We live in a godless century—not an Age of Doubt (as I heard a clergyman preach the other day) so much as one of indifference to religion. Intelligent men and women in the Western world today tend to have a logical positivist’s sense of what it means for something to be “real”; those who do find themselves experiencing spiritual hunger, meanwhile, tend to appease it by embracing shallow, trendy notions of the supernatural that represent a challenge neither to their own styles of life nor to contemporary cultural values, and that require little in the way of intellectual struggle or moral self-discipline. Yet there have been inklings of a possible turnaround, at least in the world of letters. Last autumn, in an essay on the literary life in the 1990s, I noted approvingly that a number of recent novels had dealt seriously with religion and religious commitment, giving one new hope for the possibilities of fin de siècle...


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