Blog Watch: Wendell Berry: Three Reasons
Letters of Wendell Berry and Gary Snyder to be published

Wendell Berry, Christianity, and Wikipedia

A recent edit on the Wikipedia page for “Wendell Berry” has got me wondering about a tug-of-war over precisely how Mr. Berry’s religious affiliation is described. 

Here is an image of the present situation (i.e. before I make my own changes). Words in blue indicate the most recent changes. 

Wiki-berry-edit

 In the first of these changes, we see who describes himself as “a person who takes the Gospel seriously,”  converted to a Christian who, in his own words, “takes the Gospel seriously”

Within the context of his complete statement (given in the footnote), we see that WB is responding to his interviewer’s assertion that he is a Baptist. The user who made this edit (“Goose friend” hereafter GF) seems most interested in foregrounding Mr. Berry’s Christianity as such. He seems to see a problem with merely accepting WB’s statement and its context as sufficient grounds for asserting Mr. Berry’s personal commitment to Christianity. And he may be correct, in that WB does not pronounce a Credo here. But the passage as originally stated (in yellow), conforms to an actual statement by Mr. Berry. GF, as I read his edit, is distorting the original—perhaps out of a need to pin Mr. Berry down on the Christian map. In addition, GF creates a new problem with his edit in that we must now wrestle with the notion of a Christian who doesn’t take the Gospel seriously. 

 Of the many Christian readers of WB’s work (of which I am one), there seem to be some (not me) who are not satisfied with the terms by which WB relates himself to Christianity. They seek some absolute, iron-clad declaration by Mr. Berry that he does, in fact, accept and adhere to Christian dogma (perhaps as we find it in the Apostle’s Creed). One guesses that if such a declaratory moment cannot be found, these readers would have to abandon their interest in WB’s work, since his faith has not been proven to be as pure as they would like it to be.

The second change, from … has criticized Christian organizations for failing ...  to … has criticized the Christian organizations that fail …, would be a pretty good revision if it reflected what Mr. Berry has actually written. But I don’t find any passage where he specifies such organizations. Instead, we read in “Christianity and the Survival of Creation”:

It is hardly too much to say that most Christian organizations are as happily indifferent to the ecological, cultural, and religious implications of industrial economics as are most industrial organizations. (94) 

 His “most” here suggests that the exceptions are few.

 The third change, from “the arrogance of some Christians” to “the arrogance of some religious people” seems to be rooted in a desire to broaden or soften WB’s critique of Christianity (which is the focus of his key essay noted above). 

Glynn Young has recently written at his blog, Faith, Fiction, Friends, that “Berry is a writer who happens to be a Christian, and his faith is not an obstacle for readers who don’t share it.” It is kind of ironic that some of those who do share that faith find any number of obstacles and are less generous than they might be in not allowing Mr. Berry’s self-description as “a person who takes the Gospel seriously” to stand.

Comments

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Thank you for this, Brother Tom. Berry's Christianity--I do believe he is one; I'd still read him if he wasn't--is a nuanced one, and I think that's true of more Christians than the media (whether secular or Christian) tends to acknowledge. This discussion of his Wikipedia entry gets at those nuances better than I've seen in most places, and describes precisely the uneasiness I feel with Christians (and I am, though often reluctantly) who insist on pinning down your faith before they can accept you as one of them, or as a worthy individual at all.

You are welcome, Walter. I recommend the conversation he had back in November with Norman Wirzba for any number of dead-on thoughts about religion.

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