Reply to Pastor Jeffrey Nelson’s Review of the Disfiguration of Nature on His Blog Coffeehouse Contemplative
Below is a reply written to Pastor Jeffrey A. Nelson regarding his review of The Disfiguration of Nature on his blog “Coffeehouse Contemplative.” The review can be read here. My reply was e-mailed to the reviewer with a request to post it with the review, by way of open conversation. The post does not seem to allow for comments. I have not heard back from Pastor Nelson regarding this reply, so have posted the letter here.
Dear Pastor Nelson,
I hope that you are well.
I’m the author of the work you have reviewed above. I very much appreciate your having engaged The Disfiguration of Nature and posting this review. It was obviously a frustrating read for you. I know well how hard it can be to read through something that I disagree with, and appreciate you doing so. We share one thing, perhaps, in that we both seem to find the same chapters the most frustrating! The LGBTQ chapter is my least favorite in the book, and had I had the time I might have tried a serious revision, certainly some softening.
I wondered if you had read the Foreword. It is, I think, a wonderful piece. The author, Eric T. Freyfogle, openly disagrees with many of my points, but he has done a wonderful job at not allowing his disagreement to get in the way of understanding the main ideas of the book. The chapters on abortion and LGBTQ movements are not merely arbitrary rants, though I suppose that I am guilty of indulging in them at many points. They appear within a larger analysis about how we tend to talk about and conceive of rights in the public (and private) sphere. More and more, we understand rights in what I consider a dangerously individualistic way, as personal entitlements divorced from societal obligations. What is worse, the rights rhetoric so often used by the Right against environmental regulation (and gun control, etc.) is, in essence, of the very same character as the rhetoric the Left falls back on when speaking about abortion, gay marriage, and so forth. This pattern not only leads to political deadlock, but also leads to a deadly game of power through a rhetoric of victimhood, guilt, and entitlement.
On a more simple level, the book asks whether more conservative-minded people would better see the cause of the environment as a task worth engaging in common if it were not yoked (as it currently is) to the Left and the other agendas of the Left, which can be at times quite radical. If I vote for the environment, I vote in favor of abortion and same-sex marriage (for two examples). Very few people seem to acknowledge how radical same-sex marriage is, given the scope of human history and human reflection on the role of marriage in society (and nature): gendered love aimed at the renewing and formation of a new generation of citizens. Though technology has allowed us to divorce gendered love (sex in general) from procreation, the fact remains that the coming together of a man and woman in order to raise a family is likely one of the most direct and palpable ways that human beings participate in nature. Given the great divorce from nature that technology has made possible, and the fact that the vast majority of America’s (and the world’s) population is growing up in urban environments, more direct human participation in nature is exactly what will help to save nature. As it stands, we are strangers to nature. It is easier to truly care for, and be realistic about, that with which we are intimate.
Though I once considered myself a liberal, and know that I do not belong among the ranks of today’s (so-called) conservatives, as a former community center director and now a priest I have seen the incredible damage that identity politics can do within a community. This is why, I suspect, you have correctly detected some bitterness in the LGBTQ chapter, which I am sorry for. Still, identity politics distract us from our real purposes, or outright makes these purposes impossible. Isn’t it time we stopped claiming power through a rhetoric of victimhood? Isn’t it time we worried less about our entitlements and a little more about our duties?
I’m the author, so I’m biased, but I believe that this book has much more to offer than you give it credit for, even if only by opening conversation about these issues, and how certain cultural trajectories that are rampant on the Left (and the Right) hamper the environmental cause, which I believe must be our chief concern. It should (and can) be a task that unites Americans beyond the demands of endless special interest groups.
I hope this helps round things out a bit, both for you and for your readers.