WHEN A READER HAS TO MAKE MY POINT for me, I know I failed to do it myself. John_L, in his comment to the previous post, has it just right: The true target of that post was the prevailing preoccupation with forestalling, denying or outwitting our mortality. Obsession with hand sanitizer, organic food, and bottled water are just various manifestations of that preoccupation.
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In themselves, there is nothing objectionable about any of these things. (Two pints of organic blueberries are sitting in my refrigerator right now. They were on special in the local supermarket. So why not?) It is the fetishizing of them that is of concern. Purell dispensers make perfect sense on the walls of hospital corridors. I would be pleased to see them in public bathrooms as well. But, like everything else, they have their limit.
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So, too, does the agrarian Romanticism of Wendell Berry. He is a gracious writer. His poetry and criticism is infused with a Judeo-Christian understanding of man’s stewardship over creation.
His work is a call to care for the land. In that, he displays his heritage as a native Kentuckian. At the same time, Romanticism is a mischievous ideology, the drug of choice of the West. There is no beatitude that states “Blessed are the green of heart.”
Large themes are not encapsulated in blog posts or comment sections. It is enough to say that there is something particularly absurd, even grotesque, in the lengths we go to skirt the wisdom of the psalmist:
Lord, let me know my end,
and what is the measure of my days;
let me know how fleeting my life is!
That reflection is fundamental to the religious spirit. It takes precedence over our natural anxieties about illness and death. Viewed in that light—even without regard to aesthetics— there is something absurd and grotesque in a bottle of Purell behind the altar. It symbolizes the golden calf we have made of a certain idée fixe of our time.
Note: A reader emailed to say that the mischief afoot here is Romantic environmentalism. Or environmental Romanticism, if you prefer.
© 2011 Maureen Mullarkey