David Horowitz has been a bellwether of true-believer political activism for roughly four decades. He spent much of the '60s and nearly half of the '70s as a New Left activist, editor of Ramparts magazine, and a fellow traveler with the Black Panthers. After his friend Betty Van Patter clashed with a Panthers leader, disappeared, and then reappeared as a severely beaten corpse, Horowitz went through a political conversion.

by David Horowitz
157 pp.; $23.95

Horowitz has become one of the most visible conservative activists of the Baby Boom generation. He oversees a pugnacious website, www.frontpagemag.com, and a flow chart of left-wing mischief called www.discoverthenetworks.org.

One aspect of Horowitz's life remains largely unchanged by his second thoughts: his decades-long agnosticism. As Horowitz expresses it these days, that agnosticism will fit any unbelieving baby boomer like a well-worn pair of jeans.

In The End of Time, Horowitz reflects on his brush with death that began in September 2001. Three days after the attacks on the World Trade Center, Horowitz learned that he had prostate cancer. He devotes one concise chapter to his battle with the disease, but the knowledge of his mortality haunts the entire book. When Horowitz read from his book at one of those charmingly obscure events covered by C-SPAN's Book TV, he seemed less a militant culture warrior and more a man who knew that any day he might no longer see his beautiful second wife, April.

It's clear that April believes in God, but the rest of her beliefs sound about as coherent as a treacly e-mail involving puppies, terminally ill children, and guardian angels. In the book, April pleads with her husband to be less arrogant toward God, because, "If you don't believe, you won't be there [in heaven] when I come for you, and I'll be alone." Horowitz also tells of April's buying a balloon for his late mother. Her reason? "To send it up to heaven, to keep her spirit alive. When it goes up to heaven, her spirit will grab hold of it."

The End of Time is Horowitz's effort to reflect on mortality through the filter of his agnosticism. His is not the grim unbelief that tries to deprive others of their faith, but what author Jonathan Rauch has called "apatheism," a contented lack of interest in resolving whether God exists or what difference he would make in one's life.

Reading this book is like nursing a mug of diet eggnog at an especially loud office party. It's a good diversion, but it soon leaves a person yearning for something more substantial.

Horowitz writes repeatedly about his father, an atheist who spent his life consumed by bitterness, but who also had a true believer's confidence in all things Soviet.

Horowitz writes, "His melancholy taught me the lesson he was unable to learn himself. Don't bury the life you have been given in this world in fantasies of the next; don't betray yourself with impossible dreams."

From his personal history, Horowitz has reached a similarly peculiar conclusion: Any dream of redemption in this life necessarily leads to violence. Horowitz aims most of this critique at terrorists like the late Mohammed Atta, but he extends the argument to anyone who affirms the notion of redemption.

On one page he explains how an agnostic can admire a believer's quest for meaning, but then launches into this non sequitur: "Murder is not moral, and the desire to redeem the world requires it. Because redemption requires the damnation of those who do not want to be saved."

Horowitz mentions his longtime friend, Peter Collier of Encounter Books, who converted to Catholicism many years ago. Perhaps, in God's mercy, their friendship someday will help Horowitz grasp that an individual's redemption can, and must, begin in this life.

Douglas LeBlanc is a CT contributing editor.

Related Elsewhere:

David Horowitz's websites Frontpagemag.com and DiscoverTheNetworks.org includes lots of political punditry.

The End of Time is available from Amazon.com and other book retailers.

More information is available from Encounter Books.

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