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Sunday, September 18, 2016

Throne of Blood

My latest Netflix DVD was a movie I'd seen years ago, Throne of Blood--Akira Kurosawa's magnificent Japanese adaptation of Macbeth. A couple of things struck me this time around that I hadn't remembered from last time. One was that in terms of plot and characterization Kurosawa's version is, in some ways, an improvement on Shakespeare's (yes, blasphemy, I know).

In Shakespeare, we jump from the witches predicting that Macbeth will become the king to Macbeth already having discussed the murder of Duncan with his wife and beginning to get cold feet about it. In Kurosawa's version, Washizu's wife Akaji lays out a logical (if paranoid and cynical) reason for killing the Great Lord. If Miki (the Banquo equivalent) tells the Great Lord about the prophecy, then the Great Lord (who himself got his position by killing his predecessor, unlike the saintly Duncan) will move to crush Washizu. As they're discussing this, word comes that the Great Lord's forces are moving through the forest toward the castle. It turns out that it's a surprise visit (in Macbeth, Duncan gives notice that he's coming) and that the Great Lord has appointed Washizu to command the vanguard in the coming war. Washizu sees this as reassuring--the Great Lord clearly still trusts him--but Akaji suggests that the overlord is trying to get him killed, while giving Miki command of the central "Spider Web Castle."

Washizu decides to go along with the murder. Miki throws his support behind Washizu, citing the prophecy. But, as in Macbeth, Washizu now mistrusts Miki, since the prophecy had said that Miki's son would rule. However, since Washizu has no heir, he thinks he can fulfill the prophecy without more bloodshed by declaring Miki's son his heir (Macbeth never considers doing this as far as I remember). Akaji objects strenuously, and finally reveals that she is pregnant. Washizu again capitulates, for the sake of his unborn child, and has Miki murdered. As in Shakespeare, Miki's ghost appears at the feast and scares Washizu out of his wits. Akaji's child is stillborn, and as the invading army cuts branches from the trees (just as in Macbeth), Washizu's own men, whom he has told of the prophecy about the forest "rising to attack," turn on him and riddle him with arrows.

Washizu's actions, while essentially the same as Macbeth's, are far more comprehensible. At every step, he seems to have good reason to fear that his potential victims will turn on him. (He also doesn't kill women and children as Macbeth does.) His wife is paranoid rather than simply ambitious. The result is a story that perhaps has less pathological intensity than Macbeth's, but actually makes more sense as a study of power and how those who seek and wield power wind up destroying themselves.

The Criterion commentator sees Kurosawa's version as nihilistic and fatalistic, arguing that Washizu (unlike Macbeth) has no real choice. I think this is nonsense. At any point, he could have rejected his wife's cynical logic and chosen to risk death rather than act dishonorably. And this brings me to the second point I noticed this time around--the role of Buddhism in the forest spirit's prophecy.

The spirit is referred to in the English subtitles as an "evil spirit," and the commentator calls it a "witch," assimilating it to Shakespeare's three "weird sisters" to which it clearly corresponds. But the song the spirit sings as Washizu and Miki discover it in the forest is full of Buddhist language such as karma and the neverending cycle of human life fueled by desire--language also found in the opening and closing chorus of the movie. The spirit turns a wheel (presumably a spinning wheel) as it sings, evoking the basic Buddhist symbol of the "wheel of dharma."

The spirit's words to the two generals are full of promise and temptation, but the song that precedes those words points in the opposite direction, reminding them of the futility of desire and ambition, since everything ends in "rotten flesh."

It seems to me that Washizu does have a choice--he could have chosen to listen to the spirit's song rather than its alluring words, refusing to heap up bad karma by pursuing the path of selfish desire. He could have chosen to act generously and justly even in the face of the real possibility that others would not behave that way toward him. The prophecy unveils the web of karma in which he is caught. But there is always a way out. Stop craving, stop fearing, stop grasping at time and fate in order to control them.

And the same is true for us, as we worry about what Donald Trump might do or what Hillary Clinton might do or what ISIS might do or what the fundamentalists or the liberals or the gays or the socialists or the capitalists might do to us. We can persuade ourselves that the part of wisdom is to strike first, to treat others as if they were the monsters our fear makes them, or we can choose to break the wheel. We're going to die either way, sooner or later, and we're probably going to die sooner if the cycle of fear and violence isn't broken. So what do we have to lose?

Friday, August 19, 2016

Love the person, hate the sin?

Rebecca Bratten Weiss adds her voice to the many condemning the maxim, "hate the sin, love the sinner." I agree with the substance of what Rebecca is saying here, but I still can't see how this means that "hate the sin, love the sinner" is a false maxim. Quite the reverse. She has a good point that labeling people as "sinners" (as if we aren't sinners ourselves) is a problem, so we could rephrase it as "hate the sin, love the person." C. S. Lewis makes the persuasive point that we all take precisely this attitude to ourselves. We hate our own sins because we love ourselves and desire to be free from them. Charity is extending that same attitude to others.
I don't see any way to reject the principle found in that much-reviled maxim without doing exactly what Rebecca so eloquently condemns in this excellent post. If you really think that you can't draw lines between people and their sins, then, for instance, you either have to tolerate racism or hate racists. I see no other option. I find that usually when people attack the maxim they are thinking of things that they don't consider to be evil at all--usually homosexuality. They are arguing that no one can hold to traditional Christian morality on sexual matters without condemning the person who engages in "sinful" acts. But to test the maxim we should apply it to acts that everyone considers evil, like rape. And here the point under dispute is surely not whether we should hate rape, but whether we should love Brock Turner. In other words, rejecting the principle "hate the sin, love the person who commits the sin" will not lead to more charity, but to less. It will also not lead, as many conservatives fear, to a mushy "love everybody and don't call out sin" attitude. It will lead--and demonstrably is leading--to shrill denunciation of anyone associated with things you really consider evil, with absolutely no sense that you are supposed to love and respect the person who is in the grip of evil.
The blogger Rebecca is citing in this piece, Susan Cottrell, traces the maxim to Gandhi (she also notes that the basic principle originally comes from Augustine, but both she and Rebecca don't really engage with that, which I wish they did). She argues that since Gandhi says that the maxim is easy to understand but is rarely practiced, therefore he's really saying that it's impossible. But that's not what he's saying at all. He's saying that hating sin while loving the sinner is hard and should be done, not that it's impossible and thus not worth trying. The claim that Jesus didn't teach hate the sin and love the sinner is also rather strange, since the argument is simply that Jesus taught that we should love everyone. But that's the very point of the maxim. According to traditional Christian theology, sin is a privation--something that corrupts and destroys the creatures of God, to quote the 1979 BCP's baptismal vows. To "hate sin" is precisely to love the person who is being corrupted and destroyed by sin.
Cottrell, like many people who criticize "hate the sin, love the sinner," is especially concerned with the way it's used against gay people. I see why, as a short-term strategy, this could be an effective way for progressive Christians to make their point. But as I pointed out above, it has devastating larger implications for how we respond to things that everyone really agrees are evil and destructive. And, of course, Cottrell and other progressive Christians don't think same-sex sexual acts are sinful anyway. Surely the more effective approach, then, would be to show that the maxim doesn't apply in this instance, precisely because it does reflect a valid principle with regard to things that are truly sinful. The strongest argument on the progressive side, it seems to me, is precisely that it's hard to see how one can "hate the sin and love the sinner" in this instance, both because the "sin" is so intertwined with a person's identity (at least in our culture) and because it's hard to see how consensual, monogamous sexual relationships between people of the same sex actually "corrupt and destroy the creatures of God."
I entirely agree that the phrase has become a cliche and is generally used to legitimize the very behavior that it supposedly rules out. And beyond Rebecca's point about implying that only some (other) people are sinners, I can see how putting "hate the sin" first can be harmful, because it could imply that this is the more important priority. As Rebecca points out, we can "walk away from the sinner" but we can't simply "walk away" from sin. Hence, precisely because of our own sinfulness, we will inevitably twist "hate the sin, love the sinner" into "walk away from sinners whose sins happen to annoy us, while giving lip service to love.
Perhaps the underlying problem is our need to deal with tricky moral situations with a cliche. So by all means, let's give up on the cliche. Let's stop saying "hate the sin, love the sinner." But let's try harder to follow the ancient Christian theological principle that underlies the cliche--that we should oppose that which destroys God's creation precisely out of love. The only alternative to this is ceasing to love.

Friday, August 12, 2016

Intelligent Design, part 2

My friend Jonathan Huddleston (my most reliably acute critic) pointed out that I really didn't do enough to substantiate the thesis in my last post. In particular, Jonathan asked why God couldn't be the creator in the traditional, orthodox sense (the one who causes all things to be, including the processes of nature) while also "tinkering" (the term I used in my earlier post) by setting up particular structures in the way suggested by ID theorists.

It's a good caveat. Of course there's no reason God couldn't do both. Theologically, my objection to ID is not so much the claim that God created "irreducibly complex" structures that couldn't have evolved naturally, but rather the confusion of this kind of "intelligent design" with the concept of creation. This confusion is demonstrated every time someone says, "but doesn't anyone who believes in God as creator believe in intelligent design?" 

Either ID is a scientific, not a theological paradigm, or it's bad theology. That was how I framed the title of my previous post, but I should have made it clearer in the body of the text. If ID is a purely scientific claim, then of course it's not bad theology. And of course believing in a God who can intervene supernaturally in creation keeps open the possibility that God might so intervene to establish these specific structures.

But I would still argue that an orthodox doctrine of creation is a reason to be slow to accept such scientific claims. That is to say, if most scientists agreed that ID was correct, I'd have little problem adapting my theology to deal with it. But my theology does not make me more likely to think it's correct, except in the sense that of course I believe God is capable of doing this. 

Traditionally, when God acts in creation in a way not accounted for by the normal "laws of nature," we call it a miracle. And miracles are typically a response to the sin and brokenness that have marred creation. To be sure, there is a minority tradition in Christianity holding that the greatest miracle of all, the Incarnation, would have happened even in the absence of the Fall. And that tradition may well be correct. But in that case the Incarnation would be an exception--and it's also possible that in an unfallen world it would not seem like a "miracle," inasmuch as we would see how all the rhythms of creation are attuned to the divine presence and point toward the ultimate union of Creator and creation in Christ.

I believe, like Greg Boyd (and following a hint in C. S. Lewis), that creation as we know it has been marred before humans entered the picture. (To be clear: I don't go as far as Boyd, and in my discussion of his "warfare theology" I rather emphasized my disagreements--but I am persuaded by the basic thesis that the world as we know it bears the mark of demonic activity as well as of God's good purposes.) It might be that God needed to intervene in response to the marring of creation, and that ID theorists are picking up on signs of that intervention. 

But most adherents of ID support it because they believe it meshes with Christian belief better than a more conventional evolutionary paradigm does. (This is one of the reasons why many people have trouble taking it seriously as science, although I don't think it's a fatal objection. It might be that only people with religious reasons to question the dominant paradigm are open to alternatives, and that the alternative will turn out in the end to be true. I think this is unlikely, but it's possible.) That's the position I'm arguing against. In fact, if anything ID theory tends to confuse people about what creation is, and (conversely) appeal to people who already have a less than orthodox view of God and creation. 

So I repeat my original thesis: ID is either not theology at all, or it's bad theology. If it's simply a claim about certain empirical phenomena, then it's not theology. The phenomena might be signs of divine action within creation, and certainly an orthodox theology could accommodate this kind of "divine intervention" if that's what the evidence pointed to.

But if ID is taken to be, itself, evidence of God the creator, then the creator it points to is something less than the God of orthodox Christianity. And the entire conversation has further obscured the key claim of orthodox Christianity that natural processes are themselves signs of God's creative power.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Why Intelligent Design is not (good) theology

One of the most common accusations against Intelligent Design theory is that, while claiming to be science, it is really theology. Usually the people making this accusation see "science" as a good thing and "theology" as a bad thing, so they are effectively trying to discredit ID by associating it with what they see as a pointless and discredited intellectual endeavor. Also, of course, if it's theology it doesn't belong in science class in a public school.

I think that this is a misunderstanding of ID (also of theology). Intelligent Design, at least as defined by its major proponents such as Michael Behe and William Dembski, is the view that there are specific structures (primarily at the cellular/microscopic level) in living things that cannot be accounted for by Neo-Darwinian mechanisms, and which therefore point to the intervention of an intelligent being in the development of life. ID does not require disbelief in evolution in the sense of common ancestry, though of course many creationists (i.e., people who deny evolution) find ID congenial which has led to a common perception that ID is "soft creationism." Behe, I believe, accepts evolution in the sense of common ancestry. Dembski is more skeptical of it. But either way, ID is fundamentally a specific claim about particular mechanisms that allegedly can't be explained by Neo-Darwinian theory.

ID is not the same thing as the philosophical "argument from design" associated with William Paley, though it has affinities with it. And neither ID nor Paley's argument is the same thing as Aquinas' Fifth Way, although the latter is sometimes called the "earliest philosophically rigorous version of the design argument". ID rests on the claim that certain specific structures cannot be accounted for by natural explanations. Aquinas' Fifth Way, like his other arguments for God's existence, rests on the regularity of natural laws, not on anomalous features that can't be explained by them. Aquinas' view is further distinguished from Paley's version of the argument for design (as Edward Feser explains) by the fact that Aquinas is speaking of the natural properties of created things, while Paley equates them to constructed artifacts. Paley's version of a philosophical "argument from design" provides the framework for ID. But nonetheless, it is philosophy or philosophical theology, while ID is not.

ID advocates are often mocked for their apparently dishonest claim that the "designer" might not be what Christians mean by God. Clearly few if any ID advocates think that this is a realistic possibility. But they are making the point as a formal way of distinguishing between the scientific claims of ID and the philosophical religious beliefs that ID advocates hold. According to proponents of ID, science can only tell us that there are certain phenomena best explained by an intelligent designer. Theology and philosophy tell us that this designer is likely to be God. To ignore this distinction is to fail to deal with ID on its own terms.

From the standpoint of "orthodox" science ID is clearly bad science. In the terms formulated by Imre Lakatos, it is a "degenerative" rather than a "progressive" research program. That is to say, it doesn't provide any new, productive insights into the world, but simply interprets the existing evidence in a defensive manner. At least that's how it seems to me, and clearly that's what most scientists think. But perhaps they're wrong. Perhaps Lakatos' criteria are inadequate (I'm more influenced by Kuhn, myself, though from the descriptions I've read it seems to me that Lakatos may provide some needed precision to Kuhn's thesis). Perhaps ID hasn't really had a chance to be productive yet because it's under such constant attack.

Whatever its scientific credentials or lack thereof, the fact remains that ID is not theology. Or if it is theology, it is a very bad form of natural theology which makes God a kind of tinkerer rather than a true Creator.


Saturday, July 23, 2016

Is Game of Thrones more Christian than Lord of the Rings?

In a recent Facebook discussion, Rebecca Bratten Weiss (of the excellent "Suspended in Her Jar" blog on Patheos) suggested that the treatment of violence in the "Song of Ice and Fire" books by George R. R. Martin is, in a sense, more truly Christian than Tolkien's treatment of the same subjects. In Tolkien a conquering, messianic emperor brings peace through righteous violence. In Martin, on the other hand, violence is portrayed in its full horror.

Furthermore, in the fourth book, Feast of Crows, Martin presents characters (clerics in the dominant religion of Westeros, the "Faith of the Seven") who provide a moral critique, implicitly pacifist, of the war that has torn the country apart and the ethos of honor and glory that has fueled it. As one of these characters, Septon Meribald, wanders with Brienne of Tarth across the devastated landscape of Westeros, he speaks of the horror of war and the way it eventually "breaks" those caught up in it. "In times like these," he concludes, "the traveler must beware of broken men, and fear them. . . . but he should pity them as well." (Another character, the "Elder Brother" of a monastic community on the "Quiet Isle," has similar things to say.) That Brienne, of all the knights and warriors in the books, is the one to hear these denunciations of war is significant. She's one of the purest-hearted characters in the series--someone who actually takes the code of chivalry seriously, not least because, as a woman, she's not supposed to participate in knighthood at all.

I agree with Rebecca that Martin provides a powerful critique of war in the Song of Ice and Fire and an ethos of compassion toward its victims, and that the books are far from nihilistic or amoral. However, I disagree with her suggestion that the books are more in line with an appropriate Christian ethic than Lord of the Rings, no doubt in part because of our disagreements about what that ethic is.

Rebecca is a pacifist. She believes that war is never justified, and thus that a Christian approach to war needs to be one of total rejection. In particular, she has expressed concerns (in this post, for instance) about "play-acting militarism" that "obscures the reality of war." When we read Tolkien, or Lewis' Chronicles of Narnia, we imagine ourselves as heroes fighting nobly against terrible odds. This could make us more likely to approve of real wars, because we see them through the mythical haze provided by these heroic fantasy narratives. LOTR culminates in the coronation of a heroic warrior king who brings peace and justice to the world. It could quite conceivably lead us to expect such a messianic hero in our own place and time.

And these concerns have plenty of warrant. Right after 9/11, I remember reading an article that used LOTR as a template for the geopolitical situation, comparing the French, if I remember rightly, to Saruman. More than once I've heard neo-conservative supporters of an aggressive foreign policy use (or, in my opinion, misuse) Faramir's wonderful speech about "not loving the bright sword for its sharpness, etc.. . . but the things that these defend" as a justification for their position. The fact that Peter Jackson's first LOTR adaptation premiered a few months after 9/11 made this sort of interpretation of Tolkien's work all the more appealing, not least because the movies emphasized the warlike elements in the books and played down the ironic complexity of Tolkien's vision.

In spite of this, I don't agree that Martin's books are to be preferred (as a whole) to Tolkien's as a guide for Christians in questions of war and peace. This is partly because I'm not quite a pacifist--I believe that just wars are in principle possible, although very rare, a position some people call "practical pacifism." And one of the reasons I take this position is indeed because of my love of Tolkien and Lewis. They have provided me with an idealistic picture of what just war might look like. But I don't find that this makes me particularly likely to justify real wars in the real world. On the contrary, precisely because I have an ideal picture of what just war would have to look like, I have a moral standard by which I can judge the wars that take place in the world around me and find them morally lacking.

In my experience, this position actually infuriates pro-war people more than pacifism does. In a debate I engaged in on Patheos a couple of years ago with David French and Keith Pavlischek, for instance, Pavlischek snapped that I wasn't a "practical pacifist"--I was just an outright pacifist. It's important for many defenders of war to put all their opponents in a bag called "pacifist" and then declare them all irrelevant to questions of whether it's right to wage a particular war. People who say that in principle a war might be justified, but are almost impossible to persuade of the justice of any particular war, mess up that strategy badly.

One of Pavlischek's major arguments against pacifism, drawn from Elizabeth Anscombe, is that it makes all violence equally bad. (See his essay critiquing Reinhold Niebuhr's Christian realism, which argues that Niebuhr and the pacifists share the same basic mistake about the immorality of all war.) In Anscombe argues that pacifism leads to the "loss of the conception of murder." If what is bad is violence or killing of any kind, then people lose the ability to understand why killing the innocent is always wrong. People come to think of pacifism as the "absolute ideal," while assuming that if one is not a pacifist there's no use bringing moral considerations into the business of warfare at all.

I don't think that this is a fair criticism of Christian pacifism. But I do think it's a very fair criticism of the kind of "pacifism" found in the Song of Ice and Fire, and indeed of any pacifism that is primarily founded on the horror of war rather than on the love of one's enemies and the message of the Cross.

For one thing, I'm not convinced that the Song of Ice and Fire is pacifist. Of course there are problems with even asking whether a series of books is or is not pacifist. But I don't find that reading the books makes me more inclined to pacifism. It's hard to see how pacifism would be an appropriate response to Ramsay Bolton or Gregor Clegane or Vargo Hoat, and I see nothing in the books indicating that Martin thinks it would be. Rather, my visceral response to them is "do whatever you have to do to take these monsters down."

Martin's dark vision of the horror of war certainly implies that we should not wage war unless we have to. But it also implies, I think, that if we are forced to fight we should do whatever we need to do in order to win. Martin's books embody precisely the polarity of realism and pacifism that Anscombe and Pavlischek criticize. Because any possible vision of just and honorable warfare is deconstructed so ruthlessly, we are left with two options: a pacifist withdrawal from the "game of thrones" altogether, which is compassionate and admirable but cannot in itself bring justice and order, or a grim determination to do what must be done even if it violates traditional codes of honor and chivalry. This is not nihilism, but it is, I think, relativism and consequentialism. (Here's one concrete example--Jaime's monstrous threat to murder Edmure's child appears, within Martin's narrative world, to be the moral choice, because it results in a bloodless resolution to the siege of Riverrun.)

So which fantasy narrative, Tolkien's or Martin's, would be more likely to give us pause when considering the use of violence in the contemporary world? If my ethical responses were shaped primarily by Martin's view of the world, I would look at ISIS and say, "we must do whatever we need to do to take out these monsters." I would be less likely to worry about the traditional rules of just war, as long as the ultimate goal was to bring peace to the Middle East.

I oppose bombing campaigns and other morally questionable responses to evil precisely because I am formed primarily by Tolkien, not by Martin. I start with an ideal of what a righteous response to evil looks like, not with the horror of the evil I wish to oppose. And I think that's by far the healthier place to start.

I've been quoting G. K. Chesterton a lot lately, because so often he seems to have diagnosed the maladies of our culture a hundred years in advance. In his book Heretics, in the chapter "On the Negative Spirit," Chesterton mentions early 20th-century writers such as Ibsen, Maupassant, and Zola, who were controversial for their (by 19th-century standards) often explicit subject matter. Chesterton dismisses this charge and says that the real problem with these authors is that they have a very clear vision of evil but a misty vision of the good. I don't think that applies to Martin exactly--compassion and empathy come across very clearly in his works as unequivocal goods. But I think it's true of Martin as of the more conventionally "high-brow" figures of modern literature that his moral vision is expressed largely in negative terms.

Chesterton cites an author named G. W. Foote (not someone I've heard of elsewhere) to the effect that pictures of a drunkard's liver would do more to discourage drunkenness "than any prayer or praise," and he takes this as symbolic of the "negative spirit" he sees pervading modern ethics. "In that temple the lights are low, the crowds kneel, the solemn anthems are uplifted. But that upon the altar to which all men kneel is no longer the perfect flesh, the body and substance of the perfect man; it is still flesh, but it is diseased. It is the drunkard's liver of the New Testament that is marred for us, which which we take in remembrance of him." Earlier in the same essay, Chesterton remarks, "A young man may keep himself from vice by continually thinking of disease. He may keep himself from it also by continually thinking of the Virgin Mary. There may be question about which method is the more reasonable, or even about which is the more efficient. But surely there can be no question about which is the more wholesome."

Martin's books are perhaps the best fantasy literature since Tolkien. In spite of some exploitative elements, their dark vision is, on the whole, a deeply moral one. They're well worth reading (for adults with strong stomachs), and I agree that they offer a needed counterpoint to Tolkien's more idealistic vision. In particular, they can help correct the ways many people misuse Tolkien as a sanction for nationalism and militarism. But in the end, if I have to choose, I'm still going to go with Tolkien as my primary fantasy author. Martin, for all his merits, has too much drunkard's liver and not enough Virgin Mary.

Saturday, July 09, 2016

Is organic food really no better than conventional?

Every so often an article appears informing us all, in a very superior tone, that organic food is a big sham which can't feed the world and isn't really any better than conventional food. This article from the Telegraph is the most recent one to make the rounds.

Certainly just "buying organic" isn't a panacea. Most people I know in the sustainable food movement are quite aware of this already. For one thing, most of us are less concerned with whether food meets official "organic" criteria than with whether it is grown in an environmentally sustainable manner, with a minimal use of pesticides of any kind (including "organic" ones), and produced and consumed in a way that strengthens local economies and builds rather than destroying communities. Health is certainly part of it, because if you grow the food yourself or know your supplier you have a lot more control over quality. But I don't know anyone actually involved in the organic/sustainable movement who is so naive as to think that just walking into a store and buying something labeled "organic" automatically makes the food you are eating healthy or environmentally sustainable.

The assumption behind the article is that people in the organic movement want to replace a massive commercial "conventional" system with a massive commercial "organic" system. But we don't. Ideally we'd like to see more people around the world growing their own food and a preservation of traditional foodways. I at least am realistic about the fact that this isn't going to be feasible for many people, and non-judgmental about the food choices people in the developing world (and poor people here) have to make. As I see it, the sustainable food movement has two prongs:

1. Persuade prosperous people (i.e., people living above the poverty line as defined in the "developed" world) to make more sustainable choices, which includes eating local, eating less meat, and being willing to pay relatively more for food compared to other expenses; and then

2. Make sustainable and healthy food options available to less prosperous people as much as possible, without in any way laying a guilt trip on them for not being able to make sustainable choices.

In other words, of course it would be a bad thing to "switch to organic" on some massive centralized scale. But the more firmly sustainable options are established as culturally preferable, the more likely it is that people will make sustainable choices when they can.

I don't understand the kind of economic reasoning involved in saying things like "200 million in lower productivity" that then "can't be spent on health care." That seems to imply that all the GNP goes either to food or to health care, which is patently ridiculous. I'm also not sure how organic food is going to make people other than farmers "less productive." Granted the article's premise that organic food will have much lower yields (which I'm not convinced of, but which may be true), that doesn't necessarily mean less food. Think, for instance, of the massive amount of land in North America that goes to raise corn which is then used to feed animals for meat. If people ate considerably less meat (and most people in the developed world eat _far_ more meat than they need) then all that land could be used to grow vegetable crops instead. I drive through the Midwest and look at the massive cornfields and think, "what if each of those fields was devoted to growing a variety of organic vegetables instead?" 

The flawed logic behind the article is illustrated by the little sidebar discouraging people from eating kale and drinking green tea, because these things can be harmful _in massive quantities_.

Whatever happened to moderation?