By John Wilson

Beyond Belief?

Nobel Prize-winner V.S. Naipaul's accounts of Islam presuppose the superiority of modern skepticism.

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From this perspective, Christianity is more acceptable than Islam only insofar as Christians have learned to accommodate the demands of the "universal civilization." Naipaul's 1989 account of travels in the Bible Belt, A Turn in the South, is much gentler than his reports from Islamic lands, but it displays the same impervious condescension.

Christians, then, should read Naipaul's accounts of Islam with caution, as believers reading about other believers. Certainly anyone who cares for truth is in Naipaul's debt. He has often said, truthfully, what others have refused to say; in this respect he counters the whitewashing accounts of Islam we mentioned last week. But like so many others who set themselves up as impartial observers of human folly, he is blind to his own self-serving prejudices.

John Wilson is editor of Books & Culture and editor-at-large for Christianity Today.

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Books & Culture Corner appears Mondays at Earlier Books & Culture Corners include:

Covering Islam | Getting beyond the feel-good bromides. (Oct. 8, 2001) Christian Scholarship … For What? | Academic speakers affirm the value of beholding God's creation. (Oct. 1, 2001) Myths of the Taliban | Misinformation and disinformation abounds. What do we know? (Sept. 24, 2001) The Imagination of Disaster | "We thought we were invulnerable." Really? (Sept. 17, 2001) More Sex, Fewer Children | Mixed messages on condoms, contraception, and fertility. (Sept. 10, 2001) The Strange Case of Napoleon Beazley | The latest poster boy for death row chic. (Aug. 27, 2001) Apocalyptic City | The dream and the nightmare of megalopolis (Aug. 20, 2001) Megalopolis Forty Years On | The ambiguous face of the city. (Aug. 13, 2001) The Future Is Now | You want the news? Read science fiction. (Aug. 6, 2001) Memorable Memoirs | Whether telling us about the Spirit in the South or the crumbling atheism of a Chinese immigrant, these books provide windos into others' lives. (July 30, 2001) The Distorted Story of Memoir Inc. | There are many good autobiographies out there, but do those who write about them have to pretend they're the only books worth reading? (July 23, 2001) Looking for the Soul of CBA | Nearly anything that can be said about Christian publishing is true to some extent, thanks to the industry's ever-enlarging territory. (July 16, 2001) Give Me Your Muslims, Your Hindus, Your Eastern Orthodox, Yearning to Breathe Free | Immigration's long-ignored effect on American religion is garnering much attention from scholars (July 9, 2001) Shrekked | Why are readers responding passionately about a simple film review? (July 2, 2001) Debutante Fiction | The New Yorker should have paid less attention to the novelty of its writers and more attention to their writing. (June 18, 2001)
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