Thursday, January 17, 2019

The Benedict Option: A Strategy For Christians In A Post-Christian Nation, (Dreher) Chapter 1, "The Great Flood" (II)

Dreher uses the example of the severe flooding in Louisiana in 2016 to describe a severe disruption of a way of life; that is, the end of a civilization. He lays out the "Benedict Option" as cells of people in small groups carrying on the work of society and forming virtue, in much the same way as St. Benedict and the Benedictine monasteries did after the fall of the Roman empire. It is not enough to fill sandbags and build levees, he says. It's time to build an ark.

The churches could serve as a bulwark, he says, but we also have a problem: the infiltration of moralistic therapeutic deism (MTD). This has been discussed for many years, but essentially, it is theological-sounding self-help that sanctions our materialism, nationalism, and selfishness. The "god" in this worldview never demands anything of us, but blesses whatever we do to please ourselves. For my part, as he describes this, I think of American civic religion. These are also its tenets. With the breakdown of the polis, it's fair to wonder if MTD has any extended life ahead, or are we set to see a further devolution into paganism? Dreher calls it "barbarism," but essentially it is the denial of any obligation not chosen, outside the self. He also cites MacIntyre regarding the prevalence of "emotivism," the philosophy that all truth claims merely reflect the feelings and desires of the speaker. We recall Dr. Cross' contention that emotivism thrives against an unspoken backdrop of skepticism, especially with regard to what can be known by reason.

Dreher cites a couple of disheartening surveys about the views of 18 to 23-year-olds along these lines, and while I can sympathize in general, I would not have been an exemplar at any time during that period. Even with extensive Christian catechesis, I was a disaster. So it strikes me as unwise to extrapolate these trends too far forward in time.

Finally, I must reject Dreher's "branch" theory of ecclesiology. Whatever could be gained by uniting traditional Christians in a project of co-belligerency against common foes is lost by the separations themselves. Indeed, it was Protestant philosophical commitments that functionally denied the use of reason as a ground for true knowledge. If we don't fully heal Christian division--which begins with rejecting false philosophies of knowledge, we'll just repeat the same mistakes, even without intending it.

It's no coincidence that the Catholic Church has described herself on various occasions as an Ark.

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