Tuesday, March 18, 2008

On Wendell Berry, Nature, & Christianity

I've recently been on a "see Christianity as ecological teaching" kick the last month or so. Though I've read little of Berry before, sad to say, I found his essay "Christianity and the Survival of Creation" representative of current thought on the subject (or, the greening of religion, ALL religions). What I enjoy is that he starts out by confronting people who would quickly dismiss such a conversation on the grounds of atheism, or agnosticism, or historical precedence, or anyone quick to dimiss the possibility that the Bible might actually be read in the way it was intended when written (another essay in the book I'm reading briefly discusses The Odyssey as an environmental treatise--wow, was that interesting, too).

The main issue that Berry sums up from all I've been reading is that, yes, Christianity (those practicing it) has purposely or blindly--for many reasons and in many ways--destroyed the intended and natural spirituality / connectedness of people, plants, animals, etc. That's obvious. What isn't is that few are doing much to get at the truth of the religious (er, spiritual) principles that have been distorted for 20 centuries. Clearly, Berry, like any good ecologist / environmentalist, wants to heal and reconnect all creation--something a certain Native American writer Linda Hogan champions in a stellar book, Dwellings. Enough. Quote time.

--"We are holy creatures living among other holy creatures in a world that is holy." In other words, God looked on the earth and saw that it was good. Everything was created divinely. God-like. Of the same stuff (humans made of dust). Interlinked. Equal.

--Not a quote, but I like how he says the church is not the only holy place. In fact, everywhere is holy (oh, Linda Hogan, do you hear this?). I could quote that he discusses anything human made or human comprehended, as an act to encapsulate God, is actually idolatrous. This is why Catholocism bugs me, especially. Oh I feel hate emails coming. Berry believes in experiential Christianity, and that the Bible champions this over chanting inside boxes.

--"The presence of His spirit in us is our wildness, our oneness with the wilderness of creation." Sounds like other religions environmentalists tend to favor over Christianity, when in fact, they all often point in the same general direction about a lot of things. Honest. Been reading that, too.

--"I don't think it is enough appreciated how much an outdoor book the Bible is. It is best read and understood outdoors, and the farther outdoors the better. Or that has been my experience of it. Passages that within walls seem improbable or incredible, outdoors seem merely natural. This is because outdoors we are confronted everywhere with wonder; we see that the miraculous is not extraordinary but the common mode of existence. It is our daily bread. Whoever really has considered the lilies of the field or the birds of the air and pondered the improbability of their existence in this warm world within the cold and empty stellar distances will hardly balk at the turning of water into wine--which was, after all, a very small miracle. We forget the greater and still continuing miracle by which water (with soil and sunlight) is turned into grapes."

That's enough. I don't want to label Berry too much, though all of his original thoughts on leading a more agrarian-based life that will heal us (human and other), balance us, do have reflections of his own deeper spiritual beliefs, I don't believe those beliefs--no matter what religion they are based in--should lead to someone looking at what he's saying as incompatible with the environmental movement, which tends to happen all too often; a movement, which to succeed and get us rightly related to ourselves and the world, should not be solely micro managed by the "liberal" or the "cultured." In fact, we all have to connect more deeply and spiritually to the world, and this is one big way. Benedictine monks, with their mundane chores serving as prayers and moments of enlightenment / revelation--and as Christians--have as much to offer us as do Buddhists, Muslims, Native Americans, and Al Gore (argh--why has he become a religion? Anyone?).


Anonymous said...

Thanks, Benjamin! Wendell Berry is one of my heroes. I'm thrilled that you've given him and his message post time. And I've added Linda Hogan's book to my ever-growing must-get list!

Benjamin Vogt said...

OFB--Hey, thanks for leaving a comment; usually, folks don't on these sort of posts, but I try to be eclectic nonetheless. Don't put Hogan on the list, go buy that book NOW! I wrote an earlier post on it somewhere on my blog, somewhere when I first started late last summer. Ah, here it is: http://deepmiddle.blogspot.com/2007/09/books-that-changed-my-life.html

Anonymous said...

I've never read Berry-so not sure what you are saying exactly. I did teach Biology for a long time. I don't want go in to what I believe or don't believe cause it wasn't the meaning of your post. Seems like you were saying that Berry marries all religions and nature.

My students use to tell me that they were going to drive their car fast cause if their time of death was already recorded--then what difference did it make. My answer; While God might know the exact time of your death, He doesn't determine how you live your life. What if you don't die in that auto accident? What if you live carelessly and choose to be in a wheelchair the rest of your life. It affects you, your wife/husband, children, grandchildren, and what you could have otherwise accomplished in life.

If we choose to abuse nature, then we live with it in its wounded state. Being careful with ourselves and nature is just common sense. Right now, because there is so much hate between those measuring environmental affects..you don't know who to believe. There is no accurate way of measuring damage and healing done by us and nature. Some say the earth is self healing and we aren't doing any harm. It cycles itself. Others say we are running to extinction but yet many new species are discovered each day that add to instead of taking away from the life numbers game. We don't have a microscope strong enough to peer into the life inside the life inside the life.

Life is continually being redefined with knowledge. My first nature class knew very little but my most recent class took three years to complete. Now the most recent is antiquated.

I work for two different growers and they will tell you that we are in the time of the super plants. They are super strong and super growers. Is this good or bad depends on if you live in the now or years from now when it is a blessing or a curse.

There is no way to predict good or bad, there is only respect that is a sure thing.

Benjamin Vogt said...

Anna--Just saying that the Bible has been abused in the interpretation of it and that, in fact, it can be read a better way that makes us more balanced within ourselves, each other, and the natural world. I like much of what you say above and so agree with you. I don't know about super plants--seems to me, like the case with thornless honeylocust--we'll just overplant it and then al the diseases it was resistant too more quickly find a way to get at it.

Frances, said...

I am so glad to make the time to go back and read your posts, Benjamin. Time , or perceived lack of it, rules lots of things it shouldn't. I like what you have to say and appreciate your willingness to receive that 'hate' mail, or hate thoughts, if readers don't want their responses recorded for all to see. Let's all go outside and commune with nature.
Frances at Faire Garden

lisa said...

Hey, my only church IS in the outdoors/my garden! Glad to hear that somebody else appreciates the great outdoors as a religous experience.

Benjamin Vogt said...

Lisa--just as long as you feel / know something else is there, deeply, moving around, in and out, then yes--nature is church. Right?