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).

Birthers

Ken Bennett, Arizona’s secretary of state, threatened to keep President Obama off the ballot this fall unless it was proved that Obama’s birth certificate is not a fraud. In response, an online petition was begun, garnering 18,000 signatures, requesting that Bennett certify that Mitt Romney, the Republican nominee, is not a unicorn. Bennett called the probe ridiculous, but he also withdrew his threat to take Obama off the ballot. In March, a California group filed a suit that would require all presidential candidates to certify their citizenship. In addition to raising the usual—and long since disproved—claim that Obama was not born in the U.S., the suit raised questions about Romney’s birth certificate, since his father had spent some time
as a child in Mexico (Washington Post, May 29).

Snake handler

Mark Randall Wolford, a snake-handling preacher from West Virginia, died last month from a rattlesnake bite during a religious meeting. As a boy Wolford had watched his own father, also a snake-handling preacher, die an agonizing death from a snakebite. Snake handling by Pente­costal preachers began in an east Ten­nessee church in 1909. The practice is based on Mark 16, which promises that followers of Jesus will be able to handle snakes and drink “any deadly thing” without being harmed (MSNBC News, May 30).