The Things Which Remain

“We all belong, at least, to the problem. ‘There is…a price to be paid,’ Philip Sherrard says, ‘for fabricating around us a society which is as artificial and as mechanized as our own, and this is that we can exist in it only on condition that we adapt ourselves to it. This is our punishment.’ (The Eclipse of Man and Nature, pp. 71-2)

“We all, obviously, are to some extent guilty of this damnable adaptation. We all are undergoing this punishment. But as Philip Sherrard well knows, it is a punishment that we can try with all our might to undo. We can ally ourselves with those things that are worthy: light, air, water, earth; plants and animals; human families and communities; the traditions of decent life, good work, and responsible thought; the religious traditions; the essential stories and songs.

“It is presumptuous, personally and historically, to assume that one is a part of a ‘saving remnant’. One had better doubt that one deserves such a distinction, and had better understand that there may, after all, be nothing left to save. Even so, if one wishes to save anything not protected by the present economy—topsoil, groves of old trees, the possibility of the goodness or health of anything, even the economic relevance of the biblical tradition—one is a part of a remnant, and a dwindling remnant too, though not without hope, and not without the necessary instructions, the most pertinent of which, perhaps, is this, also from Revelation: ‘Be watchful, and strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die.’”

— the conclusion to Wendell Berry’s essay, “God and Country,” published in What Are People For?

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2 responses to “The Things Which Remain

  • John

    Robert,

    Sherrard and Berry–looks like you are off to a good start. Berry is correct about the danger of self-identifying oneself as part of a “saving remnant,” as there may very well be nothing left to save. There are no “isms” that will rescue us. All we can do is, as you note, “be watchful, and strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die.”

    I have adopted a throw-away line from a 1962 movie comedy as something of a byline. I even have it printed on my business cards. The line is “Situation hopeless, but not serious.” No doubt I have given more depth and meaning to it than was intended in the movie, but it seems to work for me. We persevere even while knowing the ultimate futility of our own efforts, though not in the least discouraged in light of our Hope.

  • AR

    Thanks for this, Robert.

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