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).

Poverty and riches

Only three other countries that are members of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development have a higher degree of income inequality than the United States: Chile, Mexico and Turkey. One reason for the inequality in the U.S. is that a smaller share of national output is targeted for social programs, designed to lessen inequalities. Germany devoted 27.8 percent of its gross domestic product to such programs in 2009, compared to 19.2 percent in the U.S. Tax policies in the U.S. also are not as effective in reducing the effect of inequalities. The division of earnings in the U.S. favors the wealthy more than other developed countries. Finally, there is an attitude problem: the poor in the U.S. are more likely to be accused of laziness. The myth endures that people can become wealthy in the U.S. if they work hard enough, despite recent research which shows that Americans are less likely to rise to a class above that of their parents than are people in other wealthy nations (Reuters).

Marked

Chris Baker is a tattoo artist who sports tattoos on his legs and arms. He also is a Christian minister. Baker has started a not-for-profit organization dedicated to removing tattoos for people who no longer embrace the lifestyle that the tattoos represent—which is often gang membership, drug addiction or prostitution. In a recent case, Baker volunteered to remove the tattoo from a reformed prostitute who had been enslaved in sex trafficking. She was branded with a tattoo by her former pimp, who is now in prison. “Anytime I can get rid of a trafficking tattoo is a good day,” Baker said. “Trafficking is not a choice people make” (Chicago Tribune, December 27).

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).