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From Daniel Baker

Dear Friends,

Thank you for the mention Ched. Yes, it seems that any discussion of “feral Christianity” should include Jim Corbett’s work in the syllabus, as that was such a dominant theme of Goatwalking, and further developed in Sanctuary for All Life: The Cowbalah of Jim Corbett. Since both works are now out of print I am attaching (which is why this is not only going in the blog) his chapter on “The Biblical Foundation of Land Redemption” which won praise from no less a scholar than Norman Gottwald. If anyone cares for more of Cowbalah I will be glad to email it. [See chapter here.-RMB]

I have read Hiebert’s The Yahwist’s Landscape, and couldn’t put it down. He really tears into the way that enlightenment German scholarship read their Hegelian weltanschauung into the supposed pastoral nomadism of the Israelites. He is so convincing in this uncovering of hermeneutical projection that it cautioned me as to the degree he may be reading the popular views of Wendell Berry-like mixed-economy farming (for which his postscript shows great affection) into his own scholarship.

Relative to anarcho-primitivism, I helped establish with Corbett, and since then administer, an eremitic association (www.cascabelhermitage.org) that provides semi-primitive hermitages in desert wildlands. My vision (and I believe Jim’s) was to provide a place as free as possible of human artifact such that the prophetic voice of the divine in nature can be felt, seen and heard, something akin to what Walter Brueggemann describes in Like Fire in the Bones: Listening for the Prophetic Word in Jeremiah, who he describes as one who “often experiences life alone, desolate and abandoned,” and “is summoned to shatter and form worlds by his speech.”

In my own explorations over the past fifteen years I have spent considerable solitary time living in my off-grid desert camp. Since I concur with O’Murchu that non-violence is the central religious value (see Poverty, Celibacy and Obedience), and with Corbett that our food and drink is the ultimate sacrament – "Cease to eat anything defiled by violence; make your table the high altar of your daily religion; serve nothing that is produced by harming the land and its life or by any kind of cruelty; then the rest follows." – I have especially worked to make the freely given and non-destructive use of wild desert plants more than just scenery, but a part of my body, and share that indigenous knowledge with others (see attachment re our Mesquite Milling festival). It is still mostly a Sabbatical kind of observance, but even in this piecemeal way it is a piece of a Peaceable Kingdom meal. I have been astonished at the changes in my perception that this way of living has evinced, “a transformational epiphany” if you will.

I find our language inadequate to the task of describing that alteration. As Brueggemann says of Jeremiah, “It is clear that such a linguistic enterprise that redescribes the world is in fact subversive activity and indeed may be the primal act of subversion. Such speech functions to discredit and illegitimate the old, conventional modes of perception.” I have to admit that I now find our Christian theological discourse (even those very words) so interwoven with the violence and coercion of the Greco-Roman template that it sometimes feels impossible to tease it out.

As an example, our Cascabel Hermitage Association routinely provides tours and retreats for college age groups, often of some faith-based as well as environmentally concerned persuasion, wherein I hear a good deal of discussion centered around our “carbon footprint.” While I am supportive of the principle, it often seems to denigrate into a kind of calculus, as though if we can just further master and control our relationship to nature into presumed sustainability the concerns will dissolve.

That is reminiscent of the legalism eschewed by Jesus and the prophets, where some kind of external observance stands in for the reality. What is primal is the change of heart, the turnaround and returning (teshuvah) that revisions our entire way of seeing and behaving, “not just words alone, or deeds alone, but both together as life-style.” I am often reminded that Jesus of Nazareth was first a disciple of John the Baptist, the “wild man” of the Bible, an anarcho-primitivist prophet if you will. I expect that Jesus experienced some influence from living like that.

For me that change of heart has to do with seeing “that of God in every other,” though that requires some characterization which I think Jim did admirably. It is really feeling the personal, subjective relation to nature, the un-animating of which was clearly the basis for our scientific ability to master and control her (read Francis Bacon). This is the way in which we treat all aliens and slaves. One can observe all the laws against racism and sexism, but an African-American or attuned woman knows in a heartbeat when those attitudes are present. If you really feel the natural community as kin, as loved ones, you just can’t treat them as stuff. It changes everything, and then you have to also plead their cause as the poor and needy (Proverbs 31:9).

The Society of Primitive Technology () group that I have been affiliated with for some three decades has annual summer and winter gatherings in the West that attracts up to 400 participants, a majority of whom are also under 35 and wear the same “uniform” as those at the Philadelphia gathering, but are largely neither Christian nor secular survivalist drop outs. In a world increasingly curbed by the technocratic (cf. Ellul, The Technological Society) there is clearly a great longing among youth for authentic wildness both within and without. I sense them seeking and to some extent finding an earth religion (“rebinding”) story that is radically free and locally contextual. This is a phenomenon that crosses times and cultures, and of course indigenous peoples do not need to name it A-P in order to live it. It is another iteration of Cynicism (see Corbett’s discussion in the attached) of which Crossan notes that “…we are but dealing with divergent manifestations of one of the great and fundamental options of the human spirit.” That the U.S. scene includes Christian adherents who recognize that prophetic thread in Jesus’ ministry is wonderfully hopeful.

Warm regards,

Daniel Baker

(cross-posted from Unhewn Stone blog)

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