Faith-Based Gardening


The New York Times has a piece today titled "Of Church and Steak" about religious groups getting involved in humane, sustainable farming.

It’s a good piece, but there is a bemused tone underneath that irks me slightly.  You don’t have to be a member of an organized religion to understand that there is religion in a good relationship with this beautiful green earth.   

What question in all of human life has more religious meaning than the question of what we do with this planet, God’s gift to us?  What form of worship comes close to putting plants in the ground and making a divine design even more lovely and productive?  What form of grace is more transcendent than the one that occurs when you stick your nose into an Oriental lily?  What miracle is more miraculous than the manure cycle?  I don’t know about you, but loaves and fishes are NOTHING compared to what is happening in my garden at the moment concerning squashes.

Whether you belong to some church other than the Church of Plant Delights or no, I’m convinced that all of us gardeners, to a one, are pantheists.  Can you be an atheist and be a gardener?  I don’t see how.


  1. I’m with Michelle D on this one, a proud atheist gardener signing in. I enjoy, marvel at and am fascinated by all the things you mention in para 3 but enjoy them as natural not supernatural entities.

  2. I second that.

    Human constructions like good, evil, and God have no place in the garden.

    The garden just IS, and so are all the creatures in it.

    Including the gardener.

  3. I’m with the other atheist gardeners. It’s not necessary to believe in an unseen higher power to delight in the power of nature you can see (and smell, and touch, and eat). On the other hand, I could see a garden as affirming one’s faith in God, as well as in biology.

  4. I say to each his own with regards to gardens. However, I never feel closer to God than in the garden — Not that I need a little plaque that says so (hate those). It’s the wonder, the awe, the humor that a small plot of land and a lot of hard work can produce that affirms my beliefs.

  5. In the garden you are a witness to the unseen and unknowable “Power” that permeates the universe. I believe in a Higher Power because I can see it and feel it with my senses. Just don’t ask me to ascribe who, what, where, when and why to it. It just is.

  6. I think the slight smirk is THE editorial stamp of any story the NYT does of late.

    That said, thanks for tweaking the noses of we atheist gardeners, Michele! Just ’cause one doesn’t believe in a higher being doesn’t mean our gardens (or lives, come to think of it) are without joy OR wonder.

    But I do understand the human need for reverence. I revere my stirrup hoe, for example. But it is no god.

  7. that’s why you’re not. i’m an agnostic gardener, and i’m certain that there are as many ways to love the earth as there are gardeners. and my tomatoes think they grow for themselves.

  8. While I completely agree with you, Michelle on the pantheistic glories and transcendence inherent in gardening, I completely missed that part of your commentary that referenced the bemused” article from the Times.
    I read the other article too, but didn’t get in any sense that the writer was implying that these folks had some special corner on either meaning or truth.
    Seemed more like a “Gee Whiz” story that tried to show a unique but growing commonality in small religious-based farmers, regardless of their particular religion. In an era of each political, philosophical and/or religious group hating any other group that doesn’t believe just like them, it seemed interesting to see the cooperation between Jews and Christians, etc. over the matters of growing and preparing food in ways that seemed both ecologically sensitive and worshipful.

    Nope, never got the impression that anyone was looking down their nose at anyone else just because they don’t grow what they grow from some religious context. Could just be my reading of it though.

  9. I do some of my best sermon-writing and pondering on sin, etc. (you can weed all you want, but you never truly get it all out) when I am in the garden. It’s a spiritual thing, whether one is religious or not. There’s something very powerful and “bigger than us” about growing things and sticking one’s hands in the dirt!

  10. Another atheist gardener signing in here 🙂 Just because I’m an atheist doesn’t mean I’m not moved by the tremendous beauty,harmony and spiritual satisfaction to be found in nature and gardening.

  11. David E. Perry–I’m not a huge fan of organized religion (as a shovel-wielding pantheist and regular newspaper reader), but religious organic farmers? I’m sure that they are fantastic people.

    No, I thought the only condescension in the Times piece came from the editors–snarky headline, no? And a certain lack of comprehension on the part of the writer. Gee whiz, as you say.

  12. Michele: That helps immensely. Thank you.
    Having grown up within organized religion and come to the conclusion that risking the fires of hell was far preferable to worshipping a God claiming authorship of love while inspiring untold acts of fear, hatred and cruelty, I am no fan of most organized religion either. The gardener’s analogy/parable of judging the tree by its fruits seems a wise and appropriate measuring stick.

    That said, many of my favorite people are believers in and devotees of several different versions/interpretations of God. And in their one-by one, unique cases, they do seem to find ways to grow beauty and kindness and love as the fruits on that tree of their faith. And the world is a more wonderful place for them.

    It is also more wonderful for my atheist friends who manage to grow the same exquisite and exotic sorts of fruits on trees with very different names, leaves and root structures. Go figure.

    How wonderful to consider a world where there might be a growing tolerance and shared goals, despite vastly different nomenclatures.

    I’m a big fan of yours, for what that’s worth. Thank you for all the ways you show up, for such thoughtful work.


  13. Do I dare…..?????

    How about opening up the dialogue a hair more?

    First: language. Language is just code to try and communicate. It has advantages and limitations. I suspect Michelle was not trying to codify gardeners as much as codify a personal feeling that she was reveling in. I am glad that she shares her feelings.

    Theological codex is just a way to meet and greet each other. I am not promoting a certain viewpoint, but am familiar with conceptual frameworks to suggest.

    How about animism? Animism senses the “soul” that “inhabits” animals, plants, and earth – and senses that it has unique qualities, or a particular soul…

    Animism provides a space for the intuitive sense that there is something more than merely matter.

  14. Of course, you CAN garden without God, but like Michelle, I would not want to — I think her rhetorial questions is the start of a great debate. If you do not acknowledge a higher power or at the very least a connectedness of all living things, are you experiencing your garden at the same level as one who does not feel these things?

  15. Re: Kathy from Washington’s comment–how can you be sure your idea of God isn’t getting between you and your garden? (Another atheist here, obv.)

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