A World Apart

The New Yorker a few weeks back had an insightful profile of columnist and blogger Rod Dreher, a religious traditionalist who urges his fellow traditionalists to form their own communities of faith within but apart from the greater secular society.


Excerpt:

In the main, however, Christians have sought to make America itself one big Christian community. Dreher thinks that this effort, most recently associated with the religious right, has been a disastrous mistake—it has led Christians to worship the idol of politics instead of strengthening their own faith.

“I believe that politics in the Benedict Option should be localist,” he said. The idea was not to enter a monastery, exactly. But Christians should consider living in tight-knit, faith-centered communities, in the manner of Modern Orthodox Jews. They should follow rules and take vows. They should admit that the culture wars had been lost—same-sex marriage was the law of the land—and focus on their own spiritual lives. They should strive to make Christian life meaningfully different from life under high-tech, secular capitalism; they should take inspiration from Catholic dissidents under Communism, such as the Czech activist Václav Benda, who advocated the creation of a “parallel polis”—a society within a society. They should pray more often. Start their own schools. Move near their church. St. Benedict, Dreher said, didn’t try to “make Rome great again.” He tended his own garden, finding a way to live that served as “a sign of contradiction” to the declining world around him.

The article continues:

The writer Andrew Sullivan, who is gay and Catholic, is one of Dreher’s good friends. … Sullivan has a long-standing disagreement with Dreher over same-sex marriage, but he believes that the religiously devout should be permitted their dissent.

“There is simply no way for an orthodox Catholic to embrace same-sex marriage,” he said. “The attempt to conflate that with homophobia is a sign of the unthinking nature of some liberal responses to religion. I really don’t think that florists who don’t want to contaminate themselves with a gay wedding should in any way be compelled to do so. I think any gay person that wants them to do that is being an asshole, to be honest—an intolerant asshole. Rod forces you to understand what real pluralism is: actually accepting people with completely different world views than your own.”

The profile’s writer, Joshua Rothman, notes that Dreher:

…argues that “the question is not really ‘What are you conservative Christians prepared to tolerate?’ but actually ‘What are LGBTs and progressive allies prepared to tolerate?’ ” He wants them to be magnanimous in victory; to refrain from pressing their advantage. Essentially, he says to progressives: You’ve won. You wouldn’t sue Orthodox Jews or observant Muslims. Please don’t sue us, either.

13 Comments for “A World Apart”

  1. posted by Kosh III on

    ‘Please don’t sue us, either.”
    We will stop pursuing equality when we have it.
    We will stop suing these folks when they stop using the coercive power of the state to steal, kill and destroy gay people.
    See Pence, Texas, Mississippi, Alabama, Falwell, etc etc etc.

    Reply
    • posted by TJ III on

      1. Quite a few people — here and elsewhere — have laid out a framework where we can respect civil rights and religious freedom. What do 99% of the “religious freedom” activists do in response; ignore, distort and make shi@ up. Their is a pretty solid framework — based on past case law — to respect civil rights and religious freedom

      Reply
  2. posted by Tom Scharbach on

    In the main, however, Christians have sought to make America itself one big Christian community.

    The Christian propensity to mold the world into “one big Christian community” didn’t originate in America, but has a long history extending back over the centuries, at least to the days of Constantine. Whenever and wherever Christianity (or a branch thereof) finds itself in the majority within a political unit/subunit, Christianity (or the branch thereof) has attempted to dominate the laws and culture of that political unit/subunit, with attendant persecution of all others, as relentlessly as water cuts through rock.

    America was founded, in large part, by Christian refugees from escaping persecution by other Christians determined to mold the world into “one big Christian community” that reflected their version of Christianity. And, with the notable exception of the Quakers, no sooner had the different varieties of Christian refugees established a foothold in American than the cycle repeated itself, with the Christian refugees within each colony attempting to to mold the colony into “one big Christian community” that reflected their version of Christianity, suppressing those, including other Christians, who did not share that vision. Hence Massachusetts drove out dissenters who founded Rhode Island, Maryland and Virginia engaged in protracted political warfare across the Catholic/Anglican divide, and so on.

    Christians in the United States continued the pattern for the next 150-odd years, through two Great Awakenings, the anti-Catholic Know Nothing movement, the expulsion of the Mormons, the Blaine Amendments, and so on, until the United States settled into a bowlderized cultural Christianity in the post-WWII era, epitomized by Norman Vincent Peale and Fulton John Sheen, comfortable/comforting for mainstream Protestants and Catholics, largely unthinking/unquestioned, a form of cultural Christianity that favored surface piety and cultural obedience/conformity. This was the cultural Christianity of Dwight Eisenhower (Eisenhower’s favorite hymn, reportedly, was “I Believe”, a fascinating example of the bowlderization of the era) to which Ronald Reagan so visibly longed for and sought to reestablish.

    In the 1960’s that bowlderized version of cultural Christianity was challenged on many fronts — premarital sex, birth control, abortion, adultery, divorce, homosexuality, long hair and short skirts, anti-war protests, sit-downs, elimination of Sunday laws, and so on — and the status quo imposed by the cultural Christian consensus started to fray. The challenge was not so much that anyone started to do anything different so much as it was that people started to do it visibly, shattering the surface piety and cultural obedience/conformity that marked the cultural sleepwalking of the time.

    Within that context, the “Culture Wars” — a Christian backlash — were as inevitable as stormy weather. I don’t know how this latest iteration of the battle between Christians who want to mold the world into “one big Christian community” will turn out, but a lot depends on whether or not Christians can give up the propensity to use temporal power to achieve that end. I’m not sanguine about the prospects, for reasons I’ll explore later.

    Dreher thinks that this effort, most recently associated with the religious right, has been a disastrous mistake — it has led Christians to worship the idol of politics instead of strengthening their own faith.

    I think, as an outsider, that the thirst for temporal power in recent years has, as always throughout history, been disastrous for Christians and just about everyone else, but it seems to me that this is a question for Christians to consider and answer among themselves.

    But Christians should consider living in tight-knit, faith-centered communities, in the manner of Modern Orthodox Jews. They should follow rules and take vows. They should admit that the culture wars had been lost — same-sex marriage was the law of the land — and focus on their own spiritual lives. They should strive to make Christian life meaningfully different from life under high-tech, secular capitalism; they should take inspiration from Catholic dissidents under Communism, such as the Czech activist Václav Benda, who advocated the creation of a “parallel polis” — a society within a society. They should pray more often. Start their own schools. Move near their church. St. Benedict, Dreher said, didn’t try to “make Rome great again.” He tended his own garden, finding a way to live that served as “a sign of contradiction” to the declining world around him.

    Jews have had long experience (dating back to the Babylonian captivity) living in diaspora, and have worked out ways of living (typically apart to one extent or another) in hostile cultures while being both observant and faithful. Jews have been at it so long, in fact, that there are two versions of the Talmud, dating back millennia, one for Jews living in Israel and one for Jews living in diaspora.

    I can understand Dreher’s enthusiasm for following the model of the modern Orthodox (trying to follow the model of traditional Orthodox, like the Chabad or the Hasidim, is probably a bridge too far), but I’m not sure that the model can be followed by Christians because of two differences between Judaism and Christianity:

    (1) A basic tenet of Christian theology is that there is but one way to God (John 14:6 “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”)

    (2) Another basic tenet of Christian theology, closely related, is the conviction that Christians are charged to convert the world (Matthew 28:18 18 “Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”).

    Judaism shares neither of those two basic tenets.

    Jews believe that the Law was given unto them, and that they are chosen to become a light to the nations, but the Covenant, an agreement between God and the Jews, is applicable to Jews, not to the nations. As a result, Jews do not claim that Judaism is the exclusive way to God, but only that the Law is the way to God given by God to the Jews. That is a subtle difference between Jewish thinking and Christian thinking, to be sure, but it leads to a difference in how Jews and Christians approach the world. Jews have no equivalent of the “Great Commission”, no commandment to evangelize or seek converts, and do not do so.

    Because Jews do not hold fast to “One Way” in the sense that Christians so, and do not seek to evangelize or convert the world, the Jewish model lends itself to “living apart”, living in diaspora, finding ways to stand apart from a hostile world yet live observantly and faithfully. I don’t think that Christianity can, given the differences, live out the Jewish model and remain faithful to their own theology.

    Dreher “argues that “the question is not really ‘What are you conservative Christians prepared to tolerate?’ but actually ‘What are LGBTs and progressive allies prepared to tolerate?’ ” He wants them to be magnanimous in victory; to refrain from pressing their advantage. Essentially, he says to progressives: You’ve won. You wouldn’t sue Orthodox Jews or observant Muslims. Please don’t sue us, either.”

    I can’t speak for or about observant Muslims, but Jews, including the Orthodox, seem to be able to provide goods and services to the Gentile world without “participating” in the Gentile world, in the sense that Christians seem to think that providing goods and services to a same-sex wedding is to “participate” in the wedding. We’ve talked about that in another thread, and I won’t repeat it.

    Accordingly, I suspect that it isn’t so much that “You wouldn’t sue Orthodox Jews …” as that the opportunity to sue is unlikely to arise because Orthodox Jews would be much less likely to refuse to provide goods and services, and to make a point about it.

    But there is another way to look at this issue: The lawsuits will stop when Christians start obeying the law, treating gays and lesbians on an equal footing with everyone else. And the culture wars vis a vis gays and lesbians will stop when Christians stop trying to shape the law to permit special discrimination against gays and lesbians.

    Reply
    • posted by TJ 3rd on

      Their are some isolated faith-based communities in America; Amish and Orthodox Jewish comnunities come to mind.

      Technically, Catholic and Eastern Orthodox have seperate places where monks and nuns live (largely) seperate from the outside world.

      Reply
  3. posted by Kosh III on

    Christians are to be in the world but not of the world. The Benedict Option wants to be neither in nor of the world; basically become like the Amish; out of sight out of mind.
    Christians are called to be an example of Christ-like behavior, ” Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.”
    Hiding away does not show non-believers anything which would lead the non-believer to follow Christ. It only shows them people who feel they are too holy to associate with profane people.

    Reply
    • posted by Tom Scharbach on

      Christians are to be in the world but not of the world. The Benedict Option wants to be neither in nor of the world; basically become like the Amish; out of sight out of mind.

      I suspect that charge is why Dreher chose the modern Orthodox (rather than the Chabad or Hasidim) as his model. Strict Orthodox Jews tend to live more or less entirely apart from Gentiles, while modern Orthodox tend to live amongst and in the Gentile world while seeking to remain observant.

      As an aside, I wondered by Dreher did not use the Old Order Amish (or, for that matter, the Mennonites) as a model instead of modern Orthodox. I guess you’ve hit upon the answer.

      Reply
    • posted by Lori Heine on

      Absolutely right.

      Reply
  4. posted by Jorge on

    Essentially, he says to progressives: You’ve won. You wouldn’t sue Orthodox Jews or observant Muslims.

    You’d be surprised.

    I don’t have time to read this just yet, but I recognize the smell of it.

    We will stop pursuing equality when we have it.

    The high road is pretty, but you’ll have a hard time marching an army across it. Yes, that’s directed at you.

    Reply
    • posted by TJ III on

      1. Religion is covered by civil right laws, sexual orientation/gender identity is not..except some States and — maybe — some Circuit Courts.

      2. I respect people who want to secure civil rights and religious freedom. I cannot have much respect for people who pretend that religious freedom does not matter or civil rights do not matter.

      Reply
  5. posted by JohnInCA on

    “There is simply no way for an orthodox Catholic to embrace same-sex marriage,” he said. “The attempt to conflate that with homophobia is a sign of the unthinking nature of some liberal responses to religion”
    Um, yeah… that’s a strawman.

    The reason some folks† call anti-gay Christians “homophobes” is not because they don’t “embrace” gay marriage. Heck, I didn’t “embrace” my aunt’s most recent marriage‡. But I never voted to ban it in the first place. I never tried to put her in jail for having sex. I never passed (or tried to pass) laws so that government employees could refuse to serve her. I never went to Africa and Russia and tried to make those place even more hostile to her.

    Fact is, if anyone thinks they’re being called a homophobe for merely “not embracing” same-sex marriage, they’ve either got a very short memory, or they’re defining “embrace” way more broadly then I am.
    ________
    †Not me personally, but I understand why those that choose to do so do so, and won’t condemn them. Then again, I was also telling a co-worker yesterday that trying to paint all “alt-right” folks as white supremacist Nazis is a mistake too, so maybe I’m just too forgiving.
    ‡To be (un?)fair, I met him once, and the next time I saw her, half a year later, she was divorced already. Sorry #7, you didn’t last long for me to learn your name.

    Reply
  6. posted by Jorge on

    ““The Benedict Option” traces the decline of faith in the West all the way back to a fourteenth-century debate about the nature of God. God tells us how to be good—but are the things he deems good actually good in themselves, or good just because God says they are?”

    I find this sort of question to be one of the most annoying things about religion by far. People don’t understand this as a theological difference. They understand it as a concrete reality.

    God is good, of course, His judgment infallible. But just as we hear God imperfectly, so too, are there times when God leaves things in mystery. I usually think that’s by design. That includes revealing different mysteries to different people. If a different revelation is given to two different people, but there is only one perfect good, does that mean God forsakes one and not the other? That cannot be. And then of course there’s the idea of free will.

    You know I just find it fascinating that “Benedictine” could be associated with someone other than the previous Pope. Who was, after all, a scholar with a wonderful way with words. It’s confusing.

    There’s more but hoo boy that article is a lot to digest, and there’s a lot I do not want to admit to thinking.

    Because Jews do not hold fast to “One Way” in the sense that Christians so, and do not seek to evangelize or convert the world, the Jewish model lends itself to “living apart”, living in diaspora, finding ways to stand apart from a hostile world yet live observantly and faithfully. I don’t think that Christianity can, given the differences, live out the Jewish model and remain faithful to their own theology.

    Oh, come on. Just about every religion I can think of has its aesthetics. They just don’t all have evangelicals. That doesn’t mean every single Christian on earth needs to be an evangelical. And while Christianity certainly has its tenets, for many people its symbols (i.e., martyrdom) are more powerful.

    What pushes and pulls a person or a people more toward one form of Christian life instead of another? It’s not random, and there is no need to dismiss what’s in front of you with the excuse that it’s cyclical. It is society. And it is adaptation. If, as Christians really should believe, God’s word is perfect, then it really should stand to reason that there is a Christian way to live in a worthwhile fashion no matter the times. Why should the same way be correct all the time? Conversion is important, but communities should try to survive.

    Reply
    • posted by JohnInCA on

      “What pushes and pulls a person or a people more toward one form of Christian life instead of another?”
      The single biggest predictor of an adult’s religious beliefs are the religious beliefs they were raised in. This isn’t controversial.

      Reply
      • posted by Jorge on

        I was thinking more along the lines of whether you live out your faith by going to church or through prayer at home. Whether you study or meditate to find your spiritual center.

        Although I will admit that my family was never the churchgoing type.

        Reply

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