Randall Gerard writes back...

Location: Out West

An old-fashioned guy grappling with new-fangled ways.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

A Christian Agrarian FAQ

I'm probably the last guy that should attempt this. There are so many christian agrarians out there actually walking the talk and living the life who could do a better job. But, they're too busy raising chickens, milking cows, weeding gardens and canning produce, so I guess you're stuck with me. I'm a wannabe living in town. I have 4 tomato plants, a row of green beans, a plum tree and a strawberry bed. I'm no authority, but I do have more time then most to ponder and write. So here goes.

What is Christian Agrarianism?

Christian agrarians believe we were created by God to steward this earth, drawing our sustenance from it through honest labor while preserving and enhancing it's wondrous diversity and productivity. (Gen. 1:26-29, Gen. 9:1-3, Ps. 8:3-8) We further believe that the Bible, as God's Holy Word, has a cultural context which is mostly ignored today. Agrarianism isn't explicitly taught by the Bible; it is assumed as the normal mode of life on this earth. Until the industrial revolution it was the air we breathed; the natural social order of mankind. It is no wonder the modern church is constantly trying to 'update' and 'modernize' the Scriptures, even as we despise traditional worship for more contemporary forms. The modern spirit of constant change for it's own sake, never-ending novelty, and unquestioning comfort and ease at any cost is nowhere taught in Scripture. We want God's word and ways adjusted to fit the current social and economic climate; we never seem to ask, how can I adjust my lifestyle in obedience to the Scriptures?

Are Christian Agrarians opposed to technology?

No. But neither are we blind to the harm that can come from it. Just because we can do something doesn't mean we should. Or, maybe we should do it, just not in the most technologically advanced way. I define technology as the total array of man-made tools available for our use. Everyone uses tools to aid personal productivity, even christian agrarians. In this sense, we cannot escape technology. Christian Agrarians seek to evaluate tools critically using a different standard then mere efficiency and the bottom line. Is the goal just to 'git her done' and make a profit; or do we want to do a quality job and do no serious harm to the planet, ourselves and our families in the process? You can't serve God and mammon. But if you seek first His Kingdom, and His righteousness, then all these things will be added unto you. If the priority in work is first profit, then saving labor, and then efficiency, so you can do the same idolatrous, soul-deadening thing over and over again, then you need new priorities.

The scriptures present work as honorable, personal and profitable in and of itself, whether we make a killing in the stock market or not. We are not to steal, but work with our hands, so that we have enough for our families and to share with others. (Eph. 4:28) Consider Paul's advice to the Thessalonicans with regard to work: "Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business, and to work with your own hands, as we commanded you, that you may walk properly toward those who are outside, and that you may lack nothing." (1Thess. 4:11,12) Here is work placed in the context of a christian lifestyle. This lifestyle is home and family centered, oriented towards honoring God and presenting an honest testimony to the world. It involves personal labor and personal creativity. It does not seek to meddle in the affairs of others. It is focused on having enough, not in getting rich. Therefore, the christian agrarian should select tools with these priorities in mind; my selections may differ from yours based upon our respective callings before God.

Aha, so Christian Agrarians are opposed to making a profit?!

If the so-called profit is actually usury or theft, which are sins, yes. But we are not opposed to honest increase through labor and husbandry. We are commanded in the Scriptures to be a generous people, willing to share. This implies productivity, diligence and economy in our work, which leads to having a surplus. In general, profit must be regulated by a conscience steeped in Scripture. The primary goal of the christian agrarian is to do good work to the glory of God, while still preserving the earth's productive capacity for future generations. Profit or loss may influence how this work is done, but it should never be the tail that wags the dog. It is the icing on the cake, not the cake.

Do Christian Agrarians believe everyone should farm?

No. Neither do we believe that everyone should be a banker, lawyer, bureaucrat or big-box retailer. But that is increasingly what our economy is becoming; even as the number of farmers, miners, loggers and fishermen decline. Christian agrarians do give a priority and honor to agriculture over other work, because cultivating the earth in a responsible way is the foundation of civilization. And if the foundations are destroyed, what can the righteous do? And what is the current state of agriculture in America? We are in desperate straits, for what agriculture that remains here can't properly be called cultivating, but constitutes warfare against the earth and against sane society. Sane stewardship has been supplanted by the industrial ethic which sees efficiency and profit as the grand end of work. When only 2% of our population farms, and these few are vassals of corporate entities, bankers and politicians, we can only expect more harm to the environment, the food supply, and more estrangement from each other and our world.

We all ought to be ashamed when the dominant media refers to us as consumers. The label implies that we live off the labor of others, who are called producers. And for the most part, it's true. Too many of us have no idea how to plant a seed or care for the plant, how to build shelter for livestock, or how to feed and doctor it, or humanely butcher it for the table. We are so specialized that few of us know how to provide for ourselves the basic necessities of life. We can make widgets and be cogs for the grand global machine, but few know how to trap, fish or hunt for subsistence or to supplement the garden. Few are those who can dry, can or smoke food for the winter months. Even rarer is the man who can take raw skins, wool or flax and make sturdy, practical clothing. In short, we are slaves who depend on our corporate masters for our fuel, food and clothing. I admit, it is a comfortable slavery; attended with the degenerative disease and obesity of the coddled, but slavery nonetheless. And it is all because we have abdicated our God-given calling to personally steward the earth. To work with our hands and eat our bread by the sweat of our brow, this is our calling in an earthly sense. To paraphrase St. Paul, if you don't produce, you should not consume either.

What would a Christian Agrarian society look like?

In general, it would be shaped by local conditions (land, climate, cultural traditions, etc.) and christian morality. Christian aggrarianism is not a political movement or platform. It only seeks the revitalization of self-reliance, local economy and mutually supportive society. In this kind of society, most people would work out of their homes or close to home. Children would be raised and predominantly educated by mothers and fathers in a traditional two-parent household. In towns and cities, small shopkeepers, tradesmen and service providers would flourish. But most people would be rural freeholders on their own property. They would produce food, fiber and possibly fuel and building materials for themselves and local markets. Welfare would be locally run by families, non-profits and churches. Schools would be owned by teachers and supported by the parents who patronize them. In every area of life there would be local control and local interdependence. Love thy neighbor would not be a platitude; but would be lived out in daily life, in countless practical ways. If I really love my neighbor, then I don't consider only my own self-interest (a lower price in the short-term, for example) but also his interests as a small businessman. I buy from him because he's my neighbor. An agrarian society would be a tightly knit, mutually supportive and yet self-reliant society.

It sounds like you want to return to the good old days. Don't you know you can't turn back the clock?

This is a dangerous half-truth. The implication is that a yearning for simpler ways, traditional culture and local self-reliance is somehow not progressive and therefore impossible. Let me be clear. Christian agrarians are not seeking to re-create a particular time in history. But we do seek traditional, time-tested wisdom from the past that we can apply here and now. If the path you are traveling leads you to a cliff, is it wisdom to turn and retrace your steps, or should we take a flying leap because progress dictates we should never look back? Our great grand-parents enjoyed a society and culture very much like the christian agrarian vision; if they can achieve it so can we. Whatever has been done on earth before, can be done again. The difference is, we have an opportunity to wed the best wisdom of the past with the best of today's technology.

Nevertheless, humans being the fallen sinners we are, we know our efforts won't be perfected this side of heaven. Yet, at rock bottom, we are only asking for a good life working our own productive land surrounded by family and friends. We don't think that's too much to ask - and it's certainly worth working towards.

Catchin' Up...

O.k., O.k., so I've had writer's block.
And I've just acquiesced to it; tossed to and fro from the heights of 'hey, I could write about this' to the depths of 'naw, that's just stupid'. Maybe the only sane way to handle this malady is to write your way out of it. So, here I am, pounding the keyboard like Darwin's monkey, hoping something sensible appears on the page.
I've been skirmishing with mormons lately. In the old days of glorious christendom, we'd just have a trial followed by a big bon-fire, but now we have to be polite to all the pagans. What a bloody bore that is. This is probably the worst thing about post-modern America. We hide what we really think behind carefully neutral expressions. We hem and haw searching for words that won't offend. We listen and nod and croon gibberish like, 'if that works for you'. Rodney King is our secular patron saint. Can't we all just get along? Secular virtue consists of three things, and God help you if you don't conform: We must accept everyone's religious view, no matter how stupid, we must always buckle our seat belt and put tots in car seats, and we must never, ever use tobacco. Beyond this, hey, this is America, go do what you want.
I wouldn't care so much, but my dad-in-law is one of them. A mormon I mean, and an American, but not Rodney King. He was brought up in LDS ways, fell away as a young man, and dove back into the slop shortly after my mom-in-law passed away, about 3 years ago. Since then, we've been trying to rescue him. But I gave up today. By which I mean, I gave up trying to win, and gave the whole situation to God, which is what I should have done to begin with. I always make this mistake. I think I can argue and cajole and browbeat and convince. It works often enough to confirm me in my pride, setting me up for a fall.
We've tried everything with dad. We've looked at the Scriptures together, but we can't even agree on which Scriptures are authoritative. For him, it's only the ones that seem to agree with his prophet. He then agreed to read 'The Godmakers' if I agreed to read the Book of Mormon. So I did read it. For the second time; I once flirted with mormonism when I left home. Neither of us were moved. I still consider the Book of Mormon third rate fiction and dad considers Ed Decker a big, fat liar. I'm tempted to ban him and his heresy from my house. But I know this is only frustration and hurt and pride reacting to obstinance.
The only thing I can do is love him. And pray. And hope he eventually understands Galatians 1:6-9.
There's lots I admire about my dad-in-law. He's a great guy, a devoted father and grand-father, honest, principled and wise (about most things). He has a natural ease around tools and is the ultimate do-it-yourselfer, a quality I wish I had. I couldn't have built my house without his advice and help. He's generous to a fault, so much so that I've learned not to muse 'I wish I had one of those.. where did you get that?' because he always responds, 'here, take mine'. He once presented my wife with an $800 digital camera, just because we were going on vacation and didn't have a camera. His work ethic, even now at 70 + years, is phenomenal. Like me, he always has something he's working on. Unlike me, he gets it done.
Hey, look at that... no more writer's block!