Rebecca Newberger Goldstein: secular humanist with a soul
Philosopher and novelist Rebecca Newberger Goldstein is a humanist whose life and work have been shaped by religion.
(Page 5 of 5)
The conference room of the hotel slowly fills with people, passing by the stands positioned just outside, selling bumper stickers, T-shirts, and buttons depicting an Ichthus fish with legs or some other atheist pun. They are mostly white, from the middle and upper classes of America, and look as if this is one of the only places they can truly let go of their usual awkwardness. They sit down to eat at two dozen tables, lined up in a traditional conference setting. While the remains of dessert are being cleared, David Niose, the chair of the American Humanist Association opens the evening's events before making room for Steven Pinker, a man who, Niose now realizes, "has married up." Having received the award himself five years ago – though he remembers it being smaller – Pinker was asked to introduce his wife. He does so with unmasked pride. Goldstein accepts her award from her "only alive hero" – the rest all being dead white males – and speaks of the community she has found in secular humanism, and talking at length about Spinoza – her inspiration in life.Skip to next paragraph
End to an era at legendary Paris bookshop Shakespeare and Company
'Daughter of Smoke and Bone' film rights acquired by Universal
Better World Books' bestseller list: more classics than new titles
More books, more choices: why America needs its indies
Is Slate's Amazon-defending blogger really a 'moron'?
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
THE MORNING AFTER the awards banquet, I find myself alone in a loft that's still asleep. Located just around the corner from Boston's South Station, Goldstein and Pinker live in a former industrial area, where warehouses have been turned into offices and lofts – home to businessmen and hipsters. The entrance to their building is tucked away in a quiet street, where an elevator gives access to cramped hallways that carefully conceal the spacious apartments beyond. I quietly open my laptop and start working on my notes – what better place to get writing inspiration than in the home of America's "brainiest couple"? The space is impressive – wooden beams support the ceiling, with the help of the massive bookcases that line the wall. One of them, under the smaller windows to the side of the loft, is filled with the couple's own books. The number of books they have each written is considerable, and placing them side by side, in a haphazard mix of his and hers, makes it slightly overwhelming. Add to that a collection of all foreign editions, and you've truly intimidated your visitors.
Apart from dozens of photographs taken by Pinker, framed pictures of Goldstein's ancestors adorn the walls and her office. Her ancestors in 1930s Hungary is next to an image of her parents on their wedding day. Her mother in an elaborate satin gown, her father in a top hat, both looking young and happy. Goldstein's office is located in the spot formerly occupied by the elevator shaft of the building – a roomy freight elevator, it must have been – and now holds a large desk and a collection of photographs and knick-knacks. Beside the stuffed dolls depicting the greatest minds sitting on one shelf – from Socrates to Virginia Woolf, the only woman in the mix – there's a small stack of photos of Goldstein and Pinker. Despite the fact that Spinoza believed that romantic love would always end badly, Goldstein is of another mind. "I expect to die enamored," she says.
Merel van Beeren is a graduate student of Journalism at New York University.