Monday, March 2, 2009

Wendell Berry on Racism and the Church

From pages 17-19 of The Hidden Wound:

Thus the moral obligation was cleanly excerpted from the religion. The question of how best to live on the earth, among one's fellow creatures, was permitted to atrophy, and the churches devoted themselves exclusively and obsessively with the question of salvation.

How do you get to heaven? Well, I have quoted some passages, and there are many others, that say you get there by obeying the moral imperatives of the Scripture, by loving one another "in deed and in truth." But the churches, with their strong ties to the pocketbooks of racists, felt obliged to see it another way: the way to heaven was faith; one got there by believing. And to this day that continues to be the emphasis of such denominations as the Southern Baptist: to be saved, believe! The mystical aspects of Christianity completely overshadow the moral. But it is a bogus mysticism, mysticism as wishful magic, a recipe by which to secure the benefits of eternal bliss without having to give up the benefits of temporal vice: corrupt your soul and save it too!

. . .

Detached from real issues and real evils, the language of religion became abstract, intensely (desperately?) pious, rhetorical, inflated with phony mysticism and joyless passion. The religious institutions became comfort stations for scribes and publicans and pharisees. Far from curing the wound of racism, the white man's Christianity has been its soothing bandage -- a bandage masquerading as Sunday clothes, for the wearing of which one expects a certain moral credit.

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