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Fiction

War Music

Christopher Logue's personal "Iliad" recharges Homer and makes the ancient actual.

The Heart of a Dog

In 1925, Mikhail Bulgakov riffed off a botched operation to slice into communism.

Doctor Glas

Hjalmer Söderberg's sinister story is an early and superb example of psychoanalytic literature.

The Encyclopedia of the Dead

Danilo Kiš, a Balkan Jorge Luis Borges, traded in superstition and arcana.

The Book of Disquiet

Mystical, erudite, sad, self-effacing, wise — Fernando Pessoa's "confession" is all those things.

Cosmos

For Polish novelist Witold Gombrowicz, the universe counts dead cats and onanism.

On Such A Full Sea

In a clear warning about Chinese ambitions, novelist Chang-Rae Lee turns to future shock.

Silence Once Begun

Underrated Jesse Ball again enters territory few American novelists venture into.

The Great Fire

For Shirley Hazzard, mid-20th century fires raged both in both world and heart.

Break it Down

Lydia Davis' early stories demonstrate an uncanny gift for "real-time" subversion.




BOOK REVIEW
The End of Faith
By Sam Harris
Norton, 2004. 348 pages

In a publishing universe saturated with an onslaught of books arguing vociferously both for and against religion, Harris's view stands out because it rails not just against God, but against faith itself. And not only against the faith of extremists, but that of religious moderates, who Harris snubs as unfaithful yet unwilling to abandon faith.

So-called moderates actually function, according to Harris, as padding for religious extremists, making the latter untouchable by the tenets of modern critical discourse. We live in a world where everything is debatable and deflatable except religious belief. Sam Harris asks why.

A belief, Harris argues, is "a lever that, once pulled, moves almost everything else in a person's life." Thus one who believes that 72 virgins await him in heaven if he murders a bunch of Israelis in a pizzeria is propelled by his belief to do what for a skeptic in his position would be unthinkable. Harris follows this logic to its natural conclusion, outlining many of the familiar proofs along the way: the inconsistency of scripture with itself, the incompatibility of "revealed religions" with each other in an increasingly volatile world, the societal evolution of morality and the pursuit of happiness as humankind's ultimate goal.

Harris lets nobody off the hook, except perhaps the Jain, as they are extremists only in non-violent tendencies. Christianity and Islam are the primary culprits, as both are religions based on revelation, ultimate truth and the promise of heaven (and hell). Judaism receives a lighter treatment, partially due to its historical inability to inflict much damage on its self-declared taskmasters.

The writing throughout is precise, the book is well-sourced and the arguments are convincing. The last chapter examines whether spiritual experiences are attainable in ways divorced from dogma. Hint: read the footnotes.

Reviewed by Marc Alan Di Martino
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