This article is a cold slap in the face of much of the “Progressive World” (myself included) that , as Berry here describes it, is living vicariously through the “proxies” we have granted to someone OTHER than ourselves, This is a crucial issue in what the life of the church is about; or SHOULD be about. Taking local, face-to-face, individual care of that and those to whom we have been given (our land, our people, our families, our calling to extend that family to where God is directing us to exist and to offer that family to those to whom we are sent)
Wendell Berry on Local Economy
What has happened is that most people in our country, and apparently most people in the “developed” world, have given proxies to the corporations to produce and provide all of their food, clothing, and shelter. Moreover, they are rapidly giving proxies to corporations or governments to provide entertainment, education, child care, care of the sick and the elderly, and many other kinds of “service” that once were carried on informally and inexpensively by individuals or households or communities. Our major economic practice, in short, is to delegate the practice to others.
The danger now is that those who are concerned will believe that the solution to the \”environmental crisis\” can be merely political – that the problems, being large, can be solved by large solutions generated by a few people to whom we will give our proxies to police the economic proxies that we have already given. The danger, in other words, is that people will think they have made a sufficient change if they have altered their “values,” or had a “change of heart,” or experienced a “spiritual awakening,” and that such a change in passive consumers will cause appropriate changes in the public experts, politicians, and corporate executives to whom they have granted their political and economic proxies.
The trouble with this is that a proper concern for nature and our use of nature must be practiced not by our proxy-holders, but by ourselves. A change of heart or of values without a practice is only another pointless luxury of a passively consumptive way of life. The “environmental crisis,” in fact, can be solved only if people, individually and in their communities, recover responsibility for their thoughtlessly given proxies. If people begin the effort to take back into their own power a significant portion of their economic responsibility, then their inevitable first discovery is that the “environmental crisis” is no such thing; it is not a crisis of our environs or surroundings; it is a crisis of our lives as individuals, as family members, as community members, and as citizens. We have an “environmental crisis” because we have consented to an economy in which by eating, drinking, working, resting, traveling, and enjoying ourselves we are destroying the natural, the god-given world.
—-Wendell Berry, Citizenship Papers, p. 64
It seems that this problem of “proxy-holders” , and our “handing over” of the responsibilty to “craft a solution” is behind so much of the abdication of the church of its call to “be the church” ; to be “a light unto the nations” in the same way Israel was called to be so.
This brings to mind a passage from Hauerwas I read recently:
When you begin by defining democracy as limited you therefore lose the necessary critical purchase needed to recognize that democratic states, whatever their relative virtues, are nonetheless states. Or put differently, the problem with the claim that “democratic government is limited government” is far too formal. We have no idea what empirical marks in fact indicate when the state may have overreached the limits. Democracies after all can be just as tyrannical in their claims on the loyalties of their citizens as totalitarian alternatives. Indeed the tyranny may be all the more perverse because we have freely given the state the right to command our conscience.
The misleading description of the democratic state as limited is but the other side of the equally formal claim that the first task of the church is to be the church. For apart from a sense of the church as necessarily inclusive we are not provided with a compelling account of the empirical form such a church should take. To be sure the church is seen as the community that bears the message that every “early sovereignty is subordinate to the sovereignty of Jesus Christ,” but we lack any clear sense what the empirical correlative of that affirmation might be if the church is to make that message a concrete challenge to the powers that be. The church, we are told, should maintain a “critical distance” from all kingdoms of this world, but we have little idea of what basis and how that critical distance should be embodied. Instead “Christianity and Democracy” (Neibuhr) is so concerned to justify Christian support for liberal democratic regimes against the totalitarian alternative it seems to imply that democracies, and in particular American democracy, have a special relation to God’s kingdom in a manner that the necessity of that “critical distance” has been qualified. It thus provides us with a Lutheran justification of the limits of the political and yet maintains a Calvinist sense that God’s will for the development of human freedom is to be found in the American experiment.’
The church may well be free to preach the gospel in America, but that by no means insures that the state that is allowing the church to so preach is a “limited state.” After all Hitler never prevented the church from worshiping freely. Indeed in many ways the church was given special privilege in Nazi Germany, but such privilege did not make it freer. It is perhaps correct that regimes should be judged by their willingness to allow for the freedom of the church to worship and preach the gospel “to let the church be the church”, but it makes a good deal of difference what kind of church and what kind of preaching it is that is allowed to be so free.
—Stanly Hauerwas, Against The Nations, pp. 126-127
I have a little more I want to highlight from Berry
The “environmental crisis” has happened because the human household or economy is in conflict at almost every point with the household of nature. We have built our household on the assumption that the natural household is simple and can be simply used. We have assumed increasingly over the last five hundred years that nature is merely a supply of “raw materials,” and that we may safely possess those materials merely by taking them. This taking, as our technical means have increased, has involved always less reverence or respect, less gratitude, less local knowledge, and less skill. Our methodologies of land use have strayed from our old sympathetic attempts to imitate natural processes, and have come more and more to resemble the methodology of mining, even as mining itself has become more technologically powerful and more brutal.
And so we will be wrong if we attempt to correct what we perceive as “environmental” problems without correcting the economic oversimplification that caused them. This oversimplification is now either a matter of corporate behavior or of behavior under the influence of corporate behavior. This is sufficiently clear to many of us. What is not sufficiently clear, perhaps to any of us, is the extent of our complicity, as individuals and especially as individual consumers, in the behavior of the corporations.
—Citizenship Papers, pp. 63-64
(follow the link above to read this article online)