Art and Religion Can Speak with Authority, Too

By Campbell, Colin C. | The Christian Science Monitor, June 22, 2000 | Go to article overview

Art and Religion Can Speak with Authority, Too


Campbell, Colin C., The Christian Science Monitor


LIFE IS A MIRACLE: AN ESSAY AGAINST MODERN SUPERSTITION By Wendell Berry Counterpoint

153 pp., $21

I sit in the shade of the trees of the land I was born in," says Wendell Berry in one of his poems. That land is Kentucky, and like Thomas Jefferson, who, in the Kentucky Resolutions, affirmed the right of states to nullify acts of Congress, Berry believes that states' rights and agrarian values grow good citizens.

A novelist and an essayist as well as a poet, he has written more than 30 books and through them is known to thousands as a brilliant and resourceful conservationist. He has plumbed profoundly and denounced eloquently an unholy trinity: commercialized science, giant corporations, and federal funding.

Now, in his latest book, which is subtitled "An Essay Against Modern Superstition," this Kentucky farmer and educator continues to expose the moral and spiritual emptiness of technology as an object of worship.

Two-thirds of "Life Is a Miracle" are devoted to a slashing examination of "Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge," by Edward O. Wilson, a distinguished biologist at Harvard University. To test the fairness of Berry's critique, I read "Consilience" myself and discovered that its substance and focal flaws are so astutely summarized by Berry that I am tempted to say he understands the book better than Wilson himself. He also unearths its buried thesis - that art and religion make sense only when viewed through the lens of the natural sciences.

Read superficially, "Consilience" appears to foster friendly communion among religion, the arts, and science, the ultimate goal being the unification of all knowledge. At a deeper level, however, Wilson's argument is nothing less than an attempt to manacle art and religion with deterministic fetters forged in the smithy of the scientific world view.

Berry's goal, by contrast, is not the unification of knowledge under the rubric of science but a three-way conversation among equals in which art and religion, rooted as they are in half a million years of human experience, are allowed to speak in all their sovereign uniqueness. …

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Art and Religion Can Speak with Authority, Too
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