Blog Watch: Looking back at Wendell Berry and Gay Marriage

Berry, who turns 80 this year, still lives on his Hardin [sic] County, Kentucky, homeplace, and still knows how to stir things up. The clip at the top today, in lieu of a Sunday sermon, is the unabashedly heterosexual Berry's coming out as a supporter of same-sex marriage during early 2103.
 
In typical Berry fashion, it was done in a roomful of Baptist preachers on the campus of Georgetown College, affiliated with the Kentucky Baptist Convention  --- Daniel in the lions' den.
 
Berry minced few words about his views concerning gay marriage and a variety of other topics, nor did he spare the Christian church, skewering it with a variety of quotable paragraphs, including this:
 
“If I were one of a homosexual couple — the same as I am one of a heterosexual couple — I would place my faith and hope in the mercy of Christ, not in the judgment of Christians. When I consider the hostility of political churches to homosexuality and homosexual marriage, I do so remembering the history of Christian war, torture, terror, slavery and annihilation against Jews, Muslims, black Africans, American Indians and others. And more of the same by Catholics against Protestants, Protestants against Catholics, Catholics against Catholics, Protestants against Protestants, as if by law requiring the love of God to be balanced by hatred of some neighbor for the sin of being unlike some divinely preferred us. If we are a Christian nation — as some say we are, using the adjective with conventional looseness — then this Christian blood thirst continues wherever we find an officially identifiable evil, and to the immense enrichment of our Christian industries of war.”
It was quite a performance, characterized as an "epic slanderfest" by one appalled conservative (previously an admirer of Berry).
 

Wendell Berry cited on Marriage

In the United States we equate an ordinary life with a failed one. Wendell Berry describes the modern marriage in Feminism, the Body and the Machine as, “an intimate ‘relationship’ involving (ideally) two successful careerists in the same bed...a sort of private political system in which rights and interests must be constantly asserted and defended. Marriage in other words, has now taken the form of a divorce.” Berry lives on his family’s farm in rural Kentucky, and his point is simple: If you always have to argue about who does what, you will be unhappy. If everyone just picks up a shovel and does their part, you can do great things. It is not possible to be a good co-worker, spouse or friend if you are a narcissist.

via America Magazine


Wendell Berry cited on Marriage and Sexual Ethics

This broader capitalist rape culture benefits greatly from both the fantasy that sexual urges are completely uncontrollable except in the cases where someone says “no” and the vestiges of pseudo-Christian morality that assigns as much blame as possible to the victims of sexual aggression. Ross Douthat has observed that a libertarian vision of a perfectly transparent free market is as unrealistic as an libertine vision of perfectly free decision-making. Sex and the representation of hypersexualized bodies becomes a chaotic mess of people using sex for whatever power it gives them over others. Wendell Berry takes this apart quite skillfully in his essay Sex, Economy, Freedom, & Community:

"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."

via Mere Orthodoxy


Supportive response to Wendell Berry's marriage statement

The thing about Berry’s most recent jeremiad on the subject of same-sex marriage is that it’s wholly of a piece with everything else the man has written and argued and defended. The anger, the earthy humor, the Baptist individualism constrained by commitment to community, place and neighbor. None of that is out of character. Nor is it surprising.

He’s said all of this before about farming and about the land and about community, and economy, and fidelity. So he’s been saying this about marriage all along.

via patheos.com

SEE ALSO

"Wendell Berry on Marriage Equality" (Claude J. Summers)


On the response to Wendell Berry's thoughts on same-sex marriage

The current dismay among religiously and socially conservative appreciators of Wendell Berry's work is understandable. Mr. Berry has spoken about his support for same-sex marriage.

Early in his remarks he seemed to anticipate the kind of storm he was likely to stir. And there has arisen some turbulence, which I won't replay here. But you can find links to some examples of it HERE.

My guess, and it is only a guess, is that Mr. Berry has come to accept that which most of his conservative readers cannot—that, as gay Catholic theologian James Alison puts it, homosexuality is simply (or not so) "a regularly occurring, non-pathological minority variant" within the human species. In other words, homosexuality is as natural for some of us as heterosexuality is for most of us. This position, which appears to be more generally accepted by science, is far from being accepted in either the Catholic church or numerous conservative Protestant churches. In fact, it seems to be foundational for "the liberal position" so regularly condemned by the Right.

For my own sanity's sake, I try to get outside of left/right thinking as much as possible. Alison (openly an advocate for his side) offers some help … or, at least, something that helps me think through the problem.

Accepting or rejecting this anthropological understanding of homosexuality would seem to be fundamental to whatever position one takes on the matter. It's the crux of it. A traditional and conservative reading of Scripture possibly will not get one there on its own. Why not? Probably because the divinely inspired yet historically and culturally embedded authors of Scripture didn't have the wherewithal to study and test the facts so as to grow toward understanding the thing itself.

The naturalness of homosexuality is either true or it is not. Here is a key paragraph by Alison, whose point I find compelling:

In the last fifty years or so we have undergone a genuine human discovery of the sort that we, the human race, don’t make all that often. A genuine anthropological discovery: one that is not a matter of fashion, or wishful thinking; not the result of a decline in morals or a collapse of family values. We now know something objectively true about humans that we didn’t know before: that there is a regularly occurring, non-pathological minority variant in the human condition, independent of culture, habitat, religion, education, or customs, which we currently call “being gay”. This minority variant is not, of course, lived in a way that is independent of culture, habitat, religion, education and customs. It is lived, as is every other human reality, in an entirely culture-laden way, which is one of the reasons why it has in the past been so easy to mistake it as merely a function of culture, psychology, religion or morality: something to get worked up about rather than something that is just there. (James Alison, "The Fulcrum of Discovery or: how the 'gay thing' is good news for the Catholic Church")

This matter is not something I care to argue about. It is certainly not anything about which I wish to judge or condemn other people. Perhaps the advocates of one side or the other are ignorant or deluded or self-serving, intent on foisting some evil bit of social engineering onto all of us or on casting us back to the Dark Ages. But I prefer to think not. In fact, I really don't think so.

Everyone has an agenda. We are all people with points of view and desires that have been informed by our upbringing, our culture and historical moment, and I hope, our own mature and thoughtful consideration—our own intelligence. I trust that Mr. Berry, as in all other issues to which he has given thought, has used that intelligence in coming to his understanding of this matter.

 


A calmer critique of Wendell Berry on same-sex marriage

But I write in the past tense because Berry’s recent remarks make a definitional move that this older essay didn’t foresee, and doesn’t even seem to permit. They put a question mark after many of his earlier statements. He has retroactively obfuscated his point about limits and definitions. Here’s what I mean:

In his recent remarks, Berry mocks the idea that “homosexual marriage is opposed to and a threat to heterosexual marriage, as if the marriage market is about to be cornered and monopolized by homosexuals.” He goes on to make the excellent point, which is exactly in line with his decades-long argument, that infidelity, divorce, and promiscuity without any regard for marriage are the real problem. Marriage as an institution is breaking down around us because it’s being done so badly.  ”Heterosexual marriage does not need defending… It only needs to be practiced, which is pretty hard to do just now.” He has a good point, perhaps even the main point, and we’ll hardly catch Wendell Berry cheerleading for the culture of sexual self-expression and self-fulfillment.

But he does apparently move to include homosexual relationships in the category of marriage (I assume he is thinking of that status of permanent, lifelong commitments between homosexual partners). That is hard to square with the language and the direction of his “Use of Old Forms” essay.

via patheos.com

SEE ALSO

"Wendell Berry on God, same sex marriage and surface mining" (James Bruggers)


Rod Dreher and others respond to Wendell Berry on same-sex marriage

This is just nuts. It’s ignorant, malicious, one-dimensional crackpottery, ideological hysteria of the sort one never expects from Wendell Berry. It is not remotely serious, and it is not remotely persuasive. Rather, it’s Grampa Simpson standing on the liberal lawn, shouting talking points he read in a Franky Schaeffer essay on HuffPo. It makes Andrew Sullivan in his more emotional moments sound as balanced and avuncular as Alistair Cooke. What a damn shame.

via theamericanconservative.com

SEE ALSO

"Wendell Berry Backs Gay Marriage" (Rod Dreher, 7.16.2012)

"More Berry Vs. Traditional Christians Reax" (Rod Dreher)"

"Wendell Berry's Rabbit is Now a Squirrel" (Rod Dreher)

"Wendell Berry's Halcyon Bean Patch" (Douglas Wilson)

"Wendell Berry's Epic Slanderfest ..." (Timothy Dalrymple)

"Wendell Berry on Cold-Hearted Christians and Homosexual Marriage" (David Mills)

"Wendell Berry and the Marriage Conversation" (Emily Stimpson)

"Reading Wendell Berry on Marriage" (Jake Meador)

"The Unveiling of Wendell Berry" (Est Quod Est)

"Wendell Berry's Marriage Reversal" (Christopher C. Roberts)

"Diminished Respect for Wendell Berry" (Maclin Horton)


A Critical Response to Wendell Berry on Same-Sex Marriage

I write this post with deep disappointment.  I appreciate Wendell Berry’s literary artistry, and I appreciate his spiritual insights.  But he indulged in an epic rant against gay marriage opponents to a gathering of Baptist ministers on January 11th in Kentucky.  His comments were relayed by Bob Allen of the Associated Baptist Press.  While Berry repeats uncritically a slew of bumper-sticker arguments and engages in some serious straw-man pyromania, the people in the comments box nonetheless marvel at his genius.  This deserves a response.

via patheos.com