Century Marks

Century Marks

Busy bodies

When you ask people how they’re doing these days, a stock response is “crazy busy.” That’s “a boast disguised as a complaint,” says blogger Tim Kreider. It is not the complaint of a person who has to work three jobs to make ends meet. Their response would likely be, “I’m tired.” Busyness for professional people is often self-imposed to inflate a sense of self-worth. Kreider wonders whether keeping busy is a cover-up for the fact that much of what we do doesn’t matter. “Idleness is not just a vacation, an indulgence or a vice; it is as indispensable to the brain as vitamin D is to the body, and deprived of it we suffer a mental affliction as disfiguring as rickets,” Kreider says (Opinion­ator, New York Times, June 30).

Prison theology

When theologian Karl Barth visited the United States for the first time in 1962, he asked to visit a prison. Afterward he referred to the prisoners’ cells as “the sight of Dante’s Inferno on Earth.” He thought the inhumane prison he visited contradicted the “wonderful message on your Statue of Liberty.” Barth himself preached regularly at a prison in Basel, Switzerland (Theology Today, July).

Speech isn’t free

Residents of Middleborough, Massachusetts, voted by a greater than 3–1 ratio to ban swearing in public. The proposal to ban public profanity came from the police chief. The fine for the violation will be $20. The ban, officials said, is not meant to curb private conversation, but rather loud profanity used by teens and young adults in parks and other public places (AP).

Element of luck

When Michael Lewis graduated from Princeton with a degree in art history, he decided he wanted to be an author even though he had never published a word in his life. One night at a dinner he sat next to the wife of an executive at Salomon Brothers, an investment bank. She pressed her husband to give Lewis a job, and that job gave him the subject for his first book, Liar’s Poke, which sold millions of copies when he was just 28 years old. Speaking to graduates at Princeton this year, Lewis said that successful people take credit for their own success, not realizing how much of it is due to luck—like sitting next to someone at a dinner party. Lewis said that “with luck comes obligation. You owe a debt, and not just to your Gods. You owe a debt to the unlucky” (www.Princeton.edu).

Heaven above or below?

In a symposium on whether heaven really exists, atheist John Derbyshire says, essentially, no. Rabbi Shmuley Boteach says that heaven misses the point of religion. While he doesn’t deny its existence, he says that as a Jew his job is to think about this world rather than the next. He wants to make the earth itself more heavenly without any thought of reward for having done so. Jonathan Aitken, the Christian contributor to the symposium, shares his near-death experience and asks whether people who have had such an experience get a glimpse into the afterlife. Recognizing the paucity of biblical material on heaven, the longing for such an afterlife comes when we begin to ask, Is this life all there is? Heaven may be a space rather than a place. “Heaven is where God dwells,” says Aitken, “and its population will be full of surprises” (American Spectator, June).