Monday, February 4, 2013

Book Review: Belief or nonbelief? a confrontation; by Umberto Eco and Carlo Maria Martini

This book is a dialogue between a self- acclaimed secularist, Umberto Eco and a catholic scholar priest, Carlo Maria Martini. Umberto Eco, the author of the labyrinthine novel, Foucault’s Pendulum is not a closed skeptic in a strict sense, but he is more a man marked by a restless ‘incredulity’. He is not an anti-religious ex-Catholic, but is a one of those mature sages who is not interested in refuting believers but in illuminating genuine difference and finding common ground. Carlo Maria Martini, the other hand is interested in frank and unfettered dialogue with any kind of people. He usually addresses ‘the believers in non-believers and non believers in believers. It becomes a matter of interest among the public when both come together to share some of their ideas on some complex matters. The  copies of the book were sold out when it published first time, which shows the interest of the readers to know what happened when two big wigs in their own area of interest come together to lock the horn! In his first letter to Martini, Eco addresses his as ‘Mr’ instead of any of the respectful and hierarchical name, and he explains why he addresses him so. Calling by name is an act of homage and of prudence. Usually in French, people are addressed by their own name, so it’s an act of homage, and secondly both scholars come together as free men and representative of the people, so Eco does not want to keep any kinds of reverence. This book is a compilation of four three letters by Eco to Martini on specific issues. Firstly Eco asks about Apocalypse. People are compelled to live in a shadow of fear in the spirit of bibamus, edamus, cras moriemur (eat, drink, for tomorrow we die) because of the presence of religious believes. 

Vegetables sacrifices to preserve animal life and we are horrified at the idea of slaughtering an animal, but eat their flesh, we never squash a caterpillar in the park, but kill a mosquito when it comes to suck our blood, so what is the value of living being according to the religion? If a monkey is taught how to read and react, could it be recognized as human being and asserted all the human rights? What is the status of women in a religious set up? For all his questions in another letter Carlo Maria Martini explains from a religious platform. Though the book is fascinating, it loses its continuity. The letters were written in different time, and very different topics, so the reader may not be more interested to engage with the discussion. It is very passive discussion, that Eco asks something, and Carlo Maria Martini replies. It seems that there is not much interaction between each other.

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