We tend to associate Ray Bradbury with science, not piety.
His published works (including novels, screenplays and more than 600 short stories) may have been wide-ranging. But he was thought of, above all, as a science fiction writer, in part because of the iconic Fahrenheit 451 and The Martian Chronicles. After his death on June 5th , the 91-year-old Bradbury was credited in eulogies with predicting the automated teller machine, Bluetooth headsets and social alienation driven by technology.
Bradbury, quintessentially American, tapped into something universal, as evidence by reaction to his death from global literati, filmmakers from Bollywood to Hollywood and other notables marked his passing. He was eulogized in Australia and in the UK, where the Guardian feted him with a photo essay and noted his impact on urban design (think EPCOT Center and shopping malls).
Myth writing and spiritual practice
Few pieces noted that Bradbury was a deeply spiritual man, and spirituality pervaded his work. CNN, though, re-posted a 2010 profile on Bradbury that perhaps more than any other delved into his faith. As it made clear, Bradbury’s books were elementally about faith, or at least faith in the power of love:
“At the center of religion is love,” Bradbury says from his home, which is painted dandelion yellow in honor of his favorite book, “Dandelion Wine.”
“I love you and I forgive you. I am like you and you are like me. I love all people. I love the world. I love creating. … Everything in our life should be based on love.”
An eclectic faith
Bradbury’s parents were nominally Baptists. His own pursuit of faith led him, as CNN put it, to call himself a “delicatessen religionist” inspired by Eastern and Western religions.
When pressed, Bradbury told CNN, “I’m a Zen Buddhist if I would describe myself. I don’t think about what I do. I do it. That’s Buddhism. I jump off the cliff and build my wings on the way down.”
His writing, though, is filled with Christ-like figures and Christian redemption themes. His biographer, Sam Weller, told CNN that “The guy keeps writing about Jesus, but he doesn’t consider himself a Christian. He says faith is necessary but that we should accept the fact that when it comes to God, none of us know anything.”
Spaceships to God
Why did a man so steeped in belief set so much of his fiction on other worlds and ardently support space travel? Bradbury said both religion and space exploration are about immortality. Space travel, he said, for example, would help us escape our sun when its time comes.
As he said to CNN: “We must move into the universe. Mankind must save itself. We must escape the danger of war and politics. We must become astronauts and go out into the universe and discover the God in ourselves.”
Utopian words from a writer whose dystopic worlds were meant to help us overcome that which would pull us down.
The great Canadian writer Margaret Atwood wrote movingly of Bradbury and his haunting work in the Guardian, saying that she looked forward to her first meeting with Bradbury,
…a writer who had been so much a part of my own early reading, especially the delicious, clandestine reading done avidly in lieu of homework, and the compulsive reading done at night with a flashlight when I ought to have been sleeping. Stories read with such enthusiasm at such a young age are not so much read as inhaled. They sink all the way in and all the way down, and they stay with you.