Wendell Berry

“Christianity and the Survival of Creation”


1.       Cliches of the conservation movement about Christianity

          a.       Culpability of Christianity for the destruction of natural world (Lynn White, et al.)

          b.       Uselessness of Christianity to correct it

2.       Does Berry agree or disagree with these charges?

          a.       He thinks the inditement is correct in many respects

          b.       Christian practice today goes along with environmental destruction (i.e., “the murder of creation” by “the industrial economy”)

          c.       Christianity a tool of earthly villainy

          d.       Christianity has stood by while a predatory economy ravaged world’s natural beauty and health, divided and plundered its human communities and households

                    i.        Assumed that economic forces automatically work for the good and that “progress” is necessarily good

3.       But anti-Christian conservationists (like Lynn White) haven’t (carefully) read the Bible

          a.       They do not have an adequate understanding of the Bible and the cultural traditions that descend from it

          b.       They confuse the behavior of Christians with biblical instruction

4.       Many Christians who engage in allegedly respectable Christian behavior need biblical instruction as well

          a.       “Some virtually catastrophic discrepancies between biblical instruction and Christian behavior”

5.       Berry believes the survival of creation may depend on the renewal of Christianity

          a.       Not saying we will destroy the earth, but that we will destroy god’s created earth and replace it with human artifacts

6.       How does Berry agree and disagree with Lynn White?

          a.       Agrees (to an extent) with Lynn White about the responsibility of Christianity for the eco predicament and the importance of religion as a way out

          b.       White certainly doesn’t see the the powerful environmentally friendly message in Christianity and the Bible that Berry finds


7.       Earth not Human Property: The Lord, not humans, owns the world and its parts

          a.       Humans are guests and stewards

                    i.        “The earth is the Lord’s and the fulness thereof: the world and they that dwell therein”

                    ii.       “The land is mine; for ye are strangers and sojourners with me”

                    iii.      Large accumulations of “real estate” are abusive and forbidden in Leviticus

          b.       Use of God’s earth a gift from God

8.       God made all creatures, including organisms we don’t like

          a.       E.g., mosquitos, snakes, weeds, man-eating sharks

          b.        That we don’t like them shows our deficiency and fallen nature

9.       God finds the world good and loves it as it is,

          a.       And yet we “reduce it and corrupt it.” pollute and destroy it

10.     Immanence of God in creation (not denying some transcendence)

          a.       Creation is not independent of the creator, but all creatures constantly participate in the being of God

          b.       Creation is God’s presence in beings/things

          c.       This is why subduing things of nature for human purposes is so dangerous and often results in evil

11.     Destruction of nature a blasphemy against God

          a.       Our destruction of nature not just bad stewardship, or shirking our family responsibility (to our evolutionary kin)

          b.       Throwing God’s gifts back in his face

12.     Can use, not abuse nature

          a.       We have the right to use the gifts of nature, but not ruin, waste or destroy them

          b.       We should use only what we need: Bible forbids great accumulations of property

13.     Bible is unequivocal on the sanctity and holiness of the world

          a.       None of the industrialist’s contempt or hatred of nature, but an awe, reverence, profound cherishing of a precious nature

          b.       We are holy creatures, living among other holy creatures in a holy world

                    i.        Does not sound anthropocentric

14.     A troubling idolatry in the traditional Christian idea that only church is a holy place

          a.       As if a human artifact could contain God

          b.       If nothing is sacred or holy but the Bible, the Church, and humans in it, then the rest of creation has no truth, spirit, or soul in it and can be destroyed

          c.       “Church becomes a preserve of ‘holiness,’ from which the certified lovers of God assault and plunder the ‘secular’ earth”

15.     For Berry, home and workplace are holy places too

          a.       This is scarey as they are now deeply involved in the ruin of creation

16.     Denying spirit, truth, holiness to nonhuman creation is a blasphemy without which nature and culture destroying economy couldn’t exist.


17.     Holiness of life incompatible with an exploitative and destructive economy that diminishes life’s possibilities

18.     Need a connection between religion and economy

          a.       What kind of economy is compatible with the holiness of life?

          b.       Christianity needs to find a workable alternative economy

          c.       Religion needs to be celebrated less in rituals and more practiced in the world

19.     Present industrial economy breaks the 10 commandments and is based on the seven deadly sins–it is engaged in the murder of creation

          a.       Lust, gluttony, greed, sloth, wrath, envy, pride

          b.       In pursuit of so-called material possessions we can lose our understanding of ourselves as creatures of God, member of the holy communion of Creation

20.     Spiritual importance of economic life

          a.       Work has religious significance

          b.       No maker can work except by reworking the works of Creation

          c.       How work with God’s creation, shows what we think of it

          d.       If see life, nature, and the earth as a holy, precious, and sacred place, then how we transform it by work is a religious activity

          e.       Good work (which honors God’s work), good economy is only way creation can receive due honor

          f.       Practice our religion in how we work and what we do with products of work

          g.       Work as a form of prayer/worship: remaking and working with God’s creation

          h.       Good work

                    i.        Respects its tools and materials;

                    ii.       Honors nature as a great mystery, power, teacher and the judge of all human work

                    iii.      It makes products that are both useful and beautiful

                    iv.      It does not disassociate life and work, pleasure and work


21.     Exploitive, destructive industrial economy is only possible with these dualisms:


          Godly, holy, sacred, valuable, truth, soul        Secular/ profane, lacking value, to be destroyed

          Spirit/soul                                                     Matter/Body

          Only church/bible holy place                          World/earth/nature/home/workplace

          Humans in church                                 Humans working in the world

          Religion                                                Economy

          Humans                                                Nonhuman creation

          Worship                                                Work


“Outdoors we are confronted everywhere with wonders; we see that the miraculous is not extraordinary but the common mode of existence. It is our daily bread. Whoever really has considered the lilies of the field or the birds of the air and pondered the improbability of their existence in this warm world within the cold and empty stellar distances will hardly balk at the turning of water into wine--which was, after all, a very small miracle. We forget the greater and still continuing miracle by which water (with soil and sunlight) is turned into grapes.”