I wanted to share one more resource on my way out and that will be in the area of ecology and creation care. But first let me thank those of you who have shared not only your perspective but also your attention which has helped me to become more familiar with my own. I think the time has come to spend more time with people who think more as I do where I won’t have to constantly worry about giving offense.
When I first came here I was looking to have conversations I never could with my Christian relatives and that I have done. As my interest in the sacred has grown I have also wanted to redeem the faith at least in my own esteem. In this my results have been mixed. There are more good examples of successful Christianity here than most places but there are, as in any population, still bad apples.
One book I discovered here that has been important to me is Wendell Berry’s Jayber Crow. He is probably even better known for his work in conservation of environments and that is the source of the following quote from an essay of of his which previously appeared in his book Citizenship Papers (2003):
Obviously we need to use our intelligence. But how much intelligence have we got? And what sort of intelligence is it that we have? And how, at its best, does human intelligence work?
In order to try to answer these questions I am going to suppose for a while that there are two different kinds of human mind: the Rational Mind and another which, for want of a better term, I will call the Sympathetic Mind. I will say now, and try to keep myself reminded, that these terms are going to appear to be allegorical, too neat and too
separate - though I need to say also that their separation was not invented by me.
The Rational Mind, without being anywhere perfectly embodied, is the mind we all are supposed to be trying to have. It is the mind that the most powerful and influential people think they have. Our schools exist mainly to educate and propagate and authorize the Rational Mind. The Rational Mind is objective, analytical, and empirical; it makes itself up only by considering facts; it pursues truth by experimentation; it is uncorrupted by preconception, received authority, religious belief, or feeling. Its ideal products are the proven fact, the accurate prediction, and the “informed decision.” It is, you might say, the official mind of science, industry, and government.
The Sympathetic Mind differs from the Rational Mind, not by being unreasonable, but by refusing to limit knowledge or reality to the scope of reason or factuality or experimentation, and by making reason the servant of things it considers precedent and higher.
To show how these two minds work, let us place them within the dilemma of a familiar story. Here is the parable of the lost sheep from the Gospel of St. Matthew: “If a man have a hundred sheep, and one of them be gone astray, doth he not leave the ninety and nine, and goeth into the mountains, and seeketh that which is gone astray?
And if so be that he find it, verily I say unto you, he rejoiceth more of that sheep, than of the ninety and nine which went not astray.”
This parable is the product of an eminently sympathetic mind, but for the moment that need not distract us. The dilemma is practical enough, and we can see readily how the two kinds of mind would deal with it.
The rationalist, we may be sure, has a hundred sheep because he has a plan for that many. The one who has gone astray has escaped not only from the flock but also from the plan. That this particular sheep should stray off in this particular place at this particular time, though it is perfectly keeping with the nature of sheep and the nature of the world, is not at all in keeping with a rational plan. What is to be done? Well, it certainly would not be rational to leave the ninety and nine, exposed as they would then be to further whims of nature, in order to search for the one. Wouldn’t it be best to consider the lost sheep a "trade-off’ for the safety of the ninety-nine? Having thus agreed to his loss, the doctrinaire rationalist would then work his way through a series of reasonable questions. What would be an “acceptable risk”? What would be an “acceptable loss”? Would it not be good to do some experiments to determine how often sheep may be expected to get lost? If one sheep is likely to get lost every so often, then would it not be better to have perhaps 110 sheep? Or should one insure the flock against such expectable losses? The annual insurance premium would equal the market value of how many sheep? What is likely to be the cost of the labor of looking for one lost sheep after quitting time? How much time spent looking would equal the market value of the lost sheep? Should not one think of splicing a few firefly genes into one’s sheep so that strayed sheep would glow in the dark? And so on.
But (leaving aside the theological importance of the parable) the shepherd is a shepherd because he embodies the Sympathetic Mind. Because he is a man of sympathy, a man devoted to the care of sheep, a man who knows the nature of sheep and of the world, the shepherd of the parable is not surprised or baffled by his problem. He does not hang back to argue over risks, trade-offs, actuarial data, or market values. He does not quibble over fractions. He goes without hesitating to hunt for lost sheep because he has committed himself to the care of the whole hundred, because he understands his work as the fulfilment of his whole trust, because he loves the sheep, and because he knows or imagines what it is to be lost. He does what he does on behalf of the whole flock because he wants to preserve himself as a whole shepherd.
He also does what he does because he has a particular affection for that particular sheep. To the Rational Mind, all sheep are the same; any one is the same as any other. They are interchangeable …
The Rational Mind can and will rationalize any trade-off. The Sympathetic Mind can rationalize none.