Bulletin from the Mad Farmer Liberation Front: Wendell Berry on same-sex marriage

The Associated Baptist Press says “Wendell Berry expounds on gay marriage.”

And expound he sure does:

“Christians of a certain disposition have found several ways to categorize homosexuals as different as themselves, who are in the category of heterosexual and therefore normal and therefore good,” Berry said. What is unclear, he said, is why they single out homosexuality as a perversion.

“The Bible, as I pointed out to the writers of National Review, has a lot more to say against fornication and adultery than against homosexuality,” he said. “If one accepts the 24th and 104th Psalms as scriptural norms, then surface mining and other forms of earth destruction are perversions. If we take the Gospels seriously, how can we not see industrial warfare — with its inevitable massacre of innocents — as a most shocking perversion? By the standard of all scriptures, neglect of the poor, of widows and orphans, of the sick, the homeless, the insane, is an abominable perversion.”

“Jesus talked of hating your neighbor as tantamount to hating God, and yet some Christians hate their neighbors by policy and are busy hunting biblical justifications for doing so,” he said. “Are they not perverts in the fullest and fairest sense of that term? And yet none of these offenses — not all of them together — has made as much political/religious noise as homosexual marriage.”

OK, he’s just about warmed up now …

“One may find the sexual practices of homosexuals to be unattractive or displeasing and therefore unnatural, but anything that can be done in that line by homosexuals can be done and is done by heterosexuals,” Berry continued. “Do we need a legal remedy for this? Would conservative Christians like a small government bureau to inspect, approve and certify their sexual behavior? Would they like a colorful tattoo verifying government approval on the rumps of lawfully copulating parties? We have the technology, after all, to monitor everybody’s sexual behavior, but so far as I can see so eager an interest in other people’s private intimacy is either prurient or totalitarian or both.”

“The oddest of the strategies to condemn and isolate homosexuals is to propose that homosexual marriage is opposed to and a threat to heterosexual marriage, as if the marriage market is about to be cornered and monopolized by homosexuals,” Berry said. “If this is not industrial capitalist paranoia, it at least follows the pattern of industrial capitalist competitiveness. We must destroy the competition. If somebody else wants what you’ve got, from money to marriage, you must not hesitate to use the government – small of course – to keep them from getting it.”

… And then he brings it home:

“If I were one of a homosexual couple — the same as I am one of a heterosexual couple — I would place my faith and hope in the mercy of Christ, not in the judgment of Christians,” Berry said. “When I consider the hostility of political churches to homosexuality and homosexual marriage, I do so remembering the history of Christian war, torture, terror, slavery and annihilation against Jews, Muslims, black Africans, American Indians and others. And more of the same by Catholics against Protestants, Protestants against Catholics, Catholics against Catholics, Protestants against Protestants, as if by law requiring the love of God to be balanced by hatred of some neighbor for the sin of being unlike some divinely preferred us. If we are a Christian nation — as some say we are, using the adjective with conventional looseness — then this Christian blood thirst continues wherever we find an officially identifiable evil, and to the immense enrichment of our Christian industries of war.”

“Condemnation by category is the lowest form of hatred, for it is cold-hearted and abstract, lacking even the courage of a personal hatred,” Berry said. “Categorical condemnation is the hatred of the mob. It makes cowards brave. And there is nothing more fearful than a religious mob, a mob overflowing with righteousness – as at the crucifixion and before and since. This can happen only after we have made a categorical refusal to kindness: to heretics, foreigners, enemies or any other group different from ourselves.”

“Perhaps the most dangerous temptation to Christianity is to get itself officialized in some version by a government, following pretty exactly the pattern the chief priest and his crowd at the trial of Jesus,” Berry said. “For want of a Pilate of their own, some Christians would accept a Constantine or whomever might be the current incarnation of Caesar.”

That’ll preach.

  • http://www.aeryllou.tumblr.com/ Aeryl

    Nice to someone else in my state isn’t completely bonkers.

  • Mike Helbert

    Yeah, but how does he really feel?
    Thanx for sharing this.

  • histrogeek

    Now that’s the way to do it.

  • Carstonio

    Berry said liberals and conservatives have invented “a politics of
    sexuality” that establishes marriage as a “right” to be granted or
    withheld by whichever side prevails. He said both viewpoints contravene
    principles of democracy that rights are self-evident and inalienable and
    not determined and granted or withheld by the government.

    Until I heard of DOMA, the idea of same-sex marriage being illegal didn’t occur to me, mostly because of those principles. Berry is misreading the liberal position. From what I’ve seen, SSM advocates have been saying that the right to marriage is self-evident and that DOMA interfered with that right.

  • Carstonio

    Overall an excellent argument by Berry.

    “If it can be argued that homosexual marriage is not reproductive and
    is therefore unnatural and should be forbidden on that account, must we
    not argue that childless marriages are unnatural and should be
    annulled?” he asked.

    I would go further and question the entire concept of “natural.” It seems like either a rationalization of prevalence or personal preference, or a quasi-religious belief that what is = what should be.

  • http://dpolicar.livejournal.com/ Dave

    For my own part as a SSM advocate, I say two things.

    The first is that marriage is not defined by law; rather, legal marriage codifies and standardizes how we recognize and treat married people. The fact that we use the same word for marriage and legal marriage is unfortunate and leads to confusion, but we can muddle through somehow. My husband and I were de-facto married long before we were legally married; our legal marriage was a way of informing the state of Massachusetts of that condition.

    The second is that I endorse equal treatment under the law, and DOMA interfered with that, both directly (in that it prevents the Federal government from providing equal treatment) and indirectly (in that it enables state governments to choose to do the same). That’s not necessarily a right to (legal) marriage, let alone to any particular set of legal rights and privileges and obligations associated with it… if we collectively decide that we will do away with legal marriage altogether, for example, I have no special objection to that as a SSM advocate. (I may object to it for other reasons.) But it does preclude having legal marriage behave one way for straight people and a different way for queer people.

  • Carstonio

     (nods) The self-evident right is not civil marriage but equal treatment under the law. If government offers a set of legal rights and responsibilities packaged as civil marriage, it must not discriminate between both types of couples. Or put more broadly, the burden is on government to demonstrate a compelling interest in discriminating.

  • Carstonio

    In reading Mad-Eye Moody’s name in Goblet of Fire, it took me two seconds to remember that “mad” has a different meaning in the UK. So depending on the nation, a mad farmer could either rant about the crops not growing or believe that the pigs are conspiring against him. (Well, not so mad if the farmer has read Orwell.)

  • Tofu_Killer

    Wendell Berry is the sanest person on earth. 

  • AnonymousSam

    In another thread, Ginny Bain Allen is arguing that zero population growth is a manifestation of society’s evils. So…

  • LL

    He’s making far too much sense. I question his Baptist bona fides. 

  • http://dpolicar.livejournal.com/ Dave

    Still more broadly, the burden is on government to demonstrate a compelling interest in discriminating among different groups interested in partaking of that package. I’m not especially committed to the idea that there are only two types of couples, or that couples have particularly special status.

    But I am saying something still broader than that.

    I’m saying that the actual determinant of whether people are married is how they behave towards one another and towards their communities. All a government can do is decide how closely it wants its marriage laws to reflect the marriage practices of its citizens. It can make certain marriages illegal, but it can’t make them not marriages.

    This is why the “they’re changing the definition of marriage!” crowd amuses me. No, we’re insisting on an acknowledgment that the definition of marriage isn’t what you think it is, and has not been for a good long while.

    We aren’t talking about redefining marriage at all; that ship has sailed. We’re talking about making equivalent legal rights equally available to all married people.

  • fredgiblet

    Your first point is, to me, the biggest one.  I fully support the right of churchs to not marry anyone they don’t want to for pretty much any reason.  The government is not a church though, so they have no right to prevent consenting adults from entering into a legal contract unless they can prove there is a serious issue with doing so.

  • The Guest Who Posts

    Preach it, Mr. Berry.

  • Carstonio

    All a government can do is decide how closely it wants its marriage laws to reflect the marriage practices of its citizens.

    I agree in part. Government can also make a case that codifying the legal rights and responsibilities of the spouses benefits both them and society, promoting marital stability and providing protection for any children. These hold true for same-sex couples, partly because many of these also raise children.

    Good point about two types of couples – I was struggling to think of another way of expression my point about discrimination.

    And while you’re right about redefining marriage, everything I’ve heard from opponents suggests that they use the term as a euphemism for gender roles in marriage. If both spouses are of the same gender, then there can’t be a gender-based hierarchy in that marriage.

  • http://dpolicar.livejournal.com/ Dave

    Agreed about benefits of codification.

    I should also add that a government can also choose to attempt to change the marriage practices of its citizens, and that passing laws is one way to do that.

    Mostly my experience is that trying to define something precise which “redefining marriage” is a euphemism for is a mistake from the starting line. It’s a framing with which to oppose certain cultural changes surrounding marriage; it isn’t actually precise. (E.g., “redefining marriage” is just as useful to object to acknowledging the married status of a mixed-sex triad, even though it’s quite possible to have a gender-based hierarchy in that case.)

  • arcseconds

     “quasi-religious belief that what is = what should be.”

    Well, it can’t really be that, because  ‘what is’  is that some people are sexually attracted to members of the same sex.

  • arcseconds

     

    I’m saying that the actual determinant of whether people are married
    is how they behave towards one another and towards their communities.
    All a government can do is decide how closely it wants its marriage laws
    to reflect the marriage practices of its citizens. It can make certain
    marriages illegal, but it can’t make them not marriages.

    This is why the “they’re changing the definition of marriage!” crowd
    amuses me. No, we’re insisting on an acknowledgment that the definition
    of marriage isn’t what you think it is, and has not been for a good long
    while.

    I agree completely.  It’s equivocation: we are of course seeking to change the legal definition of marriage,  so they’re right if you take ‘marriage’ to mean ‘legal marriage’, but that’s kinda the whole point! The social definition has already changed, and the extension to same-sex couples is only the latest in a series of changes (wives are no longer thought to be the property of their husbands, for example).

    (It also shows why the scare tactics of the possibility of me marrying my toaster are ridiculous.   I may call the relationship I have with my toaster ‘marriage’, but society is never going to treat this relationship the same as your relationship with your husband (I’m unlikely to get invitations addressed to arcseconds and toaster, my toaster can’t meaningfully inherit my property, etc.and really, I can’t treat my ‘marriage’ with my toaster the same either. )

    Actually, now I say that, perhaps that’s where the fright over gender roles comes in… )

    But what Christian objections to SSM often say at this point is that ‘marriage is God’s plan for humans, and He has heterosexual couples in mind (and it’s the State’s duty to assist in carrying out this plan)’.    The objections seem pretty obvious,  but tend not to sway the person offering them.  I was wondering what you’d say to that. 

  • Carstonio

     I was referring to an alleged natural order that includes procreation, and how homosexuality allegedly goes against that order because it doesn’t involve the possibility of procreation. Never mind that homosexuality occurs all the time among animals and that plenty of heterosexual couples aren’t able to procreate.

  • EllieMurasaki

    Never mind that homosexuality occurs all the time among animals
    LIES, LIES I TELL YOU

    plenty of heterosexual couples aren’t able to procreate

    Abraham and Sarah! The Virgin Mary! Let’s just pretend away the fact that fertility treatments result in more dead (or effectively dead by reason of being frozen with nobody intending to ever thaw and implant them) embryos per woman than contraception even if the assertion that contraception results in a dead embryo every month is true, and certainly many more dead embryos than if the woman in question were having lesbian sex exclusively…

  • arcseconds

    Right, but this is a little different from a pure version of the naturalistic fallacy.

    The view is that there’s just one function for marriage: procreation.  Anything else that it does is either in service to that function or is just a side-benefit (or a side detriment, depending on how puritanical you are).   Of course, some people try to (or even actually) use marriage for something else, but they’re just doing it wrong.

    Just as there’s one function for eyes: to see.  That doesn’t mean all eyes see, but the ones that don’t we consider diseased.

    This view appears to be inherited from Aristotle, who thought swiss army knives were evil. 

  • Rae

    There are so many things the Bible says more about than gay sex… It says waaaay more about what kinds of animals that you’re allowed to eat than it does about same-sex activity. (And has almost nothing to say about lesbianism, even though it does have things to say about how women should behave while on their periods)

  • P J Evans

     How did Aristotle feel about Leatherman tools? *g*

  • http://dpolicar.livejournal.com/ Dave

     

    what Christian objections to SSM often say at this point is that
    ‘marriage is God’s plan for humans, and He has heterosexual couples in
    mind (and it’s the State’s duty to assist in carrying out this plan)’.   
    The objections seem pretty obvious,  but tend not to sway the person
    offering them.  I was wondering what you’d say to that. 

    What I say to that depends.

    If I think the speaker is genuinely interested in dialog, I’ll usually respond with some variant of “How did you first come to believe that about God? If you hadn’t been told that by whoever told it to you, could you have figured it out on your own?” and then listen carefully to what they say. The conversation progresses from there.

    Otherwise, I respond with some variant of “No it isn’t. Stop putting your words in God’s mouth.”

    I don’t necessarily expect either of these to sway the person offering them, but that usually isn’t my goal.

  • Tricksterson

    I’m sure a lot of Baptists will join you.

  • arcseconds

    The funny thing is, I’m not being funny :]

    Well, OK, I’m being a little funny by saying Swiss Army knives, but apparently in Delphi they had some kind of multi-function folding knife thing, which Aristotle didn’t like because he thought it violated nature’s single-function-ness.

    So presumably he’d think Swiss army knives and Leatherman tools in a similar vein.

  • EllieMurasaki

    What would he think of the hammers where the head has one end to pound nails with and one end to extract nails with?

  • PorlockJunior

    In other words, God is a beginning chess player, according to RTCs. Not an absolute beginner who needs to check a handbook to recall how a knight moves, nor one who knows that much but moves randomly; but the next level up.

    He moved his knight because in another two moves, if nothing happens, he’ll fork your queen and rook, and he’ll win the exchange! Of course, in chess this tends not to work. Something does happen, like the opponent blocking that *and* advancing a piece into a better position at the same time.

    But God, say the natural law folks, has not mastered such subtleties. One created thing, one purpose.

    God is a patzer. Who could worship such a being?

    [A reply to arcseconds, but the system managed to lose track of that.]

  • reynard61

    That’s all well and good, Mr. Berry, but I have a question that may have a direct bearing on whether Same Sex Marriage will be legalized through legislation or by Supreme Court decision sometime in the near future: If the Democrats were to put up a viable candidate for U.S. Senate in 2014; would you vote for him/her, or would you re-elect Mitch McConnell?

    (Note: This question is purely rhetorical since, apparently, no Democrat will run against McConnell and the voters of Kentucky refuse to risk losing the supposed political power that they think McConnell gives them.)

  • http://blog.trenchcoatsoft.com Ross

    Ironically, Victorinox makes a product named the Aristotle.

    It’s a Swiss Army Backpack.

  • P J Evans

    The best place to beat him is in the primary. All they need to do is vote in someone who’s more of a wingnut.

  • arcseconds

     Is it a multi-function backpack?

    Maybe something along the lines of this.

  • hf

     I think Aristotle means to talk about categories created by nature. And as a graduate of library school, I stared at that in bafflement for quite a while. Finally I came up with this:

    Each ‘true’ category has a purpose. We can perhaps express that purpose in many ways, but if we can show an example of realizing one expression of the purpose without realizing another, then at least one expression ‘is’ wrong (or the category sucks). So ‘woman’ cannot equal ‘slave’ because we can exhibit a woman reproducing or what-have-you without fulfilling the purpose of a slave (i.e, being all slave-like). A defining purpose may be complex, so in principle the category of allowable sex may have the purpose of being open to various goals. The RCC would argue that if we ‘close off’ by their lights one of these possibilities, the result no longer fits the category. Now, that seems like a transparent attempt to fit some contrived axioms to your conclusion, but so far it appears self-consistent (even though I doubt many theologians know what axioms of ‘closing off’ they’d need to add in order to make it work). The main problem lies elsewhere.

    In fact, the biggest problem that I see lies in the category of “natural law” itself. The RCC wants rules in this category to serve the purpose of ‘obeying God on certain topics’ and ‘compelling every intelligent person to agree with them’. Otherwise the law doesn’t seem natural at all. But God, according to the RCC, commands that we abstain from gay sex, and clearly not all intelligent people agree with this rule. So both together can’t serve to define the category. And this argument applies not just to ‘God says’, but to any synonym – er, I mean, logical consequence – of ‘the Church says’.

  • Storiesandsanta

    If two people are in love (or if many people are in love, as with Mormans) it seems to me that if one sort of arrangement among people in love is recognized as marriage, then the others ought to be too.

  • Headless Unicorn Guy

    How else can WE outbreed and overwhelm THEM?


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