Monday, March 09, 2009

Wendell Berry

In an essay from 1993 entitled, Christianity and the Survival of Creation, author Wendell Berry writes

I have been talking, of course, about a dualism that manifests itself in several ways; it is a cleavage, a radical discontinuity, between Creator and creature, spirit and matter, religion and nature, religion and economy, worship and work, etc. This dualism, I think is the most destructive disease that afflicts us. In its best known, its most dangerous, and perhaps its fundamental version, it is the dualism of body and soul. This is an issue as difficult as it is important, and so to deal with it we should start at the beginning.

The crucial test is probably Genesis 2:7, which gives the process by which Adam was created: "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." My mind, like most people's, has been deeply influenced by dualism, and I can see how dualistic minds deal with this verse. They conclude that the formula for man-making is: man = body + soul. But that conclusion cannot be derived, except by violence, from Genesis 2:7, which is not dualistic. The formula given in Genesis is not man = body + soul; the formula there is soul = dust + breath. According to this verse, God did not make a body and put a soul into it, like a letter into an envelope. He formed man of dust; by breathing his breath into it, he made the dust live. Insofar as it lived, it was a soul. The dust, formed as man and made to live, did not embody a soul; it became a soul. "Soul" here refers to the whole creature. Humanity is thus presented to us, in Adam, not as a creature of two discrete parts temporarily glued together, but as a single mystery.

Berry has more to say about God's economy as opposed to economics, about Christianity's willingness to be part of the destructive forces of the world, about its culpability in not seeing this world as Holy, and about a number of other related issues. It isn't an essay that will encourage most of us in the way we presently conduct our lives; that's not Berry's intention. His aim is to give such breadth to our view of Creation and our part in it that we'll deeply reconsider how we behave within this world.

And just to give you a little more taste of Berry's writing, here's a quote from the title essay of his book, Sex, Economy, Freedom & Community: Eight Essays. It was published in 1998.

"If you destroy the ideal of the "gentle man" and remove from men all expectations of courtesy and consideration toward women and children, you have prepared the way for an epidemic of rape and abuse. If you depreciate the sanctity and solemnity of marriage, not just as a bond between two people, but as a bond between those two people and their forebears, their children, and their neighbors, then you have prepared the way for an epidemic of divorce, child neglect, community ruin, and loneliness. If you destroy the economies of household and community, then you destroy the bonds of mutual usefulness and practical dependence without which the other bonds will not hold."

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