Century Marks

Century Marks

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).

Lost in translation

Alice Walker, author of The Color Purple, has refused permission to have her Pulitzer prize–winning novel translated into Hebrew. In a letter to the publisher Walker said, “Israel is guilty of apartheid and persecution of the Palestinian people, both inside Israel and also in the Occupied Territories” (Ha’aretz, June 19).

Final praise

Nonagenarian Huston Smith, esteemed writer and scholar of religion, contemplates what his last line might be as the curtain on his life falls. “It has all been very interesting,” the final words of British author Elizabeth Pakenham, resonate with him. He also likes the final words attributed to St. John Chrysostom and would borrow them as “Thanks for everything! Praise for it all!” (The Huston Smith Reader, edited by Jeffery Paine, University of California Press).

Nuns on the bus

In response to the austerity budget proposed by Rep. Paul Ryan (R., Wis.) and passed by the House of Representatives, nuns from the National Catholic Social Justice Lobby (known as NETWORK) took a 15-day bus tour to point out the budget’s consequences. NETWORK highlighted these problems with the budget: it increases defense spending while cutting programs for people in need; it undermines the food stamp program that millions of people depend on; it begins Medicare’s shift to a voucher program which will push many older people into poverty; it gives large tax breaks to the wealthy; and it cuts funding for insurance programs for low-income people. Sister Simone Campbell, executive director of NETWORK, called the budget immoral (MSNBC, June 14).