Century Marks

Century Marks

Faith and fiction

When science fiction writer Ray Bradbury passed away last month, one aspect of his life was largely ignored by those who eulogized him: his faith. Calling himself a Zen Buddhist, Bradbury claimed to be a delicatessen religionist, drawing insights from West and East. Unlike other Buddhists, Bradbury was occupied with “God, sin, forgiveness, grace, and redemption,” says Gregory Wolfe. Sam Weller, his biographer, said: “The guy keeps writing about Jesus, but he doesn’t consider himself a Christian.” According to Bradbury: “The best description of my career as a writer is ‘At play in the fields of the Lord’” (Patheos, June 18).

Nothing special

One of the most discussed commencement addresses this year was titled “You are not special.” It was given by David McCullough Jr., a popular teacher at Wellesley High School in Massachusetts. “If everyone is special, then no one is,” he told the graduates. “By definition there can be only one best. You’re it or you’re not.” When the speech went viral, McCullough was subjected to numerous media interviews, including an appearance on CBS’s This Morning. McCullough encouraged graduates to pursue learning for its own exhilaration, not for material advantage. “I urge you to do whatever you do for no reason other than you love it and believe in its significance”  (YouTube, June 7, and Newsweek, June 18).

Race factor

People are notoriously reluctant to reveal racial prejudice when completing a survey. One new way to measure racial prejudice is to analyze racially charged Google searches. Since 2008, “Obama” has been a prominent name in such Internet searches. West Virginia is the state with the highest racially charged search rate. Other centers of activity include western Pennsylvania, eastern Ohio, upstate New York and southern Mississippi—all areas where Obama did worse in the 2008 election than John Kerry did in 2004. Without the race factor, President Obama would have won the electoral vote by an even wider margin than he did. In 2012 the race factor could cost him crucial states like Florida, Ohio and possibly Pennsylvania (New York Times, Campaign Stops, June 9).

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).