Loads of Learned Lumber

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Rod Dreher, _The Benedict Option_

A VOLUME FAR from the beaten path for me, but the New Yorker profile on Dreher called it a good book for the "ideologically bi-curious," so off I went to the local Catholic book store.

The book's subtitle is "A Strategy for Christians in a Post-Christian Nation," which neatly sums up the book's purpose. For Dreher, the secularization of the United States has advanced to the point that Christians who want to live as Christians will have to be deliberate and tactical about it, for our society's default tone is at best indifferent to Christianity when it is not hostile.

Conservative Christians (he seems to have in mind conservative Roman Catholics, most Orthodox communities, and evangelicals--mainline Protestants, not so much), he writes, thought that they could stem the tide by campaigning and voting for Republicans. As we readers of Thomas Frank's What's the Matter with Kansas? know, this did not work out. Rather like African-Americans and the Democratic Party, conservative Christians got plenty o' lip service around election time but not much else.

We are in a time of Flood, Dreher says in his first chapter, and Christians need an Ark.

The "Benedict Option" is his proposal for that ark--so named for St. Benedict, founder of the Benedictines, a monastical community that kept the Church alive in the wake of the collapse of the Roman Empire and the ascendancy of the barbarians.

Dreher does not envision a new cloistered, celibate community (although he respects such efforts) so much as a "parallel polis," a society that in-but-not-of the larger one. Not isolation, not a siege mentality exactly, but a restricted engagement, more inward- than outward-focused.

The politics of the Benedict Option are less about laws and elections than developing an alternative community, more centered on families and congregations. Churches will focus more on liturgy and the sacraments than on getting people to rallies. Liturgy will be more traditional--fewer drums, guitars, and PowerPoints, maybe. Christians will definitely need their own schools, and some will have to sacrifice fast-track professional careers if those careers involve unhealthy compromise with secular values. Gay Christians are welcome provided they neither have actually have sex nor wish to be married.

Wait, what? Right. Turns out that the Obergefell decision and the subsequent persecution of "bakers, florists, and photograhers" is Dreher's Exhibit # 1 that the United States is inhospitable to Christianity.

Well, I don't know. I know a lot of Christians and Jews for whom the profounder meaning of their faith does not depend so utterly on a few verses in Leviticus and a few strictures from Paul.

One of those Christians is someone I know Dreher respects, Dreher being the author of How Dante Can Save Your Life.  In Canto 26 of Purgatorio, a great crowd of homosexuals and another great crowd of heterosexuals are running through fire to purge themselves of lust. Purgatory is just a way station, really, so they are all alike headed for Paradise, gay and straight both. Who knows whether Dante, if he lived now, would support gay marriage, but it's clear that even back in 1312 he did not see that there was any important difference between homo- and hetero-.

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