Wendell Berry on Christianity and Creation

The following quotation landed in my email inbox this morning from my good friend and co-conspirator Phil Foster, who in turn found it on Facebook… I traced it back to a wonderful website run by a Zen Quaker organic farmer in Virginia. The farm is called White Flint Farm and you can visit the website here. The quotation actually comes from an essay by Wendell Berry called “Christianity and The Survival of Creation” which can be found in his book Sex, Economy, Freedom, Community: Eight Essays. That’s when I had a “could’ve had a V8″ moment, complete with forehead-slapping. You see, a spiritual director of mine, back in the 90s when I was still an Episcopalian, recommended I read this book. Of course, I never did, more’s the pity. It would have been to my benefit to become familiar with Berry, who — based on this quote — is clearly a prophetic voice about Christianity’s responsibility to the environment. Anyway, it’s better late than never and so now I’m eager to (finally) read this book. Meanwhile, if you want to know what the fuss is about, here’s the quote:

“Despite its protests to the contrary, modern Christianity has become willy-nilly the religion of the state and the economic status quo. Because it has been so exclusively dedicated to incanting anemic souls into heaven, it has, by a kind of ignorance, been made the tool of much earthly villainy. It has, for the most part, stood silently by, while a predatory economy has ravaged the world, destroyed its natural beauty and health, divided and plundered its human communities and households. It has flown the flag and chanted the slogans of empire. It has assumed with the economists that “economic forces” automatically work for good, and has assumed with the industrialists and militarists that technology determines history. It has assumed with almost everybody that “progress” is good, that it is good to be modern and up with the times. It has admired Caesar and comforted him in his depredations and defaults. But in its de facto alliance with Caesar, Christianity connives directly in the murder of Creation. For, in these days, Caesar is no longer a mere destroyer of armies, cities, and nations. He is a contradictor of the fundamental miracle of life. A part of the normal practice of his power is his willingness to destroy the world. He prays, he says, and churches everywhere compliantly pray with him. But he is praying to a God whose works he is prepared at any moment to destroy. What could be more wicked than that, or more mad?

The religion of the Bible, on the contrary, is a religion of the state and the status quo only in brief moments. In practice, it is a religion for the correction equally of people and of kings. And Christ’s life, from the manger to the cross, was an affront to the established powers of his time, as it is to the established powers of our time. Much is made in churches of the “good news” of the gospels. Less is said of the gospel’s bad news, which is that Jesus would have been horrified by just about every “Christian” government the world has ever seen. He would be horrified by our government and its works, and it would be horrified by him. Surely no sane and thoughtful person can imagine any government of our time sitting comfortably at the feet of Jesus, who is telling them to “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them that despitefully use you and persecute you…” (Matt. 5:44).

— Wendell Berry

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  • http://www.philfosterlpc.com phil foster

    So many synchronicities. I was just reading Jose Vigil’s insightful article you posted (I don’t necessarily agree with all his conclusions, but that’s another post). I’m also thinking of the conversation we had with Fr. Tom last week about the demise of the institutional structure and the rise of democracy, for lack of a better summation.

    Berry is a treasure. Here is an example which might be personal, but is also a prophetic reflection on our times (unintentionally – the best kind of prophecy):

    Ripening by Wendell Berry

    The longer we are together
    the larger death grows around us.
    How many we know by now
    who are dead! We, who were young,
    now count the cost of having been.
    And yet as we know the dead
    we grow familiar with the world.
    We, who were young and loved each other
    ignorantly, now come to know
    each other in love, married
    by what we have done, as much
    as by what we intend. Our hair
    turns white with our ripening
    as though to fly away in some
    coming wind, bearing the seed
    of what we know. It was bitter to learn
    that we come to death as we come
    to love, bitter to face
    the just and solving welcome
    that death prepares. But that is bitter
    only to the ignorant, who pray
    it will not happen. Having come
    the bitter way to better prayer, we have
    the sweetness of ripening. How sweet
    to know you by the signs of this world!

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/carlmccolman/ Carl McColman

    Thanks for the poem — and I’ll be eager to hear what you (dis)agree with in Jose Vigil’s essay.

  • http://discombobula.blogspot.com Sue

    Yes, Mr Berry is a gem of the highest polish :)

  • http://www.philfosterlpc.com phil foster

    More on Vigil when I see you.

  • http://heromama.org karenzach

    Thanks for sharing this.

  • http://renaissancegardenblog.blogspot.com/ Cherie

    Thanks for sharing our website.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/carlmccolman/ Carl McColman

      You’re more than welcome. Anyone who describes herself as a “Zen Quaker” (and who lives on an organic farm) is a friend of mine. The fact that you’re from Virginia is a plus (I grew up in Hampton).

  • urantiabob

    I listened this morning to Mr. Berry interviewed by Michael Krasny on NPR. He is clearly a fine, serious, and deeply spiritual person.
    How about Wendell Berry for President? Just kidding.
    He is surely one of the truly great poets of our time.

  • urantiabob

    Jesus said “let those who have eyes see, let those who have ears hear” but he never proposed forcing anybody to see or hear. But everybody is free to recognize the gifts God has given us: Life, and a world in which to live.