The Art of the Commonplace

by Wendell Berry

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"Christianity and the Survival of Creation" Summary and Analysis

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Last Updated on June 8, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 994

Anti-Christian conservationists argue that Christianity is useless in correcting destruction to the natural world and that it has caused much of the destruction. Indeed, it is true that most Christian organizations are as indifferent to the implications of industrial economics as everyone else. However, conservationist indictments of Christianity do not understand the Bible and its cultural traditions. If the Bible were read by Christians and non-Christians alike, they would recognize that Biblical instruction actually encourages conservation.

There are discrepancies between what the Bible says and how many modern Christians behave. But how can we solve this problem? Buddhism could provide an example of how to respect the natural world. But what we really need to do is renew the Christian religion to make it properly instructive.

According to the Bible, the earth actually belongs to God. Humans are only permitted to take care of it. God has also made all the parts of Creation, even the parts that we dislike, such as poisonous animals and plants. God continues to love the world, no matter what, and Creation is not independent of Him. To destroy nature, then, is not only a betrayal, but a blasphemy. It is “flinging God’s gifts into His face.” Dante and Blake both agreed that everything on earth is holy and sacred. But why do so many modern Christians not know this?

If you believe in the holiness of life, you cannot be part of an exploitative economy that destroys life on a daily basis. Organized Christianity today has no idea how to survive without simply becoming subservient to the destructive industrial economy. Modern Christians believe only church is a holy place; it is difficult to think of dwellings and workplaces as holy. However, our regard for church buildings as “God’s houses” has become almost idolatrous. Jesus viewed a church as any place where several people were gathered together in his name. He also knew that the most important people were not priests, but shepherds, soldiers, workers, homemakers, fisherpeople, and so on. They were ordinary people, and their miracles were experienced in the day-to-day world.

The Bible is, as Thoreau said, a “hypaethral book” best experienced outside. Outside, we can see that the soil is a miracle and the sunlight is holy. But today many Christians do not honor the Bible’s instruction to regard all of Creation as a revelation of God. Instead, they abuse nature and legitimize “bad work,” which in itself is a form of blasphemy. The Bible instructs us to revere and look after nature, not destroy it.

The most destructive disease afflicting modern society is the dualism of body and soul, which has always troubled humanity. The Bible can be interpreted to suggest that a human being is a body plus a soul, but this is not what is meant. God formed Adam and then turned him into a soul, rather than simply putting a soul into a body. Humans are a whole, not two parts glued together.

Ultimately, however, we are made of dust, and the dust part of ourselves, the body, is important, too. It must not be abused or hated for the sake of the soul. We must put into it only things that honor God’s creation.

Religious issues do lead to issues of economy. If we think of ourselves as biological creatures only, we will believe that we signify nothing in the long run. If we think of ourselves only as souls, then we despise the natural world as a temporary prison. But if we see ourselves as holistic beings of both body and soul, we can understand that...

(This entire section contains 994 words.)

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our acts have “a supreme significance” and that we are part of the same Creation as all the other parts of nature.

Work connects us to Creation and to eternity. By making things and reforming our arts, we are honoring God. Work cannot be entirely secular, because it embodies the “genius” or spirit of the craftsperson and is an example of self-expression. Traditionally, all artistic crafts understood their art as a service to fellow creatures and to God. Humans should use the gifts they have been given; there is no work which should be done in a thoughtless or artless way.

Modern Christianity has cut itself off from both nature and culture. The great works of religious poetry and music from the past are largely ignored. Modern Christianity is concentrated on growth and on “saving” souls, the religion of the state and the economic status quo. It has not intervened in the ravaging of the world by a predatory economy, nor has it taken up arms against corrupt governments. Indeed, governments, time and time again, whether “Christian” or not, have reenacted the crucifixion. This is a judgment upon all of us.


Berry condemns the nature of much modern Christianity because of the ways in which it has bought into the idea of the industrial economy to which he is so opposed. He argues that, in times past, Christian groups at least had an understanding of the Bible and what it instructs. Today, however, he feels that many Christians have no understanding of what God intends them to do with the world. They confine their spirituality to church buildings, not recognizing that God’s Creation is everywhere and that only by good works can we truly honor it. By taking part in the industrial economy, which encourages the rape of nature, Christians and Christian organizations—who, like other organizations, measure their success in terms of growth, numbers, and money—are dishonoring God and blaspheming His Creation.

Berry does not offer a straightforward response to this problem, because he feels it has become extremely entrenched. However, he does argue that it is necessary for the Christian culture to be overhauled entirely in order for the problem to be rectified. For as long as Christianity stands by and does not object to the ungodly industrial economy, it is not Christianity at all.


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