Tag Archives: Rod Dreher

After Virtue – A New Benedict (Pt.3)

My experience of Dreher’s BenOp is that he trying to posit a response to a dystopia as he sees America today. This dystopia is brought about by liberalism, which is rooted in the Enlightenment (1620 – 1789, depending on who you read). But the nub of it is a bemoaning of moral decline, most especially anything LGBTIQ, because this creates an inequality. Dreher cites the Obergefell decision in 2015 where the US Supreme Court voted in favour of the constitutional right for gay marriage as the turning point of the current moral slide.

Dreher periodically quotes MacIntyre in support of his reasoning, but I think he misquotes as MacIntyre is not speaking to the same issues. MacIntyre speaks of a looming dark age, but his argument is against the modern liberal individualist who is morally and ideologically blind. MacIntyre is interested in human agency and the renewal of moral political philosophy. But MacIntyre’s concern is to guide a society to value human life, he speaks of community, economics, politics with a view to developing an interactive community, a mutuality of moral value. When reading MacIntyre it is very clear that he never really left his first passion, Marxism.

MacIntyre doesn’t focus on hot topics nor seeks to speak to micro moral issues, he seeks a broad view of human potential. One of his concerns is the loss of ‘utility’ a teleological principle – if a rule or an act is right it will produce happiness. Utilititarian thought from Mo Tseu, Aristotle, to Bentham and Mill has been a deeply held ethic historically. This is not really ideal for Dreher.

In the BenOp, Dreher claims “This book does not offer a political agenda.” (p. 4). I beg to differ, it is indeed a political agenda, and a very conservative one. Dreher also has a conservative moral agenda. He quotes a situation (in regard to church discipline) whereby a Protestant church excommunicated a couple who divorced and refused church counselling. It sent a chill down my spine. This pining for theocracy with a conservative political agenda is akin to a fundamentalist wonderland or worse, a modern version of old Geneva, and deeply troubling.

Wrapped up in this is that hoary old argument over the sexual revolution as the nail in the coffin for ‘moral’ society. He writes “But if we use sex in a disordered way …” (p. 195) that is, outside of heterosexual marriage, then it is destructive. In support of this he cites single mothers, pornography, infidelity, and abuse, all of which, by the way,  precede the sexual revolution. I also object to his generalisations which create a hollow pastiche, he doesn’t nuance his comments or delve into definitions. Disordered sex as I see it is anything abusive, including sexual assault and child abuse, I don’t see single parenting as either abusive or disordered. Pornography is a loaded descriptor and certainly needs definition, are we including erotica, naturism, Black Lace stories, what? Back to single beds in movies about married couples?

As I was reading BenOp I couldn’t help but be reminded of another book, from 1970, “The Late Great Planet Earth” by Hal Lindsay. It is completely different, and theologically spurious, but the connect for me was the moralising. Lindsay cites the sexual revolution as one of the main proofs of the end of the world.

BenOp is a story of binaries, it offers a black and white vision, it subscribes to dualism, notably secular and sacred.

Professor John Milbank in his recent work “Beyond Secular Order”  claims that there was in fact never a purely secular reality. And Milbank has a word for the would be reactionaries: “To those ‘anti-Constantinian’ Christians who would have preferred that the Church remain a quasi-Montanist nomadic puritanical sect … this is to have a somewhat deficient sense of both mission and common humanity.” (p. 248) Rowan Williams takes up a similar theme in his work “Faith in the Public Square.”

Milbank and Williams take a positive view of Christianity alive in the world today, infusing institution and offering a counter cultural view. Dreher wants to offer something positive but essentially he offers a reductionist view. When he proclaims the need for a very new St. Benedict it is a reactionary claim rather than an action. I think he miss-casts the Benedictines as withdrawing to cloisters, but if you read the Rule it is one of strategic engagement with the world.

Dreher also misses the wonderful engagement of a variety of Christian communities across the world. L’Abri, Iona, Northumbria, Wellspring, The New Parish Collective, Verge, to name a broad range of open community. There are hundreds, all with a guiding Rule of Life or principle. They already serve as a hub for sustainable Christian community as counter culture.

Forming community on the foundation of being against something is not for me, and doesn’t correlate to the original Benedict let alone promise a very new one. The BenOp raises some good questions, but in the main is too conservative and reactionary for my liking. Besides, I don’t agree with his assessment of the world nor his moral agenda. And I’m not waiting for a very new St. Benedict, I’m more interested in applying the principles of Benedict’s Rule, engaging with the world, and living the principle of loving one another, perhaps another form of utility we keep missing. My vision of community would be compassion, empathy, service, justice and inclusion.

Paul

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After Virtue – A New Benedict? (Pt.2)

Having now completed Dreher’s ‘The Benedict Option’ (BenOp) I am underwhelmed to say the least. The greatest sadness is that this is not, as I see it, about a new and very different Benedict. MacIntyre was writing as a moral philosopher, and BenOp is at least aligned as a moral treatise. But then what morality?

Dreher is transparent about his religious and political bias, he is a conservative in every way. And it becomes apparent through the book that his agenda is about developing a Christian community to thwart the evils of liberalism. But what liberalism? His morality, his moralism, is about recapturing the ground surrendered to LGBT rights, to end the evil of divorce and abortion. Ah, that liberalism! But not the liberalism, or rather neoliberalism, of the right, that is somehow less evil.

He wants congregations to embrace exile, to turn to forming intentional hubs together in the suburbs, even while suburbs, and to withdraw from the “secular” (I want to return to the issue of false dualism later) world. He states, “We Christians today can create that new culture based on returning in creative ways to that very old one.” (p. 105) Β This reminds me of so many attempts to recapture a romantic past. The old one he refers to is the pre 60s, that glorious era of morality, when divorce was difficult to obtain, when abortion was illegal, and when anything LGBT was criminalised.

I had a brief moment here where I recalled Joanne Harris’ novel ‘Chocolat’ where at a particular point the Priest and the Compte attempt to get rid of the “river rats” or gypsies. They institute a campaign to “boycott immorality.” I get that feeling with BenOp. Everything is based on dualism, on binaries, on black and white.

I bought the book because I have been immersed in the Rule of Benedict for many years (and have been an Oblate or non-professed for many years) so I was interested that the BenOp might segue to the Rule in contemporary living. There are occasions where Dreher makes links, and it is then that he seems most engaged. However, for the bulk of the book he is focussed on the decline of Christianity. But what Christianity is he referring to? Dreher is referring to a fortress Christianity, a conservative bastion, that will be a bulwark against the evils of liberalism that are bringing a war on Christians.

When Dreher says, “There is also the danger of Christians falling back into complacency.” he speaks of Christians, but it is clear that he doesn’t speak for all Christians, he is speaking only to and for those Christians who are struggling with the issues of divorce, abortion and LGBT rights. He speaks for those who feel that they have lost something since the sexual revolution of the 60s, and he speaks for those who want to recapture the pre-60s moral agenda, pre 73 Roe vs Wade, and to return to an older pedagogy, a past education methodology.

He opines that Donald Trump is morally compromised (p.79) while yet defending Trump’s win as a victory that might be good for Christians in as much that it will delay the liberal agenda, whereas Hilary Clinton was to be feared because would have accelerated that agenda (I do agree with Dreher that Trump is a symptom of deeper underlying problems). I note that Dreher doesn’t mention Nixon or Bush Jnr. two equally compromised leaders, but he does mention Reagan, fondly, yet offers no acknowledgement of the economic devastation that he, like Thatcher in the U.K., thrust upon his nation without any thought to the long term consequences for the working and middle classes. There is no insight into the moral malaise of the Republican Party other than that they have conceded moral ground to corporate pressure. While the Democrats are suggested as the party that undermines religion.

I get the sense that while Dreher is careful to admit that politics is suspect and not to be relied upon, there is an undercurrent in the book that yearns for theocracy. It is not explicit but rather lurking behind some of his statements.

So what has this book got to do with a new and very different St. Benedict? Pt. 3 …

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After Virtue – a new Benedict? (Pt.1)

Alasdair Macintyre published ‘After Virtue’ (AV) in 1981. Many of us read it around then, but it has come into public view again through Rod Dreher’s ‘The Benedict Option’ in which Dreher takes a comment from the very end of AV where MacIntyre says “We are waiting not for a Godot, but for another – doubtless very different – St. Benedict.” (Alasdair MacIntyre After Virtue p. 163)

The title is a clue for those who know the work of Aristotle, that AV is an attempt to refine an Aristotelian world view, a moral philosophy, and MacIntyre refers to Aristotle throughout, and in particular the ‘Nichomachian Ethics.’ AV is also a work that seeks to refute Nietzsche’s claim that “… morality is only a mask for the will to power …” (Alasdair MacIntyreΒ After Virtue p. 22). MacIntyre’s view is that modern moral and political philosophy falls short and we must therefore renew by studying and enacting virtue.

That last line which refers to Godot, is a swipe at Beckett, as in Beckett’s play ‘Waiting for Godot’, where Godot never shows up, and which is thought to be a criticism of those who wait for an external force to save them, thus a swipe by Beckett at certain forms of Christianity. MacIntyre suggests that we do need an external saviour in the form of a new St. Benedict, someone needs to show up.

When MacIntyre refers to St. Benedict he offers no elucidation save that he is waiting for another very different Benedict. There is no clue as to what this other Benedict will be like, he is not prescriptive, which means he is not seeking to be prophetic, but rather, he is yearning for a saviour. Dreher (interview with Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove at Red Letter Christians 2015 https://www.redletterchristians.org) claims that MacIntyre is being prophetic, but it is clear that MacIntyre’s language and construction is nothing of the sort, it is simply a hope, a desire, a yearning.

Why is he waiting for another Benedict? According to MacIntyre, while not subscribing to pessimism (because we survived the dark ages), we are on the cusp of a new dark age and we need someone to shine a light. He sees a decline and grieves the loss of moral community, salvation is in a new type of St, Benedict.

Enter Rod Dreher and the ‘Benedict Option.’

 

Paul

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