Wednesday, October 29, 2008


The Burden of the Gospels (Wendell Berry)

Some of you have been indignant that I would compare, following Matthew Fox, the crucifixion of Jesus Christ with our treatment of the Earth at the beginning of the third millennium of the Christina era. I will not defend what I wrote, and have subsequently spoken in Quaker Meeting, but share the following, the last two paragraphs from Wendell Berry’s piece “The Burden of the Gospels” They are absolutely key. He doesn’t write it as a secular “environmental” essay, but from within the tradition which still has claims upon us in this post-modern, “post-Christian” world. It is on the burden of being mindful of human vocation in the industrial era.

Wendell Berry’s conclusion to “The Burden of the Gospels”

“To be convinced of the sanctity of the world and to be mindful of a human vocation to responsible membership in such a world, must always have been a burden. But it is a burden that falls with greatest weight on us humans of the industrial age who have been and are, by any measure, the humans most guilty of desecrating the world and of destroying creation… It seems as though industrial humanity had brought about phase two of original sin. We all are now complicit in the murder of creation. We certainly do know how to apply better measures to our conduct and our world. We know how to do far better than we are doing. But we don’t know how to extricate ourselves from our complicity very surely or very soon. How could we live without degrading our soils, slaughtering our forests, polluting our streams, poisoning the air and the rain? How could we live without the ozone hole and hypotoxic zones? How could we live without endangering species, including our own? How could we live without the war economy and the holocaust of fossil fuels? To the offer of more abundant life, we have responded with choosing the economics of extinction.

If we take the Gospels seriously, we are left, in our dire predicament, facing an utterly humbling question: How must we live and work so as not to be estranged from God’s presence in his work and in all his creatures? The answer we may say, is given in Jesus’ teaching about love But that answer raises another question that plunges us into the abyss of our ignorance, which is both human and peculiarly modern. How are we to make of that love an economic practice?

That question calls for many answers and we don’t know most of them. It is a question that those humans who want to answer it will be living and working with for a long time – if they are allowed a long time. Meanwhile, may heaven guard us from those who think they already have the answers.”

-Wendell Berry: yeoman-farmer, poet, essayist, novelist, American prophet

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