Thursday, April 10, 2008

Berry on orthodoxy, margins, crust

Wendell Berry, "The Unsettling of America":

If change is to come, then, it will have to come from the outside. It will have
to come from the margins. As an orthodoxy loses its standards, becomesunable to
measure itself by what it ought to be, it comes to be measured by what it is
not.,, this sort of change is a dominant theme of our tradition, whose 'central
figures' have often worked their way inward from the margins. It was the desert,
not the temple, that gave us the prophets..

The pattern of orthodoxy in
religion, because it is well known,gives us a useful paradigm. The encrusted
religious structure is not changed by its institutional dependents--they are
part of the crust. It is changed by the one who goes slone to the
wilderness,where he fasts and prays, and returns with cleansed vision. In going
alone, he goes independent of institutions, foreswearing orthodoxy ("right
opinions"). In going to the wilderness, he goes to the margin, where he is
surrounded by the possibilities--by no means all good--that orthodoxy has
excluded. By fasting, he disengages his thoughts from the immediate issues of
livelihood; his willing hunger takes his mind off the payroll, so to speak. And
by praying he acknowledges ignorance; the orthodox presume to know, whereas the marginal person is trying to find out. He returns to the community,not
necessarily with new truth, but with a new vision of the truth, he sees it more
whole than before.

The Unsettling of America, Culture and Agriculture, p. 174

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Hey, thanks for engaging the conversation!