By Richard J. Klinedinst

Submitted to the Faculty of Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary in partial fulfillment

of the requirement for the degree of Master of Arts

April 30, 2009




Table of Contents……...………………………………………….……………………… 3 Introduction: Agrarian Christianity…………………………….………………………… 5 Environmental Crisis and Agrarian Christianity...………...……………………. 7 Wendell Berry and the Christian Tradition…………….………………………..13 Chapter 1: Agrarian Epistemology………………………………………………………16 Modernity and Creation………………………………………………………….17 John Howard Yoder, Creation, and Pacifist Epistemology……………….……..21 The Rational Mind and the Way of Hubris………..……………………………..27 The Sympathetic Mind and the Way of Ignorance………....…………………….31 ‘Placing the Soul’...…………………….………………….…………………….34 Chapter 2: Agrarian Pacifism…………………………………………………………….36 The Agrarian Rejection of War…………………………………………………..37 The Failure of War……...………………………………………………………..39 The Burden of the Gospels…………………………...…………………………..46 The Violence of Dualism and the Unity of Resurrection….……..………………50 Resurrection Ethics………………………………………………………...…….56 Practice Resurrection…………………...………….……………………………61 Chapter 3: Agrarian Politics..……………………………………………………………64 Anabaptists and the State……………………………………….………………..66 Rethinking Church and State………………………..……………………………69 Anabaptists and Alternative Politics……………………………………………..72

4 Wendell Berry’s Political Vision……………………………...…………………75 The Agrarian Politics of Gender…………………………………………………80 ‘Come all ye conservatives and liberals’…...………...………………………….86 Chapter 4: Agrarian Economics………………………………………………………….90 Classical Liberal Economics……………………………………………...……..92 Rethinking Freedom………………………………………...……………………99 The Kingdom of God and Agrarian Economics…..…………………………….104 Agrarian Economic Practice……………………………………………………110 Conclusion: Agrarian Ecclesiology……………………………………………….……116 Bibliography...………………………………………………………………………….126 Works By Wendell Berry………….…………………………………………….126 Other Works………………………………………………….…………………127



There is no ‘better place’ than this, not in this world. And it is by the place we’ve got, and our love for it and our keeping of it, that this world is joined to Heaven. WENDELL BERRY, Hannah Coulter

As the environmental crisis before us presents “moral problems that escape the received frameworks of theological ethics,”1 members of the Christian tradition—and especially North American Anabaptists—struggle to articulate a coherent theology that addresses the political, economic, and ecological challenges of the twenty-first century. Though many Anabaptists spent the last half-century reinterpreting and defending the virtue of Christian nonviolence, few adapted the received framework in a way that accounted for violence done to the created world.2 That the earth so plainly bears the marks of our economic and intellectual hubris should be an indication that, whether prepared or not, Christians must take seriously the task of developing ideas, practices, and communities that address our willful neglect of God’s creation. Perhaps no Christian in the last four decades has taken the above task as seriously as Wendell Berry, the essayist, novelist, poet, and farmer from Kentucky.3 Best known

Willis Jenkins, Ecologies of Grace: Environmental Ethics and Christian Theology (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008), 3. 2 It is also worth mentioning, as many ecofeminist theologians have, that inasmuch as the Christian tradition does not appreciate the connection between peace and creation, it also fails to see that the oppression of women or racial minorities (who are so often associated with the earth, embodiment, and materiality) is integrally tied to humanity’s “mastering” of the environment. For Berry’s most detailed discussion of these connections, see The Hidden Wound (New York: North Point Press, 1989). 3 For an excellent introductory summary of Berry’s work, see Paul V. Murphy, The Rebuke of History: The Southern Agrarians and American Conservative Thought (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2001), 264-272. The best longer treatment of Berry’s agrarian philosophy is found in Kimberly K. Smith, Wendell Berry and the Agrarian Tradition: A Common Grace (Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2003). For a Christian appraisal, see J. Matthew Bonzo and Michael R. Stevens, Wendell Berry and the Cultivation of Life: A Reader’s Guide (Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2008).


6 for his articulate, often times trenchant, defense of an agrarian political vision, the impact of Berry’s work is deep and far-reaching.4 It is unfortunate, then, that so few in the Christian tradition have seriously considered the challenge posed by Berry’s agrarian theology. In light of those who argue that Christianity lacks the conceptual power to address our environmental crisis and so must be abandoned, Berry offers a rich, if stark, challenge to members of the Christian tradition: [Christianity] is, whatever we think of it, an intimate belonging of our being; it informs our consciousness, our language, and our dreams. We can turn away from it or against it, but that will only bind us to a reduced version of it. A better possibility is that this, our native religion, should survive and renew itself so that it may become as largely and truly instructive as we need it to be. On such a survival and renewal of the Christian religion may depend the survival of the Creation that is its subject.5 Wendell Berry’s agrarian vision and practices have the potential, I argue, to correct many of the inadequacies of our received framework for doing theological ethics. Berry’s “agrarian standard”—local adaptation—“requires bringing local nature, local people, local economy, and local culture into a practical and enduring harmony.”6 Though a variety of political scientists, literary theorists, philosophers, and theologians have at some point addressed Berry’s work, what remains absent is an earnest effort to bring Berry’s life and thought, his vision of a practical and enduring harmony, into
4 Religious ethicist Jeffrey Stout, for example, argues that Berry’s writings form “a more honest and rigorously conceived body of work than [Alasdair] Macintyre’s.” Though it may seem odd to place Berry—a novelist and social critic—in the same ranks as one of the most prominent moral philosophers writing today, such a claim is a testament to the power and breadth of his work. Berry deserves such recognition, Stout argues, namely due to the fact that his corpus “includes both The Unsettling of America and The Hidden Wound, respectively the most important book on environmental ethics ever written and the best book on race that I know of by a white writer.” (Democracy and Tradition [Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2004], 134-135.) Clearly the impact of Berry’s work is felt far beyond the typical literary and neo-agrarian circles. See, for further example, theologian Charles Pinches’ article critiquing both Stout and Stanley Hauerwas for not taking Berry’s conception of embodied political life seriously enough. (“Stout, Hauerwas, and the Body of America,” Political Theology 8, no. 1 [2007]: 9-31.) 5 Wendell Berry, “Christianity and the Survival of Creation,” in Sex, Economy, Freedom and Community (New York: Pantheon Books, 1992), 96. 6 Wendell Berry, “The Agrarian Standard,” in Citizenship Papers (Washington, DC: Shoemaker and Hoard, 2004), 152.

7 sustained conversation with the confessional tradition which formed it. To appreciate the novel character of Berry’s agrarian theology, however, requires precisely such an earnest effort. I intend to demonstrate that any careful interpretation of Wendell Berry’s work must take seriously the Christian character of his agrarian philosophy. It is only when his agrarian vision is placed within the Christian tradition, I argue, that one begins to see the myriad ways it both critiques and admonishes any theology that fails to take seriously the plight of creation and its inhabitants. Conversely, that same Christian tradition—and here I focus especially on Anabaptist and postmodern theology—offers numerous nuances and correctives to Berry’s insufficiently ecclesiological vision. In outlining Berry’s radical place within orthodox Christianity, I offer a challenge to those who interpret Berry as a nominally Christian environmentalist, thus dismissing essential agrarian insights without due consideration.7 At the same time, by demonstrating the ways in which Berry’s vision can only be carried out by the Church, I critique his tendency to separate agrarian ethics from ecclesiology. In short, by exploring the profoundly theological and ecclesiological character of Berry’s work, both Christian theology and agrarian philosophy are brought into more careful and beneficial conversation with one another.

Environmental Crisis and Agrarian Christianity As environmental ethicist Michael Northcott observes, “the ecological crisis is increasingly recognized as one of the defining features of life in the late-modern era.”8

See, for example, Smith, Wendell Berry and the Agrarian Tradition, especially chapter 7, “A Secular Grace.” While Smith deeply values the agrarian vision, I believe she drastically underestimates the role Christian faith plays in Berry’s life and thought. 8 Michael S. Northcott, “Ecology and Christian Ethics,” in The Cambridge Companion to Christian Ethics, ed. Robin Gill (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001), 209.


8 From mass species extinction to climate change, water pollution, and soil erosion, environmental problems are quickly morphing into human catastrophes. Ever more, Christians are forced to acknowledge the truth of Berry’s bold assertion that if Creation is to survive, then religious faith must account for both the theology and practice needed to sustain its renewal. Christians generally, and North American Christians in particular, must address the fact that the very technological, economic, political, and religious processes that enable a “privileged” life often, perhaps necessarily, exacerbate the environmental crisis. In other words, Christian theological reflection and praxis must acknowledge, and so begin to change in light of, the fact that ecological devastation is one of “the intrinsic consequences of the economic and cultural forms of late modernity, and in particular of capitalism’s tendency to disembed human life from prior attachments to place, custom and tradition which in the past helped to conserve the environment.”9 Agrarianism insists on recovering, both in theory and practice, precisely those attachments capitalism so wantonly eschews. It is “a way of thinking and ordering life in community that is based on the health of the land and of living creatures.”10 Keeping this definition of agrarianism in view, it is not then surprising that central to Berry’s vision is a critique of institutional or organizational Christianity that “is not earthly enough.”11 Christianity’s common tendency to devalue bodily life—whether theologically,

Northcott, “Ecology and Christian Ethics,” 211. Ellen F. Davis, Scripture, Culture, and Agriculture: An Agrarian Reading of the Bible (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009), 1. According to another definition, this one by Jeremy Beer, “Agrarianism posits that the practices associated with the agricultural life are particularly—and in some cases uniquely—well suited to yield important personal, social, and political goods.” In regard to Berry’s work in particular, Beer suggests it is “characterized by humility toward nature and the cosmos, unwavering skepticism toward modern notions of progress, and a practical and epistemological critique of technology.” See Jeremy Beer, “Agrarianism,” in American Conservatism: An Encyclopedia, ed. Bruce Frohnen, Jeremy Beer, and Jeffrey O. Nelson (Wilmington: ISI Books, 2006), 18-21. 11 Wendell Berry, “The Gift of Good Land,” in The Gift of Good Land: Further Essays Cultural and Agricultural (New York: North Point Press, 1982), 267. Emphasis original.


9 politically, or economically—has allowed us to ignore that, in Berry’s words, “our destruction of nature is not just bad stewardship, or stupid economics, or a betrayal of family responsibility; it is the most horrid blasphemy.”12 It is a blasphemy that flings “God’s gifts into His face, as if they were of no worth beyond that assigned to them by our destruction of them.”13 It is, finally, a blasphemy that ignores, both in theory and in practice, that the human situation, as understood by both biblical agrarians and contemporary ones, is about as follows. We are, howbeit only in part, earthly creatures. We have been given the earth to live, not on, but with and from, and only on the condition that we care properly for it. We did not make it, and we know little about it. In fact, we don’t, and will never, know enough about it to make our survival sure or our lives carefree. Our relation to our land will always remain, to a significant extent, mysterious. Therefore, our use of it must be determined more by reverence and humility, by local memory and affection, than by the knowledge that we now call ‘objective’ or ‘scientific.’ Above all, we must not damage it permanently or compromise its natural means of sustaining itself.14 Though the agrarian mindset has deep biblical and cultural roots, it often proves too disruptive or disconcerting for modern Christians. “Often out of step with the prevailing values of wealth, technology, and political and military domination,” biblical scholar Ellen Davis observes, “the mind-set and practices that constitute agrarianism have been marginalized by the powerful within most ‘history-making’ cultures.”15 This includes, many agrarians contest, the vast majority of powerful Christians both past and present. “The culpability of Christianity in the destruction of the natural world and the uselessness of Christianity in an effort to correct that destruction,” Berry suggests, “are now clichés of the conservation movement.”16 Though Berry acknowledges the strong

12 13

Berry, “Christianity and the Survival of Creation,” 98. Ibid. 14 Wendell Berry, “Foreward,” in Scripture, Culture, and Agriculture, ix. 15 Davis, Scripture, Culture, and Agriculture, 1. 16 Berry, “Christianity and the Survival of Creation,” 93-94.

10 tendency within modern Christianity to “deny the holiness of the body” and to become “the religion of the state and the economic status quo,” he also insists, and so attempts to demonstrate and materially instantiate, that the Christian tradition offers deep wisdom on matters of ecology and stewardship.17 Essential to Berry’s agrarian vision is the belief that one must make the at times difficult and “very precise distinctions between biblical instruction and the behavior of those peoples supposed to have been biblically instructed.”18 According to Ellen Davis, one encounters in Berry’s thought—and contemporary agrarian thought generally—four motifs “that touch and illumine central elements of biblical thought about land care.”19 First, there is the all-important agrarian principle that the “land comes first.” This notion of kinship between humanity and land, Davis suggests, is “a fundament of biblical anthropology as set forth in the first chapters of Genesis.”20 Those early hearers of the Genesis story, Davis continues, “were reminded not so much of how things might have been in a bygone age, but of the particular features of their distinctive social and ecological niche and of the blessings and responsibilities that pertained to it.”21 Thus, in the biblical narrative, it is Noah’s story that “exemplifies the line of succession that can be secured by land care.”22 As agrarian philosopher Norman Wirzba suggests, there is an integrity to creation that depends on humans seeing themselves as properly placed within a network of creation and God. The drama shows us that neither God nor the creation itself can tolerate violence, manipulation, or shame. Instead of hubris that characterized Adam and his descendants, Noah stands out as a beacon of the humbled adam who is faithful to the needs of adamah.23
Berry, “Christianity and the Survival of Creation,” 113-114. Ibid., 95. 19 Davis, Scripture, Culture, and Agriculture, 28-41. 20 Ibid., 29. 21 Ibid., 31. 22 Ibid., 31-32. 23 Norman Wirzba, The Paradise of God: Renewing Religion in an Ecological Age (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003), 34.
18 17


Second, agrarians—both biblical and contemporary—recognize the ignorance inherent to our status as creatures, not Creator. Berry, for example, rejects the notion “that humans either know enough already, or can learn enough soon enough, to foresee and forestall any bad consequences of their use of [their] power.”24 Just as Berry joyfully calls humanity to join him along “the way of ignorance,”25 so too the biblical writers “accept and even highlight ignorance as basic to the human condition,” maintaining that this is not reason for despair, but rather demonstrating “confidence that there is a wisdom worked into the very fabric of things.”26 For agrarians new and old, then, fear of and reverence for God “leads to a critical appreciation of both the world and ourselves; it is the necessary condition for reading the world accurately, speaking truthfully about it, and acting out of humility.”27 Third, Berry’s agrarianism and the biblical writings both express an “exacting concern with the materiality of human existence.”28 As suggested above, an overarching theme of Berry’s work is the insistence that our willingness to destroy creation stems from our contempt for the life of the body. The biblical writers and contemporary agrarians alike “are concerned with ordering material existence in ways that are consonant with God’s will and the design of the world.”29 Thus, Davis continues, “they are all in a sense materialists: They prefer to write in concrete and specific terms rather than abstractions.”30 This materialism—a “modest materialism”—that agrarians promote,

Wendell Berry, “The Way of Ignorance,” in The Way of Ignorance: And Other Essays (Washington, DC: Shoemaker and Hoard, 2005), 53. 25 See Ibid., 60-67. 26 Davis, Scripture, Culture, and Agriculture, 34. 27 Ibid., 35. 28 Ibid., 36. Emphasis original. 29 Ibid. 30 Ibid.


12 however, is of a wholly different sort than the variety in vogue today, whether consumerist or scientific. Recounting the story of the Tower of Babel, Davis concludes that it “captures what may be the essence of all technologically induced disaster: the illusion that our cleverness will somehow deliver us from the need to observe the normative form of materialism that sustains life.”31 Lastly, both biblical and contemporary agrarians fundamentally challenge the ways in which broader cultural and economic systems assign value to the land. “It is noteworthy,” Davis argues, “that in ancient Israel agricultural land seems to have been literally invaluable.”32 There are no historical records of any Israelite voluntarily selling land, there was no Israelite concept of the land as a commodity, and finally, there were provisions made to avoid the creation of a permanent and landless underclass in Israel.33 Modern agrarians, as Wendell Berry makes clear, have a strikingly similar consciousness: Agrarians value land because somewhere back in the history of their consciousness is the memory of being landless…. If you have no land you have nothing: no food, no shelter, no warmth, no freedom, no life. If we remember this, we know that all economies begin to lie as soon as they assign a fixed value to land. People who have been landless know that the land is invaluable; it is worth everything…. Whatever the market may say, the worth of the land is what it always was: It is worth what food, clothing, shelter, and freedom are worth; it is worth what life is worth.34 God’s “gift of good land” to a fallen people is, then, central to any agrarian environmental philosophy, for it is “in the Bible’s long working out of the understanding of this gift,” Berry suggests, that “we may find the beginning—and by implication, the end—of the definition of an ecological discipline.”35

31 32

Davis, Scripture, Culture, and Agriculture, 38. Ibid., 39. 33 Ibid. 34 Berry, “The Agrarian Standard,” 148, cited in Davis, Scripture, Culture, and Agriculture, 39-40. 35 Berry, “The Gift of Good Land,” 269.

13 Wendell Berry and the Christian Tradition Keeping these introductory considerations of Berry’s work in view, one can better recognize the ways in which the agrarian mindset, both old and new, proves instructive to current efforts to develop an embodied environmental ethic. Through the careful study of Berry’s social criticism as found in his writings, I hope to illustrate how various parts of his agrarian philosophy—epistemology, pacifism, politics, and economics—are given shape by Christian commitment. In chapter 1, I focus on Berry’s conception of agrarian epistemology and bring his work into conversation with that of John Howard Yoder, the late Mennonite theologian and social ethicist. In exploring Berry’s commitment to a chastened, postmodern epistemology, one begins to see the ways in which the agrarian mindset challenges the common ways of thinking about both knowledge and living. In chapter 2, I focus on Berry’s conception of a robust Christian pacifism that pays careful attention to economic, social, and environmental questions, yet at the same time resists the temptation to look to the nation-state for solutions. By carefully exploring Berry’s Christian pacifism, I hope to demonstrate that the epistemological, theological, and political commitments implicit in much of his work are uniquely suited to sustain environmental ethics in our current age. In chapter 3, I bring Berry’s political vision into conversation with both Anabaptist history and postmodern theology. In exploring the historic relationship between Anabaptists and the state, as well as the rise of the modern nation-state, one begins to see how Berry’s rethinking and reformulation of political life proves deeply instructive to contemporary Christians, and perhaps especially Anabaptists.

14 In chapter 4, I juxtapose Berry’s agrarian economic vision with the existing liberal economic order. I argue that Berry’s understanding of economics is in deep consonance with the biblical tradition, and further, offers concrete, embodied practices that sustain both care for one another and for the earth. This chapter naturally leads, then, to my concluding reflections, which offer critique of Berry’s agrarian ecclesiology, or lack thereof. Though Berry offers a novel Christian approach to the environmental crisis, his vision is inadequate, I believe, apart from an ecclesial community that can instantiate such politics. Wendell Berry’s Christian agrarianism teaches the Church a great deal about epistemology, pacifism, politics, and economics. Yet among the most profound lessons Berry teaches, I believe, is an insistence that we learn a great deal—about each other, about the earth, about God—when we speak with and dwell among those we might otherwise ignore. Just as Saint Paul reminds us that our particularity makes us whole, so too Berry suggests that sometimes our most life-changing conversations emerge from talking with those partners, those neighbors, we least expect to offer us guidance. In his essay “Going to Work,” Berry argues that central to the task of overcoming the abstraction of much modern intellectual work, is “widening the context of all intellectual work and of teaching—perhaps to the width of the local landscape.”36 And, Berry continues, if we are to bring local landscapes within what Wes Jackson calls ‘the boundary of consideration,’ professional people of all sorts will have to feel the emotions and take the risks of amateurism. They will have to get out of their ‘fields,’ so to speak, and into the watershed, the ecosystem, and the community; and they will have to be actuated by affection.37

36 37

Wendell Berry, “Going to Work,” in Citizenship Papers, 39. Ibid.

15 What follows is my attempt, however amateurish, to bring the agrarian vision “into the watershed,” and so too into conversation with sometimes unlikely and often unexpected partners. It is an effort, finally, at finding a way to both think and live faithfully, with affection, in a fragmented and hurting world.



“Once our personal connection to what is wrong becomes clear,” Wendell Berry writes, “then we have to choose: we can go on as before, recognizing our dishonesty and living with it the best we can, or we can begin the effort to change the way we think and live.”1 Central to the agrarian mindset is the conviction that our knowing is always bound up in our doing. One cannot artificially separate thinking and living, Berry suggests, for epistemology constantly informs and reforms ethics. Whereas Kant, along with modern thinkers generally, suggested that one must “act only according to that maxim by which [one] can at the same time will that it should become a universal law,” agrarian thinkers find in such an epistemology the seed of our current environmental crisis.2 Integral to the agrarian environmental vision, then, is the insistence that “insofar as we desire to understand the world”—insofar as we desire to know rightly—“we must be prepared to commit ourselves to the world in all its incomparable uniqueness and particularity.”3 In their commitment to uniqueness and particularity, Wendell Berry and other “new agrarians” make explicit the environmental implications of modernity and its accompanying epistemology. In this chapter, I attempt to demonstrate the ways in which the passage to modernity has impacted humanity’s approach the created order, and further, suggest an agrarian alternative to modernity’s regnant ways of knowing. Central

Wendell Berry, “The Ecological Crisis as a Crisis of Character,” in The Unsettling of America: Culture and Agriculture, 3d ed. (San Francisco: Sierra Club Books, 1996), 19. 2 Immanuel Kant, Foundations of the Metaphysics of Morals, trans. Lewis White Beck (Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1959), 39. 3 Norman Wirzba, “Placing the Soul: An Agrarian Philosophical Principle,” in The Essential Agrarian Reader: The Future of Culture, Community, and the Land, ed. Norman Wirzba (New York: Counterpoint, 2004), 88-89.

17 to this task is bringing Berry’s vision into conversation with the work of John Howard Yoder, the most innovative and provocative Mennonite theologian of the twentieth century. Though Yoder was a broad thinker and prolific writer, his body of work offers few indications of serious engagement with issues of primary concern to environmental ethicists. That is not, however, sufficient reason to assume that Yoder has nothing to offer current efforts to formulate a coherent postmodern environmental ethic. On the contrary, I believe that certain aspects of John Howard Yoder’s thought prove invaluable to Christians, and especially Anabaptists, attempting to think more deliberately about care for God’s creation. Yoder’s commitment to epistemological pacifism, his insistence on the uniqueness and particularity of human knowing, forces Anabaptists to question the deeply modern assumptions that simultaneously exacerbate the environmental crisis and inform many theological responses to it. Though it is not at first obvious how Yoder’s work aids in the development of a postmodern environmental ethic, bringing his theology into conversation with Berry’s agrarian vision helps illustrate the power of a commitment to epistemological humility.4 Berry’s work, on the other hand, points toward concrete ways in which such an epistemological stance is instantiated in everyday—particular and local—life and thought.

Modernity and Creation “The end of modernity, which is not accomplished, yet continues to arrive,” theologian John Milbank writes, “means the end of a single system of truth based on

Theologian Anna L. Peterson begins to make some of these connections, however briefly, in her “Ignorance and Ethics,” in The Virtues of Ignorance: Complexity, Sustainability, and the Limits of Knowledge, ed. Bill Vitek and Wes Jackson (Lexington: The University Press of Kentucky, 2008), 127128, 132-133.


18 universal reason, which tells us what reality is like.”5 Though Milbank’s account of our current situation is obvious to many in the halls of the academy, modern epistemology remains pervasive in both church and culture.6 No quest so commanded the attention of the modern theological mind as the one to obtain some indubitable truth from which to start theologizing. It should not come as a surprise, then, that the legacy of modernity looms large over any contemporary discussion of creation and ethics. The story of modernity, at least as some tell it, is a tale of both loss and gain. René Descartes was simply the first in a long line of thinkers who helped do away with the need for a transcendent God. With modern epistemology came the certainty that it is humanity, not God, who is the source and center of life’s meaning. As philosopher Albert Borgmann suggests, “we can think of Bacon, Descartes, and Locke as the founders of a new era, the designers of the modern project whose elements are the domination of nature, the primacy of method, and the sovereignty of the individual.”7 Thus the loss of a sense of divine transcendence, coupled with a turn to the self, offered a fundamental challenge to the Christian doctrine of creation, or the “awareness that humans are not ultimate, and that in a higher source of existence lies hope for the brokenness of our condition.”8

John Milbank, “Postmodern Critical Augustinianism: A Short Summa in Forty-two Responses to Unasked Questions,” in The Postmodern God: A Theological Reader, ed. Graham Ward (Oxford: Blackwell, 1997), 265. 6 For a succinct theological account of the situation, see Nancey Murphy, Beyond Liberalism and Fundamentalism: How Modern and Postmodern Philosophy Set the Theological Agenda (Harrisburg: Trinity Press International, 2007), 11-35. 7 Albert Borgmann, Crossing the Postmodern Divide (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1992), 5. 8 Lisa Sowle Cahill, “Creation and Ethics,” in The Oxford Handbook of Theological Ethics, ed. Gilbert Meilaender and William Werpehowski (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007), 7.


19 Agrarian philosopher Norman Wirzba makes clear the ways in which the “passage to modernity” impacted Christian thinking about creation.9 Pre-modern thinkers, especially the church fathers, insisted that biblical interpretation and theological formulation “reflected a mental milieu in which words, the world, and God together formed a whole through which meaning and sense could circulate.”10 Nature is not just a collection of objects, but rather “is always already creation, infused with meaning, since it is part of God’s creative, intelligent plan.”11 With many thinkers who followed Galileo and Bacon, however, came the conviction that things in the natural world were meaningful only inasmuch they could be explained in the language of the sciences. The natural world, contra the early church fathers, had no divine significance. “Modern science, which studied things of the world apart from their divine similitude, apart from the roles that they played in the larger divine drama,” Wirzba argues, “characterized knowledge in a radically different way.”12 This radically different formulation of knowledge had considerable impact on modern approaches to creation. Since the eclipse of divine transcendence, “modern culture on a whole proceeds on the assumption that meaning and purpose, once given with the order of reality, now find their source and aim in the rational will of autonomous humanity.”13 The assertion that human beings are autonomous sources of meaning implies a number of important, related points. First, there is a rejection of any divine telos for human life, a “denial of the idea that the goal of things is directed by and toward

Norman Wirzba, The Paradise of God: Renewing Religion in an Ecological Age (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003), 65-71. 10 Ibid., 65. 11 Ibid. 12 Ibid., 66. 13 Ibid., 68.


20 God.”14 Second, and closely following the rejection of a telos, is a “technological ontology that reduces things to pragmata, items that exist for the purpose of our own betterment and enjoyment.”15 Finally, according to Wirzba, these conditions lead to a new economic order. Not only do “economies cease to be driven and constrained by a transcendent vision of justice and good,” but also “work ceases to be a vocation.”16 In short, “creation as the all-encompassing order that united God, humanity, and earth was denied.”17 It is difficult to overstate the significance of the shift from a pre-modern focus on the world as God’s creation to the modern preoccupation with human agency in a human world. Keeping the story of modernity in mind, one should not be surprised that many responses to our current environmental crisis posit great hope in the ability of human beings to formulate large-scale, technologically advanced, policy-centered solutions to the problems before us. As David Orr suggests, industrialization is … embedded in our minds and limits our ability to imagine better possibilities. Industrialization rests on the simple and seductively powerful idea that we can exploit soils, forests, biological diversity, and minerals without adverse consequences, and that doing so is akin to our rightful destiny. That idea is widely known to be wrong, even perversely so, but it still exerts a powerful hold on the public mind and public policies.18 In other words, despite the numerous ways in which the economic assumptions of modernity contributed to destruction of the earth, the legacy of enlightenment thinkers remains pervasive. Many people today, like Bacon centuries ago, understand human
Wirzba, Paradise of God, 69. Ibid. 16 Ibid. Albert Borgmann makes a similar point: “Technology and economy were the disciplines whereby the modern project was worked into a social order characterized by aggressive realism, methodological universalism, and an ambiguous individualism.” See Crossing the Postmodern Divide, 247. 17 Wirzba, Paradise of God, 71. 18 David W. Orr, “The Uses of Prophecy,” in The Essential Agrarian Reader: The Future of Culture, Community, and the Land, ed. Norman Wirzba (New York: Counterpoint, 2004), 177.
15 14

21 misery as simply “a needless and insufferable scandal that [is] to be overcome through the domination of nature.”19 Many individuals and communities, religious and otherwise, remain fully committed to a Cartesian epistemology: “a knowledge-based bulwark centered on individualized human consciousness and, with it, the ability to make and unmake the world without limits.”20 Both Wendell Berry and John Howard Yoder, thankfully, offer us an alternative to the limitless world of individualized knowledge, and instead point us down an agrarian path, along “the way of ignorance.”

John Howard Yoder, Creation, and Pacifist Epistemology John Howard Yoder, in one of the only articles he wrote regarding ecological stewardship, offered an account quite similar to the one outlined above. According to Yoder’s reading of Genesis, “the garden was entrusted to us as a fundamentally hospitable context for us to serve God and one another.”21 Yet even amidst this hospitable context—one in which some human ordering exists—it is evident that “we are not absolute; the garden’s subjection to our viceregal management is not unconditional.”22 In short, the forbidden fruit acts as a potent reminder that we are not gods, that there are certain limits to being human. “To think we control the system,” Yoder argues, “will mean seeing its (relative) control slip from our grasp.”23 The ever-present reminder of this danger, Yoder suggests, is found in the ancient story of Cain and Abel. While Cain tilled the soil as “his father was condemned to do,”

Borgmann, Crossing the Postmodern Divide, 23. Bill Vitek and Wes Jackson, “Introduction: Taking Ignorance Seriously,” in The Virtues of Ignorance: Complexity, Sustainability, and the Limits of Knowledge, ed. Bill Vitek and Wes Jackson (Lexington: The University Press of Kentucky, 2008), 3. 21 John Howard Yoder, “Cult and Culture After Eden,” Unpublished paper, <http://theology.nd.edu/research/yoder-john/>, 4. 22 Ibid. 23 Ibid.


22 Abel was a shepherd who did not break the earth, and was thus “less estranged from the original edenic covenant.”24 According to Yoder’s reading, Cain’s sin was that “he refused to recognize that his brother Abel was closer to the beginnings and closer to the God of the natural than he was.”25 Cain’s downfall and our own, Yoder argues, “was that pride became murder.”26 It was the “denial of community, deceiving and destroying the brother, because he was Other.”27 As Yoder makes clear, “neither the idea that we might master the secrets of physical causation, nor the awareness that when we think we have done that it merely escalates the destructiveness of our errors and ignorance, is a new insight.”28 What is unique to the contemporary world, however, is the potential for our errors and ignorance to result in such swift and total destruction. “Modern technology comes closer to ‘mastering’ some of the angles of the way the world works,” Yoder points out, “but

Yoder, “Cult and Culture,” 4. Ibid., 5. It is worth noting, however, Yoder’s belief that “the Biblical model of a happy human relation to nature is for the Anabaptist and Amish farmer the garden of Genesis 2, with human caretakers keeping order as each species of plant and beast does its thing after its kind. Nature is not jungle, thicket, or desert. The thorns and thistles of Genesis 3:17-19 do not have the last word in the homesteader’s way.” Thus, “the Amish Mennonite sub-community’s capacity sustainably to reclaim and serve the land, without irreversibly depleting the aquifers or sending the topsoil down the river, is guided by that positive vision of the garden as well as by the ... (negative) ‘maxim’ of disregarding generalizability.” Not surprisingly, Norman Wirzba offers a similar (agrarian) reading of the divine mandate to till and keep the garden (Gen. 2:15): “The verb till or cultivate (abad) could also be translated ‘to serve.’ As Hiebert notes, this verb can mean the servitude of slave to master, of one people to another, or of Israel to God. Its use in an agricultural context, however, points to the acknowledgement that the land has power over us and makes us dependent on it. This insight on our interdependence is of great significance because, like the view of many traditional societies, it affirms the need for humans to define their health and wellbeing in terms of the health of the biotic communities of which they are a part. There are limits to what we can and should do, limits set by the integrity of the land. The way to show that we respect those limits is to make ourselves students and servants of the land, for in being servants we relinquish our own will and desire for the sake of creation’s well-being. Anthropocentrism is replaced not by ecocentrism but by theocentrism, a vision that is focused on God’s intention together with the sweep of God’s creative work.” See Wirzba, Paradise of God, 139. 26 Yoder, “Cult and Culture,” 6. 27 Ibid. 28 Ibid., 9.


23 thereby sets loose a larger set of surprising imponderables.”29 These imponderables must caution any attempt to master the world, even in the name of the good. “In that we are not godlike, because we are not godlike,” Yoder concludes, we must discover and yield to the laws and limits and balance that govern life; we are not free to remove vegetation or add Freon as we wish. We cannot graze goats across North Africa, or plow the prairies, or dam the Nile, or log the rainforests, without untoward surprises.30 Yoder seemed well aware of the pervasiveness of modernity’s basic assumptions in much political and environmental theology. It may be that no axiom is more deeply rooted in our cultural reflexes than the one which Immanuel Kant stated abstractly. We call it “generalizability.” It says that I should make my decisions while asking whether the maxim that guides me should guide everyone. I should consider myself the prototypical actor in the human drama. I am in everyone’s shoes.31 In short, Kant’s categorical imperative calls humans to “act universally.”32 This sort of doctrine of generalizability, always ready to ask, “What if everybody did it?” Yoder suggests, necessarily precludes any sort of local, particular solutions. The Amish, for example, accept no such doctrine, but rather hold the “conviction that the will of God for human flourishing is known and carried by a specific living community, unashamed to be different from ‘the world.’”33 Their obedience “is not an abstract foundational imperative,” Yoder observes, “but a corporate life style.”34 This sort of challenge to the dominant ways of knowing demonstrates a stirring possibility: “that when the global

Yoder, “Cult and Culture,” 9. Yoder goes on to suggest that “one function of the language of apocalypse in the life of a faith community is that it restrains the presumptuous claim to have mastered the world system, either intellectually by a set of explanations or practically by a set of power manipulations.” 30 Yoder, “Cult and Culture,” 4. 31 Ibid. 32 For a more detailed discussion, see Borgmann, Crossing the Postmodern Divide, 52-55. 33 Yoder, “Cult and Culture,” 2. 34 Ibid.


24 system is out of control, the normal moral decency which is within our reach may matter more than the vision of an universal solution which is not.”35 Keeping Yoder’s account of the Genesis narrative and modernity in mind, one begins to see how his pacifist epistemology might inform an agrarian environmental ethic. Integrally tied to humanity’s attempt to master the created order—its attempt to become god-like—is a corresponding epistemology. It is an epistemology obsessed with making history “come out right.” Its preoccupation is “looking for the right ‘handle’ by which one can ‘get a hold on’ the course of history and move it in the right direction.”36 More often than not both defenders and destroyers of the environment share a basic confidence in the human ability to recognize and adapt to any problem, if not by the mechanisms of the free market then by state intervention, technological innovation, or some other avenue. In short, many Christians thinking about care for creation “accept the prevailing definitions of terms and choose one of the existing sides,” rather than questioning the very way in which the issue is framed.37 The dominant way of framing the issues, however, must be questioned by Anabaptists. One of the most important lessons John Howard Yoder has to teach us is that pacifism involves “a particular style of thinking or mode of discourse” and in turn, “a corresponding epistemology, a different way of thinking about knowledge.”38 One cannot adopt Kant’s “maxim of generalizability” and its accompanying epistemology, even in the name of some apparent good, without also attempting to master history. It is at

Yoder, “Cult and Culture,” 8. John Howard Yoder, The Politics of Jesus: Vicit Agnus Noster, 2d ed. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1994), 228. 37 John Howard Yoder, The Christian Witness to the State (Scottdale: Herald Press, 1992), 90. 38 Chris K. Huebner, A Precarious Peace: Yoderian Explorations on Theology, Knowledge, and Identity (Scottdale: Herald Press, 2006), 99.


25 precisely this point that such efforts “end up looking … like those of yet another conqueror, proceeding systematically in the pursuit of more and ever greater control.”39 Because the renunciation of violence “is the first functional meaning of affirming creation or nature,” Christian environmental ethics must account for how epistemology is bound up in the negation of peace.40 Though Yoder never discussed his epistemological pacifism directly, there are numerous examples of ways in which he resisted the epistemological mainstream. Chris Huebner, Yoder’s ablest interpreter on this topic, suggests a variety, all of which prove deeply valuable to Anabaptists thinking about creation care.41 First, Yoder regularly called into question the prevailing framework or assumptions informing dominant minds and movements. Rather than offering the right answers to the wrong questions, Yoder attempted to articulate deep and penetrating inquiries that challenged the reigning paradigm. Second, Yoder rejected the thoroughly modern search for moral first principles. Rather, he believed that one cannot “go back to start from ‘scratch.’”42 This stems in part from Yoder’s “appreciation of radical contingency with respect to both the beginnings and endings of theological inquiry.”43 A pacifist epistemology always recognizes the potential need for reformation and challenge, even from minority voices. “Any existing church is not only fallible but in fact peccable,” Yoder wrote, and thus “there needs to be

Huebner, Precarious Peace, 100. Yoder, “Cult and Culture,” 8. 41 See Huebner, Precarious Peace, 101-104. 42 John Howard Yoder, “Walk and Word: The Alternatives to Methodologism,” in Theology Without Foundations, ed. Stanley Hauerwas, Nancey Murphy, and Mark T. Nation (Nashville: Abingdon, 1994), 77. 43 Huebner, Precarious Peace, 101.


26 a constant potential for reformation and in the more dramatic situations a readiness for the reformation even to be ‘radical.’”44 The third example Yoder offers, and perhaps the most important, is his conviction that because of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection, “the calculating link between our obedience and ultimate efficacy has been broken.”45 No longer burdened by the question, “What if everyone did it?” the Christian is freed to faithfulness. This last point is closely tied to Yoder’s recognition of the inherent ignorance of human beings, as creatures, when it comes to determining cause and effect. “It is wrong,” Yoder argued, “if it be thought that the costs and benefits, as well as the causal connections which enable calculating them, can be transparently known.”46 Rather, a pacifist epistemology entails recognition that human beings cannot—whether in thought or action—master the radical contingency of creaturely existence. Finally, central to Yoder’s work was a rejection of “methodologism,” or the belief “that there is some one methodology or some preferred idiom for the expression of the Christian life.”47 Against modern thinkers who attempted to secure an objective, universal method for reasoning, Yoder argued that “there is nothing necessarily wrong with real life,” in which a wide variety of idioms “are mixed together helter-skelter, with no need for one of them to always have priority.”48 This rejection of methodologism is integrally linked to Yoder’s commitment to “patience as method in moral reasoning.”49

John Howard Yoder, The Priestly Kingdom: Social Ethics as Gospel (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1984), 5. 45 Yoder, Politics of Jesus, 239. 46 Yoder, “Walk and Word,” 86-87. 47 Huebner, Precarious Peace, 103. 48 Yoder, “Walk and Word,” 81. 49 John Howard Yoder, “‘Patience’ as Method in Moral Reasoning: Is an Ethic of Discipleship ‘Absolute’?” in The Wisdom of the Cross: Essays in Honor of John Howard Yoder, ed. Stanley Hauerwas et. al. (Eugene: Wipf and Stock, 1999), 24-42.


27 As Chris Huebner concludes, rather than attempting to violently pursue effectiveness and expedience, “the epistemological virtue of patience is part of a concerted attempt to refuse such reductive strategies and to embody a counter-epistemology as an alternative to that of the wider world.”50

The Rational Mind and the Way of Hubris John Howard Yoder’s epistemological alternative stands in stark contrast to modernity’s dominant ways of knowing. It offers a fundamental challenge to what Wendell Berry has called the “Rational Mind.” According to Berry, the Rational Mind is both “the mind that the most powerful and influential people think they have” and “the official mind of science, industry, and government.”51 Concerned only with objective and empirical knowledge, the Rational Mind distances itself from any religious tradition or inherited authority. The Rational Mind’s “ideal products are the proven fact, the accurate prediction, and ‘informed decision.’”52 It assumes, in short, “that humans either know enough already, or can learn enough soon enough, to foresee and forestall any bad consequences of their use of [their] power.”53 The destructive and violent power of the Rational Mind is integrally linked to this refusal to recognize any limits. Fused to a sort of industrial fundamentalism and a national faith that claims, “There’s always more!” the Rational Mind adheres to “a doctrine of general human limitlessness.”54 Deeply wedded to the fundamental assumption of the modern economy—the possibility of limitless growth—the Rational
Huebner, Precarious Peace, 111. Wendell Berry, “Two Minds,” in Citizenship Papers (Washington, DC: Shoemaker and Hoard, 2003), 88. Emphasis original. 52 Ibid., 88. 53 Wendell Berry, “The Way of Ignorance,” in The Way of Ignorance: And Other Essays (Washington, DC: Shoemaker and Hoard, 2005), 53. 54 Wendell Berry, “Faustian Economics: Hell hath no limits,” Harper’s (May 2008): 35-36.
51 50

28 Mind also seeks limitless knowledge, science, technology, and progress. “And, necessarily,” Berry concludes, “it must lead to limitless violence, waste, war, and destruction.”55 Berry’s critique of the Rational Mind stems not from an effort to reject reason or reasonability, but rather an objection “to the exclusiveness of the Rational Mind, which has limited itself to a selection of mental functions such as the empirical methodologies of analysis and experimentation and the attitudes of objectivity and realism.”56 The limitlessness of the Rational Mind leads to violence, in large part, because it ignores much that is important to know. Because most modern thinkers disregard traditional and religious sources of knowledge, it becomes extremely difficult for them to address the questions for which empirical knowledge cannot account. Essentially, the modern mind has “no recourse to any of those knowledges that enable us to deal appropriately with mystery or with limits.”57 The Rational Mind has “no humbling knowledge.”58 Yet it is precisely the ability to deal appropriately with limits that is needed now more than ever. As even a cursory glance at the news makes clear, the earth does indeed have limits and humanity is quickly nearing those boundaries. Berry suggests that the attempt of the Rational Mind to address contemporary problems apart from its cultural heritage, apart from any sort of religious knowledge, has largely failed. Recounting Marlowe’s Tragical History of Doctor Faustus, Berry argues that, “Faustus, who wants all knowledge and all the world for himself, is a man supremely lonely and finally

55 56

Berry, “Faustian Economics,” 36. Berry, “Two Minds,” 88. 57 Berry, “Way of Ignorance,” 59. 58 Ibid.

29 doomed.”59 The tragedy of much modern thought is that it, like Faustus, confuses any limits whatsoever with confinement. Yet, as Berry suggests, “our human and earthly limits, properly understood, are not confinements but rather inducements to formal elaboration and elegance, to fullness of relationship and meaning.”60 The stark reality of the contemporary situation is this: people who lament the destruction of the environment “can’t stop because they have no practical understanding of its causes.”61 Because the Rational Mind simply cannot account for proper limits— because it cannot, by its own logic, elaborate on the radical contingency and particularity of our existence—it is unable to imagine how or why it might limit its exploitation and destruction of the earth. In its effort to master history and alleviate the fear of miscalculation, the modern mind deals only in abstractions. Due to the inherent, systemic restraints on the Rational Mind, it cannot and “does not confess its complicity in the equation: knowledge = power = money = damage.”62 In its quest to become god-like, in its hubris, the Rational Mind can only conceive of solutions that call for larger scale, greater power, and finally, universal abstractions. It is important to note that Berry lodges his complaint not only against industrialists and technological innovators, but also idealists and environmental ideologues. The inherent danger of any “movement,” according to Berry, is its tendency to go the way of the Rational Mind—to abstract environmental problems from the actual lives of those who contribute to them. This danger is realized when “we change our

59 60

Berry, “Faustian Economics,” 40. Ibid., 41. Emphasis original. 61 Berry, “Two Minds,” 87. 62 Ibid., 89.

30 principles, our thoughts, our words,” but “our lives go on unchanged.”63 As Berry rightly points out, “it is discouraging to reflect that, though we have been talking about most of our problems for decades, we are still mainly talking about them.”64 Abstractions are thus always to some degree violent, as they entail a belief that “we can remedy or control effects while leaving causes in place,” that “the trouble is caused by other people.”65 In proposing abstract, “in the air,” one-shot solutions, movements are not inclusive enough. They fail to recognize the interconnectedness of our problems, or that the mentality that exploits and destroys the natural environment is the same that abuses racial and economic minorities, that imposes on young men the tyranny of the military draft, that makes war against peasants and women and children with the indifference of technology.66 To abstract all these problems from our own, private culpability in them is to “believe that we could solve any one of these problems without solving the others.”67 Central to the agrarian mindset, however, is an insistence on the integral connection between knowing and doing, and so too an acknowledgment of the destructive power of movements that fail to appreciate the symbiotic character of the two. The prototypical actor in such movements is the figure who adopts a heroic ethic, “a hero who instigates and influences the actions of others, but does not act himself.”68 Central to his heroism are the two basic characteristics of the Rational Mind: hubris and abstraction. The industrial hero might take up the cause of solving world hunger, Berry suggests, yet he cannot solve the problem because it is not an industrial one. Rather, “it

Wendell Berry, “Word and Flesh,” in What Are People For? (New York: North Point Press, 1990),

199. Ibid. Emphasis original. Berry, “In Distrust of Movements,” in Citizenship Papers, 44-45. Emphasis original. 66 Wendell Berry, “Think Little,” in A Continuous Harmony: Essays Cultural and Agricultural (Washington, DC: Shoemaker and Hoard, 1972), 70. 67 Ibid., 70-71. 68 Wendell Berry, “The Gift of Good Land,” in The Art of the Commonplace: The Agrarian Essays of Wendell Berry, ed. Norman Wirzba (Washington, DC: Shoemaker and Hoard, 2002), 301.
65 64

31 must be understood and dealt with by local people as a multitude of local problems of ecology, agriculture, and culture.”69 Industrial solutions, large in scale and vision, avoid application—“the most modest, complex, difficult, and long” work of all—because application requires not abstraction, but particular practices suited to particular places. It is real life—the hard work of changing our lives and others—finally, that offers the starkest challenge to the Rational Mind. Life in particular places and communities, in the end, “destroys forever the notions that the world can be thought of (by humans) as a whole and that humans can ‘save’ it as a whole.”70

The Sympathetic Mind and the Way of Ignorance What then is the alternative to the industrial hero of the Rational Mind? Berry suggests that it might be found in the recognition of our deep and basic ignorance of the way things really are. “In any consideration of agrarianism” Berry writes, the “issue of limitation is critical.”71 It is by recognizing human limits and so too the “experienced possibility of frugality and renewal within limits,” the agrarian mind insists, that one encounters a “sense of abundance.”72 Limits point to the interdependent nature of human existence, forever reminding humanity that “thrift, family coherence, neighborliness, local economies,” all are essential to our survival.73 The agrarian recognition of limits is an acknowledgment, essentially, that “the way of ignorance is the way of faith.”74

69 70

Berry, “The Gift of Good Land,” 302. Ibid., 303. 71 Wendell Berry, “The Agrarian Standard,” in Citizenship Papers, 149. 72 Ibid. 73 Ibid. 74 Berry, “Way of Ignorance,” 67.

32 To recover from our disease of limitlessness, we will have to give up the idea that we have a right to be godlike animals, that we are potentially omniscient and omnipotent, ready to discover ‘the secret of the universe.’ We will have to start over, with a different and much older premise: the naturalness and, for creatures of limited intelligence, the necessity, of limits. We must learn again to ask how we can make the most of what we are, what we have, what we have been given.75 The mind that acknowledges its finitude and dependence—the Sympathetic Mind—is thus also a mind that refuses “to limit knowledge or reality to the scope of reason or factuality or experimentation,” and makes reason “the servant of things it considers precedent and higher.”76 The Sympathetic Mind is concerned less with theories and therapies, and more with living as creatures; “we merely love the people we love, and even try to love others.”77 This loving mind entails a rejection of certain forms of coercive power or abstraction, and unlike the Rational Mind, “accepts loss and suffering as the price, willingly paid, of its sympathy and affection—its wholeness.”78 The Sympathetic Mind, though often dismissed as too religious or out-dated or irrelevant, is “the mind of our creatureliness,” and “accepts life in this world for what it is: mortal, partial, fallible, complexly dependent, entailing many responsibilities toward ourselves, our places, and our fellow beings.”79 And because creaturely existence involves responsibility to others, the Sympathetic Mind understands “that there is no public crisis that is not also private.”80 While the Rational Mind “thinks big,” the Sympathetic Mind acknowledges that such abstractions require no personal commitment or change. According to Berry,

75 76

Berry, “Faustian Economics,” 41. Berry, “Two Minds,” 88. 77 Ibid., 91. 78 Ibid., 92. 79 Ibid., 100. 80 Berry, “Think Little,” 71.

33 how you act should be determined, and the consequences of your acts are determined, by where you are. To know where you are (and whether or not that is where you should be) is at least as important as to know what you are doing, because in the moral (the ecological) sense you cannot know what until you have learned where. Not knowing where you are, you can make mistakes of the utmost seriousness: you can lose your soul or your soil, your life or your way home.81 The Sympathetic Mind, in short, requires a commitment to “think little.” Thinking little, as an alternative epistemology, opens up possibilities seldom remembered, often overlooked, or never before imagined—ideas invisible to the big thinkers of the world. Environmental protection is not something that only an agency in Washington does, but rather is instantiated in our everyday lives. Berry is keen on this point: [T]he discipline of thought is not generalization; it is detail, and it is personal behavior. While the government is ‘studying’ and funding and organizing its Big Thought, nothing is being done. But the citizen who is willing to Think Little, and, accepting the discipline of that, to go ahead on his own, is already solving the problem. A man who is trying to live as a neighbor to his neighbors will have a lively and practical understanding of the work of peace and brotherhood, and let there be no mistake about it—he is doing that work. A couple who make a marriage, and raise healthy, morally competent children, are serving the world’s future more directly and surely than any political leader, though they never utter a public word. A good farmer who is dealing with the problem of soil erosion on an acre of ground has a sounder grasp of that problem and cares more about it and is probably doing more to solve it that any bureaucrat who is talking about it in general.82 The Sympathetic Mind is one that recognizes its own culpability in the problems we now face, and further, acknowledges the careful attention, hard work, and long-suffering that any meaningful remedy will likely require. And it also makes clear that sometimes,

Wendell Berry, “Poetry and Place,” in Standing by Words (Washington, DC: Shoemaker and Hoard, 1983), 117. Emphasis original. 82 Berry, “Think Little,” 77-78. Emphasis original.


34 because we as creatures do not control history, all it “can do is maintain its difference, preserve its own integrity, and attempt to see the possibility of something better.”83

‘Placing the Soul’ Both Wendell Berry and John Howard Yoder make clear that “as living beings we cannot simply be spectators of a world, as if we did not breathe its air, drink its water, ingest its nutrients, or consume its goods.”84 To know rightly, they insist, we must commit ourselves to the care of the world—to our neighborhoods, to our communities, and to each other—in all its particularity. Both Berry and Yoder suggest, as Norman Wirzba does, that we must “place our soul”: To be a genuine philosopher requires that we become more attentive to our bodies and attachments, and then commit and abandon ourselves to the experiences of life—the flows of birth, growth, disease, and death—realizing that the experiences themselves are not our possessions or easily within our control. Lest we dismiss such abandonment as overly mystical or sentimental, we should understand it in terms of the sympathy of love, the training of our desire on the need and well-being of another.85 Agrarian epistemology insists that we cannot know rightly—and thus cannot be right—if we deal only in abstractions. “Good, not being something we can understand (and control) in abstraction,” Wirzba again suggests, “must grow out of a sense of graciousness that dawns on us in the midst of the trials and turns of action, which is to say through human experience.”86 And, perhaps most importantly, these trials and turns take place in particular communities and are unique to those places—there exists no universal “blueprint for action.” Rather, “it is only as we are faithful to the particularities

83 84

Berry, “Two Minds,” 99. Wirzba, “Placing the Soul,” 87-88. 85 Ibid., 88. 86 Ibid., 95.

35 and demands of place and accept responsibility for our actions in those places that we can claim to be moral beings at all.”87 To know truly, to act rightly, is to acknowledge the provisional, vulnerable, even fragile, character of the moral life. It is to acknowledge, finally, that true wisdom “is the capacity to remain faithful and true to reality as we encounter it, without falsifying, evading, or destroying it.”88 This necessarily requires a Sympathetic Mind, for what we must now realize is that such a posture is not possible without love, for it is in terms of love that the true marks of knowing can emerge: openness, affection, resilience, patience, humility, vulnerability, kindness, intimacy, responsibility, and perhaps most important, repentance.89 The agrarian mindset faithfully reminds the Church that a commitment to and faithful witness in a particular place—often from a position of disregard and weakness—is sometimes its strongest word for a broken world. And it is toward precisely this sort of agrarian environmental ethic—a mindset that refuses to let “the ‘modern world’ determine the questions and therefore limit the answers”—that the work of both John Howard Yoder and Wendell Berry points us.90

Wirzba, “Placing the Soul,” 95. Ibid., 91. 89 Ibid., 89. 90 Stanley Hauerwas and William H. Willimon, Resident Aliens: Life in the Christian Colony (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1989), 21.




“Do we think that peace is possible? If we do,” Wendell Berry writes, “then we must envision the particularities of that possibility. We must enact, and so substantiate, that possibility in our lives.”1 Agrarian epistemology—a commitment to thinking little— encourages members of the Christian tradition to reconsider a number of rarely questioned, if dearly held, assumptions. Because the agrarian mind insists that “lovers of wisdom must first be lovers in the most genuine sense of the term, people who are considerate and show compassion for the one loved,” it also maintains that right thinking necessarily entails right living.2 By fostering alternative ways of knowing, then, the Christian agrarian mindset helps us notice the ways in which war and violence are integrally, if at times subtly, linked to the destruction of God’s creation. Perhaps better than any other thinker writing today, Berry challenges Christians, and especially Anabaptists, to appreciate what a commitment to pacifism might mean for their political and economic life. Many contemporary Anabaptists—even those thinking carefully about their pacifist convictions—have failed to consider how violence against the earth should factor into a peace theology. As Walter Klaassen suggests, in the decades since World War II, we had done some careful thinking about pacifism, nonviolence, and living without weapons in the social and political culture of our time. However, as far as I am aware, we had done no thinking about

Wendell Berry, “A Statement Against the War in Vietnam,” in The Long-Legged House (Washington, DC: Shoemaker and Hoard, 1965), 67. 2 Norman Wirzba, “Placing the Soul: An Agrarian Philosophical Principle,” in The Essential Agrarian Reader: The Future of Culture, Community, and the Land, ed. Norman Wirzba (New York: Counterpoint, 2004), 89.


37 the resources of our tradition of nonviolence in the human war against mother nature.3 In carefully evaluating Berry’s thought, I argue, Mennonites encounter a commitment to Christian pacifism carried to its logical conclusion in nearly every aspect of contemporary American life. Berry offers a radically orthodox corrective to Mennonite thinking that fails to appreciate the importance of pacifist convictions for understanding politics, economics, and ecology. In short, Berry’s robust conception of agrarian pacifism calls Christians to recover their tradition’s insistence on the holiness of God’s creation and the exemplary nature of Jesus’ life, death, and bodily resurrection.

The Agrarian Rejection of War Wendell Berry’s rejection of war must be understood as a conscious outworking of two of his deepest intellectual commitments: the agrarian mindset and the Christian tradition. Berry emerges from a long line of agrarian and decentralist thinkers with a similarly trenchant critique of modern warfare. However, where Berry’s critique of war is deeply nuanced and essentially Christian, his predecessors in the agrarian tradition focused primarily, perhaps exclusively, on the ways in which war destroyed “what they held most dear”—namely, the life of local, particularly Southern, agrarian communities.4 Though community life is also central to Berry’s vision, it is important to note the myriad ways he adapts and reformulates the occasional pacifism of earlier agrarian thinkers. For the American agrarians who preceded Wendell Berry—those known primarily as the “Southern Agrarians”—the Civil War “was the central historical event,
Walter Klaassen, “Pacifism, Nonviolence, and the Peaceful Reign of God,” in Creation and the Environment: An Anabaptist Perspective on a Sustainable World, ed. Calvin Redekop (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2000), 140. Emphasis original. 4 Allan Carlson, “Wendell Berry and the Twentieth-Century Agrarian ‘Series’,” in Wendell Berry: Life and Work, ed. Jason Peters (Lexington: The University Press of Kentucky, 2007), 106.

38 the great tragedy that had befallen agrarian America.”5 Following the Civil War came unprecedented Western settlement, railroad expansion, and the rapid rise of industry and commercial agriculture. Despite the post-war existence of four times as many farms as in antebellum America, the majority of growth was moving toward cities.6 The very nature of farming was undergoing tremendous change; soon to become a minority, farmers were required to provide food for the majority of the population. Increased mechanization thus became the norm for many American farms. In short, “a highly integrated home economy, involving the altruistic, non-monetary exchange of goods and services by family members, gave way to heightened individualism, consumerism, and other signs of economic modernity.”7 From the early twentieth-century on, then, agrarian thinkers were forced to confront a set of difficult and historically unique questions. As industry and commercial agriculture displaced the antebellum “rural sort of establishment,” many agrarians, especially in the South, understood in a quite practical way the integral connections between war, industry, and economic individualism.8 Berry’s agrarian forbearers believed that war and industrialization were intimately tied to the disintegration of community life and popular democracy. Both were also linked, they insisted, to the peculiar inability of modern Americans “to live in balance with nature and to live leisurely,” and to “treat one’s life as a work of art.”9 According to the Southern Agrarians, “the effects of industrialization were uniformly deleterious,” and thus they hoped to “return to the

Allan Carlson, The New Agrarian Mind: The Movement Toward Decentralist Thought in TwentiethCentury America (New Brunswick: Transaction Publishers, 2004), 179. 6 Ibid., 2-3. 7 Ibid., 2. 8 Paul V. Murphy, The Rebuke of History: The Southern Agrarians and American Conservative Thought (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2001), 19-20. 9 Ibid., 19.

39 society oriented around the hearty individualism and self-sufficiency of the agrarian life.”10 Lest one suspect it was simply Southern disdain for the Civil War that motivated such thinking, throughout the twentieth-century there existed a strong agrarian resistance to America’s wars. As Allan Carlson points out, “early twentieth-century agrarians commonly lamented or condemned their century’s wars.”11 Liberty Hyde Bailey, the agrarian botanist from Michigan, heartily denounced World War I. Agrarians as diverse as Donald Davidson, Baker Brownell, and Luigi Ligutti all spoke out against American entry into World War II.12 For all of these men, war proved dangerous to any sort of decentralist or agrarian vision for American democracy. They believed, along with the rest of the famous Vanderbilt agrarians, that “hospitality, sympathy, romantic love, and family life ‘also suffer under the curse of an…industrial civilization’,” which is integrally linked to an economy that sustains modern warfare.13 Wendell Berry, nearly a century later, continues to point out important connections between warfare, economics, and the disintegration of local community.

The Failure of War Wendell Berry’s conception of pacifism, unlike that of his agrarian predecessors, “repudiates all the violence of his time.”14 Berry insists that any full definition of pacifism must “include the earth and all forms of life,” including those individuals,

10 11

Murphy, The Rebuke of History, 17-18. Carlson, “Wendell Berry and the Twentieth-Century Agrarian ‘Series’,” 106. 12 Ibid. 13 Ibid., 104-105. 14 Andrew J. Angyal, Wendell Berry (New York: Twayne Publishers, 1995), 37.

40 communities, and ecosystems least valued in a society.15 Though the real novelty of Berry’s agrarian pacifism is its emphasis on “practicing resurrection”—a Christian economic and political practice of peace that can only occur in local lives, communities, and ecosystems—it is important to first explore his broader re-definition and critique of modern warfare. While Berry, the realist that he is, recognizes that “a nation cannot be ‘good’ in any simple or incontestable way,” he also attempts to explore what it can “reasonably be that is better than bad.”16 Thus, although Berry insists on “avoiding any attempt to reconcile policies of national or imperial militarism with anything Christ said or did,” he still speaks out against the devastating costs—human and ecological—of modern warfare.17 In this way, Berry is a sometimes lonely and often contrary voice in the broader peace and environmental movements. He does not expect or eagerly await the advent of a pacifist government, and he relentlessly notes important connections between the destruction of human life and the plight of the earth. On this point it is worth quoting Berry at length: American history has been to a considerable extent the history of our warfare against the natural life of the continent. Until we end our violence against the earth—a matter ignored by most pacifists, as the issue of military violence is ignored by most conservationists—how can we hope to end our violence against each other? The earth, which we all have in common, is our deepest bond, and our behavior toward it cannot help but be an earnest consideration for each other and for our descendants. To corrupt or destroy the natural environment is an act of violence not only against the earth, but also against those who are dependent on it, including ourselves. To waste the soil is to cause hunger, as direct an aggression as an armed attack; it is an act of violence against the future of the human race.18
Angyal, Wendell Berry, 37. Wendell Berry, “A Citizen’s Response to ‘The National Security Strategy of the United States of America,’” in Citizenship Papers (Washington, DC: Shoemaker and Hoard, 2004), 9. 17 Ibid., 14. 18 Wendell Berry,”Some Thoughts on Citizenship and Conscience in Honor of Don Pratt,” in The LongLegged House, 85.
16 15


In light of the destructive potential of modern war, Berry repeatedly argues, “it is now clear that men who turn in violence against their kind turn also against creation.”19 In a world in which the weapons of war have tremendous capacity to destroy humanity and the earth, it becomes incredibly difficult, even impossible, to call any war just. “There’s no such thing as a ‘just’ war anymore, if there ever was,” Berry argues.20 “Modern war has not only made it impossible to kill ‘combatants’ without killing ‘noncombatants,’ it has made it impossible to damage your enemy without damaging yourself.”21 Technological innovations have not made war less severe, but rather have made it “increasingly destructive and wasteful of the lands involved and of their natural resources.”22 Moreover, the standards of a technologically driven war economy—the industrial economy—“lead inevitably to war against humans just as they lead inevitably to war against nature.”23 Central, then, to Berry’s broader critique of modern warfare is his insistence that “there are kinds of violence that have nothing directly to do with unofficial or official warfare but are accepted as normal to our economic life.”24 Were the catastrophes of Love Canal, Bhopal, Chernobyl, and the Exxon Valdez episodes of war or peace? They were, in fact, peacetime acts of aggression, intentional to the extent that the risks were known and ignored. We are involved unremittingly in a war not against ‘foreign enemies,’ but against the world, against our freedom, and indeed against our existence.25

Wendell Berry, “A Statement Against the War in Vietnam,” in The Long-Legged House, 69. Wendell Berry, “Digging In: Wendell Berry On Small Farms, Local Wisdom, And The Folly Of Greed,” The Sun Magazine, no. 391 (July 2008). 21 Wendell Berry, “The Failure of War,” in Citizenship Papers, 23. 22 Berry, “A Statement Against the War in Vietnam,” 71. 23 Wendell Berry, “Peaceableness Toward Enemies,” in Sex, Economy, Freedom and Community (New York: Pantheon Books, 1992), 91. 24 Wendell Berry, “A Citizen’s Response,” 5. 25 Wendell Berry, “Word and Flesh,” in What Are People For? (New York: North Point Press, 1990), 202.


42 These catastrophes, Berry suggests, are equally serious as those threats we face abroad. Through our domestic military and economic practices, we “have prepared ourselves to destroy our enemy by destroying the entire world—including, of course, ourselves.”26 In Berry’s response to the Bush administration’s “National Security Strategy,” the point is made with clarity: I don’t wish to make light of the threats and dangers that now confront us. There can be no doubt of the reality of terrorism as defined and understood by ‘The National Security Strategy,’ or of the seriousness of our situation, or of our need for security. But frightening as all this is, it does not relieve us of the responsibility to be intelligent, principled, and practical as we can be. To rouse the public’s anxiety about foreign terror while ignoring domestic terror, and to fail to ask if these terrors are in any way related, is wrong.27 The United States’ reaction to the September 11 terrorist attacks—curtailment of civil rights, defiance of laws, and the resort to overwhelming force—are understandable enough, Berry suggests, “but they cannot protect us against the selfishness, wastefulness, and greed that we have legitimized here as economic virtues, and have taught to the world.”28 If we want to be at peace, Berry argues, we will have to waste less, spend less, use less, want less, need less. The most alarming sign of the state of our society now is that our leaders have the courage to sacrifice the lives of young people in war but have not the courage to tell us that we must be less greedy and less wasteful.29 Far too often young men and women are called to die for a “homeland” that a predatory economy readily exploits and destroys. As a nation increasingly estranged from one another and from the land, most citizens and politicians who speak of defense of the homeland actually have “no home place that they are strongly moved to know or love or

26 27

Berry, “The Failure of War,” 23. Berry, “A Citizen’s Response,” 6. 28 Ibid. 29 Berry, “Peaceableness Toward Enemies,” 92.

43 use well or protect.”30 In short, by disconnecting country and land, people and place, it has become more reasonable to sacrifice lives abroad—both our own and others— without changing them at home. According to Berry, one sees precisely this tendency in World War II and its aftermath. One sees, in other words, an increased willingness to abstract country from land and people from place. As Bill Kauffman rightly observes, for Berry “the Second World War is a watershed in so many ways: it rends, it depopulates, it mechanizes, it destroys. So do its offshoots.”31 Berry’s native Kentucky was irrevocably changed in the years following the war. “[It] joined all of rural America in rapidly embracing mechanized farming,” and “within three decades, the farmland itself was in decline.”32 In the wake of World War II came “a mass migration from the land to the city,” and with it “a massive shift in sensibility and self-understanding.”33 Instead of “promoting the sense of our interdependence with each other and with the whole of creation,” city life “daily confronts us with the work of our own hands and so gives rise to the illusion that we live from and for ourselves.”34 War—especially one the magnitude of World War II—fundamentally changes a national economy, and so too a national ethos. “The War and the Economy,” Berry’s fictional Jayber Crow reflects, “were seeming more and more to be independent operators,” yet “also it seemed that the War

Berry, “A Citizen’s Response,” 6. Emphasis original. Bill Kauffman, “Wendell Berry on War and Peace; Or, Port William versus the Empire,” in Wendell Berry: Life and Work, 20. 32 Carlson, New Agrarian Mind, 180. 33 Norman Wirzba, The Paradise of God: Renewing Religion in an Ecological Age (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003), 72. 34 Ibid.


44 and the Economy were more and more closely related. They were the Siamese twins of our age.”35 Berry’s most chilling indictment of “the Siamese twins of our age” is found in his recent novel, Hannah Coulter. In a chapter titled “Okinawa,” Hannah, who lost her husband in the war, reflects back on what she knows of the conflict. War, she says, “is the outer darkness beyond the reach of love, where people who do not know one another kill one another and there is weeping and gnashing of teeth, where nothing is allowed to be real enough to be spared.”36 War abstracts one from the other. It abstracts person from place. It violently rips apart economy and scale. At the Battle of Okinawa, Berry reflects, we see in its most heinous form the modern tendency to ignore the local and particular: ancient villages destroyed, lands torched, buildings demolished, and nearly one hundred and fifty thousand, “killed by mistake.”37 Here, it is worth quoting from Hannah Coulter at length: But Christ’s living unto death in this body of our suffering did not end the suffering. He asked us to end it, but we have not ended it. We suffer the old suffering over and over again. Eventually, in loving, you see that you have given yourself over to the knowledge of suffering in a state of war that is always going on. And you wake in the night to the thought of the hurt and the helpless, the scorned and the cheated, the burnt, the bombed, the shot, the imprisoned, the beaten, the tortured, the maimed, the spit upon, the shit upon. The Battle of Okinawa was not a battle of two armies making war against each other. It was a battle of both armies making war against a place and its people.38 War annihilates particular places and people; it is inevitably bound up in destroying the earth. With the increased urbanization following World War II, most Americans lost intimate knowledge of the earth, of their land. “Since World War II,”
35 36

Wendell Berry, Jayber Crow (Washington, DC: Counterpoint, 2000), 273. Wendell Berry, Hannah Coulter (Washington, DC: Shoemaker and Hoard, 2004), 168. 37 Ibid., 172. 38 Ibid., 171-172.

45 Andrew Angyal observes, “land and wealth have become concentrated in even fewer hands, with a corresponding loss of opportunity and vitality in small communities.”39 It is exactly this loss, Berry presciently observes, that makes the sacrifice of the young a price our leaders are willing to pay for the comforts of those “fewer hands.” Since the end of World War II, Berry notes, “when the terrors of industrial war had been fully realized, many people and, by fits and starts, many governments have recognized that peace is not just a desirable condition, as was thought before, but is a practical necessity.”40 A commitment to the health of local land and its creatures, in other words, requires one to oppose the militant internationalism of the country. A central lesson of Berry’s writings, theologian Charles Pinches observes, is “that it is precisely in and through the local that we can forge a truthful connection with the national.”41 Thus Berry “advocates a cooperative internationalism,” which insists that, “the United States ought to be a good citizen of the global community, displaying the same virtues of rationality, moderation, prudence, and constructive engagement he expects from individual citizens.”42 Yet also present in Berry’s hope for a more just global order is a humility that tempers any notion of new world orders based upon Jesus’ ethic of peace.43 “Surely no sane and thoughtful person,” Berry writes, “can imagine any government of our time sitting at the feet of Jesus while he is saying, ‘Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them that despitefully use you and

39 40

Angyal, Wendell Berry, 85-86. Berry, “A Citizen’s Response,” 15. 41 Charles Pinches, “Stout, Hauerwas, and the Body of America,” Political Theology 8, no. 1 (2007): 26. 42 Kimberly K. Smith, “Wendell Berry’s Political Vision,” in Wendell Berry: Life and Work, 55. 43 See, for example, Wendell Berry, “In Distrust of Movements,” in Citizenship Papers, 43-51.

46 persecute you.’”44 While it is often necessary to call the “powers that be” to account, a chastened agrarian epistemology, for Berry, acts as a constant reminder of his own complicity in violence done to both human beings and the earth. It acts, much like farming, as “a constant lesson in human limits and fallibility.”45 Any hope for peace amidst the dominant political order must be tempered by a healthy dose of realism. The only way to approach the difficult task of critiquing political and economic systems is “carefully, with humility and prudence rather than an overconfident sense of self-sufficiency.”46 Just as human beings must respect limits on consumption and exploitation of natural resources, they must also keep such limits in mind as they seek and pursue peace among states. The most effective political action and social change—the most complex and lasting peace protest—takes place, Berry insists, in our own particular lives and communities.

The Burden of the Gospels Political scientist Kimberly Smith notes that in his rejection of war, “Berry frequently cites a familiar pacifist tradition that draws on the Bible, Gandhi, and Martin Luther King.”47 Yet she also suggests that the agrarian rejection of war is informed, in part, by classical moral virtues. Smith sees in Berry a strong hesitance to do violence against persons, as such action is simply hubristic—“it is an attempt to seize more power than is appropriate to humans.”48 This, she thinks, stems from a commitment to

Berry, “Christianity and the Survival of Creation,” 319. Kimberly K. Smith, Wendell Berry and the Agrarian Tradition: A Common Grace (Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2003), 137. 46 Ibid. 47 Smith, “Wendell Berry’s Political Vision,” 59n21. 48 Ibid.


47 sophrosyne, a classical virtue “that prevents hubristic overreaching.”49 As the previous chapter’s discussion of agrarian epistemology makes clear, however, Berry’s eschewing of any effort to “put handles on history” has much more to do with religious tradition than classical moral virtues. In a similar way, I argue, Berry’s rejection of violence stems from a life-long, often difficult grappling with what he calls “the burden of the gospels.” “One cannot be aware both of the history of Christian war and of the contents of the Gospels,” Wendell Berry writes, “without feeling that something is amiss.”50 Berry rightly observes that while many people loosely adhere to Christianity, it often has little to do with the things Jesus actually taught.51 Regularly those in positions of wealth and power, rather than taking seriously Jesus’ teachings in the gospels, “first declare themselves to be followers of Christ, and then they assume that whatever they say or do merits the adjective ‘Christian.’”52 Berry, like many in the Anabaptist tradition, suspects that the ascension of Christians to positions of political power is unavoidably linked to their violation of Christ’s teachings. The attempt to attach the adjective “Christian” to all actions, even if they are in tension with the gospels, Berry argues, appears to have been dominant among Christian heads of state ever since Christianity became politically respectable. From this accommodation has proceeded a monstrous history of Christian violence. War after war has been prosecuted by bloodthirsty Christians, and to the profit of greedy Christians, as if Christ had never been born and the Gospels never written. I may have missed something, but I know of no Christian nation and no Christian leader from whose conduct the teachings of Christ could be inferred.53

Smith, Wendell Berry and the Agrarian Tradition, 136. Wendell Berry, “Introduction,” in Blessed Are the Peacemakers: Christ’s Teachings about Love, Compassion, & Forgiveness (Washington DC: Shoemaker and Hoard, 2005), 4. 51 Ibid., 3. 52 Ibid., 3-4. 53 Ibid., 4.


48 Berry regretfully, albeit starkly, acknowledges what many devout Christians fail to: “Most Christian organizations,” and so too most politically powerful members of such organizations, “are as happily indifferent to the ecological, cultural, and religious implications of industrial economics as are most industrial organizations.”54 Yet Berry’s understanding of Christianity forces him to the conclusion that theological indifference to the fate of ecosystems stems not from the orthodox tradition, but rather “is caused by the failures and errors of Christian practice.”55 Berry understands the scriptural witness generally, and Jesus in particular, as standing in deep opposition to any unjust status quo, including the regnant powers—political, economic, or otherwise—of the day: The religion of the Bible … 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 kings. And Christ’s life, from the manger to the cross, was an affront to the established powers of his time, just as it is to the established powers of our time.56 Berry argues that the “evident ability of most church leaders to be ‘born again in Christ’ without in the least discomforting their faith in the industrial economy’s bill of goods,” which includes the destruction of creation and its inhabitants, “is not scriptural.”57 In the Hebrew Scriptures one encounters “the preoccupation with the relation of the Israelites to their land,” and in the New Testament “much of the action and the talk of the Gospels takes place outdoors.”58 While the foreground of these stories is focused on human beings and their relationship to one another and to God, there is a background of “non-human creatures, sheep and lilies and birds … always represented as

Berry, “Christianity and the Survival of Creation,” 94. Wendell Berry, “God and Country,” in What Are People For, 98. 56 Berry, “Christianity and the Survival of Creation,” 115. 57 Berry, “God and Country,” 98. 58 Wendell Berry, “The Burden of the Gospels,” in The Way of Ignorance: And Other Essays (Washington, DC: Shoemaker and Hoard, 2005), 135.


49 worthy of, or as flourishing within, the love and the care of God.”59 This background, though often overlooked or boldly ignored, “more often than not is the world in the best sense of the word, the world as made, approved, loved, sustained, and finally to be redeemed by God.”60 Berry thus believes that Jesus’ commands are burdensome to us not because they are difficult to understand, but because of their demanding and inclusive nature. The stark reality any Christian must confront in their encounter with the gospels, Berry suggests, is “the proposition that love, forgiveness, and peaceableness are the only neighborly relationships that are acceptable to God.”61 Equally challenging, he continues, is “the proposition that we are not permitted to choose our neighbors ahead of time or to limit neighborhood.”62 These are challenges that we can never expect Caesar to meet, but rather are instantiated in our everyday life, for the Gospels are overwhelmingly concerned with the conduct of human life, of life in the human commonwealth. In the Sermon on the Mount and in other places Jesus is asking his followers to see that the way to more abundant life is the way of love. We are to love one another, and this love is to be more comprehensive than our love for our family and friends and tribe and nation. We are to love our neighbors though they may be strangers to us. We are to love our enemies. And this is to be a practical love; it is to be practiced, here and now.63 Berry’s commitment to pacifism, then, is informed less by sophrosyne than it is by Christian theology. Central to agrarian pacifism is the belief that human beings are a part, however small, of God’s good creation. As Sean Michael Lucas points out, Berry believes that “humankind’s fallibility should chasten its native sin, hubris, and inculcate

59 60

Berry, “The Burden of the Gospels,” 135. Ibid. 61 Ibid. 130-131. 62 Ibid., 131. 63 Ibid., 134.

50 the opposite virtues, humility and faith.”64 Agrarian epistemology, as summarized in the previous chapter, insists that we must never believe that, finally, we can control history, politics, creation, or other human beings. For it is “in hubris [that] human beings believe that they can control the Kingdom of God by exercising total control over the creation; they do not sense that small economies are in fact dependent upon God’s economy.”65 Yet it is still important to affirm, with humility, that the “burden of the gospels” is one that requires us to challenge any unjust status quo, acting as “an affront to the established powers of our time.” For inasmuch as we fail to take Jesus’ teachings about love of neighbor seriously—or fail to see the burden of that love—we become “complicit in the murder of creation.”66 The Christian tradition, Berry argues, demands our lovingkindness towards enemies, neighbors, and creation alike.

The Violence of Dualism and the Unity of Resurrection A recurring theme of Wendell Berry’s agrarian pacifism is its insistence that Christianity’s complicity in the murder of creation—its failure to take up the burden of the gospels—stems from a refusal to recognize the holiness of all life. “I was never satisfied by the Protestantism that I inherited,” Berry observes, “because of the dualism of soul and body, heaven and Earth, Creator and creation—a dualism so fierce at times that it counted hatred of this life and this world as a virtue.”67 On this point, as elsewhere, Berry proves radically orthodox. “The dualism against which Berry has consistently

Sean Michael Lucas, “God and Country: Wendell Berry’s Theological Vision,” Christian Scholar’s Review 32, no. 1 (Fall 2002): 75-76. 65 Ibid., 76. 66 Berry, “The Burden of the Gospels,” 136-137. 67 Wendell Berry, “How Can a Family ‘Live at the Center of Its Own Attention’? An Interview with Wendell Berry,” in Conversations with Wendell Berry, ed. Morris Allen Grubbs (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2007), 192.


51 spoken,” Jason Peters suggests, “we must call by its rightful name: heresy.”68 This Manichaean or Gnostic heresy is alive and well in Christianity—it has in many ways intensified over the course of modernity—and it has much to do with the tradition’s willingness to bless the destruction of an earth, of lives, it did not create. Peters makes the theological point succinctly: It is a heresy characterized principally by suspicion of, if not hatred for, the material world, including our own flesh; it assigns importance only to that which is immaterial—mind, soul, spirit—and holds that salvation comes by knowledge rather than by works or faith…. It is incompatible with the central tenets of Christianity: among them a high doctrine of creation, the incarnation and therefore the sacraments, and the resurrection.69 Berry believes that this heretical “cleavage“ or “radical discontinuity” between body and soul “is the most destructive disease that afflicts us.”70 It is a disease that encourages us to “hate and abuse the body and its earthly life,” thus reinforcing a sort of economic and political abuse of creation.71 It is a disease, finally, that makes us forget the intimate relationship of Creator and creation, and so too that because we are both bodies and souls, “we cannot deny the spiritual importance of our economic life.”72 For it is “in the pursuit of so-called material possessions,” Berry argues, that we can lose our understanding of ourselves as ‘living souls’—that is, as creatures of God, members of the holy communion of Creation. We can lose the possibility of the atonement of that membership. For we are free, if we choose, to make a duality of our one living soul by disowning the breath of God that is our fundamental bond with one another and with other creatures.73 Berry believes that the great irony of our time is that the material, our own and other’s bodies, “the world, which God looked at and found entirely good, we find none
Jason Peters, “Wendell Berry’s Vindication of the Flesh,” Christianity and Literature 56, no. 2 (Winter 2007): 319. 69 Ibid. 70 Berry, “Christianity and the Survival of Creation,” 105. 71 Ibid. 72 Ibid., 108. 73 Ibid., 107.

52 too good to pollute entirely and destroy piecemeal.”74 Human creatures tend to “appreciate or tolerate only the ‘spiritual’ (or mental) part of Creation and [are] full of semiconscious hatred of the ‘physical’ or ‘natural’ part, which it is ready and willing to destroy for ‘salvation,’ for profit, for ‘victory,’ or for fun.”75 The elevation of only the intellectual or spiritual, in other words, underwrites tremendous violence against the material. It separates us from each other, and ultimately, from God. “By dividing body and soul,” Berry writes, we divide both from all else. We thus condemn ourselves to a loneliness for which the only compensation is violence—against other creatures, against the earth, against ourselves. For no matter the distinctions we draw between body and soul, body and earth, ourselves and others—the connections, the dependencies, the identities remain. And so we fail to contain or control our violence. It gets loose. Though there are categories of violence, or so we think, there are not categories of victims. Violence against one is ultimately violence against all. The willingness to abuse other bodies is the willingness to abuse one’s own. To damage the earth is to damage your children. To despise the ground is to despise its fruit; to despise its fruit is to despise its eaters. The wholeness of health is broken by despite.76 Berry finds in the Christian account of creation, however, a systematic antidualism. Although often ignored, it addresses the normative dualism that contemporary feminist thinkers have continually rallied against: creator and creature, spirit and matter, religion and economy, worship and work, and most destructively, body and soul.77 Genesis 2:7, which gives the account of Adam’s creation, says that “the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life: and man became a living soul.” Human beings are not simply “bodies plus souls,” Berry argues.

Berry, “Christianity and the Survival of Creation,” 103. Ibid., 107. 76 Wendell Berry, “The Body and the Earth,” in The Unsettling of America: Culture and Agriculture, 3d ed. (San Francisco: Sierra Club Books, 1996), 106. 77 Berry, “Christianity and the Survival of Creation,” 105-108.


53 “Humanity is thus presented to us, in Adam, not as a creature of two discrete parts temporarily glued together but as a single mystery.”78 This “affirmation that we are clay, dust of the earth,” theologian Beth Felker Jones contends, “is central to what it means to be embodied.”79 Humanity is part of God’s good creation, shaped and molded—body and soul—into a single mystery. Yet precisely inasmuch as we ignore this fact and lose our understanding of ourselves as ‘living souls,’ we allow market economies and the nation-state—and not Christianity—to inform our understanding of what bodies are really for. In a context such as this, “a context where we can no longer assume that what is apparent to us about my body, about your body, is a normative sign of God’s creative intention,” Jones suggests, “creation has to be approached and interpreted through redemption.”80 It is through Christ’s body, the resurrected body, that we understand what is normative for our own. “Christology must inform our theologies of the body,” Jones writes. “Because the Word was made flesh, our thinking about our own flesh must be irrevocably altered.”81 Like Berry, Jones argues that most Christian thinkers who have “thought theologically about what it means to be human” have argued that humans “are composites of body and soul.”82 Jones, echoing Berry, suggests that we must continue to understand our bodies as psychosomatic unities—that is, “the human creature is one thing,” body and soul. Quoting Karl Barth, she sums up the connection between Christ’s body and our own quite neatly:

Berry, “Christianity and the Survival of Creation,” 106. Emphasis added. Beth Felker Jones, Marks of His Wounds: Gender Politics and Bodily Resurrection (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007), 88. 80 Ibid., 14. 81 Ibid., 14. 82 Ibid., 70.


54 In Jesus, all that belongs to the body and all that belongs to the soul are united: “What is there in him which is only inner and not outer, sensuous and not rational? What does soul or body mean for Him to the extent that either implies an importance or function of its own, different from and opposed to the other?” Jesus is one subject in what he does for humanity. The human being, body and soul united, is one subject in her response to Christ.83 Like in the communicatio idiomatum, so too for us body and soul “are so united that whatever we claim of one may be claimed of the other.”84 Jesus’ divinity and humanity was not just an association, it was real unity. Our body and soul must be understood, Jones and Berry both argue, in much the same way. The resurrection body, by incarnating an orderedness toward God, overcomes the disorder of death.85 “The resurrection body overcomes the disorder of sin. It overcomes the disorder of all those gendered, raced, and classed forms of violence against bodies,” so prevalent in modern culture.86 Berry’s pacifism, his rejection of the notion that the ultimate sacrifice is dying sacrificially for some abstract other—the modern day nationstate—is deeply informed by God’s affirmation of the flesh made real in Jesus’ resurrection body. It is in war, Berry argues, that we see most clearly the modern rejection of community and place—of materiality—and so too the disorder of sin that accompanied the Fall. It is in war that we lose the redemptive power, the atonement, of our membership in the holy communion of creation. When humans refuse to see the materially particular, to imagine the far-away villages destroyed by war, then it becomes
Jones, Marks of His Wounds, 79. Ibid., 82. 85 “Resurrection body” as used here alludes to the ways in which Jesus’ body helps us understand what our own are really for. Jones suggests that, “as we become holy, body and soul, we learn the right shape for embodiment from Jesus Christ.” Moreover, “we cannot fully understand our bodies outside of grace; our bodies meet their true nature only as they are taken up into grace, as they are transformed in relationship to the risen Christ whose body still bears the wounds of crucifixion. The resurrected body, available to us in Jesus Christ, begins even now to make our bodies holy.” See Jones, Marks of His Wounds, 87-114. 86 Jones, Marks of His Wounds, 69.
84 83

55 much easier to kill and destroy God’s creation. This abstraction from place, Berry’s fictional Hannah Coulter reflects, is exactly what happens in war: Want of imagination makes things real enough to be destroyed. By imagination I mean knowledge and love. I mean compassion. People of power kill children, the old send the young to die, because they have no imagination. They have power. Can you have power and imagination at the same time? Can you kill people you don’t know and have compassion for them at the same time?87 Theologian John Milbank keenly understands Berry’s point: “Such a logic [of self-sacrifice] elevates as supreme the abstract notion of the perpetually abiding nationstate, outlasting its citizens and being more valued than the lives of individual humans.”88 Because every generation is bound to sacrifice themselves in the name of the nation-state, “in no generation will the people benefit from the sacrifices of those before.”89 Milbank argues, and Berry would agree, that the nation-state’s conception of sacrifice is not meaningful because it is sacrifice without bodily return. It is sacrifice abstracted from particular communities and people. In war death is final, but for Christians death—the refusal to kill in order to save oneself—is not; Jesus’ resurrection is the final word. For the nation-state there is no doctrine of the resurrection, which “means that towards all those we have harmed and wounded and then lost without reconciliation, we can only rehearse an empty gesture of private, nominal apology.”90 As Berry demonstrates, in the very particular communities to which human beings belong, any such notion of sacrifice is vacant. Abstracted sacrifice is tragedy. “In his dying,” Berry’s Hannah Coulter poignantly asks, “was he willing to die, or glad to sacrifice his life? Is

87 88

Berry, Hannah Coulter, 168. John Milbank, “The Ethics of Self Sacrifice,” First Things 91 (March 1999): 37. 89 Ibid. 90 Ibid., 38.

56 the life and freedom of the living a satisfactory payment to the dead in war for their dying?”91

Resurrection Ethics Clearly Jesus’ resurrection has deep implications for our bodily lives. “God’s shaping of the people reworks the body of death into something that visibly displays God’s holiness,” Jones suggests. “The holy bodies of the saints, the holy body of the Church, becomes the material antithesis of the violence and brokenness that mark us under sin.”92 Wendell Berry believes that when we become this material antithesis of violence and brokenness, we “practice resurrection.”93 When we practice resurrection, we are forced to understand it as something more than some far-off event in which a person is mysteriously reborn. Rather, resurrection becomes the everyday care for the communities and neighborhoods in which we live—the visible display of God’s holiness. When we practice resurrection, we make clear that the story of Jesus’ life and resurrection must impact the way we live our own. As Norman Wirzba suggests, “when we practice resurrection what we do is put our lives in sympathetic and practical alignment with the action of God as revealed in the flesh of Jesus Christ, with the result that our living, rather than bringing injury to creation’s members, enlivens and builds up the neighborhoods of which we are a part.”94

Berry, Hannah Coulter, 56. Jones, Marks of His Wounds, 88. 93 Wendell Berry, “Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front,” in The Selected Poems of Wendell Berry (Berkeley: Counterpoint, 1998), 87-88. 94 Norman Wirzba, “Agrarianism after Modernity: An Opening for Grace,” in After Modernity? Secularity, Globalization, and the Re-enchantment of the World, ed. James K.A. Smith (Waco: Baylor University Press, 2008), 257.


57 Saint Athanasius makes a strikingly similar point. The resurrection, he suggests, has direct and profound bearing on our ethics—on our own bodies—for it is in the lives of Christians that one encounters the reality of death’s destruction. A very strong proof of this destruction of death and its conquest by the cross is supplied by a present fact, namely this. All the disciples of Christ; they take the offensive against it and, instead of fearing it, by the sign of the cross and by faith in Christ trample on it as on something dead. Before the divine sojourn of the Saviour, even the holiest of men were afraid of death, and mourned the dead as those who perish. But now that the Saviour has raised His body, death is no longer terrible, but all those who believe in Christ tread it underfoot as nothing, and prefer to die rather than to deny their faith in Christ, knowing full well that when they die they do not perish, but live indeed, and become incorruptible through the resurrection.95 It is only “because death was already overcome in Christ” that Christians can die rather than deny their faith—they can “train their bodies for such witness without fear.”96 For while death is still a reality in this life, love triumphs over it. As Berry suggests, love must confront death, and accept it, and learn from it. Only in confronting death can earthly love learn its true extent, its immortality. Any definition of health that is not silly must include death. The world of love includes death, suffers it, and triumphs over it. The world of efficiency is defeated by death; at death, all its instruments and procedures stop. The world of love continues, and of this grief is the proof.97 Athanasius, Wendell Berry, and Beth Felker Jones all remind us that, “the holiness of the body, which is not yet fully revealed, must already break into the community that is the body of Christ.”98 Bodies must witness “to holiness, to right order, and to peace.”99 The martyr’s body, Jones reflects, “is offered not to twisted constructs of gender, race, class, or national pride, but in faithful witness to the one who breaks down

Athanasius, On the Incarnation (Crestwood: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2003), 57. Jones, Marks of His Wounds, 109. 97 Wendell Berry, “Health Is Membership,” in Another Turn of the Crank (Washington, DC: Counterpoint, 1995), 105. 98 Jones, Marks of His Wounds, 89. Emphasis original. 99 Ibid., 109.


58 such constructs and exposes them for what they are.”100 Jones recounts a story from the Martyr’s Mirror to demonstrate the ethical import of the doctrine of bodily resurrection: [The Martyr’s Mirror] describes the death of Eulalia who is said to have studied the ‘gashes on her body’ and then cried out, ‘Behold, Lord Jesus Christ! Thy name is being written on my body; what great delight it affords me to read these letters, because they are signs of Thy victory! Behold, my purple blood confesses Thy holy name.’ In the martyrdom of Blandina, those who watched ‘saw with their outward eyes in the person of their sister, the One who was crucified for them.’101 And in Berry’s discussion of how Jesus’ resurrection body must reshape our own, he too holds up an Anabaptist martyr as moral exemplar: In 1569, in Holland, a Mennonite named Dirk Willems, under threat of capital sentence as a heretic, was fleeing from arrest, pursued by a ‘thief catcher.’ As they ran across a frozen body of water, the thief-catcher broke through the ice. Without help, he would have drowned. What did Dirk Willems do then? Was the thief-catcher an enemy merely to be hated, or was he a neighbor to be loved as one loves oneself. Was he an enemy whom one must love in order to be a child of God? Was he ‘one of the least of these my brethren’? What Dirk Willems did was turn back, put out his hands to his pursuer, and save his life. The thief-catcher, who then of course wanted to let his rescuer go, was forced to arrest him. Dirk Willems was brought to trail, sentenced, and burned to death by a ‘lingering fire.’102 It is only through Jesus’ resurrected body, the stories of Eulalia, Blandina, and Willems remind us, that we understand what our own bodies are really for. No longer enslaved to the narratives of violence, greed, and hate, martyrs cease to fear death. Rather, they “tread it underfoot as nothing,” knowing that it is the martyred body that points to God’s destruction of death and affirmation of the resurrected body. Again, both Wendell Berry and John Milbank insist that it is the resurrection, finally, that allows the martyrdom of Eulalia, Blandina, and Willems to have meaning. Self-sacrifice apart from resurrection—sacrifice for the state, the liberal order, the
100 101

Jones, Marks of His Wounds, 109. Ibid. 102 Berry, “The Burden of the Gospels,” 129.

59 markets—is so abstract that it ensures only that “the ethical good never arrives.”103 When the secular order calls for us to sacrifice our lives, Milbank suggests, it is a hollow request. Though many “pretend that continuous self-obliteration is the demand of the moral law … in reality it is only the demand of the liberal state, which cannot put a brake upon sacrifice because it is unable to promote any positive goals or values that would define true humanity.”104 As Athanasius reminds us, the incarnation and resurrection demonstrate God’s reconciling work in the world. “Without resurrection,” Milbank argues, “there can never be any final reconciliation.”105 And likewise, “in the absence of reconciliation, or hope of that, neither can there be any morality.”106 The ethical, then, can only be approached through the person and work of Jesus Christ, through the guarantee of the resurrection. “Only the hope for an infinite community of all who have ever lived,” Milbank concludes, “frees us from this dilemma, again to do good.”107 A passage from Berry’s novel, Jayber Crow, makes clear the import of the Jesus Christ of life and of death, of Nicea and Chalcedon, of the bodily resurrection. Jayber, who lives in Port William, is the town barber, grave-digger, and church janitor. He has a keen understanding of the body, I think, because he takes such care in tending to both the living and the dead. On one particular afternoon he is cleaning the church, and decides to take a nap in one of the back pews. It is in the recounting of his dream that we catch a glimpse of the hope made clear by Jones and Milbank alike—the hope of reconciliation

103 104

Milbank, “The Ethics of Self-Sacrifice,” 37. Ibid. 105 Ibid., 38. 106 Ibid. 107 Ibid.

60 amidst embodied difference, of holy bodies, of bodily triumph over death, of an infinite community of all who have ever lived. Waking or sleeping (I couldn’t tell which), I saw all the people gathered there who had ever been there. I saw them as I had seen them from the back pew, where I sat with Uncle Othy (who would not come any farther) while Aunt Cordie sang in the choir, and I saw them as I had seen them (from the back pew) on the Sunday before. I saw them in all the times past and to come, all somehow in their own time and in all time and in no time: the cheerfully working and singing women, the men quiet or reluctant or shy, the weary, the troubled in spirit, the sick, the lame, the desperate, the dying, the little children tucked into the pews beside their elders, the young married couples full of visions, the old men with their dreams, the parents proud of their children, the grandparents with tears in their eyes, the pairs of young lovers attentive only to each other on the edge of the world, the grieving widows and widowers, the mothers and fathers of children newly dead, the proud, the humble, the attentive, the distracted—I saw them all. I saw the creases crisscrossed on the backs of the men’s necks, their workthickened hands, the Sunday dresses faded with washing. They were just there. They said nothing, and I said nothing. I seemed to love them all with a love that was mine merely because it included me. When I came to myself again, my face was wet with tears.108 Jayber Crow’s tears are no longer the tears of bodies crying out for redemption, but rather tears of love and grief.109 “In the end,” Joel Shuman and Brian Volck note, “for those who believe in the resurrection and the communion of the saints, they turn out to be the same thing.”110 Though it may be in grief that we finally die, it is not—as Eulalia, Blandina, and Willems remind us—in fear, for Jesus Christ has “tread [death] underfoot as nothing.” It is in love, finally, that we are resurrected, as psychosomatic unities, into the infinite reciprocity of the trinity. For “to offer oneself, if necessary, unto sacrificial death,” theologian John Milbank wonderfully reminds us, “is already to receive back one’s body from beyond the grave. To give, to be good, is already to be resurrected.”111

Wendell Berry, Jayber Crow, 165. This is gleaned from Joel Shuman and Brian Volck, Reclaiming the Body: Christians and the Faithful Use of Modern Medicine (Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2006), 134. 110 Ibid. 111 Milbank, “The Ethics of Self-Sacrifice,” 38.


61 Practice Resurrection According to Wendell Berry’s agrarian pacifism, then, the true burden of the gospels is the call to “practice resurrection.” Though martyrs teach us a great deal about practicing resurrection, I still think it important to note that they offer, finally, heroic examples. Anabaptist martyrs lived in what might be called “heroic time”—the Reformation was fresh in their minds, they held clear convictions, and they were prepared to become martyrs for their faith in a time of crisis. The challenges Christians face today, however, are more mundane and subtle—though no less important—than the challenge faced by Willems and other martyrs. We live in “ordinary time,” not “heroic time,” and we confront, day in and day out, more or less ordinary problems.112 The questions we face are less like “Should I extend my hand to the enemy who is drowning?” and more like: How am I going to afford my house if I lose my job?; Should I invest my money in a destructive economy?; How do I help my ailing neighbor?; How can I eat and live and interact with my fellow creatures responsibly? Surely these are difficult questions all, but I think it is here that agrarian pacifism—the call to practice resurrection—proves most deeply instructive. “Love is never abstract,” Berry writes. “It does not adhere to the universe or the planet or the nation or the institution or the profession, but to the singular sparrows of the street, to the lilies of the field, ‘the least of these my brethren.’”113 Day in and day out in the materiality of our existence, then, resurrection has less to do with future rebirth than it does with “the mundane generosity we show and have for each other when we share a

112 113

I am indebted to John Rempel for pointing out this distinction between “heroic” and “ordinary” time. Berry, “Word and Flesh,” 200.

62 meal, comfort the sick, perform good work, and lend a helping hand.”114 Berry makes clear that “love is not, by its own desire, heroic.” Rather, “it is heroic only when compelled to be. It exists by its willingness to be anonymous, humble, and unrewarded.”115 Like Jesus’ own love, it dwells among us in our “partiality, imperfection, suffering, and mortality,” and so too “it longs for incarnation.”116 When love is incarnated, when Christians practice resurrection, “we see that famously estranged pair, matter and spirit, melt and flow together.”117 When the Samaritan binds the wounds of the Jew lying along the roadside, his assistance is at once earthly and heavenly. It is a reaffirmation of the creation narrative, the insistence “that all humans, friends and enemies alike, have the same dignity, deserve the same respect, and are worthy of the same compassion because they are, all alike, made in God’s image.”118 The Samaritan “reaches out in love to help his enemy, breaking all the customary boundaries, because he has clearly seen in his enemy not only a neighbor, not only a fellow human or a fellow creature, but a fellow sharer in the life of God.”119 Implicit in the call to expansive neighborhood, Berry suggests, are new sorts of political and economic communities. They are communities that incarnate God’s love in everyday, mundane, and particular lives. They are communities, essentially, that constantly echo Paul’s words to the Corinthians: “But God has so arranged the body, giving the greater honor to the inferior member, that there may be no dissension within the body, but the members may have the same care for one another. If one member of the

114 115

Wirzba, “Agrarianism after Modernity,” 257. Berry, “Word and Flesh,” 200. 116 Ibid. 117 Berry, “The Burden of the Gospels,” 134. 118 Ibid., 135. 119 Ibid., 136.

63 Body of Christ suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it.”120 When we practice resurrection, when we care for the weak among us, we too join in the perfection of Christ’s resurrected Body. Our bodies, the gospels suggest again and again, are meant to witness to Jesus, the One who saves them from death. Our bodies now, in other words, should point toward our resurrection bodies to come. Jesus’ resurrection reminds us that our bodies are not for brokenness and death, but for life. When we recognize, finally, that Christ’s body tells us what our own are really for, we practice resurrection. And it is then, amidst a world littered with war-torn bodies, that our lives point toward redemption, toward a time in which our bodies will be only for praise, “praise of the one who is victor over death, who will shape us into witnesses to beauty, to goodness, to holiness, and to peace.”121

120 121

1 Cor. 12.24-26 NRSV (New Revised Standard Version). Jones, Mark of His Wounds, 114.



“If we are to hope to correct our abuses of each other and of other races and of our land, and if our effort to correct these abuses is to be more than a political fad that will in the long run be only another form of abuse,” Wendell Berry writes, “then we are going to have to go far beyond public protest and political action.”1 If we reject an epistemology that makes it reasonable, even necessary, to destroy each other and the earth, in other words, then we must also question the common political formulations that flow from such thinking. Inherent in Berry’s commitment to a chastened rationality and a holistic agrarian pacifism, then, is a fundamental reformulation of what it means to be political in a postmodern world. Unfortunately, few Christians today—Anabaptist or otherwise—have offered alternatives to the dominant conceptions of American political life. Most believe, implicitly and in practice, “that there is a vast qualitative difference between the realm we call ‘politics’ and the one we call ‘church.’”2 They remain committed to what theologian Daniel Bell calls “politics as statecraft”—a thoroughly modern belief “that the realm where individuals come together in a polity, a politics, is rightly overseen by and finds its highest expression in the state.”3 Yet as Wendell Berry’s political vision will demonstrate, this commitment to politics as statecraft inevitably leads to a truncated

Wendell Berry, “Think Little,” in A Continuous Harmony: Essays Cultural and Agricultural (Washington, DC: Shoemaker and Hoard, 1972), 76. 2 John Howard Yoder, Body Politics: Five Practices of the Christian Community Before the Watching World (Scottdale: Herald Press, 1992), vi. 3 Daniel M. Bell, Jr. “‘Men of Stone and Children of Struggle’: Latin American Liberationists at the End of History,” Modern Theology 14, no. 1 (January 1998): 115.


65 version of Christianity, as it fails to appreciate or embrace the radically political nature of the church’s witness. In short, it disembodies theology by relegating the church to only the internal or spiritual realm of life, and thus allows the state unfettered control of our bodily existence. Before exploring Berry’s agrarian alternative to politics as statecraft, however, it is important to make clear just why his vision is relevant to Christians generally and Anabaptists in particular. By juxtaposing William Cavanaugh’s telling of the “Church story” and “state story”—his narrative of the rise of the nation-state—with early Anabaptist conceptions of the political order, I hope to critique contemporary Mennonites who fail to appreciate the radical politics of Christ’s Body. In short, I attempt to offer an agrarian Anabaptist narrative that illustrates the ways in which “both [Christianity and the modern state] are similarly engaged with foundational stories of human cooperation and division.”4 I also hope to make explicit the fact that Anabaptist ecclesiology—which includes public practices such as economic sharing and the Lord’s Supper—and secular statecraft share the same final goal: “salvation of human kind from the divisions which plague us,” namely by “the enactment of a social body.”5 This discussion of Anabaptist history and theology will, I believe, help Mennonites and other Christians appreciate the provocative and instructive nature of Wendell Berry’s political vision. While the next chapter will consider economic issues directly, it is important to recognize, as Berry does, the intimate connection of our political and economic lives. In order to instantiate a more just economic community, one must first foster a “theopolitical imagination” and embodied political practice that can sustain Christian
William T. Cavanaugh, “The City: Beyond Secular Parodies,” in Radical Orthodoxy: A New Theology, ed. John Milbank, Catherine Pickstock, and Graham Ward (London: Routledge, 1999), 182. 5 Ibid.

66 alternatives to the dominant paradigm. Thus it is important to read what follows in the next chapters as two notes from the same score—notes that hopefully, when read together, begin to offer a glimpse, however brief, of Wendell Berry’s harmonious political and economic theology.

Anabaptists and the State “Anabaptist political life,” Michael Driedger suggests, has long been “complex, disputed and dynamic.”6 From the revolutionaries at Münster to the authors of the Schleitheim Confession, Anabaptists throughout history have approached the issue of church and state in a variety of ways.7 Arnold Snyder suggests that, “historically speaking, five different kinds of political arrangements vis-à-vis Anabaptism can be described.”8 First is the relatively early and rare example of Anabaptism as established religion. Balthasar Hubmaier made Anabaptism the official religion of Waldshut and Nicholsburg Moravia, though neither experiment would last long. Second, there is the infamous uprising, in 1534-1535, in the city of Münster. It was here that a group of Melchiorite Anabaptists, sure of the fast-approaching apocalypse, “rejected … temporal and spiritual authorities to establish their own social, political, and religious rule.”9 Third, there was what Snyder calls the “zero tolerance” approach to Anabaptism—“Anabaptists were actively hunted down and rooted out by all available means.”10 Fourth, and especially prevalent in certain German territories, was the proclamation of “an official
Michael Driedger, “Anabaptists and the Early Modern State: A Long-Term View,” in A Companion to Anabaptism and Spiritualism, 1521-1700, ed. John D. Roth and James M. Stayer (Leiden: Brill, 2007), 507. 7 To clarify matters, a number of historians have offered typologies on this issue. See, for example, James M. Stayer, Anabaptists and the Sword (Lawrence: Coronado Press, 1976), 329-337. 8 C. Arnold Snyder, Anabaptist History and Theology: An Introduction (Kitchener: Pandora Press, 1995), 181-182. 9 Sigrun Haude, In the Shadow of “Savage Wolves”: Anabaptist Münster and the German Reformation in the 1530s (Boston: Brill, 2000), 10. 10 Snyder, Anabaptist History and Theology, 182.

67 policy of no tolerance,” but the implementation of “an unofficial policy of not looking for trouble.”11 Finally, there was the rare instance, namely in Moravia, where the state would “tolerate Anabaptist settlers openly, although no thought was given to adopting Anabaptism as the ‘official’ territorial religion.”12 Even considering the varied relationship between church and state in early Anabaptism, however, one fact is clear: “Anabaptism in all its forms, even [Balthasar] Hubmaier’s politically moderate brand, was too threatening to the status quo.”13 As Driedger again observes, “the voluntarism of adult baptism seemed to make participation in the Christian polity a choice rather than a responsibility.”14 This freedom to choose seemingly undermined “peace and unity in the Empire,” making political authorities all the more willing to “destroy [Anabaptists] with fire, sword, or any other means appropriate.”15 Early Anabaptism, then, was deeply marked by the oppression it faced from the dominant religious and political forces of the sixteenth century. Though Anabaptists were not, for the most part, anarchic revolutionaries, they did deviate from the societal and political norms. This deviance resulted in “a spiral of mutual rejection,” in which government oppression actually catalyzed Anabaptist resistance.16 The story of Anabaptism and the state after 1535 is one of a move from mutual rejection to mutual accommodation.17 As Anabaptists began to worry more about group maintenance and the struggles of ordinary life, they also lost “some of the radical resolve

11 12

Snyder, Anabaptist History and Theology, 182. Ibid. 13 Driedger, “Anabaptists and the Early Modern State,” 514. 14 Ibid., 515. 15 Ibid., 516. 16 Ibid., 520. 17 Ibid., 520ff.

68 of the first years of reforming movements.”18 Perhaps the most important impulse behind this shift, however, was the fact that “more and more rulers were searching for new ways to deal with the reality of confessional pluralism,” and so less apt to actively oppress dissenting religious groups.19 One thus sees a close correlation between the toleration or cultural assimilation of Mennonites and the loss of a radical political orientation. Certainly the move from rejection to accommodation is complex, varying from region to region and group to group. Yet it is still important to note, amidst this complex web, the fact that tolerance and assimilation, especially in both the Netherlands and North Germany, entailed a certain domestication of religion by the state, and so too a “political conformity typical of institutionalizing religious groups throughout most of the early modern period.”20 While there are a number of important figures that emerge from the political milieu of early Anabaptism, it is especially helpful to explore those individuals in the “center” of the tradition. It is the people in the center, it seems, who felt most acutely the tension between church and state. Often, then, it was these same people who offered novel approaches to mediating such a tension. “In between the extremes of just war and revolution, on the one hand, and Hutterian communalism, on the other,” John Rempel observes, “were Menno Simons and Pilgram Marpeck.”21 Marpeck is especially interesting to modern readers, as he was both a civil servant and a pacifist Anabaptist. Again, Rempel is helpful on this point:

Driedger, “Anabaptists and the Early Modern State,” 520. Ibid., 521. 20 Ibid., 538. 21 John D. Rempel, “Ambiguous Legacy: The Peace Teaching, Speaking Truth to Power, and Mennonite Assimilation Through the Centuries,” in At Peace and Unafraid: Public Order, Security, and the Wisdom of the Cross, ed. Duane K. Friesen and Gerald W. Schlabach (Scottdale: Herald Press, 2005), 355.


69 [Marpeck’s] life and thought make the case that Christians ought to take positions of social responsibility in civil society for the sake of the gospel, except where institutions demand absolute loyalty, such as in the command to use violence. At the same time, Marpeck preserved the tension between church and world found in separatist and prophetic stances in Anabaptism.22 In short, despite his belief that faithful Anabaptists could participate in broader societal structures, Marpeck and his circle maintained the tension that would later be lost as Anabaptists experienced greater cultural acceptance. While Marpeck recognizes a place for government authority, he at the same time “refuses to grant it any kind of metaphysical autonomy and evaluates it in the light of the function that it is to perform in history.”23 By recognizing the inherent limits of the state, Marpeck “resisted the temptation to merely internalize Christianity,” recognizing that “the state is threatened not so much by individual dissenters as by dissenting communities and

countercultures.”24 Unfortunately, as Anabaptists realized greater societal toleration and power, they largely abandoned Marpeck’s understanding of the relationship between church and state. “The tension of being in-but-not-of the world proved too hard to sustain,” and thus, “in the end, it was the separatists and the realists who were to shape Mennonite history.”25

Rethinking Church and State It seems that what nearly all the Anabaptist understandings of church and state shared—from Münsterites to Hutterites to Marpeck—was a sense that, to one degree or another, a tension existed between loyalty to Jesus and allegiance to the secular political

Rempel, “Ambiguous Legacy,” 356. William Klassen, “The Limits of Political Authority as Seen by Pilgram Marpeck,” Mennonite Quarterly Review 56, no. 4 (October 1982): 362. 24 Ibid. 25 Rempel, “Ambiguous Legacy,” 357.


70 order. William Cavanaugh, a contemporary Roman Catholic theologian, carefully narrates this tension, making clear the ways in which the “Christian story” and the “state story” interact and collide. According to his account, the creation story in Genesis is one of essential unity: “Not individuals but the human race as a whole is created and redeemed.”26 Yet because of Adam’s disobedience, because of the Fall, the unity of creation is splintered. “The effect of sin,” Cavanaugh suggests, “is the very creation of individuals as such, that is, the creation of an ontological distinction between individual and group.”27 Redemption or salvation, then, comes about through the incarnation, the “restoring of unity through participation in Christ’s Body.”28 Cavanaugh’s interpretation of redemption through the “Body of Christ” echoes Jones’s deeply instructive reading recounted in the last chapter, and is thus worth quoting at some length: In the Body of Christ, as Paul explains it to the Corinthians (I Corinthians 12:431), the many are joined into the one, but the body continues to consist of many members, each of which is different and not simply interchangeable. Indeed, there is no merely formal equality in the Body of Christ; there are stronger and weaker members, but the inferior members are according greater honor (12:22-25). Furthermore, the members of the Body are not simply members individually of Christ the Head, but cohere to each other as in a natural body. The members are not ‘separate but equal,’ but rather participate in each other, such that ‘If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it’ (12:26).29 Unlike the Christian story, the state story—as told by Rousseau, Hobbes, Locke, and others—maintains that human government is established “not on the basis of a primal unity, but from an assumption of the essential individuality of the human race.”30 Individuals come together not in the Body of Christ, but rather “on the basis of the social

26 27

Cavanaugh, “The City,” 183. Ibid., 184. 28 Ibid. 29 Ibid. 30 Ibid., 186.

71 contract, each individual entering society to protect person and property.”31 In place of Christ’s Body is Hobbes’ Leviathan, “the new Adam, now of human creation, which saves us from each other.”32 As previously mentioned, the emphasis on salvation is central to both the Christian and state story, as each “account agrees that salvation is essentially a matter of making peace among competing individuals.”33 It is soteriology, finally, that brings the modern state and Church into sharp tension. If the primary concern of the Church is saving humanity from the disunity of the Fall, the worry of the modern state is the disruptive character of competing religious beliefs. Hobbes, Locke, and Rousseau all agreed “that the state body would have to solve the question of the Body of Christ before there could be true peace.”34 Because Christianity “pretends to be a body which transcends state boundaries,” it must be domesticated, lest it disrupt the social contract.35 For the soteriology of the state to take the day, “any association which interferes with the direct relationship between sovereign and individual becomes suspect.”36 As Cavanaugh observes, the liberal “principle of tolerance for all religion, provided it be a private affair, eliminates the Church body as a rival to the state body by redefining religion as a purely internal matter, an affair of the soul and not of the body.”37 Certainly the Church, along with many other smaller communal attachments, must then be exiled to this realm of the internal. Despite the claims of the state, the unity and peace that it offers, Cavanaugh suggests, cannot save us. First, the state can never truly reconcile individual and group,
31 32

Cavanaugh, “The City,” 187. Emphasis original. Ibid., 188. 33 Ibid., 187. 34 Ibid., 188. 35 Ibid., 189. 36 Ibid., 191. 37 Ibid., 190.

72 as “the recognition of our participation in one another through our creation in the image of God is replaced by the recognition of the other as the bearer of individual rights, which may or may not be given by God, but which serve only to separate what is mine from what is thine.”38 True unity would threaten the social contract. Second, because humans share no common ends, “the best the state can do is to keep these individuals from interfering with each other’s rights.”39 Relating to one another only by contract, “local communities of formation and decision-making are necessarily subsumed … under the universal state.”40 Finally, the state promises unity and peace, yet brings about great violence. As Cavanaugh suggests, it is state soteriology that “has made it perfectly reasonable to drop cluster bombs on ‘foreign’ villages, and perfectly unreasonable to dispute ‘religious’ matters in public.”41 By abstracting individuals from communal attachments, violence becomes a more reasonable option. “In the absence of shared ends,” Cavanaugh concludes, “individuals relate to each other by means of contract, which assumes a guarantee by force.”42

Anabaptists and Alternative Politics Keeping William Cavanaugh’s story of Church and state in mind, it becomes clear that, “simply the existence of Anabaptists had a political dimension in the early

Cavanaugh, “The City,” 192-193. Historian and international relations theorist Andrew Bacevich makes essentially the same point regarding the founding of the United States, though I believe he underestimates the extent to which the state domesticates religion, and thus does try to offer an alternative soteriology, a secular effort to “save mankind”: “The hardheaded lawyers, merchants, farmers, and slaveholding plantation owners gathered in Philadelphia that summer [of 1776] did not set out to create a church. They founded a republic. Their purpose was not to save mankind. It was to ensure that people like themselves enjoyed unencumbered access to the Jeffersonian trinity”—life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. See his The Limits of Power: The End of American Exceptionalism (New York: Metropolitan Books, 2008), 15-27. 39 Cavanaugh, “The City,” 193. 40 Ibid. 41 Ibid., 194. 42 Ibid.

73 modern era.”43 If one accepts the basic assumptions of politics as statecraft, of course, the Anabaptist faith was not actually political. “But,” Driedger helpfully counters, “if we understand politics to include those decisions and actions which contributed to or undermined public order, Anabaptist leaders as well as rank-and-file believers played important political roles in their societies.”44 Anabaptists did have a political presence, and it is important to note the striking parallels between their relationship to the state and Cavanaugh’s account of the ways in which the soteriology of the state spiritualizes, and thus disembodies, religion. As the state became more tolerant of a plurality of religious positions, John Rempel observes, the Anabaptists became “a spiritual community of a different order than the civil or political community and not in contention with it.”45 In short, with increased freedom of religion and prosperity at the hand of the state, Mennonites “began to believe that pluralist, republican, and capitalist values were biblical.”46 Essentially, Anabaptists abandoned Marpeck’s model of holding church and state in tension. This abandonment is seen quite clearly in nineteenth century Anabaptism, especially as “the Napoleonic Code imposed upon Europe a secular legal order with universal rights and obligations.”47 For many Mennonites, these universal rights “became the door to citizenship and equality before the law”—like in Cavanaugh’s narrative, the church then “belonged to a private sphere whereas public life was regulated by institutions according to the norm of reason.”48 According to Rempel’s account, “this
43 44

Driedger, “Anabaptists and the Early Modern State,” 538. Ibid. 45 Rempel, “Ambiguous Legacy,” 358. It is worth noting that this took place first in the Netherlands and North Germany, and later in other regions. 46 Rempel, “Ambiguous Legacy,” 360. 47 Ibid., 359. 48 Ibid., 360.

74 confinement of the Sermon on the Mount to the private sphere,” led to a “spiritualized church” that “blessed worldly institutions as an autonomous realm, unaccountable to the gospel.”49 For sixteenth century Anabaptists, by contrast, the physical practices of the church—baptism, the Lord’s Supper, mutual sharing—“called for a seriousness of purpose on the part of … members that proved an ill fit with the territorial church model.”50 The practices of the faith could not be exiled to the private realm because the church was understood as a “historical, ‘public,’ institution and not only a spiritual one; it [was] an alternative community to that of society at large.”51 The early Anabaptists, then, were necessarily focused on local and particular communities of voluntary, faithful believers. William Klassen argues that Anabaptists, and especially Marpeck, understood that being a community necessarily meant being “a political entity.” The Anabaptists were not apolitical any more than we can be. One of the most political things a group does is to be apolitical. For they saw clearly that in the pattern of God’s history there was a movement from the politics of God who saved his people, to the politics of Jesus who announced the irruption of God’s rule in history, to the politics of God’s people, the church. For that people to remain faithful to the God of history the church has to be visible in history. It prays for the state and participates to the extent that such participation does not violate its deepest loyalty to Jesus their King.52 Clearly, one finds in Anabaptist history and theology a domestication or spiritualization of the gospel that is not dissimilar to the one William Cavanaugh observes. Yet this is not reason, I suspect, to abandon modern efforts to recover the tension between Church and state felt so acutely by early Anabaptists. While the development of such a model will take a great deal of time, effort, and commitment, I
49 50

Rempel, “Ambiguous Legacy,” 360. Snyder, Anabaptist History and Theology, 177-178. 51 Rempel, “Ambiguous Legacy,” 354. 52 Klassen, “The Limits of Political Authority,” 363-364.

75 believe the Christian agrarian vision of Wendell Berry offers a compelling way forward. Coupled with a chastened epistemology and holistic conception of pacifism, Berry’s agrarian politics—his alternative to politics as statecraft—prove both amenable and instructive to Anabaptist faith and practice.

Wendell Berry’s Political Vision Perhaps more than any other social critic writing today, Wendell Berry demonstrates the possibility of being in-but-not-of our contemporary world. Berry’s alternative politics offer a stark challenge to the regnant political order. According to political theorist Patrick Deneen, one encounters two important traditions in American political thought. The dominant, essentially the liberal state story outlined above, operates on the “base assumption that all human motivation arises from self-interest,” and further, “privileges the priority of individual choice and economic growth, regardless of consequences to both moral and economic ecology.”53 The alternative, espoused by Wendell Berry, looks not to Hobbes, Smith, or Locke for inspiration, but rather to classical political philosophy and the biblical tradition.54 It is an alternative that values

Patrick J. Deneen, “Wendell Berry and the Alternative Tradition in American Political Thought,” in Wendell Berry: Life and Work, ed. Jason Peters (Lexington: The University Press of Kentucky, 2007), 302303. It is also important to note the way in which this dominant tradition is integrally linked, especially in America, to the national security state. Andrew Bacevich suggests that Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama alike share an ideology of national security. “Theirs,” Bacevich notes, “is a usable past in which good eventually triumphs as long as America remains faithful to its mission.” Thus, it is not surprising that one must accept the terms of this dominant ideology to even enter the debate on matters of politics and citizenship. Again, Bacevich is helpful: “In this way, ideology serves as a device for sharply narrowing the range of policy debate. Dissent, where it exists, seldom penetrates the centers of power in Washington. Principled dissenters, whether paleoconservatives or libertarians, pacifists or neo-agrarians, remain on the political fringes, dismissed as either mean-spirited (that is, unable to appreciate the lofty motives that inform U.S. policy) or simply naïve (that is, oblivious to the implacable evil that the United States is called upon to confront.” See Bacevich, Limits of Power, 72-84. The novelty of Berry’s vision, I believe, stems from his willing embrace and reformulation of “the political fringes.” 54 As Allan Carlson, one of the ablest interpreters of agrarian thought, points out, this tendency to resist the usual political typologies has long been a characteristic of those associated with the agrarian mindset. “The New Agrarians represented the one serious attempt in modern America to create a ‘third way’ in


76 both Aristotle’s “stress upon humans as political animals who together participate actively in the life of a polity that aims at the common good,” and the Christian tradition’s “call to reverence toward the divinely created order … [and] its insistence upon self-sacrifice.”55 Berry’s alternative challenges the dominant political order in a number of important ways. According to Deneen, Berry offers, at least in part, an Aristotelian conception of political life. First, both Aristotle and Berry maintain that the whole must govern its constitutive parts: While liberalism tends to focus upon and give priority to the various ‘parts’ of nature, including and above all the individual—and hence leads to the foolish belief that those parts can escape the implications of their connection to, and reliance upon, nature—Berry’s alternative understanding gives priority to the ‘whole’ and understands all the parts within that context.56 Second, there exists recognition that nature, which “sets the terms of and establishes limits to human undertakings,” is an imprecise guide.57 Against those, on the one hand, who believe that humans have only an adversarial relationship with nature, and those, on the other, who argue that there is no tension at all, Berry suggests a relationship that is at once hospitable, dangerous, and necessary. As Deneen observes, Berry believes that “humans cannot be the conscious ‘animals’ of the pantheists any more than they can be the self-sufficient ‘gods’ suggested by those who would establish human dominion over nature.”58

politics, one not easily fit onto the conventional liberal-conservative, or left-right spectrum.” The New Agrarian Mind: The Movement Toward Decentralist Thought in Twentieth-Century America (New Brunswick: Transaction Publishers, 2004), 5. 55 Deneen, “Wendell Berry and the Alternative Tradition,” 303. 56 Ibid., 304. 57 Ibid., 304-305. 58 Ibid., 305.

77 This leads to Berry’s rejection of abstract political formulations, most of which ignore any need for the cultivation of phronesis, or prudence, which is essential to environmental stewardship.59 In short, humans must suit their political and economic practices to local lives and places. “To defend what we love we need a particularizing language,” Berry argues, “for we love what we particularly know.”60 Humans must ask of their work, “Is this good for us? Is this good for our place?” And further, Berry concludes, “the questioning and answering … is minutely particular: it can occur only with reference to particular artifacts, events, places, ecosystems and neighborhoods.”61 Berry’s insistence that “abstraction is the enemy wherever it is found” is, then, central to his conception of the political life.62 According to Ian and Margaret DeWeeseBoyd, one finds in Berry’s work a rejection of “abstract national patriotism”—a “mere loyalty to symbols or any present set of officials”63 or the idea of the state—in favor of a “local particular patriotism,” which “tempers one’s allegiance to one’s nation, often requiring one to question, or even oppose, state policies that threaten to harm the place and people one loves.”64 In fact, Berry’s privileging of the local and particular over the

Deneen, “Wendell Berry and the Alternative Tradition,” 306. Wendell Berry, Life is a Miracle: An Essay Against Modern Superstition (Washington, DC: Counterpoint, 2000), 41. 61 Wendell Berry, “Thoughts in the Presence of Fear,” in Citizenship Papers (Washington, DC: Shoemaker and Hoard, 2003), 18. 62 Wendell Berry, “Out Of Your Car, Off Your Horse,” in Sex, Economy, Freedom, and Community (New York: Pantheon Books, 1992), 23. 63 Wendell Berry, “The Failure of War,” in Citizenship Papers, 23. 64 Ian DeWeese-Boyd and Margaret DeWeese-Boyd, “‘Flying the Flag of Rough Branch’: Rethinking Post-September 11 Patriotism through the Writings of Wendell Berry,” in The Many Faces of Patriotism, ed. Philip Abbott (Lanham: Rowman and Littlefield, 2007), 54-55. There is certainly similarity between Berry’s understanding of political obligation and the position held by philosophical anarchists. While Berry would want to challenge most philosophical anarchists insistence that personal autonomy is always the “primary obligation,” he would agree that there is not “a strong moral imperative to oppose or eliminate” the state. Rather, both Berry and philosophical anarchists generally, “typically take state illegitimacy simply to remove any strong moral presumption in favor of obedience to, compliance with, or support for [one’s] own or other existing states.” See A. John Simmons, Justification and Legitimacy: Essays on Rights and Obligations (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001), 104.


78 abstract forces him to acknowledge that he cannot, in good conscience, care more for the United States than the rest of the world. As he puts it: My devotion thins as it widens. I care more for my household than for the town of Port Royal, more for the town of Port Royal than for the County of Henry, more for the County of Henry than for the State of Kentucky, more for the State of Kentucky than the United States of America. But I do not care more for the United States of American than for the world.65 This is an acknowledgement, essentially, that humanity’s “most meaningful dependence … is not on the U.S. government, but on the world, the earth,” and finally, on God.66 Berry’s local and particular conception of patriotism forces his politics to take a certain shape. A great number of political activists or radicals—people often found protesting, demonstrating, and lobbying—too often expend themselves “utterly in the service of political abstractions,” wrongly assuming that their implication in what is wrong “might be expiated in political action.”67 This is, in a counterintuitive way, a disembodied form of protest, as it fails to pay sufficient attention to the fact that violence of all sorts is remedied not “on public platforms, but only in people’s lives.”68 Far too many activists fail to recognize that the common forms of protest are not necessarily the only or best forms, and thus do not acknowledge that, “there is the possibility of a protest that is more complex and permanent, public in effect but private in its motive and implementation: they can live in protest.”69 A fundamental insight of Berry’s political vision, it seems, is that politics as usual—politics as statecraft—creates only a tentative peace. It is a peace Berry is

Wendell Berry, “Some Thoughts on Citizenship and Conscience in Honor of Don Pratt,” in The LongLegged House (Washington, DC: Shoemaker and Hoard, 1965), 77. Emphasis original. 66 Ibid. 67 Ibid., 83. 68 Ibid., 84. 69 Ibid., 86-87. Emphasis original.


79 interested in seeking and maintaining, yet he also acknowledges that it must not be our exclusive interest, for “at best it is only temporary, and it is superficial, achieved always by expediency and always to the advantage of some and to the disadvantage of others.”70 Our politics must always recognize that true peace, genuine political reconciliation, is realized only when we abandon a politics of abstraction. Echoing Cavanaugh’s exposition of I Corinthians 12, Patrick Deneen suggests that God allots unique gifts to particular people, “precisely so that humans will come to understand their own partiality as parts of the body and thus come to a better understanding of the whole—both the human community and the human part in divine creation.”71 Berry is also keen on this point: [T]he abstractions of industry and commerce … see everything as interchangeable with or replaceable by something else. There is a kind of egalitarianism which holds that any two things equal in price are equal in value, and that nothing is better than anything that may profitably or fashionably replace it…. One place is as good as another, one use is as good as another, one life is as good as another— if the price is right. Thus political sentimentality metamorphoses into commercial indifference or aggression. This is the industrial doctrine of interchangeability of parts, and we apply it to places, to creatures, and to our fellow humans as if it were the law of the world, using all the while a sort of middling language, imitated from the sciences, that cannot speak of heaven or earth, but only of concepts. This is a rhetoric of nowhere, which forbids a passionate interest in, let alone a love of, anything in particular.72 Berry’s vision clearly challenges both liberal and conservative Christians who “assume that all one needs to do to be a good citizen is to vote and obey and pay taxes, as if one can be a good citizen without being a citizen either of a community or of a place.”73 Against those who believe that local communities—ecclesial or otherwise—

Berry, “Some Thoughts on Citizenship and Conscience,” 90. Deneen, “Wendell Berry and the Alternative Tradition,” 309. 72 Berry, Life is a Miracle, 41-42. 73 Berry, “Some Thoughts on Citizenship and Conscience,” 76. Philospher Albert Borgmann points out that this is the very conception of citizenship that informs most voters. “The majority of people who do vote,” he suggests, “exhibit the resentful side of sullenness. Sullenness becomes resentful when brooding displeasure and disability take on an aggressive and dismissive aspect. Resentment is sullen in that dissatisfaction does not lead to open and constructive action but rather turns to indirection and obstruction.


80 must translate their “apolitical” message into the dominant political forms of the day, Berry recognizes that such efforts have led to “the two biggest and cheapest political dodges of our time: plan-making and law-making.”74 Such efforts far too often, he suggests, end in a sort of spiritualized protest that fails to attend to the ways in which our bodily lives are bound up in our politics. Such efforts, finally, allow the body politic to displace the Body of Christ. Yet to fully appreciate Berry’s challenge to the “rhetoric of nowhere,” it is important to juxtapose his politics with other, alternative models.

The Agrarian Politics of Gender A representative example of Wendell Berry’s novel approach to politics—his attention to both the particular and the whole—is his deep critique and reformulation of feminist ethics. Although a champion of non-conformist and alternative thinkers across the globe, Berry fairs less well in the eyes of many classically liberal feminists. Two decades ago Berry published an essay in Harper’s explaining why he was not going to buy a computer. In that short essay, he described his “literary cottage industry”: My wife types my work on a Royal standard typewriter bought new in 1956 and as good now as it was then. As she types, she sees things that are wrong and marks them with small checks in the margins. She is my best critic because she is the one most familiar with my habitual errors and weaknesses. She also understands, sometimes better than I do, what ought to be said.75 Central to Berry’s refusal to buy a computer was his rejection of a technological fundamentalism that suggested that in order to be a better or more relevant writer, he
Although these voters profess to support civil liberties and welfare measures, they finally resent effective measures to help the poor, the powerless, and those out of the cultural mainstream. Their decisive concern and vote is for the vigor and advancement of prosperous inequality; their place in this arrangement is determined by envy for those above and reproach for those below.” See his Crossing the Postmodern Divide (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1992), 8. 74 Wendell Berry, “Think Little,” in A Continuous Harmony (Washington, DC, Shoemaker and Hoard, 1972), 77. 75 Wendell Berry, “Why I Am Not Going To Buy A Computer,” in What Are People For, 170. Emphasis original.

81 must buy a computer. “I do not see,” Berry argued, “that computers are bringing us one step nearer to anything that does matter to me: peace, economic justice, ecological health, political honesty, family and community stability, good work.”76 Berry concluded his short essay with a number of principles to keep in mind when evaluating the appropriateness of technological innovation, thus fleshing out his theoretical argument against buying a computer. What does an essay on not buying a computer have to do with feminism and alternative political thought? Harper’s magazine received twenty letters in response to Berry’s short essay, with all but three extremely critical of his refusal to by a computer. Most important, though, were the letters from feminists accusing him of exploiting his wife. Berry protested that charge, and suggested that it was indicative of a much broader problem within both environmental and feminist politics: In order to imply that I am a tyrant, they suggest by both direct statement and innuendo that [my wife] is subservient, characterless, and stupid—a mere ‘device’ easily forced to provide meaningless ‘free labor.’77 What they fail to consider, however, is Berry’s wife in particular. By dealing only in abstractions, the writers miss much that is important to know. Might it be, Berry ponders, “that my wife may do this work because she wants to and likes to; that she may find some use and some meaning in it; that she may not work for nothing.”78 Much of the problem with modern political thought, Berry argues, is its wish “to monopolize a whole society,” thus becoming unable to “tolerate the smallest difference of opinion.”79 It provides, finally, only a false or vacant unity.

76 77

Berry, “Why I Am Not Going To Buy A Computer,” 171. Ibid., 175. 78 Ibid., 176. 79 Ibid., 175.

82 In his essay, “Feminism, the Body, and the Machine,” Berry elaborates further on his critique of certain strands of contemporary feminist thought.80 He suggests that the modern acceptance of corporate culture—the myth that the liberation of women can be realized if only they get outside the home and into the industrial economy—has led to an uncritical acceptance of a state and economy that actually leaves society’s weakest in bondage. If laissez-faire capitalism leaves men obviously oppressed by its hierarchy, why then would women seek it as a source of liberation? How, I am asking, can women improve themselves by submitting to the same specialization, degradation, trivialization, and tyrannization of work that men have submitted to? And that question is made legitimate by another: How have men improved themselves by submitting to it? The answer is that men have not, and women cannot, improve themselves by submitting to it.81 Berry understands the integral connection between the economy, women, and local community. To accept as liberation the destruction of local community and oppression by another name is, for Berry, an unacceptable settlement. “It is clear that women cannot justly be excluded from the daily fracas by which the industrial economy divides the spoils of society and nature, but their inclusion is a poor justice and no reason for applause.”82 The problem with much of feminism, environmentalism, and theology alike, Berry argues, is the obviously uncritical, optimistic embrace of an oppressive system that puts its faith in scientific and technological progress. “The problem” Berry concludes, “is not just the exploitation of women by men. A greater problem is that women and men alike are consenting to an economy that exploits women and men and everything else.”83

80 81

Wendell Berry, “Feminism, the Body, and the Machine,” in What Are People For, 178-196. Ibid., 184. 82 Ibid., 185. 83 Ibid.

83 The economy that exploits both men and women inevitably exploits their bodies. In his 1971 book A Continuous Harmony, Berry anticipates the ecofeminist arguments that take shape in the latter half of the 1970s. Berry suggests that, “there is an historical parallel, in white American history, between the treatment of the land and the treatment of women. The frontier, for instance, was exploitative of both.”84 Much of our disregard for the land, Berry argues, stems from our disdain of material life. Thus, as demonstrated in the previous chapter, the dualism of body and soul that feminists rally against is also of integral concern to Berry’s agrarian politics. A critique of the modern construction of the individual is, then, central to Berry’s agrarian philosophy. Directly opposed to reduction or abstraction, he argues, “is the idea of the preciousness of individual lives and places.”85 This idea, which we glean from our cultural or religious heritage, “is not derived, and it is not derivable, from any notion of egalitarianism,” that stems from science or the state.86 Berry makes clear that abstract institutions or disciplines are simply incapable of recognizing the preciousness of individual lives. The “ancient delight in the individuality of creatures is not the same thing as what we now mean by ‘individualism.’ It is the opposite. Individualism, in present practice, refers to the supposed ‘right’ of an individual to act alone, in disregard of other individuals.”87 While Berry recognizes the need for a Thoreau-like civil disobedience (and thus a sort of individualism) when working against an unjust system in the name of a communal good, on the whole “rugged individualism” leads to the oppression of others.

84 85

Wendell Berry, “Discipline and Hope,” in A Continuous Harmony, 155. Berry, Life is a Miracle, 42. 86 Ibid. 87 Ibid.

84 “The tragic version of rugged individualism,” Berry reiterates, “is in the presumptive ‘right’ of individuals to do as they please, as if there were no God, no legitimate government, no community, no neighbors, and no posterity.”88 The agrarian political vision necessitates careful consideration of all, especially the “weakest” within the community, rather than the elevation of one’s self. For, as Berry reminds us, “if all are equal, none can be precious.”89 According to Berry’s agrarian political vision, Christian theology cannot separate concern about local environmental communities from the treatment of the individuals who inhabit them. Thus it is not surprising that Berry is perennially concerned about the healthy membership of children, women, minorities, and the elderly in his agrarian community. Because humans do not exercise total control over creation, fruitful political action must focus on the uniqueness and the particularity of specific humans, not an abstract formulation of humanity or universal rights. Any political vision, in short, must account for both the theory and practice necessary to make real changes in local cultures and particular lives, including, perhaps especially, the lives of the weakest within one’s community. In Berry’s thought, then, orthodoxy and orthopraxy are inextricably linked. This connection is evident in his short essay, “The Pleasures of Eating.”90 Inevitably after reading Berry’s books or hearing him talk the question arises: “What can city people do?” In truth, the answer is as complex as it is short: “Eat responsibly.” As Berry goes on to

Wendell Berry, “Rugged Individualism,” in The Way of Ignorance: And Other Essays (Washington DC: Shoemaker and Hoard, 2005), 9. 89 Berry, Life is a Miracle, 42. 90 Berry, “The Pleasures of Eating,” in What Are People For, 145-152.


85 state, “eating is an agricultural act.”91 Rather than thinking carefully about how our theoretical commitments must impact even our smallest actions, we often play the role of passive, uncritical consumer. Berry argues that if someone else controls our food and its sources, then we are not truly free. “There is then, a politics of food that, like any politics, involves our freedom.”92 It may seem odd to connect our food politics, on the one hand, and feminist politics, on the other, but Berry suggests that it should not: But if there is a food politics, there is also a food esthetics and a food ethics, neither of which is dissociated from politics. Like industrial sex, industrial eating has become a degraded, poor, and paltry thing…. We hurry through our meals to go to work and hurry through our work in order to “recreate” ourselves in the evenings and on weekends and vacations. And then we hurry, with the greatest possible speed and noise and violence, through our recreation—for what? …. And all this is carried out in a remarkable obliviousness to the causes and effects, the possibilities and the purposes, of the life of the body in this world.93 We cannot separate our consumption—the practices of our economic lives—from our political ethic. Feminist politics and environmental ethics must, if taken at all seriously, continually shape our practices, our commitments, and our understanding of God’s creation. For it is in our smallest individual and communal acts that we begin to recognize our interconnectedness with even the most oppressed among us and with the earth. “Eating with the fullest pleasure—pleasure, that is, that does not depend on ignorance—is perhaps the profoundest enactment of our connection with the world. In this pleasure we experience our dependence and our gratitude, for we are living from mystery, from creatures we did not make and powers we cannot comprehend.”94

Berry, “The Pleasures of Eating,” 145. Ibid., 147. For a succinct account of the politics of eating, see the conclusion to Marion Nestle’s, Food Politics: How the Food Industry Influences Nutrition and Health, 2d ed. (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2007), 358-374. 93 Berry, “The Pleasures of Eating,” 147. 94 Ibid., 152.


86 ‘Come all ye conservatives and liberals’ Wendell Berry’s conception of politics and patriotism is deeply instructive to Christians, and especially Anabaptists, attempting to resist modernity’s dominant political order. Central to his vision is a radically orthodox, traditionalist critique of the liberal conception of political life.95 To those Christians who laud the mythic and impersonal forces of the market and nation-state, Berry poses an essential, if rarely asked, question: “Can we actually suppose that we are wasting, polluting, and making ugly this beautiful land for the sake of patriotism and the love of God?”96 As suggested above, Berry finds in the liberal tradition “the sort of scientism epitomized in modernity’s ambition to take control of the world by force,” however subtle that force may be, “and with the aid of technologies that mask our fragility and dependence upon others.”97 It is precisely this masking of our “fragility and dependence upon others,” I have argued, that enabled early Anabaptists, and Christians generally, to uncritically accommodate the state and to accept a reduced, spiritualized conception of Christian political life. When Christians accept the proposition that the realm where they come together, their politics, must be disciplined by the state, they also take on a different understanding of what it means to be political. “It is clearly possible that, in the condition of the world as the world now is,” Berry suggests, “organization can force upon an institution a

See generally, Wendell Berry, “Against the Nihil of the Age,” Sewanee Review 109, no. 4 (Fall 2001): 542-563 and Berry, Life is a Miracle. See also Jeremy Beer, “Wendell Berry and the Traditionalist Critique of Meritocracy,” in Wendell Berry: Life and Work, ed. Jason Peters (Lexington: The University Press of Kentucky, 2007), 212-229. 96 Wendell Berry, “Compromise, Hell!” in The Way of Ignorance, 23. 97 Norman Wirzba, “The Dark Night of the Soil: An Agrarian Approach to Mystical Life,” Christianity and Literature 56, no. 2 (Winter 2007): 262-263. For more on how the transnational market and its “technology of desire” has become the “new empire”—that is, how capitalism and the market now wield the expansive power once held by the state—see Daniel M. Bell, Jr., Liberation Theology After the End of History: The Refusal to Cease Suffering (London: Routledge, 2001).


87 character that is alien or even antithetical to it.”98 The church that accepts the notion of politics as statecraft takes on different responsibilities. “The organized church,” Berry continues, “comes immediately under a compulsion to think of itself, and identify itself to the world, not as an institution synonymous with its truth and its membership,” but rather as a body that “makes peace with a destructive economy and divorces itself from economic issues because it is economically compelled to do so.”99 Thus, for the church that depends on the fruits and toleration—the tithes—of a destructive political and economic order, “the disembodiment of the soul becomes the chief of worldly conveniences.”100 Philosopher Norman Wirzba suggests that, “through scientific and economic reductionism the intellect has become blind.”101 Increasingly, it has become difficult for Christians to imagine or foster alternative possibilities of embodied political life. Though our intellect looks for alternatives to relationships enabled only by social contract, “it no longer sees truly since it has lost the imagination to see the sanctity of created things or the vast and indescribably complex memberships of which they and we are but one part.”102 Thankfully, Berry’s alternative political vision helps us re-imagine the complexity of our memberships, and so too offers concrete, embodied practices that enable real change, genuine liberation, in the lives of those who seriously commit to a particular community and way of life. It is this emphasis on embodied practice that makes Berry’s political vision a fuller and more nuanced critique of our current economic

98 99

Wendell Berry, “God and Country,” in What are People For, 95. Ibid., 95-96. Emphasis original. 100 Ibid., 96. 101 Wirzba, “The Dark Night of the Soil,” 263. 102 Ibid.

88 and political structures than most other political theologies. It is the emphasis on embodiment, finally, that makes his alternative politics so compelling. It is only in real and particular communities where liberating practices take place—where both the membership and the earth are deeply valued, for the fate of each depends on the other—that one finds a compelling alternative to politics as statecraft. And when this alternative is materially instantiated in our own lives, our own particular existence, we have little choice but to secede from an uncritical union of Church and state. In “The Mad Farmer, Flying the Flag of Rough Branch, Secedes from the Union,” Berry poetically echoes both Marpeck and Cavanaugh by calling for a truly Christian politics that takes seriously how Christ’s Body might impact our own, and thus offers a stirring reminder of its disruptive yet reconciling purpose: Come all ye conservatives and liberals who want to conserve the good things and be free, come away from the merchants of big answers, whose hands are metalled with power; from the union of everything and everywhere by the purchase of everything from everybody at the lowest price, and the sale of anything to anybody at the highest price; from the union of work and debt, work and despair; from the wage-salary of the helplessly well-employed. From the union of self-gratification and self-annihilation, secede into care for one another and the good gifts of Heaven and Earth. Come into the life of the body, the one body granted to you in all the history of time. Come into the body’s economy, its daily work, and its replenishment at mealtimes and night. Come into the body’s thanksgiving, when it knows and acknowledges itself a living soul. Come into the dance of community, joined in a circle, hand in hand, the dance of the eternal love of women and men for one another

89 and of neighbors and friends for one another.103

Wendell Berry, “The Mad Farmer, Flying the Flag of Rough Branch, Secedes from the Union,” in Entries: Poems (New York: Counterpoint, 1997), 39-41.




“You cannot know that life is holy,” Wendell Berry insists, “if you are content to live from economic practices that daily destroy life and diminish its possibility.”1 Agrarian epistemology, pacifism, and politics all point toward the conviction that “a change of heart or of values without a practice is only another pointless luxury of a passively consumptive way of life.”2 Berry’s agrarian reformulation of what it means to be political necessarily entails a reordered household. To begin to confront the environmental problems before us, we must change not just how we think, but also how we act and live. One cannot, with integrity, laude the way of humility, peace, and embodied politics without also affirming the value of God’s creation in the daily ordering and exchange that constitutes economic life. Central to Berry’s agrarian economics is a belief that the environmental crisis is not, at base, “a crisis of our environs or surroundings,” but rather “it is a crisis of our lives as individuals, as family members, as community members, and citizens.”3 The agrarian mind insists that the triumph of the ethos and ethics of economic liberalism is not inevitable, at least not in our own local communities and particular neighborhoods. It reminds us, finally, that the environmental—and thus the personal and communal— challenges we now face are in many respects problems of our own making. We are confronting a crisis “because we have consented to an economy in which by eating,
Wendell Berry, “Christianity and the Survival of Creation” in Sex, Economy, Freedom and Community (New York: Pantheon Books, 1993), 99. 2 Wendell Berry, “The Total Economy,” in Citizenship Papers (Washington, DC: Shoemaker and Hoard, 2004), 64. 3 Ibid.

91 drinking, working, resting, traveling, and enjoying ourselves we are destroying the natural, the God-given, world.”4 We face environmental catastrophe, Berry insists, “because the human household or economy is in conflict at almost every important point with the household of nature.”5 This is seen most plainly, I argue, by evaluating the animating concerns of classical economic liberalism. By parsing the thought of Adam Smith and his intellectual heirs, one begins to see the ways in which liberal economic theory leads to environmental destruction. Central to this discussion will be an exploration of the important differences between freedom as commonly defined in contemporary economic thought, and the distinctly Christian understanding of freedom evident in the writings of Augustine of Hippo. I believe that Berry’s agrarian economic vision offers a fruitful model of Christian exchange that reflects both Augustine’s insight and the witness of the biblical tradition. What follows in this chapter, then, is an attempt to acknowledge the ways in which economic liberalism has oversimplified or denied the relationship between Creator and creation, and so too the practices of exchange that constitute our economic life as creatures. If Berry and other agrarians are right—if we cannot “correct what we perceive as ‘environmental’ problems without correcting the economic oversimplifications that cause them”—then we must seek out and foster alternative economic practices that enable the flourishing of all created life, and thus point, perhaps more complexly, toward the goodness of God.6

4 5

Berry, “The Total Economy,” 64. Emphasis original. Ibid., 63. 6 Ibid.

92 Classical Liberal Economics The rise of liberal economic theory is inextricably bound to the story of the rise of the nation-state outlined in the previous chapter—both are simply “surface manifestations of a more fundamental change of thought.”7 Hence the claim of Donald Worster, the eminent environmental historian, that the roots of the current environmental crisis lie “in modern culture itself, in its world-view that swept aside much of the older religious outlook.”8 Key to this modern culture is an economic and scientific materialism notable for its secular, progressive, and rational outlook. This materialism allows us, to quote René Descartes, to use knowledge of “fire, water, power, air, the stars, the heavens and all other bodies in our environment … for all the purposes for which it is appropriate, and thus make ourselves, as it were, the lords and masters of nature.”9 Adam Smith is in many respects the seminal philosopher—“the representative modern man”—who emerges from this cultural shift to economic materialism.10 “To be sure,” economist Robert Heilbroner concurs, Smith did not ‘discover’ the market; others had preceded him in pointing out how the interaction of self-interest and competition brought about the provision of society. But Smith was the first to understand the full philosophy of action that such a conception demanded, the first to formulate the entire scheme in a wide and systematic fashion. He was the man who made England, and then the whole Western world, understand just how the market kept society together, and the first to build an edifice of social order on the understanding he achieved.11

Donald Worster, “The Wealth of Nature,” in The New Agrarianism: Land, Culture, and the Community of Life, ed. Eric T. Freyfogle (Washington: Island Press, 2001), 167. While many economic historians share this reading, there are some who vehemently oppose it. For more on the various schools of interpretation, see Gregory Clark, A Farewell to Alms: A Brief Economic History of the World (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2007), 208-229. 8 Worster, “The Wealth of Nature,” 167. 9 René Descartes, “Discourse on Method,” in The Philosophical Writings of René Descartes (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985), 142-143. 10 Worster, “The Wealth of Nature,” 171. 11 Robert L. Heilbroner, The Worldly Philosophers: The Lives, Times, and Ideas of the Great Economic Thinkers, 7th ed. (New York: Touchstone, 1999), 72.


93 Plainly told, Smith is the founding father of economic liberalism. In his discussion of economic development, Smith argues that a nation’s wealth results from humanity’s selfinterest, and so too the resulting propensity to barter and trade.12 The division of labor allows for a surplus of goods, and as a result a medium of exchange and method of valuation are established. Methods of distribution are necessitated by the exchange of goods and services, and this results in the further development and accumulation of capital. With labor as the foundation of wealth, Smith argues for the interconnectedness and natural tendencies of economic development. According to Smith’s economic model, the wealth created by one’s self-interest acts as a benefit to others and contributes to the wellbeing of society as a whole. Wealth is best obtained, Smith argues, through a market free of government manipulation, and the invisible hand offers the best guide to continued development. Thus labor acts as the basis of all economic development and liberty as the means of sustaining and continuing such growth. Central to Smith’s system of “natural liberty,” then, is a curtailment of all external interference. In a state where there is not perfect liberty, Smith argues, three factors bring about great inequality: the restraint of competition, artificially increasing competition, and the hindrance of the free trade of labor and capital.13 Thus any interference in the market—“whether that interference be political, based on justice, or ecclesial, based on charity”—must be eschewed.14 As theologian D. Stephen Long suggests, the central virtue necessary for the logic of Smith’s system was the prudence to seek one’s own advantage. When this was done without undue interference by
Smith discusses economic development in the first half of The Wealth of Nations, and political economy in the second. My brief and inevitably inadequate summary is drawn from Adam Smith, An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations, ed. R.H. Campbell, A.S. Skinner, and W.B. Todd (Indianapolis: Liberty Classics, 1981), volume 1. 13 Ibid., 135. 14 D. Stephen Long, Divine Economy: Theology and the Market (London: Routledge, 2000), 189.

94 either the church or the state then justice would result. Therefore, the conflictual means would lead to a harmonious end.15 Hence Smith’s argument that through the division of labor in a system of natural liberty, “the most dissimilar geniuses are of use to one another; the different produces of their respective talents, by the general disposition to truck, barter, and exchange, being brought … into common stock.”16 Keeping these introductory considerations in view, it becomes clear that Smith’s conception of economic development has serious implications for church, environment, and individual alike. While many of these are worth considering, three stand out as particularly important to the agrarian reader. First, and perhaps most obvious, is the inherent tension between Smith’s system of perfect liberty and the claims of the church. Central to Smith’s economic model is the notion of mobility. Families “must be able to move, much like commodities, to those places where there is need; otherwise the labor market becomes saturated and those families cannot be sustained.”17 In order for this to happen, Smith contended, “the parish system that provided poor relief through charity in each parish location” would have to be dismantled—it was but another sign “of churchly interference in the free workings of the market.”18 In the latter half of The Wealth of Nations, Smith argues that the “constitution of the church of Rome may be considered as the most formidable combination that ever was formed against the authority and security of civil government, as well as against the liberty, reason, and happiness of mankind.”19 According to D. Stephen Long, Smith

15 16

Long, Divine Economy, 189. Smith, The Wealth of Nations, 30. 17 Long, Divine Economy, 190. 18 Ibid. 19 Smith, The Wealth of Nations, 802-803.

95 insisted that for “perfect liberty to become a social reality, the power of the state had to increase and the temporal power of the church had to be defeated.”20 Long suggests that the power of the church was defeated in two ways: the poor were released from “the ‘oppressive’ charity doled out by the church” and “the power of the church over the educational system was broken.”21 This led quite naturally to Smith’s dislike of the Poor Laws, as they required the destitute to secure “settlements” in their own parish, which necessarily meant restricting the mobility of the labor pool.22 Poor Laws were thus, in Smith’s eyes, “the residue of the ancient practice of regulating wages by laws or justices,” and yet another affront to his system of perfect liberty.23 It is also important to note, however briefly, the fact that it was often theologians within the church itself who sought to reconcile certain religious economic teachings or prohibitions with the liberal economic order. As economic historian Gregory Clark suggests, this is precisely what happened with the Catholic doctrine against usury. While such a prohibition had “very little cost to preindustrial Christian society,” circumstances changed dramatically with the advent of the industrial revolution and modern economic structures.24 Thus Clark observes that “the forces of economic interest are so powerful,” especially in the age of industry, “that when an ideology conflicts with economic interest the solution has generally been to adapt the ideology to resolve the conflict.”25 Though it is difficult to discern the exact relationship between the pressures of a new economic order and doctrinal compromise, one fact remains clear. Smith’s

20 21

Long, Divine Economy, 190. Ibid. 22 Ibid., 191. 23 Ibid. 24 Clark, A Farewell to Alms, 216. 25 Ibid., 215.

96 opposition to both the church and the Poor Laws is indicative of a broader, essential current still alive and well in liberal economic theory: the vision of and hope for “a world where the social institution of the market would be freed from all interference, whether it be political, moral, theological, or familial.”26 Political theorist Sheldon Wolin makes clear the novelty of this fundamental shift in self-understanding, and alludes to the resulting implications: The unique aspect of their theory was the contention that purposive activity could be undertaken successfully without reference to any supporting or authorizing principle excepting that of ‘nature.’ ‘Man,’ Adam Smith wrote, ‘is generally considered by statesmen and projectors as the materials of a sort of political mechanics. Projectors disturb nature … it requires no more than to let her alone.’ The teachings, as well as the control-mechanisms, associated with the traditional authorities of church, class, and political order were held to be unnatural. Hence what was truly radical in liberalism was its conception of society as a network of activities carried on by actors who knew no principle of authority. Society represented not only a spontaneous and self-adjusting order, but a condition untroubled by the presence of authority.27 Smith’s understanding of nature leads to a second important implication of his thought, this one more explicitly environmental. As Donald Worster observes, though Smith believed in the “natural” system of perfect liberty, he “did not conceive that the non-human realm lays any obligations on humans.” Rather, “what Christians called the creation, what their religion required them to respect as the handiwork of God, had become for the economist quite valueless in and of itself.”28 To the question, “what are the rules which men naturally observe in exchanging [commodities] either for money or for one another?” Smith offers a two-fold answer that corroborates Worster’s

Long, Divine Economy, 193. Sheldon Wolin, Politics and Vision: Continuity and Innovation in Western Political Thought, 2d ed. (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2004), 270. 28 Worster, “The Wealth of Nature,” 173.


97 observation.29 “Value in use” refers to the utility of an object, while “value in exchange” refers to its purchasing power.30 From these two definitions, the paradox of value emerges: “The things which have the greatest value in use have frequently little or no value in exchange; and, on the contrary those which have the greatest value in exchange have frequently little or no value in use.”31 How, then, does Smith understand value? His labor-embodied theory of value insists that, “the value of any commodity … to the person who possesses it … is equal to the quantity of labour which it enables him to purchase or command.” According to Smith, “labor is the real measure of the exchangeable value of all commodities.”32 It is “labor alone [that] is the ultimate and real standard by which the values of all commodities can … be estimated and compared.”33 It is also worth noting that Smith distinguishes between productive and unproductive labor—while productive labor adds to the value of something, unproductive labor does not.34 Thus in Smith’s thought we see the insistence that the “natural world” has worth only if we (productively) labor to extract value from it. As Worster observes, “value, in [Smith’s] view, is a quality that humans create through their labor out of the raw materials afforded by nature.”35 A thing, creation itself, is valuable “only when and if it serves some direct human use (‘value in use’) or can be exchanged for something else that has value (‘value in exchange’).”36 In liberal economic theory, then, creation is not worthwhile because it is God’s, but because of its instrumental value—it is valuable only
29 30

Smith, The Wealth of Nations, 44. Ibid., 44. 31 Ibid., 44-45. 32 Ibid., 47. 33 Ibid., 51. 34 Ibid., 330. 35 Worster, “The Wealth of Nature,” 173. 36 Ibid., 173-174.

98 inasmuch as humanity labors to improve it. Yet this conception of nature and value misses much that is important to know. According to Worster, the wealth indicated in The Wealth of Nations does not include any of the material benefits that humans derive from unimproved land: the air and water that sustain life, the process of photosynthesis in plants, the intricate food chains that we draw on for sustenance, the microorganisms that decompose rotting carcasses and return them to the soil.37 Thus closely following such a reductive conception of wealth is an “overconfident materialism,” through which “people come to believe that they can create all the fertility they need by adding to the soil a bag of chemicals, that they can create any amount of wealth out of the most impoverished landscape, that they can even create life itself in a glass tube.”38 Unavoidably, it seems, liberal economic theory posits in the modern mind a firm denial of the land, of creation, as God’s essential, and thus infinitely valuable, gift to humanity. Both of the above implications—rejection of external authority and denial of the inherent worth of the created order—lead to the defining characteristic, likely the most influential legacy, of the liberal tradition: individual freedom. In the wake of liberal economic theory, “people’s moral actions are no longer intelligible because of their role within a community, but people are reconstituted as individuals who through their autonomous activities give value to things in the world.”39 Freedom, according to Adam Smith and other economic liberals, consists of pursuing individual desires apart from the interference of other persons or groups. As Milton Friedman suggests, it is only through the free market that individual autonomy is maintained:

37 38

Worster, “The Wealth of Nature,” 174. Ibid., 175-176. 39 Long, Divine Economy, 188. Emphasis original.

99 So long as effective freedom of exchange is maintained, the central feature of the market organization of economic activities is that it prevents one person from interfering with another with respect to most of his activities. The consumer is protected from coercion by the seller because of the presence of other sellers with whom he can deal; the seller is protected from coercion by the consumer because of other consumers to whom she can sell; the employee is protected from coercion by the employer because of other employers for whom he can work, and so on. And the market does this impersonally and without centralized authority.40 Central, then, to Adam Smith’s economic tradition is an insistence on the absolute value of individual autonomy, regardless of familial, communal, ecclesial, or political attachments. As theologian William Cavanaugh suggests, “all that matters for a market to be free is that individuals have real wants and can pursue them without the interference of others, especially the state.”41

Rethinking Freedom Keeping the above discussion in mind, it becomes obvious that important convictions about the nature and purpose of human freedom lie just beneath the surface of any economic exchange. It is thus worth exploring the liberal conception of freedom at greater length, and further, it proves fruitful to compare it with both the historic Christian tradition and Wendell Berry’s agrarian philosophy. Despite claims to the contrary, “every notion of freedom is theory-laden,” and so we must explore the implicit or tacit assumptions at work in freedom’s various manifestations.42

Milton Friedman, Capitalism and Freedom (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1962), 14-15. William T. Cavanaugh, Being Consumed: Economics and Christian Desire (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2008), 7. 42 James K.A. Smith, “The Gospel of Freedom, or Another Gospel? Augustinian Reflections on America Foreign Policy,” The Martin Marty Religion and Culture Web Forum (December 2007), 7.


100 According to philosopher James K.A. Smith, one finds in the history of philosophy and theology, “two dominant, and competing, concepts of freedom.”43 The first, outlined in the preceding discussion of liberal economic theory, is a ‘libertarian’ understanding of freedom that equates freedom with freedom of choice or the power to do otherwise. To be free is to have options to choose and the ability to choose, uncoerced and unrestrained, from among these options. More options, more freedom. On this account, any specified telos for human agency—any determinate specification of ‘the good life’—would constitute a restraint on legitimate options, and therefore a restriction of freedom. To be free is equated with a state of auto-sovereignty, both with respect to the power to choose as well as the freedom to determine one’s own good.44 Wendell Berry and other agrarians note that it is precisely this understanding of freedom—a “credo of limitlessness” that “does not allow for any computation or speculation as to the net good of anything proposed”—that underwrites our destructive economic system, and so too the pervasive belief that “all are entitled to pursue without limit whatever they conceive as desirable.”45 Berry argues that, “in the phrase ‘free market,’ the word ‘free’ has come to mean unlimited economic power for some, with the necessary consequence of economic powerlessness for others.”46 There is, by all agrarian accounts, an obvious and radical disconnect between the promises and reality of economic liberalism. Though in theory the “self-interest”—the greed and the freedom—of one works for the benefit of all, Berry suggests that, in practice, “the defenders of the ideal of competition have never known what to do with or for the losers.” Berry’s exposition offers a glimpse at a stark reality: The losers simply accumulate in the human dumps, like stores of industrial waste, until they gain enough misery and strength to overpower the winners. The idea
Smith, “The Gospel of Freedom,” 7. Ibid. 45 Wendell Berry, “Faustian Economics: Hell hath no limits,” Harper’s (May 2008): 36. Emphasis original. 46 Ibid., 39.
44 43

101 that the displaced and dispossessed ‘should seek retraining and get into another line of work’ is, of course, utterly cynical; it is only the hand-washing practiced by officials and experts. A loser, by definition, is somebody whom nobody knows what to do with. There is no limit to the damage and suffering implicit in this willingness that losers should exist as a normal economic cost.47 A fundamental aspect of the agrarian critique of liberal economic freedom, then, is making clear its oft-denied costs, both human and ecological. For it is only by some form of false accounting—some false notion of freedom and Good—that “we have before us the spectacle of unprecedented ‘prosperity’ and ‘economic growth’ in a land of degraded farms, forests, ecosystems, and watersheds, polluted air, failing families, and perishing communities.”48 An economy built upon self-interested competition, in the end, can guarantee only that some will win, and inevitably, that some will lose. James K.A. Smith reiterates that in the liberal account of freedom, “the only ‘Good’ that can be specified is the good of prosperity, which requires precisely that we bracket any specification of ‘the Good’ and let many teloi bloom (which really amounts to none).”49 It is precisely this vague promise of the “good of prosperity” that Wendell Berry describes as “sentimental capitalism.” Such forms of political economy may properly be called sentimental, he suggests, because “they depend absolutely upon a political faith for which there is no justification.” It its propaganda, this form of “freemarket” capitalism attempts to “justify violent means by good ends, which always are put beyond reach by the violence of the means.”50 The ends, the many teloi, Berry argues, are always defined vaguely—“the greatest good for the greatest number” or “the benefit of

Wendell Berry, “Economy and Pleasure,” in The Art of the Commonplace: The Agrarian Essays of Wendell Berry, ed. Norman Wirzba (Washington, DC: Shoemaker and Hoard, 2002), 209. 48 Berry, “The Total Economy,” 66. 49 Smith, “The Gospel of Freedom,” 8. 50 Berry, “The Total Economy,” 65.


102 the many”—and so always kept at a safe distance.51 Yet, ironically, “the only future good that [the free-market] assuredly leads to is that it will destroy itself.”52 David Burrell argues that the freedom of liberal modernity requires “that a free agent parallel a creator ex nihilo.”53 It is in the attempt to define freedom as “escape from all restraint,” Berry concurs, that we cease “to understand ourselves as beings specifically human.”54 In essence, we break ties with our religious and cultural traditions that insist we are autonomous only in small part and only in a qualified way, as we are forever limited by our status as creatures, not Creator. Thus the formulation of autonomy inherent in the liberal economic vision, according to Berry, is an “illusory condition” that implies one “can be self-determining and independent without regard for any determining circumstance or any of the obvious dependencies.”55 Berry insists that, “there is, in practice, no such thing as autonomy,” but rather “only a distinction between responsible and irresponsible dependence.”56 As earthly creatures, Berry writes, we live, because we must, within natural limits, which we may describe by such names as ‘earth’ or ‘ecosystem’ or ‘watershed’ or ‘place.’ But as humans, we may elect to respond to this necessary placement by the self-restraints implied in neighborliness, stewardship, thrift, temperance, generosity, care, kindness, friendship, loyalty, and love.57 Thus if we hope to address “the injustices of economic globalization, the environmental effects of consumer capitalism, and the militarism that is mobilized to keep it all

Berry, “The Total Economy,” 65. Ibid., 66. 53 David Burrell, Faith and Freedom: An Interfaith Perspective (Oxford: Blackwell, 2004), vii. 54 Berry, “Faustian Economics,” 39. 55 Wendell Berry, “The Body and the Earth,” in The Unsettling of America: Culture and Agriculture, 3d ed. (San Francisco: Sierra Club Books, 1996), 111. 56 Ibid. 57 Berry, “Faustian Economics,” 37-38.


103 running,” then “we must find an alternative to the non-teleological notion of freedom bequeathed to us by liberal modernity.”58 Thankfully, Augustine of Hippo offers a deeply instructive, radically Christian account of freedom that challenges many of the basic assumptions of the reigning economic paradigm. For Augustine, “freedom is not simply a negative freedom from,” William Cavanaugh notes, “but a freedom for, a capacity to achieve certain worthwhile goals.”59 These worthwhile goals do not entail maximization of choice or liberation from all restraint, but rather “are taken up into the one overriding telos of human life, the return to God.”60 For Augustine, then, “autonomy in the strict sense is impossible, for to be independent of others and independent of God is to be cut off from being, and thus to be nothing at all.”61 Berry, along with contemporary agrarians generally, makes a strikingly similar point: “We must have limits or we will cease to be humans; perhaps we will cease to exist, period.”62 And further: In our limitless selfishness, we have tried to define ‘freedom’ … as an escape from all restraint. But … ‘free’ is etymologically related to ‘friend.’ These words come from the same Indo-European root, which carries the sense of ‘dear’ or ‘beloved.’ We set our friends free by our love for them, with the implied restraints of faithfulness or loyalty. And this suggests that our ‘identity’ is located not in the impulse of selfhood but in deliberately maintained connections.63 For Augustine, like for Berry, “others are in fact crucial to one’s freedom,” as human beings “need a community of virtue in which to learn to desire rightly.”64 Augustine insists that desire is social, and so also reiterates the importance of community

58 59

Smith, “The Gospel of Freedom,” 10. Cavanaugh, Being Consumed, 7-8. Emphasis original. 60 Ibid., 8. 61 Ibid. 62 Berry, “Faustian Economics,” 39. 63 Ibid., 38. 64 Cavanaugh, Being Consumed, 9.

104 for the cultivation of right desire and fruitful practice. This is clearly demonstrated early in Confessions, as Augustine recounts stealing pears as a child: Yet had I been alone I would not have done it—I remember my state of mind to be thus at the time—alone I never would have done it. Therefore my love in that act was to be associated with the gang in whose company I did it. Does it follow that I loved something other than the theft? No, nothing else in reality because association with the gang is also a nothing.65 Because there exists both true and false desires—desires deeply shaped by the communities to which we belong—“we need a telos to tell the difference between them.” For Augustine and agrarians alike, “the key to true freedom is not just following whatever desires we happen to have, but cultivating the right desires.”66 For Wendell Berry, then, to cultivate “right desire” necessarily means that one must “re-examine the economic structures of our lives, and conform them to the tolerances and limits of our earthly places.”67 It is to this effort, the effort to cultivate right desire amidst earthen community, which we now turn.

The Kingdom of God and Agrarian Economics A fundamental problem of the industrial economy is “that it is not comprehensive enough,” and further, that “it tends to destroy what it does not comprehend, and that it is dependent upon much that it does not comprehend.”68 The “free-market,” try as it might, cannot make a commodity of—it cannot quantify or account for—love of neighbor, of land, or of God. According to the agrarian mindset, the only economy that is comprehensive enough is the Kingdom of God, or the “Great Economy.” In attempting to criticize our current economic structure and practice we must “naturally oppose against it
65 66

Saint Augustine, Confessions, ed. Henry Chadwick (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1991), 33. Cavanaugh, Being Consumed, 11. 67 Berry, “Faustian Economics,” 42. 68 Wendell Berry, “Two Economies,” 219. Emphasis original.

105 an economy that does not leave anything out.”69 It is only then, Wendell Berry argues, that we recognize that all smaller economies are in fact dependent upon God’s economy, and that all must be directed, however imperfectly, toward that end. Berry suggests several overarching principles of the Kingdom of God, and they are worth juxtaposing with our current economic structure. First, the Kingdom of God “includes everything; in it, the fall of every sparrow is a significant event.” All humans are in it, “whether we know it or not and whether we wish to be or not.”70 Second, everything in the Kingdom of God is interdependent, and thus autonomy is never a moral absolute. Third, “humans do not and can never know either all the creatures that the Kingdom of God contains or the whole pattern or order by which it contains them.” In short, we can never conquer nature and its inhabitants, for though we live within order, “this order is both greater and more intricate than we can know.”71 Fourth, if we do attempt to master that which we do not fully comprehend—if we presume upon it or violate it—“severe penalties are in store for us.”72 And finally, because as creatures we do not control history, “we cannot foresee an end to it,” and thus must tend creation to the best of our limited knowledge and ability.73 This Kingdom of God, the Great Economy, Berry concludes, is indeed—and in ways that are, to some extent, practical—an economy: it includes principles and patterns by which values or powers or necessities are parceled out and exchanged. But if the Great Economy comprehends humans and thus cannot be fully comprehended by them, then it is also not an economy in which humans can participate directly. What this suggests, in fact, is that humans can live in the Great Economy only with great uneasiness, subject to powers and

69 70

Berry, “Two Economies,” 219. Ibid., 220. 71 Ibid. 72 Ibid. 73 Ibid., 223. Emphasis original.

106 laws that they can understand only in part. There is no human accounting for the Great Economy.74 Though all creatures are dependent on the Great Economy, it is also the case that humanity must have “a little economy,” or “a narrow circle within which things are manageable by the use of our wits.”75 Berry suggests that the proper relationship between the Great Economy and all smaller economies might be found in the sixth chapter of Matthew: After speaking of God’s care for nature, the fowls of the air and the lilies of the field, Jesus says: ‘Therefore take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed?... But seek first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.’76 Berry interprets this text not as a summons to abandon all worldly economies, but rather as an indication of the telos of all exchange. We must seek first the Kingdom of God—a kingdom that includes the fowls and the lilies—thus giving “an obviously necessary priority to the Great Economy over any little economy made within it.”77 It is the Great Economy that must direct, must push and pull, our smaller economy. And when this smaller economy turns “in sympathy with the greater, receiving its being and motion from it,” the implications are profound: Then, because in the Great Economy all transactions count and the account is never ‘closed,’ the ideal changes. We see that we cannot afford maximum profit or power with minimum responsibility because, in the Great Economy, the loser’s losses finally afflict the winner…. Thus, it is not the ‘sum of its parts’ but a membership of parts inextricably joined to each other, indebted to each other, receiving significance and worth from each other and from the whole. One is obliged to ‘consider the lilies of the field,’ not because they are lilies or because they are exemplary, but because they are fellow members and because, as fellow members, we and the lilies are in certain critical ways alike.78
74 75

Berry, “Two Economies,” 221. Ibid., 222. 76 Ibid. 77 Ibid. 78 Ibid., 233. Emphasis original.

107 Keeping the Kingdom of God always in mind, one begins to see the proper and necessary characteristics of any human economy. “A good human economy,” Berry observes, “defines and values human goods, and, like the Great Economy, it conserves and protects its goods.”79 Another important trait of good human economy involves value. According to the agrarian standard, and so too the orthodox Christian one, humans do not make value. Though it can be added, in limited ways, by proper and careful work ordered toward God, “value can originate only in the Great Economy.” All value added by humans is “artificial, made by art, and though the value of art is critical to human life, it is a secondary value.”80 Central to faithful local economy is the affirmation of the goodness, the inherent value and worth, of God’s creation. A good human economy also opposes the economy and culture of the “one-night stand”—the “separation of people and places and products from their histories.”81 As theologian William Cavanaugh suggests, “consumerism is a spiritual discipline that, like other spiritual disciplines, lends itself to a certain practice of community.”82 The economy of the one-night stand, then, leads inevitably to a community of detachment in which one thing, one place, one person, can and will be replaced by some other thing, place, or person. All are simply interchangeable commodities to be used without care or concern and then, willy-nilly, discarded with equally little regard. “In this condition,” Berry suggests, “we have many commodities, but little satisfaction, little sense of the sufficiency of anything.”83

Berry, “Two Economies,” 224. Ibid. 81 Wendell Berry, “The Whole Horse,” in The Art of the Commonplace: The Agrarian Essays of Wendell Berry, 236. 82 Cavanaugh, Being Consumed, 50. 83 Berry, “The Whole Horse,” 236.


108 Our “persistent want of satisfaction” Berry notes, “is directly and complexly related to the dissociation of ourselves and all our goods from our and their histories.”84 We have, in economic theory and practice, become detached from the truly material. What has happened is that most people in our country, and apparently most people in the ‘developed’ world, have given proxies to the corporations to produce and provide all of their food, clothing, and shelter. Moreover, they are rapidly increasing their proxies to corporations or governments to provide entertainment, education, child care, care of the sick and the elderly, and many other kinds of ‘service’ that once were carried on informally and inexpensively by individuals or households or communities. Our major economic practice, in short, is to delegate the practice to others.85 Good human economy, however, insists on recovering the proper attachments that remind us of our dependence on one another. Because the economy of the one-night stand detaches us from particular, embodied commitments to any person or place, it also prevents us from offering concrete, ethical support to such people or places. When, in the book of Matthew, Jesus tells the rich young man to sell all his possessions and “come, follow me,” it is clear that “for Jesus, detachment from material goods went hand in hand with attachment to Jesus himself … and to his community of followers.”86 Good human economy insists on the detachment of humanity from a system in which there is no reliable accounting—a system in which “it is impossible for us to know the economic history or the ecological cost of the products we buy”—and attachment to a local community “in which producers and consumers are neighbors,” nature “is the standard of work and production,” and there is a restoration of “history to economics.”87 This all leads to the two fundamental principles of sound local economy: neighborhood and subsistence. “In a viable neighborhood,” Berry suggests, “neighbors
84 85

Berry, “The Whole Horse,” 236. Berry, “The Total Economy,” 64. Emphasis original. 86 Cavanaugh, Being Consumed, 51. 87 Berry, “The Whole Horse,” 237, 244.

109 ask themselves what they can do or provide for one another, and they find answers that they and their place can afford.”88 Unlike the global or free market, then, local neighborhood requires a “diverse and particularizing vocabulary that you can actually think with: ‘community,’ ‘ecosystem,’ ‘watershed,’ ‘place,’ ‘homeland,’ ‘family,’ ‘household,’”89 Viable neighborhood also requires a shattering “of the selfish context of the individual life, and thus forces a consideration of what human beings are and ought to be.”90 For agrarians, “the practice of neighborhood” necessarily entails both an awareness of the telos of the Great Economy and an exacting concern for the unique needs of local places. Such a community “cannot agree to the loss of any of its members, or the disemployment of any of its members, as an acceptable cost of an economic program.”91 Rather, it coheres precisely because neighbors recognize their need for one another and “cherish and protect what they have in common.”92 This cherishing and protecting of what a neighborhood holds in common is central to subsistence. Berry notes that in a viable community, economic products “are understood either as belonging to the community’s subsistence or as surplus, and only the surplus is considered to be marketable abroad.” Moreover, in charity, “it must refuse to import goods that are produced at the cost of human or ecological degradation elsewhere.”93 In short, subsistence requires an acknowledgment of how the particular impacts the broader whole, and so too entails a recognition that because

Berry, “The Total Economy,” 74-75. Berry, “The Whole Horse,” 243. 90 Berry, “Faustian Economics,” 39. 91 Wendell Berry, “The Purpose of a Coherent Community,” in The Way of Ignorance: And Other Essays (Washington, DC: Shoemaker and Hoard, 2005), 79. 92 Berry, “The Total Economy,” 75. 93 Ibid.


110 places differ from one another … we must behave with unique consideration in each one; the ability to tender appropriate regard and respect to each place in its difference is a kind of freedom; the inability to do so is a kind of tyranny.94 Thus in any viable community, true freedom, and so subsistence, requires attachment to the local economy and its members, yet also “implies the principle of charity abroad.”95 The agrarian vision of the Good, then, does not mean that all community members are similarly engaged rural people and farmers, but rather agrarians would insist only that any manufacturing enterprise should be formed and scaled to fit the local landscape, the local ecosystem, and the local community, and that is should be locally owned and employ local people. They would insist, in other words, that the shop or factory owner should not be an outsider, but rather a sharer in the fate of the place and community. The deciders should live with the results of their decisions.96 In an age of detachment, living with the results of our decisions—committing to a particular neighborhood and its subsistence—is a genuinely radical act. For, as Berry suggests, “when we promise in love and awe and fear there is a certain mobility that we give up.” In eschewing mobility as the ultimate norm, we come to realize that true freedom is often found in the limits of community and neighborhood and friendship. “We give up the romanticism of progress, that is always shifting its terms to fit is occasions,” and thus “we are speaking where we stand, and we shall stand afterwards in the presence of what we have said.”97

Agrarian Economic Practice According to Wendell Berry’s agrarian philosophy, love must always be incarnated in the small economy, in one’s own neighborhood and household. For love “is
Berry, “The Whole Horse,” 243. Berry, “The Total Economy,” 75. 96 Berry, “The Whole Horse,” 244. 97 Wendell Berry, “Standing by Words,” in Standing by Words (Washington, DC: Shoemaker and Hoard, 1983), 62.
95 94

111 not just a feeling but is indistinguishable from the willingness to help, to be useful to one another.”98 Thus the way of love leads inevitably to economic practice, and “is indistinguishable, moreover, from the way of freedom.” The vision of freedom Jesus offers in the gospels—freedom from hatred, enmity, indifference, and violence—must guide us in our effort to “live and work so as not to be estranged from God’s presence in His work and in all His creatures.”99 Berry insists that Jesus’ teachings about love must constantly inform our economic lives. The question the agrarian mindset forces upon us, then, is at once profoundly simple and utterly challenging: “How are we to make of that love an economic practice?”100 When we realize, finally, that it is Jesus—not Adam Smith or Karl Marx or Milton Friedman—who must animate our imagination on matters of liberty and economics, we are freed to reorder our lives, our households, toward God. It is then, and only then, that we recognize that “the life of Jesus is the sign within which all exchanges should be understood.”101 And thus we acknowledge, with John Howard Yoder, that we must speak “in public about gospel values.”102 Our neighborhood, our ecclesial life, is unavoidably public by its very nature—“the order of the faith community constitutes a public offering to the entire society.”103 It is, essentially, a public offering—a small economy—that witnesses to the Kingdom of God.

Wendell Berry, “The Burden of the Gospels,” in The Way of Ignorance: And Other Essays, 134. Ibid., 137. 100 Ibid. 101 D. Stephen Long, The Goodness of God: Theology, The Church, and Social Order (Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2001), 234. Emphasis added. 102 John H. Yoder, “Firstfruits: The Paradigmatic Role of God’s People,” in For the Nations: Essays Public and Evangelical (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1997), 21. 103 Ibid., 27. Here Yoder is citing Barth approvingly. He goes on to make the point in an even more direct way: “To participate in the transforming process of becoming the faith community is itself to speak the prophetic word, is itself the beginning of the transformation of the cosmos.” [Emphasis original.]


112 One way Christians might begin such public offering is through a commitment to, and embodiment of, what philosopher Albert Borgmann calls “focal things and practices.” A focal thing is something that has a commanding presence, engages your body and mind, and engages you with others. Focal things and the kinds of engagement they foster have the power to center your life, and to arrange all other things around this center in an orderly way because you know what’s important and what’s not. A focal practice results from committed engagement with a focal thing.104 The cultivation of focal practices enables precisely the sort of neighborhood Wendell Berry advocates, as they are “habits and events that bring people together in regular, sustained ways so that they can achieve an understanding of and participation in a common good.”105 Moreover, while commodities “are sharply defined and easily measured”—they “are highly reduced entities and abstract in the sense that within the overall framework of technology they are free of local and historical ties”—focal things resist such reductive measurement.106 As Borgmann notes, we can count the number of fast food outlets, the hamburgers sold, the times a family eats out. And such a measurement of eating understood as consumption can with some additional data capture its commodity. But how can we begin to measure a family meal, thoughtfully prepared and celebrated at home? Again we can measure highway miles; we can count cars per population and scenic resting places. But how does one determine and quantify the essential dimensions of a hike in the wilderness? …. [W]hen value talk is about [focal] things, it falters, and the object of discourse slips from our grasp. Discourse that is appropriate to things must in its crucial occurrences abandon the means-ends distinction. It must be open to and guided by the fullness of the focal thing in its world, and it can communicate the thing only through testimony and appeal.107

Albert Borgmann, “Albert Borgmann on Taming Technology: An Interview,” The Christian Century (August 2003): 24. 105 Norman Wirzba, “An Economy of Gratitude,” in Wendell Berry: Life and Work, ed. Jason Peters (Lexington: The University Press of Kentucky, 2007), 154. 106 Albert Borgmann, Technology and the Character of Contemporary Life: A Philosophical Inquiry (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1984), 81. 107 Ibid.


113 Focal things, then, “engage us in so many and subtle ways that no quantification can capture them.”108 They are “not at the mercy of how you feel at the moment” or “whether the time is convenient”; rather, “you commit yourself to it come hell or high water.”109 And such focal things naturally lead to practices—meals, festivals, sports leagues, church services—that, however simple, enable us “to feel once again the eloquence and the loveliness of reality,” of our own local and particular neighborhoods and households.110 Of all the focal practices Christians might develop, however, the most important is the breaking of bread together. For it is this practice, the Eucharistic act, that “is the sign that gives all other signs their significance because it is the repetition of the moment of ultimate exchange between God and humanity that Christians cannot but claim to be the basis for all other exchanges.”111 It is this practice, finally, that must orient all other economic thinking and practice, for it is in breaking bread that we give thanks and provide for all members of our community, weak and strong alike. “The Eucharist,” John Howard Yoder notes, “is an economic act.”112 When we join in the fellowship of Christ’s table, we reaffirm that the Kingdom of God sustains all smaller economies. And so also we witness to the profound freedom of a community shaped by mutual love and sharing, by concern for those a disordered economy forgets, by deep care for the land and its creatures, and by gentle loving-kindness for all in its membership. Thus “to do rightly the practice of breaking bread together is a matter of

Borgmann, Technology and the Character of Contemporary Life, 81. Borgmann, “On Taming Technology,” 24. 110 Wirzba, “An Economy of Gratitude,” 154. 111 Long, The Goodness of God, 236. Emphasis original. 112 John Howard Yoder, Body Politics: Five Practices of the Christian Community Before the Watching World (Scottdale: Herald Press, 1992), 21.


114 economic ethics”; the moment of ultimate exchange between God and humanity must impact the ordering of our lives and others.113 Finally, then, we must revaluate the practices of our economic lives in light of the Gospel, and so “undercut the individualism and the pressure to blind conformity” so prevalent in the market economies of our day. We must deny “the sovereignty of any sphere,” any school of thought, “over against the gospel.”114 For it is, in the end, only through an economic witness that points to the Kingdom of God that we begin to truly orient our lives in a way that fosters the flourishing of all creation. It seems unavoidable that Berry’s daunting question—How are we to make of Jesus’ love an economic practice?—bear upon Christian communities attempting to live and act faithfully in a violent, fragmented, and seemingly limitless world. It is a question that, when carefully considered, forces us to abandon the dodges of political and economic abstraction—for, as both Augustine and Berry demonstrate, “neither state intervention not its absence ensures the freedom of a market”—and take up the practical, communal, and often difficult effort of cultivating right desire in a disordered world.115 “What is most important,” William Cavanaugh concludes, “is the direct embodiment of free economic practices,” and so too the fostering of “economic practices that are consonant with the true ends of creation.”116 Thankfully, Berry offers a striking vision of how we might hope to live, as creatures at once fallen and redeemed, in the paradise of God’s creation, always some part, however small, of the Kingdom of God: To sit and look at light-filled leaves May let us see, or seem to see,
113 114

Yoder, Body Politics, 21. Ibid., 27. 115 Cavanaugh, Being Consumed, 32. 116 Ibid.

115 Far backward as through clearer eyes To what unsighted hope believes: The blessed conviviality That sang Creation’s seventh sunrise, Time when the Maker’s radiant sight Made radiant every thing He saw, And every thing He saw was filled With perfect joy and life and light. His perfect pleasure was sole law: No pleasure had become self-willed. For all His creatures were His pleasures And their whole pleasure was to be What He made them; they sought no gain Or growth beyond their proper measures, Nor longed for change or novelty. The only new thing could be pain.117

Wendell Berry, “To Sit and Look at Light-Filled Leaves,” in A Timbered Choir: The Sabbath Poems 1979-1997 (Washington, DC: Counterpoint, 1998), 8.




“What is the burden of the Bible,” Wendell Berry asks, “if not a sense of the mutuality of influence, rising out of an essential unity, among soul and body and community and world? These are all the works of God, and it is therefore the work of virtue to make or restore harmony among them.”1 The effort to make and restore a continuous harmony, to practice resurrection amidst the broken bodies and scars of the earth, is essential to the agrarian theological vision. Though Berry’s philosophy “will not return us to Eden” or “lead to perfection,” it does make clear the import of belonging to “a dwindling remnant,” a community, however small, that takes seriously the political and “economic relevance of the biblical tradition.”2 To cultivate “the work of virtue” requires a living community able to instantiate and carry forward the Christian agrarian vision. While Berry’s life and work demonstrates the stirring presence of such communities, I also think it necessary to explicitly link the agrarian mindset to the church. Although the Christian church has often been complicit in the murder of God’s creation, it has also, at its best, preserved essential lessons offered by the biblical agrarian tradition. “The Amish,” Berry offers, “have steadfastly subordinated economic value to the values of religion and community.” Yet to make sense of their witness, Berry continues, we must understand it “as belonging

Wendell Berry, “The Body and the Earth,” in The Unsettling of America: Culture and Agriculture, 3d ed. (San Francisco: Sierra Club Books, 1996), 109. 2 Wendell Berry, “Afterword to the Third Edition” in The Unsettling of America, 233; Wendell Berry, “God and Country,” in What Are People For? (New York: North Point Press, 1990), 102.


117 essentially to the Amish practice of Christianity, which instructs that one’s neighbors are to be loved as oneself.” The Amish, Berry suggests, have mastered one of the fundamental paradoxes of our condition: we can make ourselves whole only by accepting our partiality, by living within our limits, by being human—not by trying to be gods. By restraint they make themselves whole.3 Berry’s observation, I think, implies a more fundamental point: apart from their faithfulness to a certain story—the Christian story—it would likely be impossible for the Amish to cultivate lives of partiality, of limits, and of wholeness. As the broader argument of the preceding chapters has made clear, industrial “capitalism is no respecter of boundaries,” including our artificial boundaries between politics, economics, and community.4 Thus it proves essential to reattach the agrarian mindset, a mindset with deep biblical roots, to the Christian church. Such a community, theologian Daniel Bell observes, is one that “does not heed the siren call of state-power,” for it is “a society that refuses the invitation to be another interest group in civil society, discerning in such a call and such an invitation surreptitious means of disciplining the church.”5 In short, “the church’s politics is not defined by the secular order.”6 Rather, it is, finally, only the church that “embodies a decentralized, participatory politics that defies the discipline of the state and its civil society,” thus offering the possibility, the hope, of agrarian wholeness.7

Wendell Berry, “The Use of Energy,” in The Art of the Commonplace: The Agrarian Essays of Wendell Berry, ed. Norman Wirzba (Washington, DC: Shoemaker and Hoard, 2002), 292. 4 Ibid., 126. 5 Daniel M. Bell, Jr. “‘Men of Stone and Children of Struggle’: Latin American Liberationists at the End of History,” Modern Theology 14, no. 1 (January 1998): 133. 6 Ibid., 134. 7 Ibid. Despite Bell’s cogent and powerful discussion of the church, it is less obvious—as religious ethicist Jeffrey Stout has pointed out—where exactly one finds the church Bell describes. I think this is likely the source of Berry’s suspicion of Christianity that is too “organized” or “institutional.” It is precisely this point that is made clear in a conversation between Stout and Stanley Hauerwas: “On first


118 Though Berry offers no clear doctrine of the church, I think his vision has deep affinity with the ecclesiological vision of Stanley Hauerwas. According to Hauerwas, because Christian ethics takes God’s revelation seriously—“it is a truthful account of reality that enables us … to locate our story in God’s story”—Christians are not called to be moral only in certain acts, but rather they must be “faithful to the true story.”8 Thus the importance of a meaningful narrative, a story rooted in a Christian community of virtue, becomes evident: apart from this virtuous community, one cannot appreciate the importance of God’s revelation, nor bear witness to the fact that it is transformative for the people of God. The cultivation of a Christian agrarian vision, I believe, requires precisely such a community of virtue. Gleaning from Karl Barth, Hauerwas contends that Christian ethics is “a form of reflection in service to a community, and it derives its character from the nature of that community’s convictions.”9 Convictions, however, are quite dissimilar to rules. Rules, secondary to the virtues, do not direct us to our proper end. Virtues, however, enable us to move towards the achievement of our Christian telos. Virtuous communities, Hauerwas notes, teach us what kind of intentions are appropriate if we are to be the kind of person living among these people. Thus questions of what we ought to be are necessary background for questions of what we ought to do. The concentration on obligations and rules as morally primary ignores the fact that action descriptions gain their intelligibility from the role they play in a community’s history and therefore for individuals in that community.10
reading [Democracy and Tradition] I called Jeff asking where I could possibly find his account of democracy materially instantiated. He replied I could find his democracy instantiated in the same place you could find my account of the church.” Hauerwas recounts this discussion in “Postscript: A Response to Jeff Stout’s Democracy and Tradition,” in Performing the Faith: Bonhoeffer and the Practice of Nonviolence (Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2004), 237n46. 8 Stanley Hauerwas, The Peaceable Kingdom: A Primer in Christian Ethics (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1983), 68. 9 Ibid., 54. 10 Ibid., 21.


Who we ought to be, in light of a community’s history and membership, is an important consideration for Hauerwas and Berry alike. “The nature of Christian ethics,” Hauerwas suggests, “is determined by the fact that Christian convictions take the form of a story, or perhaps better, a set of stories that constitute a tradition, which in turn creates and forms a community.”11 Rather than emphasizing rules, the Christian narrative tells the story of God’s interaction with creation. According to Hauerwas, “there is no more fundamental way to talk about God than in a story.” Thus, “the fact that we come to know God through the recounting of the story of Israel and the life of Jesus is decisive for out truthful understanding of the kind of God we worship as well as the world in which we exist.”12 Hauerwas suggests that narrative is the primary grammar of Christian belief, while doctrines “are themselves a story” or “tools (sometimes even misleading tools) meant to help us tell the story better.”13 These tools enable us to interpret the rich, if sometimes maligned or misused, intellectual, theological, and communal traditions we inherit. It is only through this inheritance that “we can place ourselves—locate our stories—within God’s story,” all the while honoring “the chain of actual benefactors who have sustained the skill and stories that provide us with the means to know and live our lives as God’s creatures.”14 Scripture, in telling a story of the fall, the covenant, and the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, demonstrates “narrative as the form of God’s salvation.”15

11 12

Hauerwas, The Peaceable Kingdom, 24. Ibid., 25. 13 Ibid., 26. 14 Ibid., 27. 15 Ibid., 29.

120 With narrative so central to understanding ourselves in God’s story, it then follows that a primary task of Hauerwas’ ethics, like Berry’s own, is to “help us rightly envision the world.”16 In order for us to see clearly, we must “develop disciplined skills through initiation into that community that attempts to live faithfully to the story of God,” yet also ever reminds us that, “we do not desire to see truthfully.”17 Our community enables us to see our sin in light of the story of Jesus and gain redemption—membership in a particular kind of community—through placing ourselves in God’s story. Further, and perhaps most hopefully, “as we acquire the virtues necessary to sustain a community of peaceable people through history,” it becomes clear that our thinking, our selfunderstanding, may change.18 Narrative not only aids in correcting our sinful vision, it also acts as a potent reminder of the necessity of a virtuous life in community. The ethical life depends on a community “whose interest lies in the formation of character and whose perduring history provides the continuity we need to act in conformity with that character.”19 Hauerwas suggests that, “we are our character,” yet that “our ‘freedom’ … is dependent upon our being initiated into a truthful narrative, as in fact it is the resource from which we derive the power to ‘have character’ at all.”20 In other words “our freedom is literally carried by a community that sustains us in the habits of self-possession—not the least of which is learning to depend on and trust in others.” For it is apart from others, agrarians new and old insist, that we fail to recognize “the way [our] vision is restricted by [our] own self-

16 17

Hauerwas, The Peaceable Kingdom, 29. Ibid., 29-30. 18 Ibid., 33. 19 Ibid., 33. 20 Ibid., 43.

121 preoccupation.”21 By making the life of Jesus’ our own, “we are free to the extent that we trust others and make ourselves available to be trusted by others.” And it is in this trust and availability that we learn to be at peace with our own limited power, thus enabling us to “live at peace with one another” and with creation.22 The task of the Christian agrarian community, then, is to bear witness. A community of virtue enables Christian convictions to become intelligible—spoken, received, passed on, and inherited—not only to one another, but also to the world. “Put starkly,” Hauerwas argues, “the first social ethical task of the church is to be the church—the servant community.”23 Christians are witnesses to a particular story, they speak from a specific place, and their vision is a peculiar one. It is not acted out across the spectrum for all people; it is distinctly and especially Christian. As such, the community’s task is to relate—to witness—this unique story and vision to others. This cannot happen apart from the marks of the church that enable it to be a peaceable people: baptism, the Eucharist, sacraments, and preaching, all demonstrate and enable our calling to be a “holy people.”24 The community of Christ is the key element in developing the virtue and character to foster and cultivate the enduring harmony the agrarian mindset envisions. Life in such a community naturally leads, both for Berry and Hauerwas, to an emphasis on the ethical significance of Jesus. The entire effort of theological ethics, Hauerwas contends, is to train us to situate our lives in relation to Jesus’ own—to make Jesus the starting point. For, “you cannot know who Jesus is after the resurrection unless

Hauerwas, The Peaceable Kingdom, 44-45. Ibid., 46-49. 23 Ibid., 99. 24 Ibid., 108-109.


122 you have learned to follow Jesus during his life.”25 The early church witnessed to the importance of Jesus by telling the story of his life; they “showed the story of Jesus as absolutely essential for depicting the kind of kingdom they now thought possible through his life, death, and resurrection,” namely “by recognizing how Jesus exemplified in his life the standards of that kingdom.”26 Thus, the story of Jesus—the Gospel message— comes to us through narrative, in community, and enables us to learn to be like God.27 Hauerwas contends that the kingdom of Jesus will not have peace through coercion, but rather “peace … through the worship of the one God who chooses to rule the world through the power of love, which the world can only perceive as weakness.”28 The kingdom will be open to the outsider, just as Jesus was open to the unclean, having “confidence that God is present even in the unclean—a confidence made possible only because the community itself was formed by the presence of the ultimate stranger, Jesus Christ.”29 We cannot, as the Samaritan ever reminds us, limit neighborhood. “Living a life of forgiveness and peace is not just an impossible ideal,” Hauerwas suggests, “but an opportunity now present.”30 Jesus’ life enables a new way of life for us—one in which forgiveness and mercy reign over power. For “we are not to accept the world with its hate and resentments as given, but to recognize that we live in a new age which makes possible a new way of life.”31 Because of the eschatological promise of peace that “renews the peace of the beginning,” Hauerwas notes, “we do not value life as an end in itself—there is much
25 26

Hauerwas, The Peaceable Kingdom, 74. Ibid., 73-74. 27 Ibid., 75. 28 Ibid., 79. 29 Ibid., 85. 30 Ibid. 31 Ibid.

123 worth dying for—rather all life is valued, even the lives of our enemies, because God values them.”32 Because Jesus died for his enemies, we must be willing to do the same. “Because we have learned to live as a forgiven people, as a people no longer in control,” Hauerwas states, “we also find we can become a whole people.”33 It is precisely through this acceptance of limitation and partiality, Berry and Hauerwas reiterate, that we realize our wholeness. Stanley Hauerwas’ ecclesiology, coupled with Wendell Berry’s agrarian vision, proves deeply instructive for Christian’s attempting to live faithfully, with affection, in a fragmented, postmodern world. Berry’s agrarian Christianity—his deeply religious, and thus always practical, exploration of philosophical, theological, political, and economic issues—draws our focus away from the deadly habits of contemporary culture and points toward a way of being in the world that is at once prophetic and reconciling. “Berry is so compelling,” Norman Wirzba notes, “precisely because he draws our attention to what (on closer investigation) is obvious and decent but has been forgotten or overlooked.”34 He reminds us, in short, that we live through the kindnesses and sacrifices of others; that our embodiment necessarily and beneficially ties us to agricultural/ecological cycles; that an economy based on unrestricted competition finally ends in war and mutual destruction; that health is a feature of the wholeness of our memberships in social and biological communities of life and death; that we are the beneficiaries of traditions of memory, insight, and wisdom; and that eating is finally a sacramental act. The agrarian emphasis on the local and particular, the land and the body, the everyday and the mundane, forces us to commit to the world, to our own beloved

Hauerwas, The Peaceable Kingdom, 88. Ibid., 89. 34 Norman Wirzba, “An Economy of Gratitude,” in Wendell Berry: Life and Work, ed. Jason Peters (Lexington: The University Press of Kentucky, 2007), 142.


124 community, in all its uniqueness and peculiarity. Wendell Berry implores us to get into the watershed, the ecosystem, the soil, the neighborhood, and he insists that we be actuated by affection—by our love for both God’s creation and those creatures inhabiting it. Alan Jacobs makes clear this message, and so too the challenge, reiterated throughout Berry’s life and work: [C]reation, still ‘subjected to futility,’ continues to ‘wait with eager longing’ to be ‘set free from its bondage to decay.’ And we, even at our best, still strive to know what it means to hold this world in stewardship. Creation remains always too large for us, too abstract. What’s real is this furrow of black soil, that crabapple tree: These we can protect insofar as we see them, touch them, and therefore know them. But no general principle, no notion of greenness, can tell us how to care for what occupies our field of vision this moment, what sifts between our outstretched fingers.35 Berry often recounts the story of the writer and artist Harland Hubbard who, “when a local church asked him for a painting of the Jordan, made them a painting of their own river, the Ohio.”36 Harlan’s painting of “Ohio’s Jordan” forces upon us a fundamental question: “If we who live in its watershed saw that river as he saw it, would it now be so shamefully polluted?”37 The real challenge and hope of Wendell Berry’s agrarian vision is that we, as Christians, begin to see all people as dear neighbors, all rivers as the Jordan, and all land as Holy Land. It is precisely the difficulty and hardship of this Christian vision, Berry poetically reminds us, that is its possibility: If we will have the wisdom to survive, to stand like slow-growing trees on a ruined place, renewing, enriching it, if we will make our seasons welcome here, asking not too much of earth or heaven,
Alan Jacobs, “Blessed Are the Green of Heart,” First Things, no. 193 (May 2009): 22. Emphasis original. 36 Wendell Berry, “Forward,” in Ellen F. Davis, Scripture, Culture, and Agriculture: An Agrarian Reading of the Bible (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009), xii. For Berry’s book length treatment of Hubbard’s life, see Harlan Hubbard: Life and Work (New York: Pantheon Books, 1990). 37 Ibid., xiii.

125 then a long time after we are dead the lives our lives prepare will live here, their houses strongly placed upon the valley sides, fields and gardens rich in the windows. The river will run clear, as we will never know it, and over it, birdsong like a canopy. On the levels of the hills will be green meadows, stock bells in noon shade. On the steeps where greed and ignorance cut down the old forest, an old forest will stand, its rich leaf-fall drifting on its roots. The veins of forgotten springs will have opened. Families will be singing in the fields. In their voices they will hear a music risen out of the ground. They will take nothing from the ground they will not return, whatever the grief at parting. Memory, native to this valley, will spread over it like a grove, and memory will grow into legend, legend into song, song into sacrament. The abundance of this place, the songs of its people and its birds, will be health and wisdom and indwelling light. This is no paradisal dream. Its hardship is its possibility.38


Wendell Berry, “A Vision,” in The Selected Poems of Wendell Berry (Berkeley: Counterpoint, 1999),




WORKS BY WENDELL BERRY Berry, Wendell. “Against the Nihil of the Age.” Sewanee Review 109, no. 4 (Fall 2001): 542-563. ________. Another Turn of the Crank. Washington, DC: Counterpoint, 1995. ________. The Art of the Commonplace: The Agrarian Essays of Wendell Berry. Edited by Norman Wirzba. Washington, DC: Shoemaker and Hoard, 2002. ________. Blessed are the Peacemakers: Christ’s Teachings About Love, Compassion, and Forgiveness. Selected and introduced by Wendell Berry. Emeryville, CA: Shoemaker and Hoard, 2005. ________. Citizenship Papers. Washington, DC: Shoemaker and Hoard, 2003. ________. A Continuous Harmony: Essays Cultural and Agricultural. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1972. Reprint, Washington, DC: Shoemaker and Hoard, 2004. ________. Conversations with Wendell Berry. Edited by Morris Allen Grubbs. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2007. ________. “Digging In: Wendell Berry on Small Farms, Local Wisdom, And The Folly Of Greed.” The Sun Magazine, no. 391 (July 2008). ________. Entries: Poems. New York: Counterpoint, 1997. ________. “Faustian Economics: Hell hath no limits.” Harper’s (May 2008): 35-42. ________. Fidelity: Five Stories. New York: Pantheon Books, 1992. ________. “Foreward.” In Scripture, Culture, and Agriculture: An Agrarian Reading of the Bible, by Ellen F. Davis, ix-xiii. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009. ________. The Gift of Good Land: Further Essays Cultural and Agricultural. San Francisco: North Point Press, 1981. ________. Given. Washington, DC: Shoemaker and Hoard, 2005. ________. Hannah Coulter. Washington DC: Shoemaker and Hoard, 2004.

127 ________. Harland Hubbard: Life and Work. New York: Pantheon Books, 1990. ________. The Hidden Wound. New York: North Point Press, 1989. ________. Home Economics. San Francisco: North Point Press, 1987. ________. Jayber Crow. New York: Counterpoint, 2000. ________. Life is a Miracle: An Essay against Modern Superstition. Washington, DC: Counterpoint, 2000. ________. The Long-Legged House. New York: Harcourt Brace, 1969. Reprint, Washington, DC: Shoemaker and Hoard, 2004. ________. The Selected Poems of Wendell Berry. Berkeley: Counterpoint, 1999. ________. Sex, Economy, Freedom and Community. New York: Pantheon Books, 1993. ________. Standing by Words. San Francisco: North Point Press, 1983. Reprint, Washington, DC: Shoemaker and Hoard, 2004. ________. A Timbered Choir: The Sabbath Poems 1979-1997. Washington, DC: Counterpoint, 1998. ________. The Unsettling of America: Culture & Agriculture, 3d ed. San Francisco: Sierra Club Books, 1996. ________. The Way of Ignorance: And Other Essays. Washington, DC: Shoemaker and Hoard, 2005. ________. What Are People For? New York: North Point Press, 1990.

OTHER WORKS Angyal, Andrew J. Wendell Berry. New York: Twayne Publishers, 1995. Athanasius. On the Incarnation. Crestwood: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1993. Augustine of Hippo. Confessions. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1991. Bacevich, Andrew J. The Limits of Power: The End of American Exceptionalism. New York: Metropolitan Books, 2008.

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