Why We Need Wendell Berry

Following the hottest year on record for Earth, as we talk again about rolling back air-quality standards or building the Keystone XL Pipeline, we need to be reminded why we need Wendell Berry. This writer-thinker-farmer from Kentucky has been making his case now for over fifty years—in fiction, poetry, essays, interviews, and speeches—that we need to change our thinking and our living if we want to continue to live. His message is cautionary and instructive; his tone is always hopeful. Indeed, in the introduction to his collection of essays The Way of Ignorance (2005a), he writes that all his work is “motivated…by fear of our violence to one another and to the world, and by the hope that we might do better” (p. x). We need to listen to him. Steeped as we all are in the narrow, compartmentalized analysis of industrialism, our culture has been taught to value quantity over quality, competition over cooperation, efficiency over effectiveness, standardization over diversity, and the ease of today over the possibility of tomorrow. We have been taught to disregard natural limits and disdain what is small. These are the lessons for despair and our eventual ruin. What we need instead are the lessons of Wendell Berry, the lessons of hope.

Read the complete essay by Jane Schreck at The Journal of Sustainability Education


Reflection on Wendell Berry and Pope Francis

Francis and Berry both preach against an individualism that trumps community and compassion; note the Creator’s love for his creation regardless of its utility to humanity; and affirm a special status for people but rebuff a theology that equates our “dominion” with an unfettered domination. They decry what Francis calls the “rapidification” of culture and the over-specialization of knowledge; reject a hyper-dualism that completely severs body and soul, the spiritual and the earthly; and are even similarly wary of our relational reliance on electronic screens. Berry famously described “eating” as “an agricultural act.” Francis, quoting his predecessor Benedict XVI, makes a similar, if broader, point: “Purchasing is always a moral—and not simply economic—act.”

The two also offer extended criticism of what the Pope calls a “deified market” and Berry deems “an opposing religion, assigning to technological progress and ‘the market’ the same omnipotence, omniscience, unquestionability, even the same beneficence that the Christian teachings assign to God.” Moving on from the shared renunciations, they each praise the actions often taken by small landowners and local peoples and affirm the value of physical work and artistic beauty. In short, both men refuse to swallow the myth of progress or, conversely, diagnose humanity as a planetary cancer.

Read more at First Things


Wendell Berry and "Laudato Si"

As it turns out, a US author from Kentucky came to Francis' same conclusions a little over thirty years ago. Award winning author Wendell Berry advocated in his 1983 essay "Two Economies" for a system that would prioritize the spiritual "Kingdom of God" without neglecting economical necessities. 

Berry has often criticized electronic communication and modern agricultural techniques. That said, at a more universal level, this essay advocated for a practical harmony that both shaped the environment through human invention and allowed the environment to provide practical aids and limits on human development. Berry used topsoil as an example. He argued that industrialists overlooked complex ecological systems by replacing the double function of topsoil, water retention and drainage, with machines and dams that performed merely one or the other task, risking eroded ecosystems. In short, in the name of efficiency, technocrats had overlooked and reduced nature's efficiency. Turning to the ironic belief that we can or ought to control nature, Berry asked: "What is to be the fate of self-control in an economy that encourages and rewards unlimited selfishness? (68)"

Read more at Huffington Post


Wendell Berry on The Future

So far as I am concerned, the future has no narrative. The future does not exist until it has become the past. To a very limited extent, prediction has worked. The sun, so far, has set and risen as we have expected it to do. And the world, I suppose, will predictably end, but all of its predicted deadlines, so far, have been wrong.

The End of Something—history, the novel, Christianity, the human race, the world—has long been an irresistible subject. Many of the things predicted to end have so far continued, evidently to the embarrassment of none of the predictors. The future has been equally, and relatedly, an irresistible subject. How can so many people of certified intelligence have written so many pages on a subject about which nobody knows anything? Perhaps we need a book— in case we don’t already have one—on the end of the future.

None of us knows the future. Fairly predictably, we are going to be surprised by it. That is why “Take...no thought for the morrow...” is such excellent advice. Taking thought for the morrow is, fairly predictably, a waste of time.

Read an adaptation of this essay from Our Only World at Yes! Magazine