‘The theory produces a good deal but hardly brings us closer to the secret of the Old One,’ wrote Albert Einstein in December 1926. ‘I am at all events convinced that He does not play dice.’
One of the most controversial books in recent literary history, Salman Rushdie’s “The Satanic Verses,” was published three decades ago and almost immediately set off angry demonstrations all over the world, some of them violent.
As a boy in late-1940s Memphis, my dad got a nickel every Friday evening to come by the home of a Russian Jewish immigrant named Harry Levenson and turn on his lights, since the Torah forbids lighting a fire in your home on the Sabbath. My father would wonder, however, if he were somehow sinning. The fourth commandment says that on the Sabbath ‘you shall not do any work – you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns’. Was my dad Levenson’s slave? If so, how come he could turn on Levenson’s lights? Were they both going to hell?
Max Weber’s famous text The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism (1905) is surely one of the most misunderstood of all the canonical works regularly taught, mangled and revered in universities across the globe.
This summer, during the FIFA World Cup, I went with some friends to watch a soccer game at the house in Turin of the Italian philosopher and former member of the EU parliament Gianni Vattimo. As soon as our team began to lose, Vattimo said: ‘Oh, by the way, I forgot to tell you, the pope called me yesterday.’