feature in The Boston Globe announced, "From books to TV, the Lord is hot." As if God were just another craze. As if the lure of cosmic truth were a result, according to stale theory, of Baby Boomers in millennial fear of mortality. Like mice in a maze desperate for a big cheese that must be here somewhere, just beyond the hedge.

Maybe, like them, I am best defined by the epithet "neoagnostics," as coined in a new book called —they are said to be "well-educated skeptics who have metaphysical feelings. They regard religion as belief in the unbelievable, yet sense something important that eludes their most trusted tools of learning and intellect." I guess this kind of muddle fits me as far as it goes but fails to capture the lasting influence of my own religious indoctrination and the metaphysical limbo in which I still find myself adrift. It began with Hebrew School on Long Island, well-meaning but otherwise, if I may say so without slurring the corpus of Talmudic wisdom, daft enough to treat belief in God as a given, fait accompli. By failing to start at square one—by showing how to be a Jew but not why—they lost me. Hence the truth told in jest and mock robotic cadence by another fledgling apostate who never returned to the fold—whose words could almost be my own: "I'm Jewish. I don't really follow the religion. Last time I was in temple, I was thirteen. I made two grand. I got out of the business."

This inquiry of mine has been tantalizing if far from conclusive—and may be the way such things go. Even now, older and ever more apt to contemplate the eternal and my place in a cryptic cosmos, I remain nonsectarian-but not for lack of trying. Rather than "working with God," I have resorted to working on a book about God—a book comprised of hearsay at that. It is a miscellany for doubters and believers alikethough at neither extreme-and purged of freeze-dried sermonettes and vainglorious citations to chapter-and-verse as proof that God prefers tea to coffee. A miscellany, that is, for those of open heart and mind who cringe at the first hint of proselytizing. Or at strangers who swear that "God loves you and so do I." Or at prigs without portfolio who dare not laugh at the glib incantations of George Burns in the blockbuster movie, Oh God! It is, in short, a collection of the shrewdest, wittiest, and altogether most provocative observations that I have discovered as a pilgrim in progress.

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