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 [via]