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Wendell Berry’s Grampa Simpson Moment

Longtime readers know of my immense respect for Wendell Berry, and his influence on my thinking. I was greatly surprised last year to read that he supports same-sex marriage. It seems to me to be contrary to all the things he’s taught over the years about the nature of marriage and community, and tradition. I wondered if he would ever explain himself.

Now, in an interview with the Associated Baptist Press, he has — and it is so crude, simplistic, combative, vicious, and altogether deeply disappointing that I can hardly believe it comes from a Wendell Berry who’s in his right mind. Understand, it’s not that I object to his position on same-sex marriage — though I do disagree with it — so much as I am mystified and angered by the barely-coherent farrago of liberal clichés, ugly insults, and shallow, indignant moralizing that he engages in to support his case. This is so, so unlike Wendell Berry, and I’m grieved to see him say these things. For example:

“But the difficulty is not assigned to any group of scapegoats,” he said. “It is rooted mainly in the values and priorities of our industrial capitalist system in which every one of us is complicit.”

“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,” Berry said. “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.”

Opposing gay marriage makes you a Christo-Nazi. So says Wendell Berry.

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.

Timothy Dalrymple unloads in detail on what he rightly calls “Berry’s epic slanderfest.” Excerpt:

One wonders how a mind as supple as Wendell Berry’s can accept these talking points so uncritically.  Christians and their churches devote enormous amounts of resources to marriage ministries in an effort to strengthen marriages.  A favorite target of the left, Focus on the Family, is almost exclusively focused on building up marriages and families.  The lion’s share of effort does go toward strengthening heterosexual marriages.  But just because heterosexual marriages are struggling is not a reason to abandon the biblical definition of marriage.  There is no fear that homosexuals will “corner the market.”  This probably ranks among the most ridiculous things Berry has said in a long series of ridiculous things.  The concern is that, in a society where marriage is already suffering, altering the fundamental definition of marriage will only hasten the disintegration of the God-given family structure and therefore of society as a whole.  Whether or not we find it convincing, let’s be honest about the argument.

More, about the amen chorus in the combox under Berry’s rant:

“Finally,” says one commenter, “sanity in the discussion.”  Says another, “We have been blessed with such a profound mind.”  Comments like these, in some ways, sadden me even more than Wendell Berry’s comments themselves.  Have we lost the ability even to recognize a sane and balanced and nuanced discussion?  Because Wendell Berry, in this case, offers neither sanity nor profundity.  There is no nuance here, no attempt to understand the arguments on both sides — really, there’s no grace here whatsoever.  There is a raging condemnation of one side of the argument as the “perverts” who indulge in “the lowest form of hatred” and can be justly identified with the perpetrators of genocide and inter-religious slaughter.

Tell me again who is engaging in “condemnation by category”?


about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. He has written and edited for the New York Post, The Dallas Morning News, National Review, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, the Washington Times, and the Baton Rouge Advocate. Rod’s commentary has been published in The Wall Street Journal, Commentary, the Weekly Standard, Beliefnet, and Real Simple, among other publications, and he has appeared on NPR, ABC News, CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, and the BBC. He lives in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, with his wife Julie and their three children. He has also written four books, The Little Way of Ruthie Leming, Crunchy Cons, How Dante Can Save Your Life, and The Benedict Option.

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