Friday, July 31, 2015

Patronage and the Benedict Option

Who's the money man behind our prophet of the so-called Benedict Option, Rod Dreher?

Why, the same guy behind this effervescent sibling online option, for those times when your pop-cultural strategic retreat from popular culture has become too strategic and you just need a little sex expo talk to put you back in the mood.

The Benedict Option - just one more exciting contemporary consumer choice brought to you by the man behind the D Empire and The American Conservative.

Like they say, if you can't tell what the product is - in this case, what in the world the Benedict Option might be - you're the product.

UPDATE (as they say): With respect to the book they'll be making out of this movie, Rod's now telling us

[NFR: Well, for the record, my Benedict Option book is going to blow apart any shallow conservative idea that all was well until the 1960s... 

Which tells us in no uncertain terms a whole bunch of our churches must have still been all messed up and in need of a good Rod-fixin' long before those first missiles of October, 1962.

Write that book, Rod. The cure can't get here too soon

UPDATE 2: Here's what that patronage buys. Wick Allison buys the Dreher family's health care and the food Rod's meager book sales can't possibly cover. Wick Allison is a long time Obamacon. Rod Dreher feeds from the Wick Allison teat, therefore...

Instead of Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, Harry Reid, or any Democrats who actually take money from PP, Rod Dreher calls out Republican John Boehner to speak out about Planned Parenthood - because a staff member of Boehner's happens to have a relative who works for PP.

That's how the Benedict Option works: those with the Benedict Option gold make the real Benedict Option rules.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Is the Benedict Option Islamic?

Diane beat me to the BINGO buzzer on Tom's insightful comment (RTWT) and so I decided to do a whole post on my thoughts. The key point to me was the so-called Benedict Option as “an application of the emotion of fear to today's circumstances”. After pondering this, Pikkumatti rhetorically asked “Hasn't ‘fear of the modern world’ been the prime source of conflict in the Islamic world over the recent past?”

That sent my mind racing back about seven years ago when Daniel Nichols made an interesting prediction – somewhat humorously – about Dreher’s religious future. I consider Nichols to be very intelligent and possessing a keen insight into the nature of spiritual things, although I disagree with him about mostly everything touching political matters. His prediction was Dreher’s next step would be to convert to Islam out of frustration at the state of evangelical Christianity. At first I frowned at this as being over the top and unlikely, even as the vehicle to make an intended point. But it seems to me now like he might have been onto something.

Muslims practice a form of colonization as part of their living out of the hijrah when they emigrate. So you will see places where Muslims are overrepresented like Dearborn, for example, or even my old nabe in North Olmsted. It’s about more than just safety in numbers; they actively resist assimilation and start pushing for the acceptance of Sharia law. You can see that happening big time in England, and it's starting to happen here. They are masters at this, and polls show that a majority of Muslims in America would prefer to be under Islamic law.

Do Christians – or Catholics in particular – want to live under a theocratic system? Obviously not, since many Catholics don’t even listen to the magisterium on moral issues. Protestants don't because “look what happened in the middle ages,” a sentiment with which I provisionally agree. So liberal Catholics get involved in social justice concerns, Conservative Catholics join pro-life groups and religious freedom defense funds, American protestant Christians proliferate new, exciting, democratically-run denominations. But all of this represents reaching out, not erecting barricades. Very few members of any of these Christian subgroups are interested in establishing gated ghettos. Why not? They aren't scared enough to circle the wagons. Fear is noticeably missing from Christianity.

Islam is different because of the motivation of fear.

In what is arguably G. K. Chesterton's greatest book, The Everlasting Man, he mused that the cross as “a thing at right angles pointing boldly in opposite directions” was an apt symbol of Christianity, the circle or wheel was the symbol of the eastern religions, symbolizing a closed world at the mercy of cyclic impersonal forces, and the swastika was like a cross turning back into a wheel. It can be seen that the crescent and the scimitar have replaced the swastika in the 21st century, and so the Islamist move back toward the circle of violence and fear is succeeding where the Nazis failed.

So when the Benedict Option is seen to be a circling of the wagons I think there is at least a hint of the motivation of fear. When the objection is made by proponents of the Benedict Option that it's not a retreat from public life, well, neither is the hijra, although it might appear as one to the ignorant observer. It is a waiting game. It is a resettlement as Ann Corcoran argues in the book I linked to. I'm sure there would be even stronger objections to the suggestion that the Benedict Option would be a Christian version of a no-go zone, but there is sort of a compound-ish, commune-ish vibe hidden beneath all the “strategic withdrawal” veneer.

I don’t believe that Dreher will convert to Islam and I definitely would never predict that. But I do think he wishes, perhaps earnestly, that Christians would be more like Muslims especially in the fear department. Si vis pacem para bellum, of course. But the question is how does one prepare? If Christians were determined to resist by actively not being part of society rather than keeping themselves “unstained by the world”, there would be a lot more acceptance of a need for the so-called Benedict Option on their part.

Tom Tommorow's artist conception of Rod Dreher

[Here is some recently-published related reading material which readers may wish to read and comment on.]

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

I hope this dog is on the watchlist

H/T Pam Gellar.

"And Everything Anyone Else Means at Any Given Moment, Too"

As we here at EQE have said all along, from its inception Rod Dreher's so-called Benedict Option play has been nothing more than an open-ended, anything-encompassing cypher cannily crafted to land a publishing deal about whatever could be stuffed into that dimensionless container.

Not only does "The Benedict Option Means Precisely What I Choose It to Mean at Any Given Moment" as Pauli first reported here, now it also officially means "Everything Anyone Else Means at Any Given Moment, Too":

So, we are going to see a proliferation of “options,” and that’s okay by me. Just remember that even though I’m going to make in my book a specifically Benedictine case for the Benedict Option, the term itself is a catch-all for responses based on accepting MacIntyre’s judgment on the dead end of modern moral discourse, and on a determination to act radically to build social and other structures capable of sheltering, preserving, and growing the Christian faith as the broader culture grows more hostile to orthodox Christianity. Call it what you want, but that’s what we share.

Incidentally, here's Dreher's IKYABWAI response to Tom Piatak's critique of the big BO, commandeering the Rorshach imagery from John Zmirak's post:

[NFR: Chronicles, huh? Mmmmph. Yeah, it’s psychologically fascinating to watch certain people squirm so vigorously about this stuff. It’s turning into a Rorshach test on the right. Some of these guys, you wonder what they have to lose if people start taking the Benedict Option seriously, and trying to figure out how to live it locally. — RD

Heart of a lion in the determination to act radically to build social and other structures capable of sheltering, preserving, and growing the Christian faith department there, I'd say, wouldn't you?

So, bottom line, as he did with this BO project's parental unit, Crunchy Cons, Rod Dreher is going to take anyone's comments containing the word "option" and try to pitch a publisher on letting him write a book about them entitled The Benedict Option.

The only question remaining at this point is who the lucky publisher might be.

Thanks for reading our blog. For current commentary and what-not, visit the Est Quod Est homepage

Keith to launch Catholic newsletter to sell The Keith Project™

Readers of this blog have known from the beginning, possibly to the secret dismay of my co-bloggers, that I'm not Catholic, only a bad, frequently lapsed cradle Methodist. I'm neither proud nor ashamed of that fact, it just is what it is.

But I'm understandably excited to discover that, in this Internet age of quick cyber-linking, there's no reason at all I can't use a Catholic newsletter as a vehicle wrapper to sell my beloved Keith Project.

The model for my inspiration is the new The Benedict Post launched just this month by a secret blogger I'll call Muzhik from now on for want of a better name. Most of the time I'll also refer to that blog as Benny instead, for two reasons.

The main reason is obvious: when I or any of my co-bloggers or anyone else for that matter refers to a post by St. Benedict, none of us wants to be cannily roped into the trap of inadvertently shilling for Muzhik's blog (this is the same reason the people at Roget's Thesaurus gave me when I suggested the growing popularity of "keith" as a synonym for "good").

The other reason is that the effusive, profane peppy tone of Benny reminds me of nothing so much as Lena Dunham's very similar new newsletter, Lenny.

But Keith, you ask, how can you, a non-Catholic, possibly launch a Catholic newsletter? And what is The Keith Project?

First things first: nothing to it.

Like, well, sort of like a cowbird laying its eggs in another bird's nest to be raised as its own, in the age of the Internet it will be nothing for me to scrounge together enough Catholic-related links to create the sort of Big Lots of Catholicism Muzhik has just launched.

And even better, as the one controlling that artificial compendium, I get to choose what gets emphatically placed as some kind of regular feature, in this case my beloved Keith Project which everyone is talking about, in a way that it draws prestige and gravitas from the Catholicism surrounding it.

But, Keith, you persist, what about those who would accuse you of not being Catholic?

Who says I'm not Catholic? Oh, right; I did. Okay, then, maybe I'll need to get a secret Muzhik of my own, Catholic, Jehovah's Witness, vegetarian, whatever. Wait a minute. No, I won't. I'll just do this and this instead:

Just look at The Keith Post and what will you see? Wall to wall Catholicism, as far as the eye can see, and at deep, deep discounted prices! So much for "conspiracy theorists" saying "we", The Keith Post, isn't Catholic!

But I'm not there yet. I'm still going to have to master hurling breathless, exclamatory tweets like an M2 spitting rounds down range. Like these:

"The latest edition of The Benedict Post is out!"

"For the evening crowd, here's the new edition of The Benedict Post"

"If you missed this week's edition yesterday, here it is"

"If you enjoy our newsletter, you can subscribe via email"

Christ and the saints would be jazzed, don't you think? Especially because, unlike the money changers in the temple, it's free!

But once I master that ShamWow tweeting style, I can then seamlessly blend in my own promotions and explainers (see cowbird eggs, above) whenever I want. Here's how Muzhik does it:

My version: sure, #KeithProject calls for talking your wife into letting you install a Sony XBR-85X950B 4K TV in your garage man cave. But a TV carries many channels. Think about it.

Okay, Keith, you continue to whine, irritatingly, but why a Catholic newsletter? Why not a Hollywood gossip newsletter or a model airplane newsletter?

What do you have against Catholics? Are you anti-Catholic? (Again, see cowbird, above.) How dare you question The Keith Post, effusively overflowing with Catholicism and only regular, periodic promotions and explainers about my beloved Keith Project! How dare you!

See how that works? Can't do that with a Hollywood gossip or a model airplane newsletter, nopers.Well, maybe a cowbird could.

But, finally, I'm going to have to line up some cronies to help me shill this thing

Anyone? Beuller?

Remember, in The Keith Project there are many channels.

And, you know, if you're moved to donate, too, I can set up a tax-deductible thingy like, snap!

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Does Faigy Mayer prefigure the Benedict Option?

The Benedict Option - like the Hotel California?

Yes, I know, the late Faigy Mayer was raised in an intentional Hasidic Jewish community and, so far as we can tell, Rod Dreher's incoherent Benedict Option is ostensibly a movement applicable only to Christians.

The optimistic assumption inherent in such a Benedict Option then becomes: since Orthodox Benedict Option Christians are effectively a different human species from Orthodox Hasidic Jews, the former's radically anti-secular Orthodox Benedict Option Christian communities will naturally be immune to any undesirable elements comprising radically anti-secular Orthodox Hasidic Jewish communities, particularly those which might drive some members to despair and suicide.

Before I go any further let me reemphasize that, as Pauli has just enumerated and as I have also pointed out here and here,  the majority of Christians, traditional, Orthodox, and otherwise see their mission as one of living hip deep in the thick of the secular fray - that's the basic operating instruction that comes with the faith.

Others, however, particularly the Benedict Option's inventor Rod Dreher, have self-documented histories of faring poorly offline, and so a radical repudiation of the world the rest of us all find ourselves in can already be understood as much as a natural psychological tropism as it might a hip new Christian-flavored adventure to assuage pesky modern ennui.

Thus the world of Faigy Mayer could still be instructive to those whose interest has been piqued by the slickly vague marketing behind the Benedict Option to date but who have not yet irrevocably turned their careers or life savings into Benedict Option reality.

She went on to detail things about the ultra-Orthodox that most secular people know — “arranged marriages, strict segregation of the genders, the wife shaving her head, the couple having sex with the wife wearing a bra in the complete dark (hole in the sheet, anyone) but still producing thirteen children generally throughout her lifetime, working for cash only so that Uncle Sam can help with food stamps, Section 8 and Medicaid.”

Then there are things the secular world doesn’t know, things that make leaving seem insurmountable. Imagine not knowing that the sun is a star, or that there’s a solar system. Imagine not knowing what a human cell is, or what menstruation is, or, until you’re 18 and three weeks away from your arranged marriage, what sex is and how it works. Imagine never asking for a puppy growing up, because dogs bark, and that means they are beasts and demons. Imagine you have been told for your entire life that in the secular world, people mainly rape, pillage and murder, that it’s all a lawless meaningless free-for-all, and you are safe only in your little enclave, where these things do not happen.

I was also struck by this interesting tidbit,

 A source close to her family says Mayer suffered from bipolar disorder and schizophrenia, but several OTD members tell The Post the community commonly makes such claims about those who leave.

given the eerie parallel with the way the Benedict Option's inventor blithely paints those who disagree with him as "sinners" suffering from "derangement". Somewhere L. Ron Hubbard must be smiling.


“Faigy was very independent from the time she was a child,” says Pearl Reich, who left her ultra-Orthodox sect years ago and knew Mayer through Footsteps, a group that helps those who leave. “That kind of child is a threat, and the parents treat them differently — I heard that from her. She comes from a very, very fanatical group. I am extremely upset that the media is saying she died from a mental illness. This is a cult.”

If, as Rod Dreher is now adamantly claiming, BOppers will not be retreating into monasteries, could this be the alternative way they come to be instructed to be "in the world but not of the world"?

To most secular New Yorkers, it seems incomprehensible that even the most devout, observant ultra-Orthodox Jews would be so cut off from the modern world — after all, they walk the streets of New York, are exposed to advertising and storefronts, to the subways and roads, to the shared outside stimuli.

Yet the ultra-Orthodox do all they can to insulate themselves. Most do not have secular jobs. They are married at 18 years of age, arranged marriages all — falling in love is a sin. Women are expected to have at least six children, preferably 12.

Children don’t go to secular schools: Boys study only religious texts, while girls, at least, get the rudiments of math. Many don’t finish high school, and those who do have no transcripts. College is forbidden, and so there are no ultra-Orthodox doctors.

“One of my first transgressions, when I was 24 or 25 and got my first car, was to take a drive to the local public library,” says Shulem Deen, who chronicled his excommunication from the Hasidic community in his recent memoir, “All Who Go Do Not Return.

“I accidentally wandered into the children’s section and discovered the World Book Encyclopedia. Those books seemed to contain all the information the world could ever need. I’d be sitting there next to a little boy reading the Berenstain Bears, going back and back to the encyclopedia.”

At the time, Deen was married to a Hasidic woman. They had three children and lived in a Hasidic community in Rockland County, but the more curious Deen became about the outside world, the more the marriage foundered. Deen’s spiritual drift played out over years, each transgression a brief portal into an unknown world.

“Next, we had a Panasonic cassette player with a radio attached,” he says. “Radio is forbidden. If you bought that kind of cassette player, you were supposed to break off the antenna, put masking tape over the channel indicators, and Krazy Glue the play button.”

Naturally, it won't be Rod Dreher Krazy Gluing the play button; such obedience to the lifestyles he is wont to preach about is for those in the cheap seats, not for him.

But if Rod Dreher's Benedict Option is not to be simply a self-rewarding book marketing snipe, a will-o'-the-wisp, a mere cypher, or "precisely what I choose it to mean at any given moment", then, sooner or later it has to become something.

And if that something is to be anything more than an online hipster salon "taking the Benedict Option" by incessantly talking about itself, but rather, in sharp contrast to Christians living hip deep "on mission right here and now", by instead deliberately living as "exiles" - how does anyone imagine any inherent logic remaining to ultimately play itself out?

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.

Thanks for reading our blog. For current commentary and what-not, visit the Est Quod Est homepage