Roving thoughts and provocations

Chinese Atheists? What the Pew Survey Gets Wrong

Ian Johnson

How Hwee Young/epa/Corbis

According to a new opinion survey by the Pew Research Center, only 14 percent of Chinese think that belief in God is necessary for morality—the lowest percentage in any country. But if there’s one trend in China that is hard to miss, it’s the growing number who are taking part in organized religion. Could it be that the Pew study asks the wrong question?

Betrayed

Charles Simic

Jerome Sessini/Magnum Photos

Every time I see a large crowd on TV demonstrating against some autocratic government, I have mixed feelings: admiration for their willingness and bravery to take a stand, and a foreboding that nothing will come of it. I’ve watched too many worthy causes fizzle out over the years. But even by that grim reality the defeat of democracy movements across the Middle East and North Africa is staggering.

Quiet, Sensuous Piero

Sanford Schwartz

Gemäldegalerie, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin

The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s “Piero della Francesca: Personal Encounters,” is the first ever exhibition about Piero’s devotional works. They are small-size paintings created for bedrooms or set-apart areas in the home. In spirit they take us to much the same austere and bare-bones realm as his more public pictures. Yet they present more directly and pleasurably the qualities that make Piero such a special figure, even by the heady standards of the fifteenth century, when so many Italian and Flemish artists, were finding one personal way after another to portray the actual, corporeal world they lived in.

Where I’m Reading From

Tim Parks

Fine Art Images/Heritage Images/Getty Images

Books began, in my case, when my parents read to me, so I knew from the start that reading must be a “good” thing. Later I exploited this faith of theirs in the essential goodness of literature to plot my escape from the suffocating world in which they lived. It was perfectly clear to me in adolescence that each member of the family would choose quite different books, and that what you were reading inevitably declared where you stood on the things that mattered in our house. You had to be careful when you chose to share a book.

Egypt: Face to Face

Yasmine El Rashidi

Shirin Neshat/Gladstone Gallery, New York and Brussels

For those of us who were part of Egypt’s revolution, Iranian artist Shirin Neshat’s new series of works, “Our House Is On Fire,” captures a reality that surrounds us, yet has been all but overlooked in the continuing story of the Arab uprisings: the reality of a country struggling with despair.

Spring Is Far Behind

Christopher Benfey

Jonas Bendiksen/Magnum Photos

So much of reading is anticipation. So much of spring is the longing for spring.

Chaucer says, “Aprille with his shoures soote” is the time when “longen folk to goon on pilgrimages.” I myself long to goon on a pilgrimage.

The CIA’s Poisonous Tree

David Cole

David Levine

The legal doctrine that precludes reliance on evidence obtained from torture is called the “fruit of the poisonous tree” rule. But as the revelations that the CIA interfered with a Senate investigation of CIA abuses reflects, torture does far more than merely “taint” evidence. It corrupts all who touch it.

A Different Pakistan

Hugh Eakin

Abbas/Magnum Photos

After more than a dozen years of the US-led “war on terror,” as Pakistan has slid between military and civilian rule, crackdowns and suicide bombings, the cosmopolitan city of Lahore has struggled to maintain its old values. A group of Lahori intellectuals have decided to fight back in the way they best know how: with words and books and open debate.

News from Space

J. Hoberman

Cristina de Middel/Dillon Gallery

Does a museum show occupy space—or should it send us hurtling through it? Such is loosely the premise of two very different New York shows this winter, the New Museum’s “Report on the Construction of a Spaceship Module” and the Studio Museum in Harlem’s “The Shadows Took Shape,” both featuring art inspired by 1960s and 1970s science fiction films.

Decency Without Hope

David Shulman

Adopt Films

What does it take to remain decent under the conditions of the Israeli occupation, on either side of the Separation Barrier? Is it even possible? These are some of the questions explored in Palestinian director Hany Abu-Assad’s powerful new film, Omar.