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After Disbelief

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Member Reviews

I enjoyed this! Though I think it might have gone a bit over my head. I appreciated the writing style and would be interested in reading more books like this.
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This book does a decent job balancing ideas that many theists and atheists will be able to read, discuss, and understand. This could be an excellent choice for a book club
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Kronman strikes a balance between theists and atheists so as to equally agree/disagree with basic tenants of their faith/lack of faith. The idea of deconstruction is full on display here, but there aren’t clear plans for a rebuild.

Heady stuff for anyone questioning existence in this chaotic world. 

Thanks to NetGalley and Yale University Press for an ARC of this book
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There are two popular positions with regard to religious belief. One believes in God and the human need for Divine help. The other position relies on self and human autonomy. These are the two common stands between theists and atheists. Is there a middle ground? Calling himself a "born-again pagan," author-professor Anthony Kronman claims to have discovered this middle way. In this thought-provoking book that begins from a position of a disillusioned world, he guides readers through some of his presuppositions of neither religion nor atheism, to land into an area of existentialism and the ongoing pursuit of happiness. Pondering about death and eternity, he asks a probing question: "How is it possible to come closer to a goal that is always at the same impossible distance?" Finding that both religion and humanism fail to answer this question adequately, he describes his own version of god that sits somewhere between partial acceptance and partial rejection of both types of beliefs. He shows hand by declaring his method of inquiry: "by reason alone." This is via the individual's reasoning to find out the right idea of God. Immediately in the following chapter, he admits to his own flawed plans to respond to his own alarms and various unmet goals. There is a disclaimer of course, that while he tries to size up the God that he wants to find, he admits his own limitations to see a world that is larger than his own. He reflects on the wavering predictions of weather; the painfully slow advancement of justice; and a lament that Dr Martin Luther King Jr's dream of a world of justice as something "unattainable." The author essentially questions everything in life. After a massive deconstruction of conventional thinking about life, he helps us arrive at a future position in which we can "neither reach nor abandon." This gets worse as he relates present fulfillment as illusions. For instance, once we are satisfied with all scientific inquiries, when our longing to know and accomplish stuff ceases, what would happen to us? What kind of a God does Kroman eventually arrive at? A hybrid: of the best one reasons that out to be. 

My Thoughts
Personally, Kronman is essentially an Agnostic disguised as a religious-sounding pagan. Full of inquiries about life goals and various aspirations toward meaning and success, he points out the folly of a desirable view on the one hand before rapidly quickly extinguishing them as unattainable. In fact, this book comes across like some religious book but inside is full of humanistic theories and philosophies. That makes it sound like atheism itself is a new religion. Just because he didn't call it atheism does not remove that association. If one considers the way he introduces the book with Philip Larkin's atheistic poem, "Church Going," one would anticipate the trajectory of the wolf of unbelief wearing the religious clothing of a sheep. Growing up in a family that despises everything organized religion, his parents are "intelligent atheists" and see religion as basically a system of ethical beliefs. The author cautiously rejects their disdain for religion, preferring to neither accept nor deny the practice of religious faith. As Kronman confesses, the very things that his parents do are having the opposite effect on him. Yet, one can tell that he has not abandoned what his parents feel about religion. In explaining his stand, he is promoting existentialism and humanism as his new deities. He uses words like "theology," "eternal order," "truths," and even "God" in his chapters. That is why I find this book filled with oxymorons. How can there be faith when his path forward is by reason alone? By calling his own god the "humanist's God," he has failed to recognize that for the theist, God is supreme and there is no God but God. Not only that, his version of God is impersonal and mostly defined in terms of humanistic and earthly dimensions. In claiming there is "a God after disbelief," he further confuses God's Being with his own idea of God. 

Kronman asks a lot of pertinent questions but his answers are unsatisfactory. Honestly, his firm and vigorous treatment of historical knowledge of various philosophies and goals often land with a limp toward what he deems unattainable. This does readers a disservice, especially for those wanting a firm view of what precisely is the middle way between religion and paganism. From his conclusion, not only is there no clear view, his purpose is essentially to debunk all views save his own reasoning. The book comes across as someone desiring to have the proverbial cake and eat it whole. Yet, after eating, one still feels hungry. If the goal is to deconstruct life for the purpose of deconstructing, this book achieves the goal splendidly. However, if the goal is to inquire about the meaning of life, it is far easier to start with either belief or non-belief of the Judeo-Christian view monotheism. One can both comprehend secularalism as non-religious and atheism as an anti-thesis to theism. Both rely on referencing the one God of the world. In fact, one might argue that for both of them to even exist, there must be a God in the first place. Kronman's belief is a movable hybrid of humanism that is still more humanistic than anything divine.

Anthony Kronman is Sterling Professor of Law at Yale Law School. A former Dean of Yale Law School, Professor Kronman teaches in the areas of contracts, bankruptcy, jurisprudence, social theory, and professional responsibility. Before coming to Yale, he taught at the University of Chicago. Among his books are Education's End: Why Our Colleges and Universities Have Given Up on the Meaning of Life, Max Weber, Contracts: Cases and Materials (with F. Kessler and G. Gilmore), and Lost Lawyer. His latest book, Confessions of a Born-Again Pagan, was published by Yale University Press in 2016. Professor Kronman received his B.A. from Williams College and his Ph.D. in Philosophy and J.D. from Yale.

Rating: 3.75 stars of 5.

This book has been provided courtesy of Yale University Press and NetGalley without requiring a positive review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.
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