If author Karmak Bagisbayev had a recipe, it would go something like this: start with the rhetorical stylings of Plato’s Crito, drop in entire bunches of scientific context, add a healthy dollop of Western religious underpinnings, and mix until mostly smooth. Bagisbayev’s lofty concept–the format is a three-part conversation between a man and God–doesn’t always work, but when it does, it’s a treat for the curious reader’s mind and spirit.
THE LAST FAITH is divided into three sections, with the first two logically outlining new precepts and the third identifying these precepts as the only laws a person must live by. If this sounds lofty, it’s because it is, but Bagisbayev keeps the conversations short and the topics interesting. His protagonist and God cover everything from human cloning to adultery to authoritarian regimes, all with the distinct and refreshing angle of a gentle mixing of science and non-specific faith. Of course, imagining God as a speaking character (not just capital-G God either, as this God appears to be an amalgam of any version of god earthlings of any religion has imagined) in a philosophical text is a tricky if not outright unwise endeavor.
While the author clearly attempts to make the deity unbiased and all-knowing, peppering in fascinating examples from history and nature to support God’s claims, the character at several points gets the facts wrong due to likely bleeding-through the author’s own biases (which are revealed in the prologue). At one point, God inaccurately calls birth control a form of “modern invention” for “cutting corners,” and at several other points makes broad judgement statements–both positive and negative–about Jewish and LGBT people and even animals, each of which doesn’t follow the pre-established line of logic. Similarly, the author randomly cherry-picks bits of religion to confirm and others to toss aside (for example, according to his God, much of the bible is untrue, including hell, but sin is real), a confusing choice given the alleged scientific foundation of the text.
By having its characters make frequent, sometimes inaccurate assumptions about the world around them, Bagisbayev’s rhetorical argument almost collapses under the weight of its own sky-high expectations, yet the book’s weakness–the author’s attempt to definitively respond to controversial and abstract concepts–is also its strength. By the final pages, the image that comes together is one of a bold, insightful intellectual who did what few others in the 21st century have even attempted: took the time to answer age-old questions in a way that manages to make them feel new again.
A confident, compelling treatise, THE LAST FAITH seems to promise a recipe for no less than a perfect modern philosophy, and though it has its blind spots, the book still delivers a potent cocktail of unique ideas.
~Valerie Ettenhofer for IndieReader