Thursday, March 16, 2017

Introduction: The Awakening

The Benedict Option begins with a short introduction.  There was a time when Dreher believed that being a conservative and being a Christian were virtually synonymous.  But the birth of his first child had the affect Mencken attributed to the prospect of hanging: it concentrated his mind wonderfully.  He realized that some of the causes championed by conservatives, especially the free market, actually worked to undermine the family, an essential institution which ought to have been conserved.

These thoughts were sussed out in Dreher's first book, Crunchy Cons, published in 2006.  Tellingly, its subtitle refers to the salvation of the Republican Party.  His most recent effort expresses no such intent.  Interestingly, however, Crunchy Cons did reference the work of Alasdair MacIntyre, whose book After Virtue, concludes with a quotation that inspired The Benedict Option:

“It is always dangerous to draw too precise parallels between one historical period and another; and among the most misleading of such parallels are those which have been drawn between our own age in Europe and North America and the epoch in which the Roman empire declined into the Dark Ages.  Nonetheless certain parallels there are.  A crucial turning point in that earlier history occurred when men and women of good will turned aside from the task of shoring up the Roman imperium and ceased to identify the continuation of civility and moral community with the maintenance of that imperium.  What they set themselves to achieve instead–often not recognizing fully what they were doing–was the construction of new forms of community within which the moral life could be sustained so that both morality and civility might survive the coming ages of barbarism and darkness.  If my account of our moral condition, we ought also to conclude that for some time now we too have reached that turning point.  What matters at this stage is the construction of local forms of community within which civility and the intellectual and moral life can be sustained through the new dark ages which are already upon us.  And if the tradition of the virtues was able to survive the horrors of the last dark ages, we are not entirely without grounds for hope.  This time, however, the barbarians are not waiting beyond the frontiers; they have already been governing us for quite some time.  And it is our lack of consciousness of this that constitutes part of our predicament.  We are waiting not for a Godot, but for another–doubtless very different–St. Benedict.”

Whence Benedict and his option.  What changed over the course of the ten years between Dreher's first and most recent book?  There is a simple, though slightly misleading answer.  Two events happened in as many months that exposed the character of our supposedly Christian nation.  First, Indiana passed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which sought to provide a legal avenue whereby citizens could defend themselves if sued for discrimination.  Corporations and the media lined up against the bill, denouncing its proponents as bigots.  Not willing to side against their corporate masters, the Republicans of Indiana backed down.  Two months later, the Surpreme Court made gay marriage the law of the land.  The triumphant left, bereft of a cause, turned to transgender rights so as to continue the crusade.

As I said, simple.  But also misleading, because these decisions didn't erode the foundations of Christian culture: they revealed them to be disintegrated.  Obergefell, the Supreme Court decision, was of tremendous symbolical importance.  Whether its members were willing to admit it or not, the secular left was ascendant.  And numbers notwithstanding, committed Christians were a minority--and probably had been for some time.

The book is divided into two parts.  In the first, "[Dreher] will define the challenge of post-Christian America as [he] sees it."  In the second, "[he] will discuss how the way of Christian living prescribed by the Rule [of St. Benedict] can be adapted to the lives of modern conservative Christians of all churches and confessions."

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