Umberto Eco is a famous scholar-novelist, and Cardinal Martini is a famous scholar-bishop. Eco is an urbane ex-Catholic. Cardinal Martini is an urbane prince of the Church. Belief or Nonbelief?, a little book of eight chapters, is a dialogue between them, first published by an Italian newspaper. Each author writes four alternating chapters addressing the hopes of humanity at the dawn of a new millennium, the question of the beginning of human life, the role of the Church, and how we can know Truth.
Belief or Non Belief? is a good idea, but it suffers from a couple of problems. The format and content are too obviously recycled newspaper articles. While the engaging, popular style is welcome, the necessary brevity of each chapter means arguments cannot be developed, and the reader is left vaguely dissatisfied. It would have been better if the authors had expanded the project. Both men write well in a sophisticated and polite Italian style that is entertaining at first, but it soon sounds artificial to the English reader. Finally, there are some difficulties in translation: for example, "illumination" is used instead of "enlightenment" and "layman" is consistently used where "non-Catholic" is probably intended. Despite these criticisms, Belief or Nonbelief? is a sharp little book giving a fresh perspective on age-old questions. --Dwight Longenecker
--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From Library Journal
This is no contest between debating opponents seeking to score rhetorical knockouts; instead, it's just two thoughtful people who respectfully listen to what the other has to say about faith. The nonbeliever is Eco, renowned semiotician and author of The Name of the Rose. The believer is the Archbishop of Milan. In these letters, originally run in an Italian newspaper, they address topics that divide official Catholic from contemporary secular opinion. First, the cardinal answers Eco's inquiries on hope and apocalyptic expectation, on when life begins, and on why the Church does not ordain women. There are no surprises here, except perhaps in Martini's nuanced "wait and see" response to the last question. Then, in the book's best exchange, Eco replies to the cardinal's question of how those who do not believe in God can be committed to moral absolutes. Would that all "confrontations" between belief and unbelief were so informed and instructive. Recommended for all public libraries.
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-Steve Young, Montclair State Univ., NJ
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