Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Brand confusion about the Benedict Option

I had been meaning to post on this for awhile, but better late than never. I was reading a post from Father Shenan Boquet of Human Life International when another of his older posts caught my eye about Sanctuary Cities for Christians. Immediately I though "Hmmm, sounds kind of Benedict Option-y." And since he invokes the term and links to Dreher's blog, it seems upon a quick, first like he's getting on board the BenOp train. Except:

Still, it’s time we give this a shot before it is too late, if for no other reason than to help awaken those believers who are still sleepily going along with the culture. As one LGBT-celebratory Christian leader has recently argued, the “middle ground is disappearing.” Writer Rod Dreher and others have noted this has been underway for some time. Dreher reports on his blog how a growing number of parents are surprised to find themselves having to pull their children out of grade school as gender ideology has become dogmatic seemingly overnight, and schools are constantly undermining parental rights and privileges.

He even throws in the obligatory Benedict Option "we're not cutting and running" disclaimer which we are used to hearing:

I want to make this perfectly clear: There is a difference between running in fear and trying to escape reality, and a strategic retreat to a place of strong footing, from which a community can act in love and truth and build a real culture again.

Upon a closer reading, however, Father seems to be asking for a greater civic involvement of Christians and other people of good will who respect religious freedom to achieve the goal of justice and spiritual flourishing. The tone of the article is much more akin to "taking the country back" than the building of religious Christians-only safe spaces. One of the reasons it's difficult to see this first is that Fr. Boquet is very careful not to call for any direct political action, but instead uses the illegal-alien sanctuary city concept analogically:

....We need sanctuary cities for Christians.

There is a precedent for this: There are some 200 cities in the United States that have decided, through official policy if not in law, to not enforce federal laws on immigration. In essence, these “sanctuary cities” refuse to cooperate with federal agents when it comes to reporting crimes committed by those in the country illegally, arguing that such reporting would create a climate of fear and would ensure a lack of cooperation between migrant communities and local law enforcement.

There is an insinuation between the lines that in his proposed Christian sanctuary cities, officials would look the other way when someone refuses to sign a same-sex marriage license or break any other ordinance which violates a federal ordinance and yet upholds the moral law. That is his clear intention, yet, as I stated, he is careful not to explicitly lay out this rebellious course of action.

I think that Fr. Boquet is "glomming onto" the Benedict Option because it is a term out there already, but there is a pretty big difference between it and what he is advocating. A Christian Sanctuary City as he describes is would be a place where you don't have to be a Christian to live in or belong to the way a Benedict Option community is described. These cities would become strategic outposts in the culture wars rather than strategic withdrawals from the culture wars.

It has become unfashionable to speak of the "culture wars" due to the scorn of the elite cultural leftists who are claiming victory, those like Dreher who are advocating surrender and those still fighting in the ranks but tempted by war-weariness to cease. But this war is merely a part of the ancient War of good versus evil, and there is no reason to shy away from calling it a war. We didn't start it, and it will never end until Judgment Day. Each Christian and person of good will must fight these battles in the way he sees fit, trying not to rebuke others who fight it differently, at least not publicly.

On the other hand, I will continue to rebuke the Benedict Option because it represents a refusal to fight, withdrawing from the battle to instead hurl inane insults from their towers at those still fighting on the ground like those Frenchmen in Monty Python and the Holy Grail. The rest of us will continue to fight the culture war, even if to many it seems like we're merely banging coconuts together.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Monday, September 19, 2016

Gabriel Sanchez is not writing a book on the Benedict Option

Just glanced over at Opus Publicum and saw this post referencing an "ever-expanding book manuscript" on which the blogger is working.

Last Friday I gave a talk on integralism for a Catholic men’s group here in Grand Rapids. It was my fourth talk for them, the most “popular” being my lengthy lecture on the (in)compatibility of libertarianism with Catholicism. Much of what I had to say was built upon articles, blog posts, and my ever-expanding book manuscript. At the outset of the talk, I half-jokingly said that integralism is nothing more than Catholics following what the Church has always taught, not just with respect to politics and society, but all facets of natural and supernatural life. It became clear to me over the course of my 90-minute speaking engagement that I wasn’t saying anything “new.” That is, I was not attempting to advance a pet ideology or catchy socio-cultural posture; I was imply explaining, inter alia, the relationship of spiritual and temporal authority; the social kingship of Christ; and the duty of all Catholics to follow divine and natural law, even when they conflict with civil positive law.

So Gabriel Sanchez claims that he's not "saying anything new" or "attempting to advance a pet ideology or catchy socio-cultural posture". I take him at his word and from this I conclude that he is not writing a book about The Benedict Option. We'll call his words "the new standard disclaimer".

Monday, September 12, 2016

Life before and since The Day That Rod Was There

Rod Dreher
No matter which way he was heading, or what he was actually doing, on The Day That Rod Was There, he was definitely doing something.

Has it really been fifteen years?

Rod's recent post, Life Before 9/11, made me suddenly realize that it really has been fifteen years today since The Day That Rod Was There.

And as that realization dawned on me, I began to look up slightly, into the middle distance, stroked my chin thoughtfully, and, as harp music from somewhere began to ripple and the background became all flashback swirly, I suddenly found myself magically transported back into Kathleen's marvelous record of the many subtly different first person accounts of The Day That Rod Was There:

Hey everyone, let's not forget: the fifth anniversary of The Day That Rod Was There is coming up on 9/11. Of course, whether The Day That Rod Was There was also The Day That Rod Saw The Towers Fall Before His Own Eyes depends if you are reading Rod from March 2006 ("I stood on the far side of the bridge watching the tower collapse) and April 2006 ("having been a New Yorker on 9/11, and seen the south WTC tower collapse in front of my own eyes") or the Rod from 2002 ("Though I didn't see it with my own eyes, others did.") Good thing he had that handy reporter's notebook he kept writing in so he could record what he was seeing before his own eyes [cough] .... or maybe just hearing? .... But hey, details, details. What's important is that 9/11 is The Day That Rod Was There. Not that he would give you the chance to forget:

9/8/06, Beliefnet Crunchy Con blog: "I'm sitting here at my desk in downtown Dallas, almost five years and half a country away from 9/11, but I can still remember exactly how it sounded when the south tower of the World Trade Center collapsed. I was standing on the Brooklyn Bridge, just about to run off and into Manhattan, and had just told a colleague that the towers wouldn't fall. Suddenly, the south tower fell. It fell with a faraway roar that sounded exactly like what it was: a Niagara of dust and glass."

8/06, Beliefnet: " All 9/11 did was show who they really were when put to the test. It happened to me, in my own small way. I was a columnist for the New York Post that morning, and hustled from my waterfront apartment across the Brooklyn Bridge, notebook in hand, to cover the catastrophe. I made it as far as the Manhattan side of the bridge before I ran into a Post colleague. “Don’t go down there,” she said. “Those things are going to fall.”“Oh come on, they’re not going to fall,” I said, genuinely disbelieving her. “That’s the World Trade Center.” Moments later, down came the south tower. I staggered backward, and held on to her to keep my knees from buckling. I scrawled these words on my reporter’s notebook, which I still have: “the building isn’t there it’s gone.”

5/1/06 Beliefnet: "I remember that morning, rushing from my apartment on the Brooklyn waterfront across the Brooklyn Bridge toward the fires in lower Manhattan. Every step of the way I was in denial about what was happening in front of me. Halfway across the bridge, a man with a portable radio shouted to the crowd, "They've hit the Pentagon!" And I thought, "You jerk, quit scaring us with false rumors." On the other side of the bridge, a colleague of mine from the New York Post told me not to go down there, that those buildings were going to fall. I told her don't be silly. Within a minute or so, down came the south tower.

4/17/06, Beliefnet: "I realize in bitter retrospect that, having been a New Yorker on 9/11, and seen the south WTC tower collapse in front of my own eyes, I wanted vengeance."

3/29/06 NRO Crunchy Con blog: I’ve told the story before, so I won’t go into it in detail again, but I will never forget as long as I live the experience of that morning. When I walked out my front door on the Brooklyn waterfront and saw the towers burning, I ran for the Brooklyn Bridge, to get over to the site to cover the story. Within the hour, I stood on the far side of the bridge watching the south tower collapse. Seconds before it came down, a NYPost colleague told me not to go down there, that those things were going to fall. I looked at her with total sincerity and conviction, and said, “Come on, that’s the World Trade Center, they’re not going to fall." Nothing that ever happened to me was as traumatic as what followed”

7/05 Dallas Morning News: Over and over that morning, even as I ran with my reporter's notebook across the Brooklyn Bridge toward the burning towers, I effectively denied what was happening, literally disbelieving my own eyes. When I made it to the Manhattan side of the bridge and was about to go down into the city, I ran into a journalist colleague. "Don't go down there," she said. "Those things are going to fall." "They're not going to fall," I told her with utter confidence. "C'mon, that's the World Trade Center." Seconds later, there was a terrible roar, and down came the South Tower,..."

9/04, National Review Online, the Corner: "POSTCARD FROM THE PAST [Rod Dreher] A friend forwarded to me today the e-mail I'd sent to some friends that morning three years ago. It's startling to me to read this now. Notice the date and time stamp. I'd just walked in out of the conflagration: Subject: Unbelievable Date: Tuesday, September 11, 2001 10:09 AM I'm not going to tie up the phone lines long, but I wanted to tell you that we're okay. My dad phoned this morning to say, "The World Trade Center is on fire. Go look out your front door." You can see them clearly across the harbor from our front door. "Oh my God! Julie come see!" I said. I ran down to grab my reporter's bag, knowing I'd have to go over to the fire. At that point, we didn't know what caused the fire. Then, while downstairs, I heard a tremendous explosion and screams. I ran out to the street. "A plane just hit the second tower!" a man screamed. I knew the subways would be out, so I decided to walk across the Brooklyn Bridge to get to the scene....I made it to the last pillar of the Brooklyn Bridge before going into downtown. I ran into a colleague of mine. She said, "We better not go over there. Those towers are going to blow up. One minute later, the south tower fell in on itself. I nearly fainted. It ... well, I can't describe it now. I'm too shaken. Everybody on the bridge screamed. Some collapsed in tears. A woman started to vomit. My knees went weak, and a huge plume of soot and smoke barrelled toward us. I decided to turn around and go home."

National Review 3/03: "And there was one of the towers, billowing smoke and paper, which was being carried by the wind right over our house in Brooklyn. While I was downstairs gathering my notepad so I could run across the bridge to cover the fire, I heard the explosion of the second plane hitting. It shook our building. I opened the door, saw the second tower burning, kissed Julie goodbye, and told her, "I'm going to get as close as I can. ...There was an exodus of workers crossing the bridge out of Manhattan. I stopped to talk to some of them. They were gasping and sobbing, talking about having seen people jumping to their deaths from the upper floors. I have never seen that kind of trauma in anyone. They were very nearly in shock. I am fortunate that I stopped to talk to them, because I had plenty of time to have made it to the south tower. As it was, I was standing on the bridge watching the fire, about to begin my descent into Manhattan, when the south tower collapsed. My knees nearly buckled. I was sure I had just seen tens of thousands of people die. I turned back toward home, because there was no getting into Manhattan now."

National Review 9/02: " Nor shall I forget the sound of my voice telling a New York Post colleague I was trying to coax to follow me off the Brooklyn Bridge and into lower Manhattan, "Oh, come on, they're not going to fall." I believed it. Thirty seconds later, the south tower fell. Though I didn't see it with my own eyes, others did..."

Crisis Magazine, 11/01: "I live on the Brooklyn waterfront, just across the harbor from lower Manhattan. On that horrible morning on September 11, my father phoned me from Louisiana to tell me to look out my front door, the World Trade Center was on fire. It was, and I ran down to the basement to grab my reporter’s pad. Then I heard the explosion from the second crash and scrambled upstairs and out my front door. A stunned and cursing plumber from the hospital next door screamed, "It was a passenger plane!" He must have that wrong, I thought. But he wasn’t wrong. None of us was conditioned to understand what was happening. Twenty minutes later, I was hustling across the Brooklyn Bridge toward the calamity—wending my way through the exodus out of the city—when a man with a radio screamed, "They’ve hit the Pentagon!" That can’t be true, I thought; it’s too cinematic. I am a professional movie critic, and I tend to think of movies as simile and metaphor. Don’t most of us? The movies are our common language, the only interpretative framework any of us have for a disaster this spectacular. And as we all know—or knew until recently—real life isn’t like the movies. Eight minutes later, I watched the first tower come tumbling down in a cataclysm of flame, concrete, and glass"

As the man himself says, read the whole thing.

Tragic as the events of 9/11 were, though, what can we learn from narratives like this going forward?

Why, that, like life itself, many narratives ultimately end up being fluid, protean, anecdotal butterflies tossed by the mind's tormented winds of desire for a really good, knock-'em-dead line or maybe a tasty snack. As Heraclitus of Ephesus himself pointed out some 2,500 years ago, "τὰ ὄντα ἰέναι τε πάντα καὶ μένειν οὐδέν" - "no man ever steps in the same Benedict Option twice, for it's not the same Benedict Option and he's not the same man".

So, as we solemnly commemorate the horrors and the losses of fifteen years ago, let us at the same time try to take away at least one optimistic sliver of hope that maybe, finally, we have learned a lesson about powerful narratives and those that tell them.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Benedict Option: the sound of one hand clapping

Benedict Option
It will all be explained in the book

In We Have Been Warned, Rod Dreher gives us his most succinct and salient explanation for his Benedict Option to date. All emphases in the paragraph below are Dreher's:

I find that even at this late date, it is difficult to get ordinary Christians, including pastors, to understand the reality of what’s coming. You should believe David Gushee. He has done us all a favor here. He and his allies — that is, the entire American establishment — are going to do everything they possibly can to eliminate any place of retreat. When people say that if the Left has its way, there will be no Benedict Option places left to retreat to, I agree. That does not mean they will succeed, at least not at first, but it’s just a matter of time. This means that we will need the Benedict Option more than ever. The Ben Op is not about escapism; it’s about building the institutions and adopting the practices required for the church to be resilient, and even to thrive, under harsh conditions. The church will be under unprecedented pressure, legally and socially, to capitulate. But it will be possible to resist, though not without paying a high cost. I talk about how to do this in my forthcoming book.

Because this is such a rare gift of plainly stated gold, let's unpack it one logical line at a time, shall we?

When people say that if the Left has its way, there will be no Benedict Option places left to retreat to, I agree.

So there will be no Benedict Option places left to retreat to?

That does not mean they will succeed, at least not at first...

So there may be Benedict Option places left to retreat to?

but it’s just a matter of time. 

So there won't be Benedict Option places left to retreat to. So...because there won't be Benedict Option places left to retreat to,

This means that we will need the Benedict Option more than ever.


The Ben Op is not about escapism; it’s about building the institutions and adopting the practices required for the church to be resilient, and even to thrive, under harsh conditions.

Very well. In this place from which the church has no escape from or means of avoiding the predations of the Left, we will nevertheless need Rod's Benedict Option more than ever to show us how to build the institutions and adopt the practices required for the church to be resilient, and even to thrive, under harsh conditions.

Let's make sure we clearly understand the meaning of some things right now.

If there really is no escape - Rod's own premise*, which we're following; and even if there were a means of escape, the Benedict Option wouldn't be about taking advantage of it anyway - then this means the Left potentially seizing property and bank accounts of non-compliers and even having Child Services remove children from the homes of non-compliers (ask the radical LDS church about this).

That's what no escape means. That's what happens to those with no escape. It doesn't mean that, because you can't relocate to Lichtenstein or Monaco, that there will still be a pinky promise floor supporting what you don't need to worry about escaping from.

If Rod is being serious, what I described is what he means by "no escape" - ultimately, the possibility of renouncing either your faith or your children.

If he's merely being dramatically hyperbolic in order to sell a book, then his Benedict Option becomes as optional as that book purchase.

So when Rod proceeds to talk about "building the institutions and adopting the practices required for the church to be resilient, and even to thrive, under harsh conditions", he is very clearly now not referring to material things or means. Remember, in a "no escape" scenario, the Leftist State has just run its Komatsu D575A-3 over your church's remaining bricks.

He is referring to something else. Non-material things and means to build solely mental/spiritual institutions and adopt solely mental/spiritual practices required for the church to be resilient, and even to thrive, under harsh conditions.

In sum, Rod's Benedict Option is being offered as, in essence, your conceptual Christian AndroGel, the solution to the problems your unfortunate Christian "low-C" will clearly enable in the face of the ultimately inescapable predations of the left. Had your Christian faith been, like Rod's, sufficiently potent to begin with, obviously none of this Leftist predation would have been allowed to happen.

Very well. Logically, we have finally come face to face with the real enemy, and he is you and your feeble, low-C Christianity.

Now this is actually plausible, at least in part. Feeble Christians who end up allowing an ultimately inescapable and irresistible Leftist State to overrun them could very easily, at least following these logical premises that Rod lays out, find themselves in the conundrum of renouncing their faith in order to retrieve their own children from Leftist State Child Services foster care.

So the questions remaining unanswered are

2. If the material, political realm (including, implicitly, armed revolt) has already been foreclosed upon, or if you have already written it off as lost, through what avenues other than prayer do you intend to act to ensure you're never forced to choose between your faith and your children?

1. If, as Rod's logic leads us inescapably to conclude, the problem is ultimately your own insufficiently potent faith (because every possible alternative has already been written off conceptually, in Rod-tendered despair), what reason do we have to believe that blogger Rod Dreher is the person with the magic cream to cure what ails you and, reciprocally, your very church itself?

But, really, if you accept that you and your church truly are Rod-defined impotent, and if you're still foolish enough not to call Rod, who ya gonna call?


Epilogue: In the scenario of Rod's Benedict Option logic and the settings he ascribes for it, there is no way to account for the timeline of the Leftist State finalizing its "just a matter of time" and the timeline of Rod himself triumphantly having implemented his Benedict Option becoming benevolently synchronous in Rod's favor.

So if the Leftist State has already moved to foreclose his escape and, because he is obviously a high-profile troublemaker, Child Services already has his children, which will Rod himself choose?

1. He weeps for his lost children, but he refuses to publicly renounce his faith.

2. He publicly renounces his faith, and his children are returned to him.

I believe I'll coin this the Benedict Option Choice.

*In this post I am following Rod's own clearly stated premises to their logical conclusions. If his Benedict Option is salted with an open-ended number of handy ad hoc sophistic escape hatches and do-overs instead, then his Benedict Option remains what we always cynically believed it was, that is, whatever he says it is, on any given day, as long as it lures you into giving him your money in exchange for his book about it.

Monday, August 15, 2016

"On this one, Trump is absolutely correct."

An NRA article about Clinton on gun rights quotes a piece by Charles C. W. Cooke. Both are good, here's an excerpt from the NRA article:

As Charles C.W. Cooke writes, “As anybody with an elementary understanding of American law comprehends, one does not need to call [a constitutional] convention in order to effectively remove a provision from the Constitution.

Cooke explains what it would mean, if Clinton were elected and appointed even one anti-gun judge to the Supreme Court, and thereafter the Court overturned the Heller decision and declared that the amendment doesn’t protect an individual right to keep and bear arms.

“Should Hillary get her way, that right would disappear (at least legally), and the government would be freed up to make any policy choice it wished — up to and including a total ban. Who can say with a straight face that this wouldn’t be ‘essentially abolish the Second Amendment’? Who can claim without laughing that a reversal of Heller wouldn’t render the right a dead letter? On this one, Trump is absolutely correct.”

As we noted in October, Clinton has said that the Supreme Court’s decision in District of Columbia v. Heller(2008) was “wrong,” and as we noted in June, Clinton has also said that it was “a terrible ruling.” When asked on national television “do you believe that . . . an individual’s right to bear arms is a constitutional right,” Clinton refused to answer. She said only that the right “is subject to reasonable regulations,” and implied that “reasonable” would allow for every onerous gun law that came down the pike before Heller, including the handgun bans of the District of Columbia and Chicago, “assault weapon” and magazine bans in several states, and prohibitions on the carrying of firearms for protection, just to name a few.

Clinton refused to answer. We're used to that by now. Trump ought to try that now and again, you know, to mix it up a little. But Clinton's silence speaks volumes. I know I've noted it before, but a local Democrat Party leader I knew in Pennsylvania was also a life-long NRA member. And a single mom. When Obama made his famous clinging to guns remark he was not talking about Republicans or "right-wingers". He was talking about Americans.

Ownership of guns is a freedom issue, a security issue and a size of government issue. If no one is allowed to personally own a gun, government will have a bigger job protecting everyone. If personal gun ownership is ever made illegal it will be time for civil disobedience. Everyone has the God given right to defend themselves and their family.

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Why Rod Dreher is pushing a Hillary Clinton victory

Rod Dreher Hillary Clinton

Various email discussions over the past weeks have pondered who Rod Dreher will be voting for in the upcoming presidential race and have given several plausible reasons why, although Dreher himself has been coy about the matter on his blog in order to technically protect TAC's tax-exempt status.

Regardless of which candidate Dreher actually ends up pulling the lever for, here is who he is pushing to win, and why.

Who: Hillary Clinton

Why: The candidate most damaging to Christians will do the most to promote sales of his forthcoming Benedict Option book, delivered to the publisher just today, a book about, as Dreher himself touts it, the last, best and only hope for Christians at the end of the cultural line.

The better things are for Christians, the worse a book about a pointless and needless Benedict Option will sell. The worse things are for Christians, the better a book that purports to offer any hope at all will sell.

Demand, meet Supply. Or, rather, Supply, meet a Demand massaged as best the Supplier can manage to massage it.

Well, Keith, why do you say such a thing, readers may ask. Rod has already told us he cannot tell us who he favors for President. Why shouldn't we believe him?

He doesn't have to. His actions speak louder than any words ever could. And besides, it doesn't even matter who he votes for. What matters is how many votes he can steer to the candidate he needs to win to maximize his personal book sales profits. He doesn't need to vote at all so long as he steers enough votes to produce a Hillary win.

If one reads his posts over the last year, they are Trump-this and Trump-that out the wazoo, most of them either actively or passive-aggressively negative, with virtually no posts at all about candidate Hillary or any of her sins dating back decades.

Debbie Wasserman Schulz herself could have scheduled these non-existing Hillary posts in the same manner and for the same reasons she made poor Bernie Sanders try to make his case on television on a Saturday freaking night, for goodness sake, in order to effectively render the subject - in Dreher's case Hillary, in Schulz' case Bernie - virtually invisible.

But isn't Donald Trump just naturally more..."newsy"?

Sure enough. Trump is always saying things to make people's tongues wag.

But, although his style will always be Gawkerish at heart, believe it or not Rod Dreher's current beat really isn't the juiciest, most gossipy newsy tidbits of a TMZ or a Gawker. According to Rod, his passion and focus is being ostentatiously hip-deep in his own personal Christian holiness and, above everything else worldly, religious liberty and a fierce dedication to the protection of that religious liberty.

A religious liberty a Hillary Clinton presidency would end up stomping like Godzilla, before Godzilla then ate whatever mush remained.

But he hardly ever mentions Hillary Clinton. Why not? Why does he never mention the one candidate that everyone knows and every liberal dreams will do the most to damage the religious liberty of Christians in every way possible?

Because he needs a religious liberty stomped to mush by a Hillary Godzilla Clinton in order to drive sales of his prescriptive solution for mush-stomped religious liberty - his Benedict Option. If the financial motive were not so glaringly obvious, one might suspect Munchhausen by proxy.

To follow Dreher's comparative interest in Hillary Clinton is to be led to the belief that Hillary is spending her time only doing yoga and playing with her grandchildren, not trashing national security, not selling access to government for personal gain, definitely not working every angle available to change "...deep-seated cultural codes, religious beliefs and structural biases..."

Prove me wrong. Watch Dreher's past, present and future posts about the presidential candidates and score things for yourself. Trump will be held up as an appalling pariah; Hillary will be invisible; and a dependable percentage of Dreher's readers will end up voting for the major party candidate who has not been held up as an appalling pariah.

And, then, after Hillary ends up doing enough of this and that, particularly with the help of her newly energized Supreme Court, even you might fall into enough despair to buy Rod's Benedict Option book, if only as the worthless placebo you nevertheless desperately need in lieu of no other hope at all.

This is the true cultural wasteland for Christians, what Hannah Arendt called the "banality of evil": in this case, casual, premeditated betrayal by those you trust most. Your mother sells you to the biker gang passing through for a bag of meth. Your ostensibly most (self-declared) Christian hero sells you out with a smile to line his own pockets.

By the way, I hear Rod's Benedict Option book goes on sale shortly after Hillary's inauguration. Just in time.