Monday, July 27, 2015

Around the Internets, Vol. 4

There is only so much time in the day, and yet there are so many people weighing in on the so-called Benedict Option, that there is only one thing we can do. Yes, you guessed it. It's time for... (drum roll) ...Around the Internets Volume 4!!!

For you newer readers, this is a feature I started over a year ago, at which time I described it as "A quick digest of stuff which I've seen, read, noticed, thought 'Gee I ought to blog that', etc. over the last 4 or 5 months."

This time I'm not going back months, but only several days. It seems like all kinds of people have felt the urge to weigh in on the so-called Benedict Option despite Tyrell Northcutt's recent recommendation that this topic be discussed only by "friends around a common table". First we hear from Cleveland's own Tom Piatak who coincidentally showed up in AtI, v2. It's fairly short; here are some pertinent excerpts:

It is a little hard to tell exactly what “The Benedict Option” is, but it does seem to involve at least some withdrawal from public life by conservative Christians.
....One of the reasons the Republicans find the abortion status quo convenient is because abortion remains a live issue.  They know that millions of people vote for Republican candidates because of their pro-life convictions, and they also know that many of these people would stop voting Republican if the party officially became pro-abortion or authoritatively conceded that the battle to give legal protection to the unborn was over.  No matter how cynically politicians treat abortion, it is hard to say that any position has become dominant in America when a major political party claims to take the opposite position, its presidents and presidential candidates profess to support the opposite position, and at least some of the justices on the Supreme Court continue to dissent from the decision that is the focus of the opposition.   Indeed, no one who pays any attention at all to American life can fail to notice that a substantial portion of the population does not accept the morality of abortion.

If “The Benedict Option” means a withdrawal from public life, that is where I fear it will l lead: with the issue addressed by Obergefell treated as a dead one, both politically and morally.  That is not where we are today, whatever the New York Times and the Washington Post may want us to believe.  Advocates of “The Benedict Option” may want to consider this before heading for the hills.

It's refreshing to hear someone pointing out the facts we're dealing with here and looking at the consequences of accepting defeat. This dovetails with my belief that although some type of flight from the world might be the only way of salvation for some, having every Christian adopt this withdrawal attitude would mean certain good ideas would be simply cast aside, e.g., starting a Catholic radio station like our new one in Cleveland, or a Catholic publishing company, an outreach group at your parish, etc.

But it is possible that the Benedict Option attitude may have even more disastrous consequences, as pointed out by Thomas O. Meehan in a post today. Excerpt:

Rod Dreher's hobbyhorse snapped under him today.  His horse is the "Benedict Option."  It is his pathetic attempt to have something to say after he gave up on Christians retaking their own societies.  The Benedict option is a call for Christians to withdraw from the public square just as he withdrew to rural Louisiana.  It's a cold cruel post Christian world out there so let's just keep a low profile and tend our little common spiritual garden. I don't know if he really believes this, but he has to write something to stay in business.

Today, oblivious to the obvious, he came out with a call for the US to save the remaining Christians of the Middle East.  The headline:  THE GENOCIDE OF CHRISTIANS

Can Dreher really be so un-selfaware as to miss the message here? 

Clearly, if any group of Christians followed the so called Benedict Option, it is these very victims on the point of extinction.  They kept a low profile.  They kept to themselves.  They cultivated their Christian tradition. They were kind to others. They are the perfect exemplar of the Dreher's mealy-mouth mentality and now they face extinction.

The answer to Tom's question in the third paragraph is: YES. He has no awareness of self, of consequences or of contradictions in his thinking.

Dreher doesn't seem to know who St. Benedict was in any detail.  The founder of Western Monasticism  is a poor model for a whole Christian society's withdrawal from an evil society.  By definition Monks are not the basis of a reproducing population.  Becoming a Monk is rather the point of Monasticism.  It depends on a Christian culture to feed it with more recruits.

A further and more important point here is that St. Benedict did not withdraw from a pagan society.  He operated in a largely Christian one that became more, not less Christian as time went by.  There was no organized opposition to the monastic movement until the reformation.

Mr. Meehan is spot on here, and the only defense that a Benedict Option defender has against his fact-based smack-down is the old standby of he doesn't understand what the BenOp really is.

Before I move from paleoconservative critiques to those of the Wall Street Journal and Crisis Magazine, you will all have to oblige me a comic parallel of which I'm forcibly reminded.

Bats are rodents, no matter how much they remind a little boy with an overactive imagination of insects. And becoming a monk is the point of monasticism, no matter how much monks remind a hipster of good food, homemade beer, cool architecture and a safe space on the campus of modern, secular America.

David Skeel seems to take a more empathetic and nuanced approach to the BO in his WSJ piece, but his conclusion is the same: this is not a time to flee the fight. Excerpt:

It isn’t clear what effect the Benedict Option would have on American political life. Even if one envisions the Benedict Option as “strategic attentiveness” to the cultivation of virtue, rather than “strategic retreat,” as Alan Jacobs, another prominent Christian writer has advocated, the Benedict Option implies a reduced engagement in the messy business of politics. At a time when religious freedom is viewed by many as expendable, and appears in scare quotes or their equivalent in major U.S. newspapers for the first time in American history, the practical consequences of reduced engagement could be considerable.

Then he states something which sounds a lot like what I said in my Family Option post. I even mentioned turning off network television.

Yet even those of us who are skeptical of the Benedict Option can acknowledge the benefits of cultivating virtue, engaging more fully in our local communities and perhaps turning off the TV more often. Given the sometimes judgmental tendencies of theologically conservative Christians during the culture wars of the recent past, traditional Christians also might do well to focus a little more on showing what Christian morality looks like, and less on how others conduct their lives.

The problem is that the left is extremely focused on "how others conduct their lives", especially Christians, and in my experience, they are the real busy-bodies. Liberals make Christians look like complete noobs by comparison at trashing reputations. Whether it's public shaming like these sued and fined bakeries are enduring or the application of Alinsky's rule 4, the left has always been more publicly moralistic. You can't convince me otherwise.

Lastly I have to point to Austin Ruse's excellect article in Crisis where he proposes that the real model for confronting the problems in the modern world is Opus Dei, not monasticism. Excerpt:

Something happened to lay spirituality around the time of the rise of monasteries. As important as their work in maintaining Catholic culture, they also tended to create a clericalism that is with us even today. For centuries it came to be known that spiritual perfection was only for the vowed or ordained. Such perfection was not for the laymen. His perfection came almost as scraps from the table of the monks and priests. With the exception of St. Frances de Sales’s “Introduction to the Devout Life,” most of the great classics in spirituality were written not for laymen but for the vowed and ordained.

So little were the laity considered by the hierarchical Church that prior to the Second Vatican Council the laity were defined by what they weren’t, not ordained or vowed, and with no recognized unique vocation.

And even today you see this clericalism whenever an obviously devout young man is told he ought to be a priest.

The ancient Church would not have shared this view. And neither did St. Josemaria. His vision was that laymen were called to the same heights of spiritual perfection as the vowed and ordained and that such a unique lay vocation was on par with the others.

Escriva taught something the earliest Church knew quite well, the universal call to holiness, something that became, under his influence, a key teaching in the Second Vatican Council. At least a part of the Protestant Reformation was related to a rejection of this spiritual elitism.

Escriva said laymen need not remove themselves to monasteries to achieve perfection and that the places they would find Christ were precisely in the home and in the workplace. And it was there they would bring others to the Gospel.

The seeming revolutionary nature of this proposal is recognized by the reception St. Josemaria received when he first took it to Rome. They said he was 100 years too early.

My experience with negative reactions to Opus Dei from religious Catholics has been mostly that there is a lack of the dramatic, e.g., leaving a 6-figure job and moving back to an old family farm. If you get involved with Opus Dei, you'll hear things put in a very matter of fact and practical way. It's all pretty much "meat and potatoes" Catholicism. You're not going to hear a lot of complaints about the clergy around an Opus Dei center. Instead you'll hear things like "What can we as the laity do to help?" St. Escriva himself famously said "It is very much our mission to turn the prose of this life into poetry, into heroic verse." He also pointed out many times that Christ lived 30 years in private life "passing unnoticed". Ask yourself: is this the ideal of the rock star, of the movie star, of the famous internet blogger, of the journalist coming up with the way to save Christendom:

You want to be a martyr. I will place a martyrdom within your reach: to be an apostle and not to call yourself an apostle, to be a missionary — with a mission — and not to call yourself a missionary, to be a man of God and to seem a man of the world: to pass unnoticed!

Well, Jesus said something which sounded very, very similar. But to the modern wordsmith this is not cool, not cool at all. They might think something like "Well, maybe it would be cool if other people passed unnoticedlike Noah Millman, for examplebut not me and my BenOp. I have a book to sell, dang it!"

Of course I totally agree with Mr. Ruse that Opus Dei is a much better model for Christian lay people than a so-called Benedict Option. At the very least people searching for answers should check it out. After all, it actually exists, and has been growing explosively since it's inception in 1928. There's a good reason for that.

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  1. This is soooo good, Pauli. Gotta share on FB!

  2. As another perceptive blogger just recently pointed out

    Was David Daleiden violating the Benedict Option when he spent 30 months infiltrating Planned Parenthood to
    expose their profiteering? Should he have concentrated instead on building up a “countercultural” community
    of Christians who don’t traffic in baby parts?

    Of course, taking the Benedict Option leaves one little time for such messy, stomach-turning, face-to-face combat with evil.

    Still, Christianity probably has a place for all her children, her warrior witnesses, and her fruity drink-sucking papayas.

    1. Good points as usual from Mr. Z. Mr. Z should start a blog called WDRDRS (What Does Rod Dreher Really Say?)

  3. "Mo-om!!! They keep changing my book concept!!!"

    (My emphasis):

    Our country indeed seems less like home than it once did. It’s becoming foreign to us. But that fact does not make us exiles, waiting here for the chance to return home — that is, to a more Christian-friendly America — so that we can get to work once we’re safely there. Instead, like expatriate students or diplomats, we’re here on mission right here and now. We long for no other home; none but heaven, and when get there our mission will have been accomplished. For now we are exactly where we belong, at the time and place where God put us.

    We don’t really want to see this. The very word expatriate carries little of exile’s romantic cachet. “Expatriate” evokes instead a quiet, patient sense of duty. You are far from home for a season with a job to do. It will demand discomfort and sacrifice. You might never be recognized for it, at least in this life. All this is true.
    But just how enthused are we likely to be about it?

    Rod Dreher tells us there’s a conversation to be started about our identity in this new age. I agree. But let’s begin in a better place. Let’s discuss what it means to be expatriates, here on purpose and on a mission, for as long as God leaves us here. We may not be at home, but we’re right where He wants us. And we’ve got work to do.

  4. Thanks very much for noticing my piece!

    By the way, speaking of Cleveland, I hope to see you at the meeting of the John Randolph Club, in Cleveland, on October 23-24: