By exploring the contradictions between official theologies and the actual behavior of religious communities, sociologists of religion help religious people to view themselves more honestly—a sometimes deflating and even painful process. Such may be our experience in reading W.
Religion may be killing us. The good news is that in our post-9/11 world there is a widespread concern about religion and violence. A December 2003 Minnesota poll, for example, showed that 77 percent of respondents attributed a fair amount of the cause of the world’s wars and conflicts to religion.
When Knopf advertised Updike’s novel as “a Bildungsroman describing the education, romantic and otherwise, of Owen Mackenzie,” critics knew that the ending would be the crux of the literary proposal. Not that the “getting there” would be irrelevant. But the literary and moral value of the story would depend on where the journey ended.
In this cautionary “what if” political fable, Roth hypothesizes that in 1940 aviation hero Charles Lindbergh, an ardent isolationist who was sympathetic to Hitler, won the presidency. Reimagining his childhood—with considerable fact mixed in with the fiction—Roth narrates an alternative history that has an unsettling plausibility.