BenOp perception versus reality

  1. BenOp perception versus reality
  2. Phonies aren’t the real problem, Tucker
  3. Liberal Democracy and Christianity reprise
  4. Barack and Hillary: je t’accuse!
  5. Russell Moore versus the hacks
  6. American Exceptionalism (yech!)

1

It’s the Ides of March and the knives are out for Rod Dreher, whose book finally came out yesterday. But he has friends, too:

A ROUGH ASSESSMENT OF THE RELATIVE IMPORTANCE OF THE TWO MAJOR PREMISES OF ROD DREHER’S BOOK

1. Social hostility and legal restrictions will undermine the viability of many Christian institutions, and significantly limit individual Christians’ participation in many professions and aspects of public life, in the United States within a generation or so.

Portion of The Benedict Option devoted to this claim: 20%

Portion of journalistic coverage of the book devoted to this claim: 90%

Portion of social media buzz (pro and con) devoted to this claim: 98%

Likelihood of this claim being true: 50%

How much this should cause acute distress for those who believe that Jesus is Lord: 5%

2. Due to a lack of meaningful discipleship and accommodation to various features of secularized modernity and consumer culture, the collapse of Christian belief and practice is likely among members of the dominant culture (and many minority cultures) in the United States within a generation or so.

Portion of The Benedict Option devoted to this claim: 80%

Portion of journalistic coverage devoted to this claim: 10%

Portion of social media buzz (pro and con) devoted to this claim: 2%

Likelihood of this claim being true: 90%

How much this should cause acute distress for those who believe that Jesus is Lord: 100%

(Andy Crouch, verbatim and in full) I’m praying for Rod’s patience toward invincibly ignorant, ill-informed “critics.”

2

At or very near the close of his interview with Rod Dreher Monday night, Tucker Carlson said something very much along these lines: “You can always tell someone who’s sincere and someone who’s phony [about their Christianity] and there’s  a lot of phonies out there.”

Rod didn’t disagree, but I’m confident that he’s under no illusions that “phonies” are the problem. A bigger problem is those who have been seduced by the culture to the point where they don’t realize that they are not living, or perhaps even believing, Christianly.

On the belief side, there’s the current bogeyman, the “Moralistic Therapeutic Deist” — a genuine problem, well documented by Sociologist Christian Smith. We’ll see if the term endures or whether it goes the way of “secular humanist.”

But another problem — in my judgment, a worse one — is the word/seed sown among the thorns, overtaken (unwittingly, in all likelihood) by “the cares of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches, and the lusts of other things” so that the word remains unfruitful.

These may be folks who can recite the Nicene Creed, and think they believe it, but find a pious excuse for taking, whenever two roads diverge in a wood, the road more traveled by.

Want to keep up with the Joneses in every financial respect? They by all means don’t waste money on Christian education of your children, but let them be “witnesses,” “salt and light” to their classmates in the legally secularized public schools. And as for you? Well, all the ways you’re indistinguishable from your neighbors is “contextualizing the Gospel,” isn’t it?

Yeah. Right. And this is all said with zero sense of being phony, because the slogans and the culture have completed their seduction.

In case you’re wondering, I interrogate myself regularly on the possibility that I’ve got a beam in my eye in this regard.

3

The thorn-beset Christians are certainly among those who at least tacitly believe that liberal democracy and Christianity are compatible. While I viscerally think otherwise, when I stop to ask “what’s the better system?,” I come up uneasy if not entirely dry. I sure as heck don’t want to be governed by Christians who come from the center of American Christian gravity. Maybe we’ve got the least bad system and we’re just got to suck it up.

If you’re wondering about such things, I can recommend five pieces on the internet.

First, Patrick Deneen’s A Catholic Showdown Worth Watching.

Clearly related to it are What’s Really at Stake in the Catholic Showdown? and The Neo-Conservative Imagination: An Interview with Patrick Deneen, Part II.

Finally, two more remote: The Civic Project of American Christianity and Illiberal Catholicism One Year On

UPDATE: The list above leans toward the “no, they’re not compatible position.” So add on the other side of the balance Abp. Charles Chaput’s book Strangers in a Strange Land. It’s not as punchy as Anthony Esolen’s Out of the Ashes, but I’m glad I’m reading it. And Abp. Chaput can at least borrow a punch:

As Leo Strauss once wrote, “liberal education is concerned with the souls of men, and therefore has little or no use for machines … [it] consists in learning to listen to still and small voices and therefore in becoming deaf to loudspeakers.”

4

Over the last few years, as controversies have erupted over the rights of cake bakers and pizza places to refuse to cater gay weddings, the rights of nuns to refuse to provide insurance that covers birth control, the rights of Catholic hospitals to refuse to perform abortions, and the rights of Christian schools to teach (and require students and teachers to practice) traditional Christian morality, some Christians have begun to feel that their communities are under existential threat.

The response from the left has (mostly) been that this is so much whining, clinging to a victimhood belied by Christians’ social power and majority status. No one, they have been assured, wants to touch their freedom to worship, but when they enter the commercial realm, they have to abide by anti-discrimination laws, whatever their private beliefs.

I’ve heard from a number of evangelicals who, despite their reservations about the man, ended up voting for Donald Trump because they fear that the left is out to build a world where it will not be possible to hold any prominent job while holding onto their church’s beliefs about sexuality. Discussions I’ve had in recent days with nice, well-meaning progressives suggest that this is not a paranoid fantasy. An online publisher’s witch hunt against two television personalities — because of the church they attend — validates the fears of these Christians.

When you think that you may shortly see your church’s schools and your religious hospitals closed, and your job or business threatened in the private sphere by the economic equivalent of “convert or die,” you will side with whoever does not seem to set its sights on your conservative beliefs. If that side is led by an intemperate man who more than occasionally says awful things … well, at least he doesn’t want to destroy you.

When Elizabeth I famously declared “I have no desire to make windows into men’s souls,” she wasn’t saying she didn’t care about theological error; she was recognizing the reality that England couldn’t stand much more heresy hunting without tearing itself apart ….

(Megan McArdle, Bloomberg View, December 2016)

After reading this, it’s really tempting to say “I blame Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton for the election of Donald Trump” because they are the ones seen, not unreasonably, as likely to lead the Parade of Horribles.

5

Russell Moore is a winsome, principled, articulate and forward-looking Southern Baptist leader — which could yet lose him his job with the SBC’s ERLC:

Mike Huckabee told a Townhall columnist that he was “utterly stunned that Russell Moore is being paid by Southern Baptists to insult him.” He then proceeded to imply that Moore wasn’t committed to the “protection of the unborn, Biblical marriage, or helping people out of poverty,” when the most casual amount of research would show that Moore’s ERLC has been a leader in each of these issues. The ERLC is in fact one of America’s most-respected and eloquent voices for the unborn, for religious freedom, and against the radical and destructive expansion of the sexual revolution.

Prominent Southern Baptist pastor William Harrell wrote a widely-shared post that made the case that the ERLC should do little more than “represent the values and opinions of those who are responsible for its existence, the people of the SBC” and accused Moore of being “completely out of touch with how the people felt.”

But this is a cramped, dangerous, and unbiblical view of religious leadership. The role of a Christian leader isn’t to put his finger in the air, take the pulse of his constituency, and respond accordingly. It’s to know and do the will of God, and to call the church to do the same — even when the church is making poor choices.

The Harrell/Huckabee model of engagement leaves little room for a Jeremiah or Isaiah. For that matter it leaves little room for the apostles, men who were known to sternly call out the people of the young church for indulging in and excusing sin. Moore wasn’t “out of touch” with Baptists. He was very much “in touch,” and that’s precisely why he wrote with such passion.

(David French) Of course, why would Southern Baptists ever need a Jeremiah or an Isaiah? Nothing to see here. Move along now.

6

There we go, being exceptional again:

In the extremely important book, “Locked In: The True Causes of Mass Incarceration and How to Achieve Real Reform,” John F. Pfaff analyzes why America incarcerates more people than ever even as crime rates continue to fall. State and federal prisons jailed 200,000 Americans in the early 1970s; today they hold more than 1.5 million people. Another 700,000 are locked up in local jails. The U.S. now has higher incarceration rates than Russia or Cuba.

Mr. Pfaff, a Fordham law professor and economist, argues that the American criminal justice system defines too many offenses as deserving of jail time and that prisons often act as a revolving door. He likens incarceration to radiation treatment: Yes, it targets the disease, but it also causes a tremendous amount of collateral damage.

(Edward P. Stringham in the Wall Street Journal)

* * * * *

“The truth is that the thing most present to the mind of man is not the economic machinery necessary to his existence; but rather that existence itself; the world which he sees when he wakes every morning and the nature of his general position in it. There is something that is nearer to him than livelihood, and that is life.” (G.K. Chesterton)

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

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