I came across some Ray Bradbury books while unpacking. I recently learned that Ray Bradbury was a Unitarian. Now, the religion of a writer is only ever an ancillary bit of information, yet for someone of my combination of interests, it’s compelling intelligence. Having grown up reading Bradbury, my own fiction often comes out seeming like an imitation of his. I discovered him the way I found most of my early, influential writers—through Goodwill. Living in a town with no bookstores, Goodwill was a great venue for walking out with a good handful of books for under a buck. Since Mom was there looking for “practical” stuff, I hovered over the book tables and discovered a new world. Then I grew up.
Embarrassed by my childish interests, I gave away or sold most of my Bradbury books after college. I was more sophisticated than that now. I read Greek and was soon to learn Hebrew. Books were meant to have footnotes, and lots of them. Who wants to be seen with Bradbury on their shelves? But the indiscretion of youth does come back to haunt one. About two decades later I began to yearn for something missing from my life. Perhaps like a good Unitarian I wasn’t exactly sure what it was, but I knew it was lacking. Then my daughter was assigned Fahrenheit 451 for school reading. I tried to read whatever she was assigned, and once I did memories of Bradbury flooded back. I no longer had his books, but that could be remedied.
Occasionally I’m criticized for having too much in the way of books. I’m sometimes asked if I will ever read some of them again. The answer is how should I know? I jettisoned Ray Bradbury with Episcopal pretention, only to find that behind the ceremonial there was a more unified version of things waiting. A continuity with my younger self. A lust for imagination. A desire to remember what it was like to walk on Venus. Or to see a man presciently covered with tattoos. Or simply to thrill at the idea of October. I began to acquire the old books again. The newer editions lacked the visual resonance of the old, but the essence was still there. Orthodoxy, I discovered, often isn’t true to life. What’s true is what we discover early on. Sophistication isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. And yes, I may well just read that again after all.
Posted in American Religion, Books, Higher Education, Literature, Memoirs, Posts
Tagged Fahrenheit 451, Goodwill, Higher Education, Ray Bradbury, science fiction, Unitarians
One of the saddest books I remember is Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451. Any society that burns books has whip-lashed far beyond Fascism into the enemyhood of humanity. Much of ancient culture has been lost through the natural or premeditated destruction of misunderstood “inflammatory” writings and we are much the poorer for it today.
According to an Associated Press story, the ironically named Rev. Terry Jones of the even more ironically named Dove World Outreach Center in Gainesville, Florida, is agitating for a “burn the Quran” day on September 11. Other than momentary, self-righteous catharsis, nothing is to be gained by burning books. The contradictory impulses here lie thick and deep: a Christian clergyman feels insulted by an extremist attack that killed indiscriminately (Muslims and well as Christians, Jews, and Atheists died in the September 11 attacks), bearing the symbol of peace he wishes to declare his personal war, and the follower of the willing victim of Nazareth wears a gun.
Burning books does not solve any problems. Surely Rev. Jones knows that plenty of copies of the Quran abound throughout the world. His action is calculated as a poignant symbol. Is such a symbol anything more than a base expression of outright hatred? When, apart from medieval Christendom, has Christianity insisted that violence is the way forward? All you need is hate? For although the burning of books may not physically harm anyone, the violence in this hatefully symbolic act is the very antithesis of tolerance and understanding that the religious world so desperately needs. Islam has given much to world culture, and we reap the benefits of Muslim scholars and thinkers each day, without any conscious consideration. Rev. Jones needs to read more than just Fahrenheit 451. He must learn truly to read and, like Montag, weep.
Jones' theological comrades
Posted in Bibliolatry, Books, Current Events, Posts, Religious Violence, Sects
Tagged Christianity, Dove World Outreach Center, Fahrenheit 451, Islam, Quran, Ray Bradbury, September 11, Terry Jones
The media has displayed considerable interest of late in the views of well-known writers towards the divine. Given the vast numbers of non-famous people daily consigned to Hell by the righteous, there are more tears shed for Anne Rice than for the thousands who’ve never written a vampire novel. Equally fascinating is a story from CNN yesterday on Ray Bradbury’s views on God. I cut my literary teeth on Ray Bradbury. I don’t even recall how I discovered him in the small town where I grew up. More likely than not I found used copies of his story collections at Goodwill. Already interested in science fiction, his tales of the future or fanciful past and alternate worlds captured my imagination. Living in a town where nothing ever seemed to happen, Bradbury was a doorway into someplace colorful.
According to John Blake and Bradbury biographer Sam Weller, the doyen of the sci-fi short story is an avid believer in something out there. Reluctant to accept any single religion, Bradbury embraces religious concepts as the wisdom of the sages. He believes, according to the article, that we have much to learn from religions. The views suggested in the interview may lack the rigor and sophistication of the professional theologian, but Bradbury’s emphasis on love comes close to the mark for several religions. People build superstructures around their religious founders and insist on orthodoxy and military adherence to human speculation about them. Often in the process, love becomes just another tenet left over, if you have time for it.
For many decades as I pursued formal degrees in religious studies, I was taught to put away childish things. I gave away my Ray Bradbury books and purchased hefty tomes of incomprehensible gibberish that passes for theological erudition. Then my daughter was assigned Fahrenheit 451 as high school reading. I picked up Bradbury again. His writing lacked the absolute wonder and fascination it held for my twelve-year-old eyes, but it was like greeting an old friend once again. My thinking had been partially shaped by this storyteller, and it is perhaps even possible, in a Bradburian sort of way, that I felt a “spiritual” connection as I read his books as a young boy. Reading his amateur views on religion was a quiet sort of homecoming.
An old friend