Do Wendell Berry’s recent comments in support of gay marriage reveal a broader flaw in his work, as some critics have claimed? For that to be the case, his comments would have to line up with the works that have made him famous. Yet when we place Berry’s recent statements alongside his previous writings on marriage, it is hard to avoid the conclusion that they do not fit within his broader vision of the good life.
Berry’s social vision can be distilled into this basic phrase: “Human beings ought to relate to God’s creation as worshiping stewards, gratefully fulfilling their role as cultivators of the goodness of God’s world.” Note that word “cultivation.” That’s a very intentionally chosen word because it evokes both the idea of fertility and the idea of mutual flourishing. If you look at Berry’s views on ecology, sex, land use, and human community, their approach is always marked by a fidelity to those characteristics.
For Berry, sex operates in the same way that our relationship to the land should: We commit ourselves to the stewarding of the land in hopes that it would produce fruit—and the dual realities of labor and pleasure are wrapped up in the entire process. In fact, you could probably say without overstatement that marriage may be the fundamental image in Berry’s fiction. Consider this passage from Berry’s “On Poetry and Marriage: The Use of Old Forms”: (more…)