Century Marks

Century Marks

Fiction without faith?

Writer Paul Elie says that if there is any portion of our culture which is truly post-Christian it is literature. There are no fiction writers today like Flannery O’Connor, Walker Percy, Reynolds Price or John Updike, who took faith seriously and gave it explanatory power. Faith in fiction is now largely treated as an artifact of the past. Even Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead, which portrays “the most emphatically Christian character in contemporary American fiction”—the Rev. John Ames—is historical fiction, set in the past. “Belief as upbringing, belief as social fact, belief as a species of American weirdness: our literary fiction has all of these things,” says Elie. “All that is missing is the believer” (New York Times, December 19).

Typecast

Social scientists from University of Southern California, the University of Virginia and New York University investigated the moral stereotypes that political liberals and conservatives have of each other. Not surprisingly, they discovered that liberals and conservatives tend to exaggerate the tendencies of their polar opposites. Each extreme tends to exaggerate their own moral commitments. Surprisingly, their study showed that liberals are less accurate in describing both themselves and their conservative opposites than conservatives are. Liberals, for example, tended to underemphasize conservatives’ commitment to the protection and fair treatment of individuals (PLOS One, December).

Fight is on

A community farm in Brooklyn’s Red Hook was doing all the earth-friendly things, according to Naomi Klein. But when Hurricane Sandy hit, the land was flooded and the farm lost its entire fall harvest—and now it appears as though the land is contaminated. Klein makes the point that though we can do all the right things at the local level, if we don’t get at the source of our global climate issues, it can be for naught. Klein, who has teamed up with environmentalist and Century editor-at-large Bill McKibben, believes it is time for people to fight against the corporate forces that contribute to global warming. “Climate change is the human-rights struggle of our time,” Klein says, “and it’s too important to be left to the environmentalists alone” (Boston Phoenix, December 13).

Sister’s song

Last spring, when the Vatican issued a sharp criticism of American nuns, Sister Kathy Sherman did what she’s often done: she wrote a song. Titled “Love Cannot Be Silenced,” the song is not so much a protest song, she says, as a song of affirmation. “I wasn’t protesting anything. I was saying, ‘This is our story.’” Her song has become an anthem for other nuns and for laypeople who have shown up at vigils across the country to show their support for American nuns (New York Times, December 1).

Warning signs

“Our Earth is degenerate in these latter days. There are signs that the world is speedily coming to an end. Bribery and corruption are common. Children no longer obey their parents. Every man wants to write a book, and the end of the world is evidently approaching.” This doomsday prediction is almost 5,000 years old, dating to an Assyrian clay tablet of 2800 BC (Chicago Tribune, December 9).