By Wendell Berry, originally published in 2004 in Sojourners
The gospels, and sometimes the epistles, are pretty revolutionary. They propose a revolution of about 180 degrees. Christ was quite explicit, for instance, about his pacifism. You can’t be more explicit than “Love your enemies.” He did run those people out of the temple, but he didn’t kill them.
People are always talking about the first church. The real first church was that gaggle of people who followed Jesus around. We don’t know anything about them. But he apparently didn’t ask them what creed they subscribed to, or what their sexual preference was, or any of that. He fed them. He healed them. He forgave them. He is clear about sin, but he was also for forgiveness.
Any religion has to have a practice. When you let it go so far from practice that it just becomes a matter of talk, something bad happens. If you don’t have an economic practice, you don’t have a practice. Christians conventionally think they’ve done enough when they’ve gone to the store and shopped. But that isn’t an economic life. If you take seriously those passages in the scripture that say that we live by God’s spirit and breath, that we live, move and have our being in God, the implications for the present economy are just devastating. Those passages call for an entirely generous and careful encomic life.
We’re a pretty bad species in a lot of ways and in other ways a pretty good one. We can become a warrior civilization and live by piracy; on the other hand, we’re capable of lovingkindness, of genuine affection, of generosity, of friendship, of peaceability, of forgiveness and gratitude…. The serious question is whether you’re going to become a warrior community and live by piracy, by taking what you need from other people.
I think the only antidote to that is imagination. You have to develop your imagination to the point that permits sympathy to happen. You have to be able to imagine lives that are not yours or the lives of your loved ones or the lives of your neighbors. You have to have at least enough imagination to understand that if you want the benefits of compassion, you must be compassionate. If you want forgiveness you must be forgiving.
It’s a difficult business, being human.