October 19, 2017

Wendell Berry: Lamenting Modern Christianity

depressionLent is a time for lamenting. The Book of Psalms teaches us that lamenting is a primary form of prayer in an unjust and unloving world. Through lamenting prayer, we cry out to God in the pain of our suffering and weakness, beseeching him to restore righteousness and peace to our world. In our individual lives and in the various communities which we comprise, there is always much to lament. For we are broken and flawed, and so then are all our relationships. Throughout Lent, we will focus on various aspects of life today which should lead us, I think, into a faithful practice of lamentation.

We begin today with a quote from the always interesting Wendell Berry for your contemplation in this regard. This is taken from an interview at The American Conservative, which I encourage you to read in its entirety. Here is a portion of that discussion in which Berry speaks about what he sees as the basic practices of Christian faith and some major problems in today’s Christianity, especially here in the U.S.

WendellBerry_NewBioImage_Credit-DanCarracoThe core tenets [of Christianity], I think, are an undiscriminating neighborliness, help to “the least of these my brethren,” love in response to hate, mindfulness of the present rather than the future, peaceability, forgiveness, justice, and above justice mercy.

My concern about modern Christianity? I don’t know when, why, or how it happened, but at some time the mainstream denominations put themselves in charge of the Sunday job of accrediting people for admission to Heaven, turning the workdays, the human economy, and the material creation over to the materialists. And so it became possible for people to commit their souls to God while participating in an economy dedicated to the swiftest possible extraction and consumption of everything it values in God’s world, with unlimited collateral damage to all creatures, humans included, that it does not value.

Once this desecration of creation, of life itself, becomes conventional economic practice, then the submersion of the Gospel in nationalism and the waging of Christian warfare readily follows. Once war is accepted as the normal condition of human, including Christian, life, then spying upon citizens, imprisonment without indictment or trial, torture of prisoners, and all the malpractice of a tyrannical “security” evidently follow and are justified by leaders. If the life of the poorest being that crawls on the earth is not respected as a great and holy mystery, then it may be that humans go “free” of all limits, become disoriented, and are truly unable to find themselves.

Comments

  1. Christiane says:

    these words . . . these words:
    “If the life of the poorest being that crawls on the earth is not respected as a great and holy mystery,
    then . . . ”

    reading these words, I thought of a poem on facebook by the daughter of an old, dear friend . . . here is a portion from Anne’s poem:

    “Too often, I hear only judgments and anger ringing through my head,
    and I cannot be a source of hope.

    I want to cry.
    I want to scream to Heaven:
    Make me better!
    Let me embrace all broken things–
    unlimbed spiders,
    the curled corpse of a rat,
    drug-addicted mothers,
    my humanly perfect son,
    my aging face–
    with tenderness.
    Let me stop being that thing against which anything, everything, can break.”

  2. The exploitation of nature is not solely the province of modernism, nor is it only modern Christianity that has been complacent about the exploitation of nature. Modern technology has made that exploitation ruthlessly efficient, but if the technology had existed earlier I have no doubt the ruthlessly efficient exploitation would have occurred sooner. The peacable kingdom that Berry describes as the core of Christianity has never existed; slavery of human beings, the cruel exploitation of animal labor and the extraction and bleaching of all vitality from the earth has been the modus operandi of human civilization for the last several thousand years, with the blessing and approval of whatever religious authorities existed at the time. China was ruthlessly deforested before the shadow of Christian missionaries ever fell across its shores, for example, and the religious authorities protested not in the least. I think Berry is wrong to think that there was a time when Christian institutions would have protested and rejected the modern project of exploitation.

    • I agree with you Robert! This tract is overly broad and sweeping. In a court of law it would have been shredded for its non-specificity and lack of corroboration. I think the author confuses the human condition and human nature with a failure of his own disappointed high expectations with Christianity in general. In short, he espouses typical leftist agonizings. But to what purpose?

      All that said, it is worth examining our hearts, as individuals, for any of the sins he mentions. And for that exercise alone, this article is worth reading.

      • Clay Crouch says:

        I don’t think his “agonizings” are leftist. Don’t you find them to be human? Even christian?

        • Yes, and maybe I am being a bit unfair in painting him with a broad brush. But his sentiments are more typical of the left leaning part of Christianity, so the fault is mine.

          • “left-leaning” christianity just means emphasizing those parts that “right-leaning” christianity have neglected or forgotten.

            seriously, it’s a spectrum. the right are no more right then the left are right.

            it’s ridiculous that we demonize social or environmental stuff as “social gospel” or whatnot. by criticizing someone talking about it, you then take the position as basically being against it, otherwise you’d be in an agreement with some clarifications.

            (not you, oscar, but the general “you”)

          • “it’s ridiculous that we demonize social or environmental stuff as “social gospel” or whatnot. by criticizing someone talking about it,”

            Yep. So be it.

            I just call myself “Social Gospel” now. Wave the flag high. The alternative is the Despair Gospel. I prefer my ‘side’.

          • Yeah. May as well. And Despair Gospel is adequate. Because otherwise, in your haste to correct, you are positionally “against” everything good the Social Gospel stands for, but maybe with some hand waving about “doing it right”.

          • Oscar, first of all this is from an interview and shouldn’t be judged the same way we would analyze a written piece. Second, if you read the whole interview you will see that Berry doesn’t like and doesn’t easily fit into left and right categories. In fact the interview was done in The American Conservative and was done from the perspective of what kind of a conservative Berry might be.

        • I don’t either. I know some hardcore conservative libertarians that excoriate the same things Berry is doing here. Whenever people label something as liberal anymore, I usually assume some myopic, binary spectrum thinking is going on. I just don’t buy it anymore. Liberal is not the opposite of conservative, with the two occupying separate ends on a line. It’s just a vast jumble, and no one actually occupies a discrete point on a line that they and others can neatly define. Liberal and conservative are worthless labels to me anymore.

      • jazziscoolithink says:

        “But to what purpose?”

        To lament. Let me have a go with the broad brush: the typical conservative response to lamentation is the knee-jerk reaction to self-justify.

      • Dan Crawford says:

        “Agonizing” over injustice, economic exploitation, the slavish pursuit of the dollar while forsaking all human values, the damage we do to the environment in the name of profit – “Leftish”? Wow. No wonder cynicism grows day by day – that such a pronouncement comes from “Christians” makes me wonder whether we have good news to proclaim to American society, save the platform of the present majority party in Congress.

    • You said ” The peacable kingdom that Berry describes as the core of Christianity has never existed;”

      But is that because it can’t exist or is it because there is a lack of imagination among those who claim to follow Christ? I’m not sure such a place can be achieved either (in this earth time/place), but I firmly believe we (at least Christians) could move in that direction. Christ and His Spirit came to nudge us, prod us, lead us towards that vision and to keep trying no matter what… Problem is, there’s a lot of “christians” who don’t even want to move in that direction…or use the excuse that it’s “impossible” to never make a move in that direction (via their thinking or practice) And the notion that we shouldn’t or can’t BUT should just hang on to “faith” until we die and then like magic we’ll be “there”, is especially strong here in the US… I think that is what Berry laments and I join him in that lament, almost daily and especially when I’m around and with the evangelicals I know…They (and probably me as well) have a disturbing penchant for “putting up with” a long list of things that should prick their consciences but don’t.

      • Are Presbyterians and Anglicans part of the “evangelicals”? Because if NOT then I have encountered many who fit in with that same inaction and antipathy.

        • You’re right… for me it’s evangelicals because that’s who I’m around, but yeah the inaction and apathy is apparent in many branches of christianity… won’t argue with you on that.

      • Almost like denying the Kingdom of Heaven is near or doesn’t exist or never will.

        Yeah it does. It’s on my shelf, director’s cut. Pretty good movie, I should get the blu-ray sometime.

    • What I hear Berry lamenting is the way Christianity constantly forgets its call to show the world a different way of living, and instead takes on all the worst characteristics of the surrounding culture and “baptizes” them in Christian language. We’ve forgotten our prophetic role. And the primary places where this world needs a prophetic voice are what Berry names: speaking against violence, greed, materialism, and destruction of the earth.

      It’s true that human beings have always fought wars, and always exploited natural resources, but it’s also true to say that the scope of modern warfare and modern environmental exploitation exceeds anything people would have imagined centuries ago. And that means that the need is greater than ever for Christians who will speak out – and instead we’re just as materialistic and violent as our secular neighbors, if not more so.

      • This.

        As we say in IT: “scale changes the problem”. In a primitive agrarian society a civil war is one thing, in a modern industrialized society a civil war is something else entirely. Genghis Kahn did not have barrell bombs. Saying it-is-all-the-same ignores pretty much everything.

      • jazziscoolithink says:

        +1

      • Gotta get mine, and if you’re lucky, I may give you a dollar later, as long as no one forces me to give that dollar, because God loves a cheerful giver, or I may keep my dollar and put laws in place to take your 50 cents.

      • +1

      • +1

        Focusing too much on the seeming impossibility of a conflict-free world distracts from the more immediate and practical problem: much ground lies between the extremes of continual, brutal, total war and a pacifist paradise.

        If there are practical, productive, and sometimes difficult things one can do to build peace between people and communities, then we should be doing those things.

        And is there ever a time when one can do literally *nothing*? I’m not talking about winning, although winning is nice. I’m talking about seed planting and faithfulness … and maybe something bolder when you find a gap in the fence.

  3. So, ironically as Berry suggests, we become lost–the condition from which the”modern” church wants to save people, and we do not even realize it.

  4. war is accepted as the normal condition of human… life, including Christian”

    I like Mr. Barry in many respects, and I agree that Christians should stand ready to critique our nation and culture to ensure that excesses in wartime do not occur. But sorry, war IS the normal condition of (fallen) human life. And this is just my opinion overagainst that of Christian pacifists, but sometimes it is more loving to our neighbors to fight than it is to not fight and let them face the evils that would be unchecked.

    We live in a fallen world, and sometimes the best thing we have is the choice between evils – it’s just a matter of which evil you find theologically and socially less damaging. And not choosing is simply another way of choosing one of the evils, without having to think through the consequences.

    • The most striking part of the interview to me, which I did not include in this excerpt, is when Berry wonders why, in over 2000 years, so-called “Christian” nations and institutions who supposedly follow Jesus, have not had the imagination to come up with any viable alternatives to war.

      • And this is the kind of reasoning that I don’t care for. The statement itself is so naive that its almost laughable. Jesus’ solution to violence was to die on a cross. The early Christians’ solution to persecution was to die praising their Lord. Throughout all of the last 2000 years, individual Christians have been faced with the choice of “to fight”, or, “to refuse to fight”, and it was left up to their individual consciences to which path to take. There was no “other” way.

        And once more, the myth of the “Christian nations” is trotted out, as if nations themselves have individual souls, and as if an institution itself can be a “Christian” and have a promised future with Christ. BOTH are myths! There are only individuals who are saved by Christ’s sacrifice and mercy, and collectively they are called “The Church”. Individuals make up institutions, but to condemn the whole organization, and each individual in it, for the collective failure of the whole just does not make sense.

        As I mentioned above, this piece is good for individual meditation, and the author writes well and has good intentions, but its logic just does not stand up, in MY uneducated opinion.

        I know you will disagree…

      • I STRONGLY object to the notion that nations have failed to come up with alternatives to war. We have all kinds of international bodies for resolving disputes, all busily working away. That there are still wars does NOT negate this. Think of if war was still the way nations resolved trade disputes? Wars happen, but since the end of the period of the great wars they have been few outside of localized and poorly administered regions.

        This reasoning easily makes the perfect the enemy of the good, so why not just throw up your hands and go home. There is no vision or goal so debilitating and havoc causing than that of Perfection.

        • jazziscoolithink says:

          Most Americans just do not have the stomach for lamentation. Can we spend some time in the sorrow of knowing that we, as humanity (and the Church, in particular), have failed in preventing violence before we jump into giving all the banal justifications for our failure?

          • “before we jump into giving all the banal justifications for our failure?”

            Where is the “banal justification”? Really, where? Read what I wrote – it isn’t there.

            My response is the the COUNTER FACTUAL statement “have not had the imagination to come up with any viable alternatives to war.”

            ” Can we spend some time in the sorrow of knowing that we, as humanity (and the Church, in particularly”

            Historically, the church has played a significant role in international relations and civil movements. In many cases to a very positive effect.

            Today – in the United States at least -I agree with Mr. Berry, and you apparently, there is much to lament. The church has been co-opted on many fronts.

          • God forbid we feel morose.

          • jazziscoolithink says:

            Sorry, didn’t intend that statement toward you, The Finn.

          • Historically, the church has played a significant role in international relations and civil movements. In many cases to a very positive effect.

            christian men and women fighting to end segregation and enforce civil rights, and christian men and women fighting to enforce segregation and end civil rights.

            one side criticizing the theology of another. and by doing so, positionally being forced to be against them.

            pro-life and pro-choice. gotta be against one to be for the other.

            or not.

          • I did not say we should not lament our fallen condition. Just that aside from Jesus’ return, there is no ultimate solution to it.

        • I agree with you, mostly. He paints with a broad brush, but I can’t tell if he is just being overly broad to make a point (a valid tactic) or if he really believes what he is saying, literally (weak reasoning). I guess I’ll opt out for the more subtle approach, just to give him the benefit of the doubt.

      • Governments, institutions, are largely amoral or hyper concerned about self. They lack compassion.

        example: the man who kicked off the Iraq War also broke down and wept openly when shown HIV victims in Africa, and pledged to drop debt and increase care and funding, while at the same time putting more boots on the ground and tactical equipment into the Middle East.

        Position vs man.

        It’s tough.

      • Patrick Kyle says:

        CM,

        This is why God has instituted the State. He knew there would always be individuals and groups that could only be controlled by violence. Romans 13.

    • But sorry, war IS the normal condition of (fallen) human life.

      Let’s define war. Is war always violent? Is war always compassionate? Is pacifism a form of war? Is war against flesh and blood or against ideas?

      Am I engaging in war when I donate money to feed and clothe the homeless?

      Am I engaging in war when I load the gun and pull the trigger on the jihadist?

      What is war?

      • Easily defined – the use of large-scale, organized, military violence to achieve political/social/economic ends.

    • Constant warfare is the normal condition of the United States, but just as all states have violence, and yet there are states that are more or less violence; all societies have warfare, but there are more or less warlike states.

  5. I understand Berry’s criticism of a Christianity that limits itself to “saving souls” for the next world, and neglects this one. But I reject his idea that there was a golden past in the history of Christianity typified by the idea of the peacable kingdom. I have never believed in the literal truth of the Garden of Eden; neither do I believe in the more general mytho-poetic idea that there was some Golden Era in the past from which humanity has fallen, and that “we’ve got to get ourselves back to the Garden,” as Joni Mitchell sang. There are things we can learn from the past, no doubt, but the answers for our most pressing problems will arise out of the present, or not at all. Too much looking backward is counter-productive, and looking in the wrong direction.

    • jazziscoolithink says:

      I don’t see at all where Berry talks about a “golden past.”

      • +1. I don’t see this demand to recognize a past. Regardless of whatever historical assertions he makes do you agree with: “The core tenets [of Christianity], I think, are an undiscriminating neighborliness, help to “the least of these my brethren,” love in response to hate, mindfulness of the present rather than the future, peaceability, forgiveness, justice, and above justice mercy.” ?

        • Absolutely NOT! Because he’s wrong about the conclusions. Be ye separate. So we can’t even agree on the basics, because he’s wrong elsewhere, and that would mean compromise and sin in the camp.

          I bet he sprinkles during baptism and uses real wine during communion too. There shall be no fellowship.

          Join us at our new denomination with a slightly different name and minor differences…

          • If I ever meet the Doctor, i’d probably get in the TARDIS, go back in time to a few congregations, and bitch slap them up top the head for being f*cking idiots.

        • The core tenet of Christianity is Jesus Christ. Berry is one of those liberal Christians who believe that Christianity is primarily about certain values and principles, and their propagation, rather than encounter with and redemption through the person of Jesus Christ; I’m a liberal Christian in certain respects, too, but not of the same stripe: I believe that Christian faith is encounter with Jesus Christ, or else a misnomer.

    • Randy Thompson says:

      Based on my reading of Berry’s novels and essays, I would say that he does not hold out some sort of “golden age” we should return to. He does, however, tell us that there are golden nuggets in the past worth mining for, that there are aspects of life in the pre-industrialized and pre-technologcial past that have been lost and that need to be rediscovered.

      Among other things, Berry is an advocate of slow thinking as opposed instant response, of face-to-face communication as opposed to virtual communication. Of working with the land, and having a history with that land that causes you to love it, as opposed to land use governed only be efficiency and productivity. . A good illustration of “slow thinking,” by the way, is Alissa Wilkinson’s post today at Christianity Today, “In Praise of Slow Opinions.”

      Berry, it seems to me, is someone who transcends the stupid American dichotomy of left-wing and right-wing. I would understand him as someone who is the kind of conservative I would like to be, someone who wants to conserve God’s creation by treating it respectfully and lovingly, and to conserve the worthy qualities of life our great-grandparents knew and which we have forgotten.

      One such quality is a quiet heart, seemingly beyond the reach of the braying noise of the internet and media, which is the mental environment (largely polluted) in which we live.. When I was a little boy, I observed this in an old man who was a neighbor of my grandmother.. He was one of the few people I remember who could sit on his front porch on a warm summer evening smoking his pipe and not saying a word for hours on end. I remember him now, when I am old, because he struck me then and still strikes me as someone who managed to live in touch with the rhythms of God’s creation. He had learned to be truly and deeply quiet; he had a quiet, unruffled heart. I wold like to suggest that this is now a lost quality in many and one worth retrieving. One of the things that strikes you, when you read Berry’s novels, is that his characters have quiet hearts. Berry’s writing points us to quiet hearts.

  6. I don’t think he is looking back to some better time – except in a limited way – I think he is decrying the particular sins of the modern technological age.

    • He doesn’t look back to a “better time” at all. He points out that the mainstream churches essentially evolved their mission into “certifying” people for heaven, ignoring the surrounding economic and productive sector – which is a notable change in comparison to earlier Protestant sermons. As for his causal chain, it makes sense, but I think it is post hoc, ergo propter hoc. That is to say, the chain of events he has described is what developed in America, and so he interprets it as the logical consequence of this failure. I suspect the actual causation is more complex. That being said, I’m a little surprised that no one is discussing his “core tenets”, since his entire piece is predicated on their importance.

  7. Looking backward or looking forward or looking for answers out of the present is just another way we think we can control events. What we can do is look to Christ who is our past, present and future.. Just like in the garden we want to be God and we spend a lifetime finding out we are not !!!!!

  8. Clay Crouch says:

    In my reading of the interview I must have missed the part where he harkened back to a golden era of the peaceable kingdom. I believe he is smarter than that. In fact he goes to great lengths to paint a picture of a warmongering humanity that is and always has been anything but edenic. He does (and I think rightly so) lament the loss of community in our modern times by holding up the hopeful image from scripture of time in which we shall beat our swords in plowshares.

  9. “Viable alternatives to war”?

    As long as there are sinners (people) on this earth…there will be wars.

    We are fallen people in a fallen world. There’s no fixing this place…or ourselves.

    But we ought to try mightily…nonetheless.

    • +1!
      The very idea of “Viable alternatives to war” makes me laugh…in derision, that is. Juvenile thinking.

      • Oh, and before I forget… I do NOT say that we shouldn’t “seek peace and pursue it”, as it says in Psalm 34, and in I Peter 3. But even when we DO follow that admonition there is no promise that our actions will stop war. Case in point is that young woman who went to Syria to help relieve the suffering caused by war. Did she stop the war? no. Did she make a difference? Yes, to a few. How was she rewarded? Kidnapping and death. But that is also the lot of the individual Christian…

        • “But even when we DO follow that admonition there is no promise that our actions will stop war.”

          This is exactly the contention of Christological pacifists John Howard Yoder and Stanley Hauerwas. They don’t hold onto their pacifist convictions because it’s effective, but because it’s “eschatological.”

          • And yet Hauerwas supports the twentieth century idea of an international, militarily equipped “police force”; somehow he thinks that doesn’t run afoul of eschatological concerns.

          • That’s because he thinks the state will do what the state will do, basically. I’ve heard him say something like, “Christians can let the state enforce laws with violence, they just ethically shouldn’t take part in it themselves.” My paraphrase.

            I haven’t gotten around to parsing out ethically where I stand on that. It’s a somewhat minor concern though, given the overall vision: that the church is the ‘eschatological community’ and that it is called to live now as it will in eternity. This is perfectly compatible with believing something else about the state or the secular world, because those institutions are unredeemed. They are “uneschatological,” so what would we expect?

          • I think there’s a flaw in such thinking, because it leads the Christian community away from active engagement with world, and away from any attempt to stand on the side of achieving an at least approximate justice in an imperfect world. In fact, I think it’s such bifurcating of existence into the kingdom of God and the kingdom of the unredeemed world that leads to one of two things: 1) two kingdoms theology, in which we do as we’re told by the secular authorities unless it contradicts a clear teaching of Scripture, or 2) sectarianism, and the systematic, insular disengagement from the world that has been typified by the pacifistic Anabaptist traditions. In fact, there are not two worlds, one belonging to Christ and other not belonging to him; the entire world is Jesus’, and he is its Lord. Only on the basis of Jesus’ Lordship over the entire world can Christians make common cause with non-Christians in working to establish approximate and progressive justice in a fallen world, and I think the example of Martin Luther King falls within this understanding that the entire world belongs to Christ, and nothing stands outside his Lordship or the concern of his Church.

      • Given how badly nearly all the wars the US has fought in the past 40 years or so have turned out, I’d say that in hindsight that not fighting those wars would have been a much more “viable” alternative than fighting them. We didn’t succeed in halting the spread of communism in Vietnam. Our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan almost certainly had a net effect of increasing the number of violent extremists in the world, rather than eliminating them. And in the process the civilian casualties far outweighed the actual enemy combatants we killed. Not to mention what those wars have cost to our own soldiers, both those we’ve lost and those who live on with the memories of what they have seen and done.

        The nature of war has changed in the last century. War is no longer an act of self-defense against an immediate threat: a neighboring nation’s army marching over your border with the intent of subjugating you, like they did in Biblical times. So when you say you think it’s laughable to think that there is a viable alternative to war, I wonder if you’re thinking about that old kind of war, not modern war. The wars we’re fighting today are not inevitable, and they are not self-defense.

      • Hardly, seeking alternatives is Adult thinking.

        • Ok, then how about some examples that will work, and the odds that they WILL work.

          • Will work to do what, Oscar? If the intent is to get the same results that our last few wars have gotten us, then I would have to say that rounding up a few hundred thousand civilians, killing them all, and then publishing a disrespectful cartoon of the Prophet Mohammed would be a viable alternative that would work.

          • jazziscoolithink says:

            +1 to the good doctor.

          • Yes, if you wanted to kill 4 million Vietnamese, and bring about the Khemer Rouge in Cambodia you needed a war.

          • Ok, then how about some examples that will work,”

            The Church obeys the Gospel.

            Of course this wouldn’t prevent worldwide war, but it would represent to the world what it needs, and show it that there are alternatives.

          • Do you think that Bonhoeffer was disobeying “the Gospel” when he gave up his earlier movement toward pacifism to participate in an plot to assassinate Hitler?

          • I have no idea. Bonhoeffer’s a lot smarter than me, and a lot better at ethics, so I’m not going to critique for that decision. Perhaps there are extreme cases where something like that is warranted. But as to Oscar’s question, the “viable alternative” to war is the peaceable kingdom. If that kingdom is not in evidence, than Oscar’s skepticism is understandable. But I’m suggesting that it might actually be possible, and that if the church functioned as it ought to, it would be embodying the viable alternative for the world.

          • The Amish/Mennonite have embodied this alternative for centuries; unfortunately, they have been unable to find a way to disentangle it from the most extreme, endlessly dividing and reproducing sectarianism and legalism. It requires a level of “purity” that must be constantly policed and regulated from within, and ends up putting those who practice it in a cultural ghetto, which is never large enough once they start arguing about exactly what needs to be regulated and controlled, and so one group or another separates and makes its own ghetto, etc., etc., ad infinitum.

          • That is my impression of many of these communities as well. However, this kind of paradigm for the church is not obeying the Gospel either, so it can’t be an example of what I’m referring to.

          • Perhaps what the Church is meant to embody is not a viable alternative to war, but a die-able one; that is, we are meant to take our baptisms into Jesus’ death seriously as something that may outwork itself in our literal deaths for Christ. A few have been wiling to do this, but as a community, we have failed to do so throughout history and across confessional lines. We prefer comfort and long life.

          • The fact that only a few individuals have embodied this alternative to war suggests that StuartB may be right in thinking that Christianity is for individuals; or perhaps it’s only individuals who have most fully lived out its implications. Perhaps these individuals are eschatological and prophetic signs, forerunners, for the whole community, if only we have eyes to see.

          • “We prefer comfort and long life.”

            We do indeed. It’s these forerunners, though, who call the church to its true identity, and they grow out of the church. That’s why I don’t consider anyone a true individualist. I think the fact that so few have embodied it (in the most literal sense of “martyr”) may mean that not everyone is destined for that, or that not everyone is considering it an option (probably a lot of the second). When it’s not an option, when the church doesn’t know that it has died in the waters of baptism, and isn’t being formed in a “cross-life” to begin with, we can probably expect that someone will be sent to remind us of it. The grander purpose will always be about rescuing the “holy nation” from sin, death, and the devil. It’s just that the church’s character is so reprobate at times that the ones who live out the faith in this way are seen as radicals and countercultural, as somehow “other” than the church.

      • Pope Francis seems to feel that the prayer of the whole Church for peace offers hope.
        Especially in consideration of the fate of innocent ‘collateral’ victims who always suffer and die even in the midst of ‘just’ wars.
        Yes, there is such a thing as a ‘just’ war . . . but if a sound and wise alternative exists, then the collective prayers of people of goodwill possesses a power to influence the course of events in ways unforeseen.

    • Clay Crouch says:

      Please explain why, given that it’s hopeless, we should try. And how do you suggest we try?

      • We should try because we are exhorted to do so, but on an individual basis. There is no promise that we will be successful, in fact, we can pretty much expect to fail on the larger scene. It is in the small and individual ways that we show Christ’s Kingdom on earth. Nations do not “come to Christ”, nor do institutions. But on a person to person basis we CAN make a difference.

        Unfortunately, many (or MOST) times we can only give aid to organizations who are trying to bring succor to those suffering from the effects of war and deprivation, Christian based or secular. But doing so STILL counts in the greater scheme of things.

        Does the fact that helping at the local soup kitchen will not eliminate hunger and homelessness mean we should not do it? Of course not! So, in the same way, we should “seek peace and pursue it”, without expectation.

        • Clay Crouch says:

          I’m not so sure that the exhortations are are only to individuals. Perhaps they are to all of us as a community? I think you and Berry have more in common than you realize.

        • “It is in the small and individual ways that we show Christ’s Kingdom on earth. Nations do not “come to Christ”, nor do institutions. But on a person to person basis we CAN make a difference.”

          the Kingdom is, by definition, corporate. There is no “individual kingdom” of God. That’s the fallacy that has proceeded from the me-centered movement of revivalism and salvationism.

          Real, Gospel-soaked “difference making” is when the church lives out what is to happen “on earth as in heaven” in the midst of barbarism, violence, callousness and what have you, of the surrounding culture. When they show forth Christ, and the Way/Truth/Life he gave to his people.

          This is not activism, because it’s not primarily concerned with making the non-Christian institutions more Christian. It’s also not passive, because it’s genuine, Jesus-driven work. “…for this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me.” We are striving for the Kingdom, because we know it has already come. We work in hope, despite apparent failure, because we know the future.

          The end result, in my opinion, must be either persecution or a turning point for the surrounding culture, in which minds are changed. The latter is indeed a case of a “nation coming to Christ” in a sense. This characterizes what MLK did, among others.

          Don’t forget the “sheep and the goats” parable. It is not about Christians who show true faith vs. false faith. It’s about the nations being judged before the throne of Christ. How will they be judged? By how they have treated the least and most vulnerable of the church. This (you can establish this principle from other texts as well) is the “lever” that the church has to pull with the world. Of necessity, we must live within the world system. In word and deed, we must prophetically work for its good, display its failure to be God’s kingdom, and call it to repentance. Its response will be its salvation or its undoing.

          • There is no “individual kingdom” of God. That’s the fallacy that has proceeded from the me-centered movement of revivalism and salvationism.

            Well…why can’t there be? What proof do we have there isn’t? It may be a fallacy, but we have lots of other fallacies we prop up just because Peter or Paul or whomever had an individual preference. Some people believe the church must always be in the city. Others believe it can be suburban. Or country. Try as they might, there’s really no hard fast rule saying a church has to be an urban entity.

            So why not individual? I’m not going to argue revivalism and salvationism were good things, no more than pietism or the holiness movement were good things; probably all were deeply evil and demonic.

            But I’m willing to ask: why not individualistic? Where individuals meet to form a plurality?

          • StuartB- i don’t believe Christians are individuals first, who just happen to be part of a plurality. I believe the Kingdom is the thing, the Church is “the person,” and individuals make up the church. The Church is aim of Christ, the beneficiary salvation. She is made up of a multitude of personal members. It’s not that no one has alone time or anything. It’s that there’s no way to understand the individual in the New Creation except in reference to the collective.

    • “Viable alternatives to war”?

      As long as there are sinners (people) on this earth…there will be wars.

      You know how often I heard people in Baptist circles make this statement?

      “Oh, there will always be wars until Christ comes, it’s all rather unfortunate…” says the man of God, as he chambers another round while planting his boot on an enemy’s quivering neck.

      ahem

      THAT’S NO FUCKING EXCUSE.

      • I’m not sure the answer is for Christians to remain on the sidelines as everyone else (atheists, agnostics, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, etc. etc.) wages war. That seems a bit of a utopian view. There’s a tension for sure, though, as to what Christians should do when wars begin.

      • Well then…

        what’s your blankety blank excuse?

        I’m sure you are a huge peacemaker with your fiery responses and great ideas for ending war…

        • Point, missed. I was never talking about fighting literal war. I’m talking about people using scriptural/eschatological excuses to justify not even trying to be peacemakers.

          And who says blankety blank, lol?

      • Very well. How do you suppose we should have dealt with the Nazis? Or ISIS? Or how should you deal with the person who breaks into your home with the intent of violating and murdering your family?

        Oh yes, there are plenty of examples of instances where America and American Christians have horribly gone astray WRT the use of violence and war. The Indians, the Mexican War, Jim Crow, ad infinitum. These were wrong, there was no excuse for them. That, however, IMHO, does not invalidate the fact that there ARE times when war is the only solution to stop an even greater evil.

        There is – there has to be – something between the “no violence EVAH” stance of the ultra-pacifists, and the “God Guns and Jesus” jingoism of the evangelical right. Do we care enough to try to sweat out the messy details? Or just take the easy way and default to one of the extremes?

      • “THAT’S NO FUCKING EXCUSE.”

        Give a moment or two to the angry young man…

        Billy Joel

  10. Oscar gets it right. I have strongly disliked Wendell Berry for a long time. His whole agrarian poet schtick reminds me too much of Thoreau saying he was ‘getting back to nature’ while he was sending out his shirts once a week to be professionally laundered. I don’t like him suggesting that living simply, in the country, the way he can afford to do, is superior to living downtown and working in a cubicle the way I do. His whole stance is only possible from a position of luxury! putting down the modern world while benefiting from it in countless ways, unless he lives like captain caveman, doesn’t use steel or machines or tools or… Thumbs down to Wendell berry, I’m trying to be polite here, and big thumbs up to oscar.

    • All I hear is the same conservative party knee jerk line I hear from others, yet no acknowledgement of anything resembling a good point Berry may have said.

      Where’s the humbleness.

    • Will, this is a gross caricature of Berry, insulting to a man of tremendous depth and thoughtfulness, who eschews both sides of the shallow culture war mentality to focus on genuine grassroots issues in communities.

      • I agree. As much as I am hammering on the pacifism angle here, I have read and gained great profit from Barry’s works. His novel Jayber Crow in particular was a watershed in my spiritual journey.

  11. “And so it became possible for people to commit their souls to God while participating in an economy dedicated to the swiftest possible extraction and consumption of everything it values in God’s world, with unlimited collateral damage to all creatures, humans included, that it does not value.”

    This is apt. The problem with bifurcating the world too much into material and spiritual, or people into bodies and souls, is that the immediate temptation becomes to value one and devalue the other. Although this removal of soul from body seems as though it opens the way to valuing the “essential” aspects of persons or of creation, actually it vests value in such a small part of creatures and creation that all but removes the idea of ultimate value from all practical considerations, and from life lived. In other words, its extinguishes it. It exists only on the page and in the future, but never in any place where persons live.

    • David Cornwell says:

      “The problem with bifurcating the world too much into material and spiritual, or people into bodies and souls, is that the immediate temptation becomes to value one and devalue the other.”

      Yes. And if one looks carefully, this is one of the continuing unintended benefits of the Reformation thinking. Not that this has confined itself to Protestants, because it has spread to the Church at large. But, in my opinion, it has ts clear seeds very early in the Reformation movement.

      I’m sure this thought will be strongly opposed.

      So– go get your soul saved, and all will be well.

      • that separation of the material world from the spiritual world, together with the devaluing of the material world probably is a remnant from the time of Manichaeism, one of the early Christian heresies

      • David Cornwell says:

        Do not have time to discuss this, but think “two kingdom” theology and obedience to secular authorities, as it worked itself out.

  12. I don’t find his description of the modern world credible. I don’t find his description of modern Christianity credible. So I am completely unmoved by his writings.

    • grberry says:

      February 20, 2015 at 11:30 am

      I don’t find his description of the modern world credible. I don’t find his description of modern Christianity credible. So I am completely unmoved by his writings.

      –And thank you for saying so.

  13. Hmm…struggling with this a bit. Mr. Berry seems to be a bit overly dramatic, even perhaps melodramatic, to make a point. Of course, so was David at times, in his Psalms.

    I just struggle with melodramatic schtick, even if truth is in it.

  14. If the reaction from a sizable number of Christians to what Berry said is represented by this comment thread…God help us.

    Even the post-evangelical wasteland is a lonely place.

    Maybe things like this are why the Nones finally become the Dones.

  15. Regarding the criticisms of Wendell Barry: I’ll concede to the points made, in part. I am not wholly trusting of Barry’s nostalgia for rural life. I don’t think Barry envisions a golden age – he does not go that far. But his critiques do conjure a picture of rural life (opposing or predating the present, industrial order) that strike me as being mythic, and only quasi-historical.

    But, despite my suspicion of anything that smacks of nostalgia, I like Wendell Barry very much. I find him a compelling critic. He is often sage at pointing out humane values and how easy it is to obscure them. Barry uses his rural myth to good effect: he points out the value that exists in the connectedness of people to a place (exemplified in farming), and to each other (exemplified in the shared life of small communities). If I accept Barry as a poet-critic, I can easily lift the values he espouses and imagine what they might look like in my small city neighborhood where people live in close quarters and enjoy their diminutive gardens or drink on front stoops.

    I can also easily imagine the connections running between my city and Barry’s Appalachia, due to the economic and material interconnections between local places, connections on which modern life rests. (Come to think of it, there are even blood ties: the old stock of my neighborhood were Appalachian transplants, seeking work in the mills.)

    If you remove the fact that Barry is rural and I’m urban, or that I’m a historian and he’s a poet, I basically embrace the same insights and errors: I like the idea of community. I imagine it to exist even when it is doing a very bad job of existing. I like my city neighborhood because I feel like it is a community, and could be a better one than it is. I am unreasonably cranky about the suburbs. I don’t like it when people romanticize “Nature,” but I enjoy the natural world and scientific discoveries about it, and being in it and from it. I like going to my husband’s home in rural Montana. Of course my objection to the light-show side of evangelicalism and my affection for little churches, old buildings, the tangible or tactile, and a practical spirituality is basically the same impulse, this time wearing Sunday best.

    Recently I lost a pregnancy, the only thing I could ultimately come up with to do to grieve was grow a new tree on my window. I’ve stopped asking myself how I feel; I go water the tree. I suspect Barry understands what that is about.

    • Hugs to you, Danielle. Happened to me twice. Planting a tree is a good thing. May the Lord enfold you and your husband in his love.

      Dana

    • This is good. Thank you. And you have my sympathies.

    • Danielle, I’m so very sorry for your loss.

    • Thanks, all.

      On a lighter note my apologies – it seems that (above) I made the world record for misspelling Wendell Berry’s name the most times in a row.

  16. I have very mixed emotions about Berry. His call to the core tenets is important, so important. I think he would be heard better without the nostalgia. I grew up in northern California in the ’60s-’70s – saw it all with the back-to-the-landers. They had a good point – and they were just people like everyone else; some stayed, some moved, some moved back to the city. Someone upthread wrote that Berry’s ideals about the land can only be met in a milieu of luxury. I think that’s so. I admit than when I encounter an old hippie I smile, remembering mostly good things…

    There has always been a tendency among some Christians toward dualism, as Christiane indicates upthread, Because of the flow of theology and philosophy in Western thought with regard to how it is we know things and persons and God, we have arrived at a place where materialistic dualism is the sea in which we all swim. For a good study of this trajectory, see Philip Sherrard’s “The Greek East and the Latin West” (in which he also accounts for the rise of nationalism). One of the reasons I read Fr Stephen Freeman’s blog is that his writing provides a good antidote to this dualism for me to consider for my own life,

    Dana

    • Thanks for recommending that book, it’s going on my wish list. I struggle to keep the various philosophical assumptions of theologies in view and I think this will help me.

      • It’s not a lot of pages, Sean, but it is “thick” – I had to read many passages through twice, not because his writing is opaque, but because I have little actual philosophical study behind me. It helped me a lot, because I’m a “big picture” kind of thinker. Hope it provokes some thoughts for you.

        Dana

  17. Joseph (the original) says:

    re: Berry’s commentary (lament) regarding the degree modern Christianity is salt and light to a weary world…

    what I do appreciate is the way which this nation’s unique brand of faith, ‘Merican Christianity, seems to be unlike any other national brand throughout the centuries. that in itself is enough to cause some believers to lament…

    since the foundation of the Church, which brand of Christianity ever had the privilege of existing in the world’s most prosperous one, and having the civil and religious freedoms it enjoys???

    I think if ever there was a time in all of the Church’s influence upon modern history, it must be in the last couple of centuries when religious freedoms in this country were not officially part of the state’s institutions. there was never to be an American State Church, and whether we recognize the actual scope of what that could mean when it comes to influencing governmental, environmental, social and economic policies (notice I did not include moralizing), I do understand that a Christian flavor could be much more savory…

    {sigh}

    I do think the highly championed concept of ‘independence’ encouraged the freedom to be separate, rather than united, even though we refer to our nation as, These United States. the Church here in American made quite the effort to disengage with other traditional faiths and spawned a plethora of rather unique independent ‘expressions. having a communal ‘heart’ mirroring the kingdom was replaced by a slew of fiefdoms each with their own idea of what is biblically correct, socially binding and environmentally relevant. the lament of some Church institutions being too heavenly minded countered with the lament that those ‘over there’ were too earthly minded to be heavenly motivated. alas, we (wide, general, overreaching inclusion) that have been given freely, seem loathe to give freely…

    individual conviction and orthopraxy is not as kingdom efficient as corporate, cooperative, communal, expressions of being salt and light to our local communities, our regions, our states and our nation. we don’t need to be convinced of this, but isn’t it lamentable that there is a lack of such spirit of oneness in the most accommodating nation in the history of the global Church? and when it can be experienced on a smaller scale, doesn’t our society notice and encourage such efforts? I know Jesus said the poor will always be with us and that wars and rumors of wars will continue until He returns. but did He say that to make us hunker-in-the-bunker or actually do kingdom works that address the wrongness of such things???

    Lord…have mercy… 🙁

  18. This is no accident. Organized, targeted efforts by groups like the shadowy “The Family” group in Washington have purposely recast the Christian message from compassion and mercy for the poor and weak to defense of the wealthy and privileged. The poor have become the enemy. The target of the message has been the middle class, which led to the middle class turning against itself to its demise. It is shear evil, but soundly and seemingly irreversibly wrapped in the guise and language of “conservative”.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      And redirecting hope solely onto the End of the World and Fluffy Cloud Heaven helps the wealthy & privileged.

      “In the Sweet By and By,
      You’ll get Pie in the Sky when you Die…”
      — “The Preacher and the Slave”, old Wobbly march song

  19. Captain Obvious says:

    Unfortunately, “..mindfulness of the present rather than the future” is the cause of all of the subsequent evils Mr. Berry points out. Our cerebral cortex is well-suited to dealing with short-range and medium-range threats. Long-range not so much.

    We don’t know what the carrying capacity of our planet is, but nothing grows at 2-4% forever. Embracing an economy that requires that rate of growth is suicidal, even given the concept that ‘information reverses entropy’.

    I think that Mr. Berry is lamenting the fact that a robust, well-rounded Christianity has the resources to inform the creation of a stable, comfortable, renewable, and just society, but he seems to be putting the blame on a voluntary surrender by Christians of the economic and political spheres. I think that the truth is that Christianity has been forced from these spheres increasingly since the end of the Wars of Religion in 1648.

    • Then you need to think again. The medieval Roman Catholic church was very hard on heretics, but very indulgent towards sinners. They basically left economic life alone. The periods when Christianity has had strong influence on economic life have been few and unusual. Calvinists in Geneva, among the Dutch, and in the Puritan parts of New England had short lived episodes. The social gospel movement of the 20th century in America and Europe was another period of strong economic influence by Christianity. Unfortunately, it also nearly killed the mainline denominations in America, which in 1965 had 1 in 6 American belonging to them to now 1 in 16, as their membership has dropped 50% or more (depending on which one) during a period when the American population more than doubled.

      • They basically left economic life alone.
        Yeah, that is completely the opposite of what the history books record. As in, not even close to factual. As in, completely contradicted by everything we know about the Roman Catholic Church and the Holy Roman Empire. This is not about nuance or perspective – it’s blunt but true: you are dead wrong on this one. Read a history book; or even just a book about the history of Christianity.

        • Dr Fundystan! I didn’t get to deadlift today, still recovering from some shoulder/neck stuff, as well as mental anguish brought on by IM and SFL threads, lol.

          We shall deadlift soon! (i prefer deficits off of planks)

        • His is the most populist view on the times. Very inaccurate, but it’s what everyone knows to be true internally, so it must be true, haymen?

        • Been there regularly, as medieval history is one of my favorite subjects. Oh look, I still have Max Weber’s “The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism” open on my screen because I’m in the middle of reading it. Let’s see, on the second page of the first chapter “the Reformation … meant the repudiation of a control which was very lax, at that time scarcely perceptible in practice, and hardly more than formal, in favour of a regulation of the whole of conduct which, penetrating to all departments of private and public life, was infinitely burdensome and earnestly enforced. The rule of the Catholic church ‘punishing the heretic, but indulgent to the sinner’, as it was in the past even more than to-day …”. Sorry, I was, but you were to blind to recognize it, paraphrasing one of the classics of the relevant history.

          Or we can turn to my bookshelf, and read “Rural Economy and Country Life in the Medieval West”, originally published in French by Georges Duby in 1962 and translated into English by 1968. Reviewers describe it as “the most significant single book on the history of medieval agriculture” or “No serious future study of the Middle Ages can neglect this superb synthesis.” Of the 9th and 10th centuries it says “At that period the whole of western Europe practiced slavery , … Their legal condition, only slightly ameliorated by a Christian environment, was the same as that of Roman or heathen slaves.” In the eleventh and twelfth centuries “the economic unit of the ecclesiastical manor differed very little in extent and form from the villa as described in the polyptyques of the Frankish era.” There were great changes in the economy during the next couple centuries before the reformation, but in discussing why they happened Christianity does not merit a mention, instead the causes that need consideration are climactic change, the growth of warring princely states, and the Black Death.

          Or when a “Records of Western Civilization Series” published a book “Medieval Trade in the Mediterranean World: Illustrative Documents Translated with Introductions and Notes” the author and editor could not find a single document expressing a Christianity driven change that was significant enough to include. Instead, in the introduction to the chapter on “Moral Standards and Practical Advice” they write “Medieval merchants were seldom concerned with abstract economic theory or ethics. … When they wanted an escape from the daily routine of commerce they did not philosophize about it … As a consequence, the task of expounding economic doctrines and ideals was left to theologians, canonists, or political writers, such as … Outstanding though these men were, they were strangers to commerce, and they had a biased approach to the psychology of merchants. Excessive reliance upon their statements has led many modern scholars to draw inaccurate pictures of medieval trade and traders.”

          Stepping earlier in time, and turning to a book from the pile beside my bed, in Peter Brown’s conclusion to “Through the Eye of a Needle: Wealth, the Fall of Rome, and the Making of Christianity in the West, 350-550 AD” writes in his conclusion “Tensions between the sacred and the profane that had been veiled in a more confident generation were revealed ever more clearly. Faced with massive losses of income and by a widespread weakening of its authority in large areas of the West, the imperial structure inherited from the fourth century showed no intention of surrendering. Instead, the empire – … – went down fighting. And it went down fighting as a frankly secular institution. Government circles made it plain they would not surrender any of the prerogatives of the Roman state to the Christian bishops.”

          Looking at these really solidly researched histories, your notions are consistently refuted.

          • Ok, I’m at a complete loss here. Not one of your carefully marshaled proof texts comes even close to addressing the portion I quoted – and of course, if I were OCD and cared a bit more about your inaccurate perspective, I could cut and paste my own collection of quotes proving precisely the opposite.

        • Yeah, there’s no way those massive cathedrals could have been built if the medieval RCC had left economic life alone instead of making sure they got a nice big piece of the pie, which was baked mostly by the labor of peasants.

  20. Is Berry referring to the same Christianity that puts sanctity of human life as one of its top priorities, and then follows through by feeding the hungry, building hospitals, running shelters for the homeless, and educating more children than any one else in the world? I’m sorry, I’m sure this critique is true in the instance of some obnoxious and prominent celebrity clergy, but it is hardly a fair representation of the state of the church worldwide.

    Berry is equally obnoxious and arrogant in his own critique. Just listen to this:

    GO: Many U.S. Christians feel a burden to protect and help Iraqi Christians put in danger because of ISIS. What do you see as the balance here—between compassion for those who suffer persecution and focusing our attentions on the troubles in our own neighborhoods?

    WB: Of course Christians want to kill the enemies of Christians. How could this not be so when Christians have so often and so happily killed other Christians?

    The guy is asked about a desire to defend the helpless, and he paints this as militant aggression. He is to quick to identify victims and martyrs into villains. Way to model the character of Christ you’re so busy preaching, dude. “Oh, you want to help those poor people being destroyed by terrorists? You’re just like a terrorist for even feeling that way.”

    • This is a good point, Miguel. He’s papering over the moral difficulty of the issue, and his haughty, dismissive response to the question is a contemptuous sidestep; in fact, it’s no answer at all.

    • Berry’s response is an unfortunate example of affirming the consequent – set B is entirely composed of members from set A. It does not logically follow that all members of set A are members of set B. But at the same time, we have to be careful of the no true scotsman here. There are plenty of Christians that fit Berry’s description to a “T”. Unfortunately, I know too many of them.

  21. Some of these responses seem to indicate a passive resignation about the way things are. Expressions of hope and justice — in our current place and time, for our friends and neighbors and the generations after us — are met with criticism framed through a political lens (“leftist”) or a theological lens (innate depravity and a law/gospel distinction that chastises any kind of initiative).

    The irony is that most of us who contribute to this forum would be opposed to an escapist, ticket-punching gospel that only looks forward to heaven. If we oppose that idea, but at the same time oppose the idea that the Kingdom of God is near/here and there is no hope in anything ever changing, what are we left with?

    A cold, unhelpful cynicism, I think, which goes beyond lament, beyond navigating the wilderness and losing our initial naiveté. It plants itself in our worldview, becoming a new lens by which we interpret our lives. I find this tragic, and I find that the scriptures and the gospel story speak prophetically against this type of resignation.

    • Yup.

      Not every resolution to work/deeds is to be met with the “you’re just trying earn your salvation” response, or some variant thereof. That business is getting REAL tired.

    • Some of these responses seem to indicate a passive resignation about the way things are.</em

      Yes!!

      Not every resolution to work/deeds is to be met with the “you’re just trying earn your salvation” response, or some variant thereof.

      YES!!!

      So so so blankity blankity BLANK tired of those two kneejerk responses. You hear them? You ignore that person and listen to Christ.

    • Someone pin this to the top of the comments!

      • I wish I got to this thread earlier in the day, because I would REALLY enjoy some dialogue about this.

        Nate, thanks for putting it so succinctly.

    • YES!

  22. The Talking Heads had something to say about this subject:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YbtS_APwnJQ

  23. Berry strikes me as a prophetic voice. There have always been a few… Twain, Thoreau, Dickinson, Blake, and more recently perhaps Claiborne and a handful of others.

    As such, some will be thirsty for more as they recognize themselves in their words. Others will have the same recognition and despise what they see and, to counter that, will pour out their discomfort on the prophet in a sad attempt to transfer their pain instead of dealing with it in honesty.

    It has always been such. And so always will it be.

    • So the world divides itself between the knowing elect, and the ignorant preterite? And the poet/prophets are above criticism?

      I’ve loved poetry since my youth; at one time I even thought that poets were the only real religious visionaries, and their poetry the only sacred texts. But I’ve learned that poets are mere human beings, they don’t have the answers to all of our human problems, sometimes they speak and write from ignorance and even malice, and some of the best among them are given to self-mythologizing.

      • Did I say that?

        No. The world is composed of those who thoughtfully engage upon conviction and those who knee jerk reject upon conviction. And we each fall into either category at different times and on different issues.

        I see a lot of these (including your rather angry reply to me) in this thread.

        • I disagree with you, and it’s your apparent dismissive attitude toward those who disagree with you as clueless that angers me a bit. Do you think that anger invalidates the opinions of those who differ with you, or that it invalidates their criticisms?

          • Often when people exhibit anger at an opinion (and I include myself in this indictment), it is a sign of anger at their being deeply convicted and long-held paradigms being challenged. But instead of taking hard proactive and personal steps of self reflection, they pour their anger out on the messenger.

            There are more than enough examples of this very phenomenon in the Bible, as you doubtless know.