Gustave Dore, The Second Crusaders Encounter the Remains of the First Crusaders (1877)People have believed things with utter conviction – a combination of thought and action – and been consummately wrong. A conviction brings a creative power that is not present in a mere belief. But if the conviction is not in harmony with reality or with desirable ends, the result can be destructive instead of creative.
- Michael Zimbalist Rosaldo, Knowlege and Passion: Ilongot Notions of Self & Social Life (Cambridge University Press, 1980).
- Robert E. Putnam and David E. Campbell, American Grace: How Religion Divides and Unites Us (Simon & Schuster, 2010).
- Eliza Griswold, The Tenth Parallel: Dispatches from the Fault Line Between Christianity and Islam (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2010).
- Brandon L. Garrett, Convicting the Innocent: Where Criminal Prosecutions Go Wrong (Harvard University Press, 2011): an examination of the unreliability of witness testimony, including confessions in some cases.
- Brook Wilensky-Lunford, Paradise Lust: Searching for the Garden of Eden (Grove Press, 2011): stories of people who were certain that they would find or had found the biblical Garden of Eden.
- Deborah Scroggins, Wanted Women: Faith, Lies, and the War on Terror: The Lives of Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Aafia Siddiqui (HarperCollins Publishers, 2012): a double biography of two polarizing Muslim women who saw Islam through sharply divergent lenses.
- Nick Bilton, American Kingpin: The Epic Hunt for the Criminal Mastermind Behind the Silk Road (Portfolio/Penguin, 2017). “How the Dark Web’s Dread Pirate Roberts Went Down”
- Orlando Figes, The Crimean War: A History (Metropolitan Books / Henry Holt & Company, 2011). “This is history with an argument. Figes maintains that the conflict was essentially a religious war, and he is frustrated that most writers have neglected that theme . . .”
- Michael Massing, Fatal Discord: Erasmus, Luther and the Fight for the Western Mind (Harper, 2018): “ . . . Luther – obdurate and reckless, bilious and doctrinaire – eventually swamps the book, as he eventually swamped the urbane and ironic man of letters. The Christianity that Erasmus advocated – eschewing the finer oints of metaphysics in favor of the humility, simplicity and charity he saw in Jesus of Nazareth – was overpowered by Luther’s conviction that the Word of God, revealed by scripture, speaks unambiguously on all doctrinal matters . . .”
- Richard Thompson Ford, Rights Gone Wrong: How Law Corrupts the Struggle for Equality (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2011): the author argues that “ . . . both the progressive left and the colorblind right are guilty of the same error: defining discrimination too abstractly and condemning it too categorically, with similarly perverse results.”
- Peter Longerich, Goebbels: A Biography (Random House, 2015): “On only two matters did Goebbels’s commitment remain consistent and passionate. One was the so-called ‘Jewish question.’ From the start of his political career until the very end, Goebbels viewed Jews, both at home and abroad, as the source of Germany’s misfortunes. . . . The second, no less powerful and persistent of Goebbels’s political commitments was his loyalty to Hitler.”
- Adam Hochschild, Spain in Our Hearts: Americans in the Spanish Civil War, 1936-1939 (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2016): “ . . . he captures why so many people thought the fate of the world might be decided by who won the conflict in a poor, mostly rural country on the edge of Europe.”
Two perspectives on Istanbul’s history: “ . . . it’s a virtue of both books that they’re able to depict this transformation subtly while at the same time showing how intricate and improbable Istanbul’s history has been. The effect is rather like stumbling across the Serpent Column late at night after carousing in Istanbul’s 21st-century nightclubs: a melancholic sense of historical vertigo.”
- Richard Fidler, Ghost Empire: A Journey to the Legendary Constantinople (Pegasus, 2017).
- Bettany Hughes, Istanbul: A Tale of Three Cities (Da Capo Press, 2018).
Technical and Analytical Readings
- Thich Nhat Hanh, Thundering Silence: On Knowing the Better Way to Catch a Snake (Parallax Press, 2009).
Documentary and Educational Films
- Salvador Dali, The Ecumenical Council (1960)
- Giorgio de Chirico, The Vexations of a Thinker (1915)
- Peter Paul Rubens, The Victory of Eucharistic Truth Over Heresy (c. 1626)
Film and Stage
- Winter Light, about a Christian pastor’s strugglewith his beliefs
- The Witch: In seventeenth-century Puritan New England, belief in witches shaped interpretations and actions of events.
Music: Composers, artists, and major works
Like most string quartets, Vagn Holmboe’s sound like extended conversations. Typical of most twentieth-century music, these works are loaded with ambiguity and uncertainty. Yet each movement begins with an identifiable theme, making these suitable musical expressions of the double-edged swords we call belief and conviction.
- String Quartet No. 1, M 159, Op. 46 (1949)
- String Quartet No. 2, M 161, Op. 47 (1949)
- String Quartet No. 3, M 165, Op. 48 (1950)
- String Quartet No. 4, M 183, Op. 63 (1954): 1. Andante passionato; 2. Presto espansivo; 3. ; 4. Largo e semplice; 5. Allegretto sereno.
- String Quartet No. 5, M 188, Op. 55 (1955): 1. Pesante - Fluente; 2. Adagio; 3. Energico; 4. .
- String Quartet No. 6, M 210, Op. 78 (1961)
- String Quartet No. 7, M 224, Op. 224 (1965)
- String Quartet No. 8, M 225, Op. 87 (1965)
- String Quartet No. 9, M. 228, Op. 92 (1966, rev. 1969)
- String Quartet No. 10, M 243, Op. 102 (1969)
- String Quartet No. 11, "Quartetto Rustico," M 262, Op. 111 (1972)
- String Quartet No. 12, M 269, Op. 116 (1973)
- String Quartet No. 13, M 277, Op. 124 (1975)
- String Quartet No. 14, M 278, Op. 14 (1975)
- String Quartet No. 15, M 291, Op. 135 (1978)
- String Quartet No. 16, M 305, Op. 146 (1981): 1. Allegro non troppo; 2. Molto vivace; 3. Adagio; 4. Presto.
- String Quartet No. 17, M 312, Op. 152, "Mattinata" (Morning) (1983)
- String Quartet No. 18, M 314, Op. 153, "Giornata" (Day) (1982): 1. Andantino; 2. ; 3. Tempo giusto; 4. Allegro brioso; 5. ; 6. Vivace.
- String Quartet No. 19, M 313, Op. 156, "Serata" (1985)
- String Quartet No. 20, M 322, Op. 160, "Notturno" (Night) (1985)
In William Bolcom’s works for violin and piano (including the works for violin alone), the players sound as though they are in constant disagreement about a theme, yet the works congeal into fine and interesting music.
- First Sonata
- Second Sonata
- Third Sonata
- Fourth Sonata
- Duo Fantasy
- Fancy Tales
- Three Ghost Rags
- Suite No. 1 for Solo Violin
- Suite No. 2 for Solo Violin (2011)
- Menotti, The Saint of Bleecker Street (1954): people disagree about whether a woman has supernatural powers, with tragic consequences. (Here is an excerpt.)
- Dvořák, Piano Trio No. 3 in F minor, Op. 65, B 130 (1883)
- Henze, The Bassarids (1966) gives an account of the rise of monotheism, which was developed to replace the conflicts between many gods.
- Paul Bley and Gary Peacock, “Mindset”
[In Les Misérables, Javert’s rigid opinions shape his personality and character.] This man was composed of two very simple and two very good sentiments, comparatively; but he rendered them almost bad, by dint of exaggerating them,--respect for authority, hatred of rebellion; and in his eyes, murder, robbery, all crimes, are only forms of rebellion. He enveloped in a blind and profound faith every one who had a function in the state, from the prime minister to the rural policeman. He covered with scorn, aversion, and disgust every one who had once crossed the legal threshold of evil. He was absolute, and admitted no exceptions. On the one hand, he said, "The functionary can make no mistake; the magistrate is never the wrong." On the other hand, he said, "These men are irremediably lost. Nothing good can come from them." He fully shared the opinion of those extreme minds which attribute to human law I know not what power of making, or, if the reader will have it so, of authenticating, demons, and who place a Styx at the base of society. He was stoical, serious, austere; a melancholy dreamer, humble and haughty, like fanatics. His glance was like a gimlet, cold and piercing. His whole life hung on these two words: watchfulness and supervision. He had introduced a straight line into what is the most crooked thing in the world; he possessed the conscience of his usefulness, the religion of his functions, and he was a spy as other men are priests. Woe to the man who fell into his hands! He would have arrested his own father, if the latter had escaped from the galleys, and would have denounced his mother, if she had broken her ban. And he would have done it with that sort of inward satisfaction which is conferred by virtue. And, withal, a life of privation, isolation, abnegation, chastity, with never a diversion. It was implacable duty; the police understood, as the Spartans understood Sparta, a pitiless lying in wait, a ferocious honesty, a marble informer, Brutus in Vidocq. [Victor Hugo, Les Misérables (1862), Volume I – Fantine; Book Fifth – The Descent Begins, Chapter V, Vague Flashes on the Horizon.]
[In this passage, Hugo discusses the revolutionary spirit in France at the time:] Other groups of minds were more serious. In that direction, they sounded principles, they attached themselves to the right. They grew enthusiastic for the absolute, they caught glimpses of infinite realizations; the absolute, by its very rigidity, urges spirits towards the sky and causes them to float in illimitable space. There is nothing like dogma for bringing forth dreams. And there is nothing like dreams for engendering the future. Utopia to-day, flesh and blood to-morrow. [Victor Hugo, Les Misérables (1862), Volume III – Marius; Book Fourth – The Friends of the A B C, Chapter I, A Group Which Barely Missed Becoming Historic.]
- Guy Gunaratne, In Our Mad and Furious City: A Novel (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2018): “ . . . Gunaratne’s novel . . . unfolds over a few restless days in a working-class area of Neasden, the Northwest London suburb where Gunaratne himself grew up and for which he clearly retains an exasperated affection. Just as in 2013, this crime too is exploited by far-right groups, one of which stages a violent march through the Stones Estate. After a prophetically styled prologue, we join the novel’s five main characters as they wake up to the wreckage of the night before and narrate the novel in turn, in first-person voices that cover an impressive range of registers and contexts.”
- Cara Wall, The Dearly Beloved: A Novel (Simon & Schuster, 2019): “ . . . the novel . . . focuses on two ministers and their marriages: one to an atheist who wants nothing to do with the church, the other to the daughter of a minister who is happy to live in the rectory and lead the choir.”