I've never read the man, so I wouldn't have known whether to like him or not. As soon you tell me he favors gay marriage, I get this feeling that things just aren't going to work out between us. Miller tells us that "He does support Obama’s embrace of gay marriage."
"I’m in favor of it, too," he says. "It’s really only because they’re being denied the benefits of inheritance and so on — otherwise I don’t think it ought to be the government’s business." He regards the entire debate as a distraction: "I really don’t understand how you can single out homosexuality for opprobrium and wink at fornication and adultery, which the Bible has a lot more to say about. The churches are not going to come out against fornication and adultery because there are too damn many fornicators and adulterers in their congregations."Did I just hear him say that two wrongs make a right? And is there any tireder accusation than the one about all those Christian churches bursting at the seams with hypocrites? I've gotten more rigorous arguments on this issue from some of my duller students. And what kind of church does he go to, anyway? The one I go to is locked in a battle with the government to stave off being forced to pay for other people's sexual indiscipline via the contraceptive mandate. It's true I never heard much about contraception from the pulpit until the issue was forced upon us, but neither did I hear much about homosexuality. Most Christian churches are likely equal opportunity winkers. Mr. Berry needs to get out more on Sunday.
Dreher directs us to an essay by Allan Carlson from 2007 in which he (Carlson) appreciates rather than criticizes something Berry wrote for Playboy (wink) called "Rugged Individualism" and another entitled "Letter to Daniel Kemmis," not for Playboy. He starts off sounding sensible (in Mr. Carlson's telling):
Mr. Berry concludes that the Democrats have been “further weakened by mishandling the issue of homosexuality.” He blasts the knee-jerk liberalism that gives “categorical approval” to any group which once faced broad disapproval. “[T]his is nonsense,” he declares, for some people in minority groups—just as some people in majority groups—behave in ways that should always face disapproval.Hear, hear. But then
Regarding cries for same-sex marriage, he becomes something of a libertarian, arguing that state “approval of anybody’s sexual behavior is as inappropriate and as offensive to freedom as governmental disapproval.”So when the state grants approval to marriage between man and woman and the sexual activity between them that will likely result in children, this is offensive? When it denies it to people of the same sex who engage in perversions of what is appropriate to marriage, and which will not result in children, this is also offensive? Or does it not matter, Mr. Berry? The government's withholding its approval of "anybody's sexual behavior" is tantamount to granting its approval to everyone's.
Not only are Mr. Berry and President Barry "in favor of it, too," but Mr. Berry voted for the other Barry in 2008. And he's going to vote for him again in 2012 because, well, that's just what we would expect from someone who, says Dreher, "is America’s leading agrarian philosopher," and someone who, according to Miller, "seems both puzzled and amused that his work would find favor with conservatives." And why is he amused? Because he's a lifelong Democrat, "a child of the New Deal."
And what about that other really important issue to conservatives who love Mr. Berry so much? From Carlson's essay:
Mr. Berry is forthright in asserting
that "I am opposed to abortion except as a last resort to save a pregnant woman’s life."
"[t]he crucial question raised by this practice is: What is killed? The answer can only be: A human being."So it's okay to kill one human being to save another human being? I already said that, didn't I?
He wrestles with the language of a "woman’s right to choose," and concludes that if this is a right, it is a very problematic and peculiar one. In contrast, Mr. Berry finds the "right to life" embedded in the U.S. Declaration of Independence and in "a ‘reverence for life’ to which we are called by much instruction." This means that his opposition to abortion is parallel to, or consistent with, his opposition to capital punishment and to war, "especially the killing of innocent women, children, and old people."So murdering an innocent child by abortion is just like executing a criminal who murdered an innocent child? From Miller's essay:
"I’m pro-life, in lower-case letters," says Berry, meaning that although he shares many principles with the pro-life movement, he won’t join it. (He once wrote an essay called "In Distrust of Movements," in which he argued that political causes are often too narrowly specialized.) "Abortion for birth control is wrong," he says. "That’s as far as I’m going to go. In some circumstances, I would justify it, as I would justify divorce in some circumstances, as the best of two unhappy choices."Sounds like he's evolved while his conservative admirers weren't looking.
I've known some people in the pro-life "Movement." They are really good people as far as I can tell, and really very "narrowly specialized." They don't mind getting their hands dirty, and their specialty is saving babies' lives. Some of them conduct prayer vigils outside the baby-killing clinics. Some of them try to counsel the patrons of such clinics by providing accurate information about what those patrons are planning to have killed. They are the kind of people who saved the life of a little girl named Sky. I was wondering what Mr. Berry thinks of those people. Does he distrust them? Because in their narrow specialization they sometimes persuade people to let - in Mr. Berry's phrasing - "a human being" live? Mr. Berry may call his discomfort 'distrust' if he wishes, of course. I call it cowardice.
Mr. Berry also has some kind of environmentalist bug in his britches. Miller says that he once wrote an essay called "Why I Am Not Going to Buy a Computer" and, to give the man credit, he never has.
Berry explained that he writes on paper with a pen or pencil and then gives the pages to his wife, who pecks out a typewritten document. He offered reasons for refusing to keep up with the times: He doubted that a newfangled machine would improve his writing, preferred to save his money, and so on. Yet he also believed that he was taking a stand: "I would hate to think that my work as a writer could not be done without direct dependence on strip-mined coal. How could I write conscientiously against the rape of nature if I were, in the act of writing, implicated in the rape?" He added that he writes during the day so he doesn’t have to use electric light.A newfangled (old-fangled by now) machine might not improve his writing, but a word processor would sure as hell make his wife's typing and revising chores a lot easier. If I were her, I'd go on strike.
Mr. Berry does, however, use electricity at least to some extent. Says Miller, "Last year, he started using three large solar panels, which he volunteers are worth about $80,000. 'These things don’t pollute,' he says, with obvious pride."
Well, yeah. I'd be proud too if I could afford 80,000 dollars worth of anything (I'd probably opt for a lifetime's supply of European beer, British ale, and gift cards to Home Depot). As to the pollution, here's how it probably works. You, his army of conservative admirers, probably don't live on farms and can't afford 80,000 dollars worth of green pride. He can afford to live on a farm and buy 80,000 dollars worth of stuff because you, his army of admirers, buy his books and attend lectures for which he is paid handsomely. His books are probably printed on recycled paper. You can recycle the stuff until it has the texture of toilet paper, but some trees are still going to die, especially if you buy enough of his books, which you must have done to get those solar panels on his roof. Meanwhile, you - his admirers - read by lamplight supplied by coal, oil or nuclear power; drive gas-powered cars made from more of that oil sucked from Mother Earth's bowels; buy engagement rings for your women made from diamonds gouged from Momma Earth's veins; run your central air-conditioning in summer, your central heat in winter, cook on the grill over - you guessed it - charcoal; stare at your computer half the day so that you can find articles about Wendell Berry; send and receive emails the other half; buy clothes that were made in sweatshops in China rather than from the wool of sheep on Mr. Berry's farm...In other words, you admirers make Mr. Berry's pastoral life (when he isn't stopping by Washington, D.C. or some other polluted metropolis with no sense of community to pick up an award or a speaking fee) possible because you are engaged in raping the earth.
Mr. Dreher reasserts his reverence for the man, and still insists on taking "everything he says seriously, even if I don’t agree with it." But in fact he asks questions he'd like answers to, which he will probably never get, the questions pretty much nailing Mr. Berry into a corner from which he cannot escape:
How is it that a man who has pondered natural traditions as deeply as Berry has can offer an opinion on this issue without reckoning with the fact that no culture has ever had same-sex marriage?...Berry has written beautifully on marriage, and the discipline it imposes on individuals, couples, and communities. It is not a private thing, and cannot be a private thing; marriage is first and foremost a communal act. I believe there is a strong case to be made that popular support for SSM has risen as a consequence of the privatization of sexual desire, and in turn marriage. Berry has long decried this, so I am puzzled as to why he doesn’t trouble to explain why this isn’t the case, in his view, regarding accommodating SSM.Maybe it is for the reason that Mr. Dreher has core principles which he will not abandon, and Mr. Berry does not.
John Miller says that back in 1978, Russell Kirk wrote that "Berry is possessed of an intellect at once philosophic and poetic, and he writes most movingly. Humane culture has no better friend today than he."
Wanna bet, Mr. Kirk?
Back in May, Matthew Franck at First Things had a few things to say about Mr. Berry's Jefferson Lecture, "the highest honor the federal government bestows for distinguished intellectual and public achievement in the humanities."