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.

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

A Time For Listening, Not Talking: MLK Day, 2019

Let King be King. He was a radical. A leftist. A fair amount of revisionism always occurs, because we have a way of revering without reckoning. If we weren't guilty of this, he wouldn't have had to do all the things he did.

I guess I'm not Left enough to make this case, but I'm not Right enough to ignore it, either. I do know that the motivated reasoning of nearly every PragerU video is contemptible. We sanitize those who challenge us, if we can no longer ignore them. We silence those we fear.

Anyway, if it serves the cause of justice, I'm willing to be made uncomfortable. I need not embrace every activist pet theory, especially if it denies a discernible shared reality. Yet my days of telling black people how to seek justice, or how to process feelings about justice delayed, or justice outright denied, are over.

King did not possess a graceless anger, but it was an anger. Anger was and is the proper response to injustice. Anger can be a galvanizing, organizing force. Past that point is pitiless rage, which is impossible to direct, or control.

I guess the revisionists and the progressives and all of us in between have one thing in common: We're glad Dr. King had pity on us. Pity is a species of mercy, or so it seems, and we could all use some mercy today. Mercy is not opposed to justice, but serves it, by remitting punishment that sin deserves. Mercy is the great weapon of the servants of the truth.

Happy Birthday, sir. We'll try to do better.

The Benedict Option: A Strategy For Christians In a Post-Christian Nation, (Dreher) I: "Introduction/The Awakening"

Dreher says that his wake-up call was recently when Indiana and Arkansas weakened their state-level religious freedom protections, which had been tailored to correspond to the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1990, under pressure from gay activists. On a personal note, I remember hammering Mike Pence for caving on this very issue. [Mike Pence, too liberal? Those were the days!--ed.] Dreher notes, "This was a watershed event. It showed that if big business objected, even Republican politicians in red states would not take a stand, even a mild one, for religious freedom."

He says Christians and their values have been "routed." He's right, obviously. When 75 percent of Catholics don't go to Mass, and the biggest religious group in America are "nones," this is the least shocking development imaginable. That fails to even account for failures in formation and a lack of conversion among the clergy, in the Church, and among Christians more generally. (With all due respect, when I say "Church," I am referring to the Catholic Church, and those in visible communion with her. I can appreciate Dreher's desire to use "church" in an invisible sense, to foster a unity in his project of co-belligerency, but since I believe the visible unity of all Christians is a major part of cultural renewal, I'm going to say so. And frankly, I don't like being confused.)

He further laments the astonishing rapidity with which a traditional Christian consensus was discarded, and in that, I can recall being called a "bigot" back in 2002, for opposing homosexual relations and gay marriage. I sympathize, sir, but it hasn't been happening all that fast. Question: could it be that political alliances kept us from noticing culture-wide that we had abandoned truths that had been known from time immemorial? It's worth bearing that question in mind. Gay marriage is the fruit of no-fault divorce, in my view, but that's another discussion.

I've got to push back here a little bit, where Dreher excoriates the "cluelessness" of Christians concerning these things. I don't think that's accurate. And again, where has Dreher been? Ellen DeGeneres "came out" via her character on her sitcom in 1997. Sure, it was a furor, but where's Ellen now? Oh, yeah, she's doing her best Oprah imitation, as the most influential talk show host in America. Pedro Zamora died of complications from AIDS in 1994. I remembered his name without even thinking about it. The cultural normalization of homosexuality and gay marriage has been going on for decades; the Court decision just ratified it.

I recall reading about the rapid collapse of authoritarian dictatorships. They seem to collapse quickly, because a critical mass of people realizes that if they all say what they know and act accordingly, the regime will have no power. It relied on people's fear of each other to retain power. To borrow a phrase, if we are living in a "dictatorship of relativism," it will collapse just as quickly. This is especially because the whole edifice is built on lies. I think that's a big reason for hope going forward.

I appreciate the thoughts in the foreword about the dashed hopes of many Christians at the election of Donald Trump. He says that a Christian who cannot criticize the president has ceded her power. Well, yes. Is Dreher's generation just realizing this? Still, in the aspiration for something better, we are of one mind.

Monday, January 14, 2019

The Benedict Option: A Strategy For Christians In A Post-Christian Nation, by Rod Dreher: JK's Introductory Comments

I'm suspicious of this book, and this author. I read a critical review of this book by a reviewer who was also reviewing Abp. Chaput's latest effort, and that of Anthony Esolen. I'm inclined to think that the reviewer was right, that all three were some combination of shrill, nostalgic, and fearful. You know me, though: I've left conservative politics behind. I guess you could say I've left politics behind, depending upon how we define the term. I might explain myself this way: If American politics is Yankees-Red Sox, I root for the Dodgers.

I have acquaintances who flat-out doubt Dreher's truthfulness and charity. I think also that Dreher left the Church for a stupid reason, because there is no good reason to leave the Church Christ founded. (He presently identifies as Orthodox.)

On the other hand, I have personal spiritual reasons for wanting to read this book. And as I'm sure you know, this has all the public intellectuals talking. That's reason enough for me.

The usual stipulations apply: understanding and appreciation is primary. Without further ado, The Benedict Option, by Rod Dreher.