cover image Saints & Sinners

Saints & Sinners

Lawrence Wright. Alfred A. Knopf, $24 (0pp) ISBN 978-0-394-57924-5

Wright ( In the New World ) explains that his own spiritual uncertainty impelled him to interview these six religious figures. The first two essays are compelling accounts of two of them who went astray: Walker Railey, a prominent Methodist minister in Dallas who in 1987 was charged with attempting to kill his wife, then committed suicide, leaving a note about the ``demon in his soul''; and Jimmy Swaggart, the evangelist disgraced by his escapades with prostitutes. But the piece on Madalyn Murray O'Hair, an atheist activist in Texas, combines hearsay with vague allegations of financial misdoings. Others covered are Anton LaVey, who founded the Church of Satan in San Francisco in 1966; Will Campbell, who studied theology at Yale and whose Southern ministry includes the Ku Klux Klan; and Matthew Fox, a New Age Catholic priest in Oakland, Calif. The essays, although clever and incisive, are diminished by the author's ruminations on his own spiritual quest, which seems an artificial device. (Mar.)