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54 of 63 people found the following review helpful
Dilettante Seeks BestsellerJan. 8 2012
Danusha V. Goska
- Published on Amazon.com
"Man Seeks God" is often a very superficial book on life's biggest, heaviest questions, and Eric Weiner, the book's author, is a relentlessly self-absorbed, elitist, dilettante, but that is exactly this book's charm. This is probably the only somewhat serious hardcover book that addresses Islam, Buddhism, Catholicism, Judaism, and Taoism that you could read straight through, and laugh at, during a long plane flight. This book is full of witty one-liners. A favorite: Taoism fills mankind's God-shaped hole with a hole-shaped God (220).
Weiner, your host through four thousand years of religions belief and practice, is quite the whiner. At the Second Coming, he'd obsess on his hangnail. At first I was shocked at how unabashedly self-absorbed he was, but his single-minded frankness wore me down. By the time he actually did write something serious about a spiritual experience he'd had - all the way on page 316 - I was moved.
Weiner is a very successful author and journalist who was hospitalized with a bad case of intestinal gas. (Really.) A nurse asked him if he had found his God yet. He realized he had not, and he set out looking.
I would give this book five stars instead of four if Weiner revealed any awareness of one feature of the book: his search is extraordinarily dilettantish and superficial. Others going in search of the deep truths have devoted years of sacrifice, study, and immersion. They travel far, live poor, study hard, test beliefs under the most demanding of conditions, seek teachers who themselves have inherited beliefs from generations, and lived their lessons under the toughest circumstances. None of that for Weiner. Though he travels to Asia and the Middle East, he never leaves the halo of a comfortable hotel room, a gourmet meal, American-born English speakers, a cold beer, and a flight out of town.
The superficiality of Weiner's quest is most glaring when it comes to Islam. Weiner has seen Islam in action, and he has come to be wary of it. To experience and assess Islam's take on the divine, Weiner travels not to Mecca, which, of course, would bar his entry - Weiner is Jewish and not allowed - nor to the self-proclaimed Islamic Republic of Iran or to the Taliban, assertive purveyors of Islam so pure they bomb Buddha statues and girls' schools, but rather to the Redwoods of California. Sufi Camp, where campers play with a mishmash of world religions and for no discernable reason label that "Islam," teaches neither Weiner nor the reader a darn single thing about Islam - if anything, he is obscuring this important topic for his reader. Weiner is writing, here, not about Islam, but about spiritually lost and self-indulgent modern Americans. Why not own up to that and write that essay, rather than pretend that you are saying something about Islam?
Weiner takes this same approach with Buddhism, Taoism, and Shamanism. Rather than traveling far and hard, studying deeply, and immersing himself in Buddhist, Taoist, and Shamanic cultures and traditions, Weiner sticks to his hotel room and ventures out for restaurant meals with Westerners who traveled to Kathmandu to dabble in Buddhism, to a mountain resort (equipped with its own mist machine) in China to mingle with well-heeled spiritual tourists who can afford tourist Taoism, and to a hotel room in a suburb of Washington, DC to play childish and transparent games meant to evoke authentic Shamanism.
Weiner presenting his trip to Kathmandu, Nepal, as a worthy intro to Buddhism struck me as particularly false. I've lived in traditional, village Nepal, studied Buddhism under a teacher who himself had inherited his knowledge from generations of Buddhists, and I can attest that Thamel, the tourist trap in Kathmandu where Weiner stayed, has as much to do with lived Nepali-Tibetan Buddhism as prostitution has to do with love.
The other religions Weiner dabbles in are dilettantish by nature: Wicca, a cobbled-together, make-it-up-as-you-go-along, recent, invention for people who found traditional religions' demands too harsh and restrictive, and Raelism, a religion invented by a French race car driver.
Weiner does make more grounded contact with two religions: Christianity and Judaism. These were the easiest for him to contact: Christians are the majority of the US population, and Weiner, born Jewish, had lived in Israel; a return trip for this book was easy. These chapters best reflect the religions they address, and they are the least flip and funny. Christianity comes off surprisingly well. Weiner stays with Franciscans who shelter indigent men and protest an abortion clinic. In Israel, Weiner visits Tzfat, aka Safed, a center of Kabbalah study.
Weiner is very easy on the religions he encounters. He wonders if Kabbalah study is not just mumbo-jumbo. I wish he had hit that question a little harder, and applied the same question to Taoism, which comes across as Yoda-speak: soulless cleverness, sophistry and platitudes. Weiner is uncomfortable with the Franciscans' anti-abortion protests. Why not pursue that discomfort with the Franciscans themselves? Ask them point blank, "What right do celibate men have to tell distressed women what to do with their own bodies?" Why not ask one Muslim, just one, about jihad?
I suspect that the answer is that Weiner sees religion the way his fans see religion: as kind of silly and not really worth much more attention or commitment than is required to write a genuinely funny, interesting, but, ultimately not very deep book.
14 of 16 people found the following review helpful
MAN SEEKS GOD is about looking for the sacredJan. 9 2012
- Published on Amazon.com
The spiritual journey, in fiction and nonfiction, is a tried-and-true theme because religious community and spiritual experience play a large role in the lives of so many, and have for millennia. The latest author to explore this realm is Eric Weiner, whose memoir MAN SEEKS GOD is about looking for the sacred.
While in the hospital for mysterious severe abdominal pain, a nurse ominously asked him, "Have you found your God yet?" The answer was no. Rattled by the possibility of illness (it turns out he was just fine) and spooked by the question, Weiner sets out to discover a deity, or a religion in which he can find meaning and comfort. Raised a secular "gastronomical" Jew but with no emotional ties to Judaism, and wary of the term "agnostic," the world of religion was wide open to the self-proclaimed "Confusionist."
A former NPR correspondent, Weiner was comfortable traveling the world to get information and perspective, and so that is what he did. Guided by the work and biography of philosopher and psychologist William James, author of the seminal THE VARIETIES OF RELIGIOUS EXPERIENCE, Weiner takes an experiential approach to finding God. But, ever the bibliophile, his search is informed by additional thinkers and theologians such as Ghandi, Aldous Huxley, Rumi, Lao Tzu, Rilke, Paul Tillich, Isaac Luria, and many more.
Weiner begins with Islamic mysticism, Sufism. From California to Istanbul to Konya, he ponders Sufi thought and tries to spin like the Whirling Dervishes. And while he finds beauty in the practice, Islam is not for him. He next goes to Kathmandu in search of the wisdom of Buddhist meditation, studying with a guy named Wayne and circumambulating a stupa. While he appreciates the Buddhist emphasis on compassion, he finds the religion "cold, almost clinical." And so on to a stay with some Franciscan monks in the Bronx. Chinese Taoism is one leg of the journey, and Neo-Pagan Wicca is another. There is a brief interlude with Shamanism and time at a gathering of Raëlians in Las Vegas. The Raëlians, in case you don't know, are a hedonistic UFO-based religion. Finally, Weiner finds himself in Israel learning about Kabbalah, Jewish mysticism.
MAN SEEKS GOD is interesting, but not because it illuminates religious ideas or rituals. In fact, the experiences Weiner seeks out are often mystical or in some way deviant from the mainstream. Without the context of the larger tradition that, say, Sufism is part of, the experiences are jarring. To dive headlong into Buddhist meditation is difficult enough, but to do so in order to find a spiritual home without substantial Buddhist study and context is daunting, to say the least. The enterprise of finding a religion in this way seems doomed, especially coupled with the depression Weiner suffers throughout the process. Yet the process is compelling, and Weiner, the true subject of the book, is fascinating. He is at once charming and naive, profound and whiny, funny and annoying.
In the end, no major spiritual truths are uncovered, except that maybe all religions have their amazing ideas and their silly ones. Weiner finds a renewed interest in his own Jewish heritage after gaining some interesting insights into other faiths. It is not so much the various religions and religious practices examined that make MAN SEEKS GOD compelling, but the people Weiner encounters and spends time with as he travels around the world in search of something to fill the proverbial "God shaped hole." Still, the most intriguing insights are the ones he discovers about himself in this honest and neurotic, generally entertaining book.
Reviewed by Sarah Rachel Egelman
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
Strong showing for Weiner's second bookDec 30 2011
- Published on Amazon.com
Eric Weiner, self-proclaimed "gastronomical Jew" who falls somewhere nearest the atheist/agnostic end of the belief spectrum, embarks on a journey to explore religion.
The faiths he chooses to indulge range from the seemingly sublime (Buddhism and Taoism) to the ridiculous (Raelianism), with a few other odd balls (Wicca, Shamanism) and variations on old standards (Sufi Islam, Franciscan Christianity and Kabbalah Judaism) thrown in for good measure.
While there is no full-water immersion here, Weiner makes a sincere effort to dip his toes into each of these belief systems. Occasionally, he finds himself waist deep; once or twice, in over his head. That's what makes this book different and better that a mere survey of religious thought - we get the perspective of a first-hand observer who walks the walk while maintaining his objectivity and humor.
With recent studies showing that non-believers are far more informed about religion in general than are those professing a particular faith, this seems the perfect book to bridge the gaping ignorance. It's both readable and respectful.
Along with his first book, the best-selling Geography of Bliss, Weiner is defining a new, witty narrative style - more subtle, perhaps, than Bill Bryson or P.J. O'Rourke, but also frequently more substantive.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
Wonderfully EntertainingJan. 7 2012
- Published on Amazon.com
Format: Kindle Edition
I scanned the other reviews here as I have read rave reviews and disappointed reviews in several publications regarding this book. Happily, so far, I am with the majority in this case. If you read his previous book, I think you know what to expect and I was very happy with it. I recommended the Happiness book to nearly everyone and now I am doing the same with this new one. Yes, if you want to be a cynic, maybe none of the story set up really happened that way and he was looking for a new book idea. Personally, I don't care althought the set up is a great one all the same. I read this book expecting to be entertained (and I count myself among the Confusionists) and I was very entertained. I learned a few things about several of the world's religions and it has piqued my interest in learning more about a number of them. It has lead to numerous interesting dinner discussions with friends and I expect they will read it too. I guess I did not expect "the answer" at the conclusion of the book so I have no disappointments about how it ends. I love his writing style- self deprecating humor- and I expect I will read every book he ever writes.
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
Entertaining, but You Won't Find God HereMay 19 2012
- Published on Amazon.com
Eric Weiner's search for meaning is a quick and entertaining encounter with various religions that readers may not be aware of, if you consider Wicca and Raëlian to be religions. This book gets 4 stars for the competent writing and Weiner's self deprecating sense of humor. However, his accounts are superficial. For someone self-described as "confused" and raised in a secular Jewish home, I'd hoped that Weiner would approach his search with a couple of meaningful questions. For example, where is God in the existence of good and evil in the world? The answers may have illuminated the big picture for him.
"Man Seeks God" almost feels like a search for the ideal meditation partner; Weiner should have visited the Maharishi Transcendental Meditation community in Fairfield, Iowa. His own religion, Judaism, gets the same superficial treatment as Islam; this section is limited to some brief study of kabbalah. We are not surprised to see that by the end of the book the author has not grown in his knowledge - he has simply "invented" his own personal god from an amalgam.