Wendell Berry - what's he really like?

greenspun.com : LUSENET : A Village Commons : One Thread

In the course of updating my Gene Logsdon Fan Club page, I came across something called "The Agrarian Foundation". This site was obviously a christians-only club, and had a gay-bashing link to boot, but I figured I didn't have to join 'em, had noticed their list of books by GL was incorrect/incomplete, so I figured I'd do the nice thing and send them a correction. Little did I know what I was letting myself in for.

After a little while, I get an e-mail back from the site owner asking who I am and what I think of his website. Well obviously I think its not for me, since I'm not christian. But, I was polite, sent him a newsy little letter about the GL fan club on my website. THen I said "Your site looked interesting but being non-christian (non-religious actually) I didn't get the feeling I'm one of your target audience. But technically it looked pretty good". Politely acknowledged that we have no common ground on the issue of religion, and moved on. I really did not expect to hear from him again.

The next thing I know I'm getting an e-mail from him telling me that there is no sustainable agrarian future except for christians, and that "secularism ALWAYS leads to totalitarianism".

Now, having told him I am a-religious, it pretty much follows that I must be in favor of a secular government, given that I would definitely not be in favor of any flavor of theocracy (and speaking of "totalitarian", that pretty well sums up every theocracy that has ever existed on the planet). So basically he's telling me that there is no place for me in his vision of the Brave New World (no duh! Like I hadn't already guessed that) and that I'm a totalitarian too boot.

Let's just say things deteriorated from here. I told him in no uncertain terms how I felt about his vision of a christians only utopia, and asked him not to contact me again. Lo, there comes a response - a pious, faux humble, ostentiously turning the other cheek sort of psuedo apology that basically said "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to offend you, but after all it really is all your fault because you are so full of hate".

Aw sheesh. OK, he said he would be happy to get an answer, so you better believe I sent him one. Again, I asked him to leave me alone. Twice this time.

Lo, it was not to be. Now he sends me an e-mail telling me what a hate-filled anti-Christian bigot I am and that I am the one who brought up the subject of Christianity anyway so he had every right to expound on it.


How does acknowledging that I'm not in his target audience, and trying to find something nice to say about his site anyway, translate to permission to open up a dialog on The One True Way???

As you might guess, he did not address a single point that I actually made, not in either e-mail. He just called names, nyah nyah nyah.

At any rate, this spurred me on to go and really look closely at this site, because I had noticed on my initial visit that Wendell Berry was listed as a board member for the foundation. I had passed the site over with some feelings of real regret because of that; now I had to go take a closer look at the site to see if it was really as bad as I thought it was. I couldn't bear to think that Wendell Berry would really be in support of this sort of "christians only" vision of the future. He's an agrarian, yeah; he's deeply spiritual and it shows in his writings, and its an important part of the respect I have for him as a writer. I always sort of assumed he was probably christian himself, but never had the feeling he was promoting a vision of the future that would exclude me for failing to Pray The Right Way. In short, I never felt like he was a christian chauvinist.

On closer examination, the site is every bit as ugly as I initially had thought. The site owner uses all sorts of denigratory terminology to deride and erode the validity of any society that is not christian-centric.

He says there can be no "sustainable agrarian society" unless you're Christian. OK, christianity has been around for a couple thousand years. And ... how long have human beings been sticking stuff in the ground and waiting for it to grow?

You know, I'm so upset by all this that I can't even write about it here. I've drafted six different letters to Wendell Berry, and can't figure out how to put this to him.

I STRONGLY feel that public figures owe us NOTHING above and beyond their public works, for which we pay them. An actor owes us nothing when he or she is not acting. A musician owes us nothing when he or she is not playing at a concert or recording an album. A baseball player is on his own outside the ballpark, and it is not John Q. Public's right to make demands on these people's private lives.

So, it really is none of my business what WB's stand is on gun control issues, abortion, or whether or not gays should be helped along on their way to hell with a not so gentle shove in the small of the back.

Yet, at the same time, I have difficulty believing he would approve of having his name linked with these issues in public, whether or not he agrees with them. Especially, I can't believe that he REALLY supports a christians-only membership for a sustainable future.

At least, I sure hope not.

I want to let him know, in some way, that he may want to examine whether or not he really wants his name associated with this group. Maybe he does, in which case its none of my flippin' business. BUT, maybe he doesn't realize what this guy is doing with the website. I know he eschews computers altogether. I doubt he has ever seen the material that goes onto the website. I for sure know that if HE were discussing gun control, he wouldn't misquote statistics (e.g. lie and make things up) and use emotionally laden invective. It would be a reasoned, factual discussion that I could read and respect even if I did't agree with it.

I am really upset by all this. Hopefully the idiot who runs the site will LEAVE ME ALONE now, this is the third time I've told him to - three's a charm? Or is it disaster that comes in threes? *sigh*

I have no idea what WB's stance is on these controversial, non-agrarian related topics. I really don't care. He has never chosen to make them part of his writings so I really don't see that it matters one way or the other. Yet ... well, the whole "the only sustainable future is a christian one" ... I just can't see WB agreeing with that. I've never seen any sign of it in his writings. Am I just blind? If he doesn't, wouldn't he want to know what this website is pushing? But he's an intelligent man with a lot more on the ball than I've got, who am I to take it upon myself to point this out to him? He's smarter than I am, surely he already knows. But ... how could he possibly support this sort of agenda and there be no sign of that attitude in his writings? So he can't know. But he MUST know.

I am REALLY REALLY upset and confused.

And any christians reading this, please do me a favor and don't start posting about how the only sustainable future IS a christian one. I'm asking for help and sympathy here, I REALLY don't need to be slapped around any more, OK? It's your right to believe that if you want to, far be it from me to try to convince you otherwise. Please show me the same amount of respect and don't try to bend me around to YOUR way of thinking. Please?

-- Sojourner (notime4@summer.spam), August 11, 2001


Wow, Sojourner, I love to read your posts; you're extremely articulate and knowledgeable (and, of course, I usually agree with you!). Perhaps, in this case, it would be better to wait a little? Usually the answer of what to do comes to me if I just do nothing for awhile, or go and do the usual without trying to strain for an answer immediately, because the "wheels" keep turning even when I'm not consciously aware of them, and when the right impulse comes, I "know" it.

I'm sorry I'm not familiar with Wendell Berry's writings (teachings?) although I've heard the name a lot, nor have I read Gene Logsdon - I'm still back with Louis Bromfield. Shows my age, doesn't it!

Perhaps you could write and ask Mr Berry if he is, indeed, on the board of this particular outfit, and just tell him that you found the organization very offensive and why. I think if someone like the jerk site-owner was e-mailing me, I'd probably just delete without reading, and never reply again - does he really deserve any of your attention and energy? Let him stay in his own narrow, ugly, little "world"!

Whatever happens, I know you'll always uphold your own ethics, values, morals and standards, and that's all that counts - whether others agree with you or not.

-- Bonnie (chilton@stateline-isp.com), August 11, 2001.

Sojourner, The guy who runs it is a former broker and financial planner: personally I wouldn't trust him as far as I could throw him. It looks mainly like an internet based money making scam to me. There's nothing there that shows anything is ever published on paper. Make sure you have a good firewall installed on the computer and forget about him.

I honestly don't know how Wendell Berry could be a member of the board of advisors of that outfit and not realize what it's about, though. Maybe he's just someone who keeps his political thoughts to himself so you don't see that side in his writing. Although on second thought, if WB has just "graciously agreed to oversee my work" (that's a quote from the website) it may be that the website authour has just written letters to some people and asked them to give an opinion on some writing and the advisors don't necessarily realize what kind of writing the guy is putting out the rest of the time. He could be very selective on the articles he sends Mr. Berry. He may have sent nothing more than a fan letter to WB and gotten an answer back that you could rationalize as an endorsement. I see nothing wrong with sending a letter to WB just in case he doesn't know. I know I'd be REALLY upset if some idiot were using my name. And if he does know and endorse that kind of website/articles, well, that's that. If you do send a letter to him and get an answer, let us know what he says, would you? I'd be interested in hearing. I agree with you 100% that public personalities have a right to private existence, but if their opinions lean in the direction of that website and I find out about it, I sure don't feel like supporting them anymore.

It's kind of a frustrating site to me--I kept hitting links and coming up with the Life Extention Foundation and the Price Pottenger Foundation which I think are great organizations, and to see them linked to a site like that is disconcerting at best.

-- Jennifer L. (Northern NYS) (jlance@nospammail.com), August 11, 2001.

I just can't believe WB knows what's up on this site. I'm going to wait a few days and try to write that letter again. I just don't believe he could write the way he does, and then turn around and approve and condone this sort of intolerance. At least, I sure hope not.

Thanks for the words of encouragement.

-- Sojourner (notime4@summer.spam), August 12, 2001.

My suspicion is that Mr. Berry has no idea what this guy is up to.

Most email programs allow you to block mail from specific senders. It will just dump anything incoming from that address into the delete file. I have my program to dump the deleted file upon shutdown, so nothing is in there more than a day. I use Internet Explorer. In that program, click TOOLS then MESSAGE RULES then Blocked Sender's List. Add the offending email address into it, and you'll never see another message from them again.

-- Joy F [in So. Wisconsin] (CatFlunky@excite.com), August 12, 2001.

I have followed both WB's career and E.O. Wilson's (scientist). The latest book by WB called "Life Is a Miracle" is basically a diatribe about faith and against science and Wilson in particular. Here is a review by someone other than me, and rather positive actually:

Editorial Reviews Amazon.com As a poet, novelist, and farmer, Wendell Berry has worked and written in favor of tried and tested ways, rejecting the notion that the modern is always to be preferred over the old. Technology may have its uses, he has insisted in books like The Gift of Good Land, but what matters more is the crafting of sound human communities and of self-reliant living. Religious faith lies at the heart of Berry's unapologetically old-fashioned program. Faith, which supposes that life is full of unpredictable mysteries, stands against much of modern science, an opposition that Berry explores in Life Is a Miracle. Taking particular issue with entomologist E.O. Wilson's recent book, Consilience, which maintains the supremacy of scientific explanation over religious conjecture and supposes that science will one day be able to answer every question about the hows and whys of life, Berry revisits C.P. Snow's "two cultures" thesis to observe that science and religion address different kinds of necessary questions. "Science cannot replace art or religion," he writes, "for the same reason that you cannot loosen a nut with a saw or cut a board in two with a wrench." Against science's "false specification and pretentious exactitude," Berry notes quietly that the more he observes his own little corner of the planet, a small Kentucky farm, the less patient he is with reductionist, materialist explanations of the way things work--for here, and everywhere, "life ... is unique, given to the world minute by minute, only once, never to be repeated." Berry's slender essay offers a thoughtful repudiation of an increasingly technological--and, some would say, soulless--culture. -- Gregory McNamee -

This book by Berry has led me to discard my high opinion of him as I believe "Consilience" by EO Wilson is as good a work of science as I have ever read. I still like Berry's poetry though, never did like his novels. I would not find it hard to fathom that Berry might be a christian who was unaccepting of others different from him/his beliefs.

-- Anne (HealthyTouch101@wildmail.com), August 12, 2001.

Anne, I haven't read either book, but if the author of "Consilience" is claiming that EVERYTHING about life can be reduced to an exact science, I have to admit I have some real sympathy for WBs position.

Maybe it CAN be (reduced to exact equations). But if so, we're a long way from it. And in the meantime, I'm with WB - I'd rather enjoy the mystery than try to reduce everything to mathematical perfection.

But, you may very well have a point. I'm off to ABE to put both books on my want list.

-- Sojourner (notime4@summer.spam), August 12, 2001.

Consilience is about the unity of knowledge and the larger picture more than it breaks down one scientific issue (genes for instance). Wilson has made it clear in a memoir that he belongs to a church for the social value not the belief system.

-- Anne (HealthyTouch101@wildmail.com), August 13, 2001.

Oh, and don't foget Berry's tendency to avoid technology like the luddite he is. I doubt he's ever seen that web site.

-- Anne (HealthyTouch101@wildmail.com), August 13, 2001.

I've got copies of both "Consilience" and "The Miracle of Life" on the way. WB's book cost me twice what "Consilience" did, LOL!

I'll post reviews as soon as they arrive and I inhale them (I don't read books, I inhale them)

-- Sojourner (notime4@summer.spam), August 13, 2001.

Hi Sojo, I just popped in to read up and clicked on this thread and I feel a need to apologize for the way you were treated and for the hurt directed at you. My own hands were shaking, it was as if I could feel it my self, I have family that treats people the way you discribed, They show no meekness or humility, and what love they express is conditional according to their terms. It is wrong, they are not obeying scripture, they are a BAD witness to others, I am sorry that so many claim to be christains, when they really aren't.The Bible says in Matthew 7:19-26(I will paraphrase to save space) you will know them by their fruits, not everyone who claims Jesus really knows Him, He will turn them away..... I have seen in the way you communicate that you are intelligent and tender in spirit (not hard hearted) and you care about others. In this you are closer to God than the ones who have hurt you. Sojo, I am a real christain, and the way these people treated you is wrong, please consider that there is a difference.

-- Thumper (slrldr@yahoo.com), August 20, 2001.

Hey, Thumper, I know. I respect spirituality, whatever its source. I have a strong aversion to the proselytizers, there is so little compassion in them and so much judgement. But I know its just like any other group - some good, some bad, some sincere, some hypocritical. Thanks for the kind words.

-- Sojourner (notime4@summer.spam), August 22, 2001.

So have you had time to breathe yet??

-- Frenchie (Question one@duda.org), September 19, 2001.

Barely! I just got the copy of WB's book, but have had "consilience" for some time now. I have to say, reading it (Consilience) is slow going. Haven't cracked WB's comeback yet. But I don't think the Consilience fellow is much of a writer. So far, he's been tooting his own horn an awful lot. Very self-indulgent, so far. Maybe it'll get better later. I much prefer the fellow who wrote "The Mismeasure of Man", brain farts are not letting me dredge up his name, but he's my very favorite science writer.

-- Sojourner (notime4@summer.spam), September 23, 2001.

Sojourner -

As a Christian (Catholic) I get upset with people who claim to be Christian & act like jerks. O well, Jesus did say the wheat & weeds would be together for quite a while! In WB's essays, I thought his Christianity was rather low-key, but I've only read a couple of his books of essays. I also liked The Mismeasure of Man, by Gould, can't remember his first name. Remember that "christian" groups that want to circle the wagons often define "christian" so narrowly that not even Jesus would be allowed in!

God bless!

-- Bonnie (stichart@plix.com), October 05, 2001.

Moderation questions? read the FAQ