Rod Dreher on Saturday the 21st had maybe his strongest blog yet on the Benedict Option he’s been so involved in thinking and talking about. My personal favorite parts contain none of Dreher’s own substance.
First, from a Reuters/Ipsos poll report:
To get at this, we combine three attitudinal statements in a summated index[i]: “I don’t identify with what America has become,” “I feel like a stranger in my own country,” and “America is [NOT] a place I can feel comfortable as myself”
For the record, all three of those are true of me. Then at the end:
UPDATE.2: A (female) reader e-mails:
Although I’m not a Republican, I agree with all 3 of the statements in the survey. And to make matters worse, I’m a Roman Catholic. Not only did They take my country, They took my church. And nobody I know seems to care or even have noticed. It’s like a train is barreling down the tracks, brilliant white light, horn blasting. The engineers are an Islamist, a feminist, and an oligarch. I leave the track and everyone I know continues to sit on it, concentrating on football (I’m in Ohio) and the Kardashians and credit reports and TV shows and what’s on sale where, and it’s not possible to yell “Look! A train!” because they have blindfolded themselves and stuffed their ears with cotton, and even if I could get their attention it would do no good because they have all firmly tied themselves to the track, and as the train bears down they all wave little flags that say “America!” and “Transgender!” and “At least I know I’m free!”
It’s horrible. And I can talk to no one about it except some guy on a blog.
But I probably should mention some of Dreher’s own remarks. Presumably as part of his research on a forthcoming Benedict Option book, Dreher has been boning up on Mary Douglas, who he variously calls “sociologist” and “anthropologist”:
Douglas classifies societies according to two variables: “group” and “grid”. “Group” means the strength of group bonds, how much loyalty and sacrifice they command. “Grid” means the importance of role differences, things like gender roles, age roles, and status. This point, that social strength is two-dimensional, has certainly helped to clarify my thinking on these matters. A people can have strong group and weak grid, and vice versa. Based on these variables, there are four possibilities:
1) Weak group, weak grid—the state of pygmies, university students, and the urban proletariat. Since bonds are weak, people feel that their lives are controlled by impersonal (natural or bureaucratic) forces. The world seems an amoral arena controlled by chance, and there is little interest in ritual or religion. The case of such a people being embedded in a more structured society is considered below.
2) Strong group, weak grid. Here “us” vs. “them” is the category that eclipses all others. Such peoples tend to have dualistic cosmologies (i.e. to see the cosmos as a battleground between a good and an evil power), and fear of contamination is the most potent bodily symbol. People are particularly interested in rituals that ward off the influence of witches.
3) Weak group, strong grid—the world of individualist capitalism. Here status (often represented by wealth) is king. The universe is seen as generally amoral, but it rewards hard work and cleverness. Ritual magic is used primarily to get ahead. The losers in this system tend to sink into a weak group, weak grid existence.
4) Strong group, strong grid—the world of Catholic Europe. Since people’s lives are controlled primarily by personal forces (i.e. authorities), the world is seen to be infused with morality—a good God or gods reward good, while demons and witches (if they exist) punish evil. The body (representing society) is regarded positively as a mediator of spiritual values, so religion is strongly sacramental or “magical”. Dogmas like the Incarnation and Transubstantiation also affirm the body’s role as mediator of God, and therefore symbolize society’s benevolent mediating role.
Dreher’s 2¢ contribution:
I contend that we are rapidly moving from a “weak group, strong grid” society to a “weak group, weak grid” one — and that the forces of liberalism (capitalism, individualism, sexual autonomy, etc.) are accelerating the disintegration of both group and grid.
Where is the Benedict Option in all this? From a Douglasian point of view, the Benedict Option is an attempt to instantiate a “strong group, strong grid” way of life among small-o orthodox Christians, in a time of widespread cultural dissolution. The first and primary goal is to give Christians what they (we) need to worship and serve God faithfully in emerging circumstances, according to the great tradition. The second goal is to provide sources of resistance and re-spiritualization, both for the sake of reintegrating body and spirit (in Douglas’s sense), and to provide a cohesive group capable of taking collective action to defend itself and its members.
As Dreher says often, read it all; it’s important. And his comments, moderated, are like a grad school seminar instead of an alley brawl at an alternative middle school.
Often, NPR’s religion coverage feels like free association — as if the order had gone out to cover religion (especially Evangelicals, because their religion is “real” — i.e., political), but the reporters had no credible religious knowledge to work from.
The beginning of this podcast had that feel:
For Evangelicals, the Bible is the ultimate source of guidance. At a candidate forum in Iowa last night, Florida Senator Marco Rubio made that point to an audience of several hundred Christian conservatives:
“You’re called to be a Christian in every aspect of your life, and that includes your work, your home, your business – whatever endeavor you get involved in, including politics for that matter.”
[This was a transcription from the podcast; NPR’s own written version of the story segués better than the podcast.]
But then it got interesting, as Evangelicals (or were they Evangelical? Would NPR even know?) themselves seemed to free associate, cherry-picking seemingly random Bible passages to support their respective gut reactions to Syrian refugees.
- Parable of the wheat and the tares? Well, that means keep the refugees out, of course (“The tares are in with the wheat. We’re gonna have to figure out how to get the tares out of the wheat,” Knapp said), even though that’s precisely what the owner of the field warned against in the parable.
- Cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye? I.e., Roll up the red carpet until everything’s perfect in America.
The Good Samaritan? Mercifully, nobody managed to turn that into an anti-refugee caution. “[Matthew] Soerens says the Bible teaches Christians to help their neighbors — even if it means taking a risk.”
The moderator of the candidate forum in Iowa had an evocative way of introducing the refugee topic, too:
“Common sense tells us that we should keep these refugees out,” Luntz said. “But our faith tells us to help those in genuine need.”
This isn’t quite what I wrote about recently as God saying “do it this way or I’ll hurt you in the bye-and-bye,” but it’s a good instance of where the Christian life transcends secular logic.
I do not know by Natural Law that we help the hurting neighbor even at personal risk. I know that by revelation. I cannot argue to my non-Christian neighbor that America must allow in Syrian refugees, despite some chance (great or small) that terrorists are trying to get in that way, because that’s what we all know deep down inside. We don’t all know that.
So, I think, this is an area where what the faith tells us we as Christians should do is closer to a cultic observance, less like basic morality.
Since the culture around us, and even many who claim the name “Christian,” seem to think that even “Thou shalt not murder” is mere cultic observance when the victim is in the womb, it seems important to note the difference between what we can not know and what we can’t not know.
I read with interest and much sympathy the account of a 5′ 7″ 125 pound elite black woman who nevertheless was reported as a possible burglar as she got back into her apartment in Santa Monica with the help of a locksmith after locking herself out. Santa Monica police responded with 19 officers, a police dog, and drawn guns, demanding that she “come out with your hands up,” never so much as telling her that a report of possible burglary was why they came, so she could say something like “this is my own apartment; I’m not a burglar.”
But then I came to this:
Not long ago, I was walking with a friend to a crowded restaurant when I spotted two cops in line and froze. I tried to figure out how to get around them without having to walk past them. I no longer wanted to eat there, but I didn’t want to ruin my friend’s evening. As we stood in line, 10 or so people back, my eyes stayed on them. I’ve always gone out of my way to avoid generalizations. I imagined that perhaps these two cops were good people, but I couldn’t stop thinking about what the Santa Monica police had done to me. I found a lump in my throat as I tried to separate them from the system that had terrified me. I realized that if I needed help, I didn’t think I could ask them for it.
The problem with that is that I can imagine the person who called the police, an attorney (with too little decency to apologize even for the terrifying consequence of his call — he closed the discussion with “I’m an attorney. F*** you.”), thinking:
I’ve always gone out of my way to avoid generalizations. I imagined that perhaps this woman had just locked herself out, but I’d never seen her and I couldn’t stop thinking about the time my apartment was burglarized.
Or does this street only run one way? Do only black people have bad experiences that haunt them and justify stereotyping folks who remind them of the traumatizer?
I’ll answer that question: I have a nephew who was savagely beaten 20-25 years ago, for no reason, by some black thugs. I mean savagely as in “eating through a straw while his broken jaw was wired shut.” We don’t talk about it, but if he has an instinctive aversion to physical proximity with groups of adolescent black males, I think everyone could excuse that.
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“In learning as in traveling and, of course, in lovemaking, all the charm lies in not coming too quickly to the point, but in meandering around for a while.” (Eva Brann)