Friday, July 3, 2015

Benedict Option? "I think he deserves an answer."

Yes, indeedy.

Happy Independence Day! You, too, marriage!

Is this an example of the Benedict Option? Well, really, why not?

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Fact-based criticism of the Benedict Option

Found this via Twitter. Good stuff with regard to why the Benedict Option would be no protection for the Faithful. Excerpt:

In any case, St. Benedict wasn't running away from an oppressive state. Had there been a state wanting to stamp out monasticism, he would have been a sitting duck. The Protestant rulers of Ireland found it extremely difficult to impose Anglicanism on the hearts of the people, but childishly simple to burn down the monasteries. Later there were secret seminaries, but even this had to wait for the persecution to move into a less militant phase.

St. Benedict is the wrong model; his was a capital-intensive approach to preserving learning and Catholic orthodoxy. We are going to need to be lighter on our feet. St. Edmund Campion and St. Oliver Plunket are the people to study. The exiled institutions, the secret printing presses, the underground Cathedrals, the network of trusted Catholics, and a resistance to torture.

A ghetto has a lot to say for it, for a beleagured cultural minority, but it requires at least a degree of cooperation with the civil authorities. The original 'geto' was the Jewish quarter in Venice: half protected space, half prison camp.

However I'm not sure he is entirely correct in predictions like the following:

Gay couples will demand to be 'married' in Church. Some priests will give them some kind of ceremony: some priests will refuse. The latter will be prosecuted for discrimination. It will be no protection to them to say they are not acting as agents of the state. It is not only agents of the state who are under the law. They are offering a service to the public: they should not discriminate. The difference between making a reasoned distinction between real and pseudo marriage, on the one hand, and homophobia, on the other, has already been collapsed by the courts in England.

There are presently some legal hurdles to a successful prosecution, at least in the UK, but those hurdles will come under intense pressure and, if the success of the so-called progressive agenda continues, they will disappear. Faithful priests will go to prison. On present trends, this will happen in the next few years.

Certainly we should prepare for the worst even as we hope for the best. I think a pretty good case can be made that the Sacrament of Matrimony "offered" by the Church is not something which has ever really been a "service offered to the public." There are quite a few hurdles to be cleared, and being opposite genders is only one of them. There's age, relationship—first cousins can't marry—status, etc. 

I don't know if that fact could be translated into a legal case in court. I actually think it would be great for a gifted Catholic lawyer to start quoting theological statements and canons of the Church on marriage in the civil courts, explaining at length why the Church teaches what it does with regard to marriage. That would be the perfect imitation of the martyrs, and it would drive the butt pirates and the demons they serve crazy.

What Benedict Option?

 "This is life as it ought to be lived."

Grimly pursuing the Benedict Option in post-Christian America? That isn't life as it ought to be lived - well, for you maybe, but not for Rod Dreher, impresario of that black hole of meaning.

While you try to make sense of it, maybe even deform your life and values in pursuit of it, Rod might end up writing a book about it, or he might not, but "life as it ought to be lived" won't include any Benedict Option he gulls you into for him. Instead, "life as it ought to be lived" for him will be vacationing in Italy for the Palio, then on to Lyon for a palate-cleanser of French cuisine, and then later - who knows?

Rod's having the time of his life. You? You're the mark that makes it all possible, BOpper.

Two Down Votes for the Benedict Option

The last several days were sort of rough for the so-called Benedict Option. It's not like the future guru-architect probably cared, though. He was to busy being Mr. World Traveler with his companion, Sordello.

But while he was tramping gayly through Europe, Bruce Frohnen wrote this withering take-down of the BO. Excerpt:

The Rome Benedict fled in the late fifth century surely was chaotic and troubling. But Benedict did not flee to the woods to pray because he was told his God was not welcome in the public square. And when God refused to allow him to pray alone, sending him acolytes and fellow believers to build a community, it was as a means of evangelizing to spread the good news throughout his land and the lands beyond the borders of old Rome, into the pagan forests. Those who went beyond those borders often were martyred because they refused any tactical retreat to the supposedly safe and hospitable regions in and around Rome. They reinvigorated as well as spread the Church, because they refused to be cowed, refused to back down, and refused to retreat, instead recognizing their duty to combat the ignorance and superficial understanding of the nature of reality that ruled most of the world.

Such a vision is attacked as prideful and even oppressive today, as one would expect, given the repaganization of our culture. But it is precisely this hostility toward evangelization that must be fought. As Dreher openly admits, Christians will be persecuted in a culture such as ours has become—we will lose careers, opportunities, and even our freedom if we step too far out of line with the ruling ideology. But there will be no safe place to reorganize for the future. Should we withdraw we will merely devolve into insular groups, many run by crackpots (there already are too many examples to mention) and most so cut off from one another that they will die out. The faith will not be lost, just as the cause of a Christian society will not be lost, because no cause is ever truly lost. But our duty is not to hope for better days. It is to work for better days in the here and now, including by confronting a political and legal regime increasingly hostile to our faith and way of life.

The article is worth reading in its entirety. Frohnen concludes: "[O]ur children and our children´s children need to know that we fought hard, not that we retreated in the face of arrogance and injustice. For we are not fighting for victory in this world, but to witness to the nature and reality of the next."

No doubt the future guru-architect of the Benedict Option will merely wave his hand, smile and gently state that Frohnen just doesn't understand what the Benedict Option is. The insinuation would be that Bruce Frohnen has neither thought nor meditated deeply enough upon the glorious Benedict Option, and maybe just doesn't have the mental capacity or the imagination to do so. By the way, Dr. Frohnen got his PhD at Cornell and has three other degrees.

I would like to point out several things the second paragraph. First of all: "[T]here will be no safe place to reorganize for the future." Keith did an entire post on related aspects of this truth. I have laughed from the very time I heard the term strategic withdrawal from the guru and future architect of the BenOp. How can any planned battlefield action which you broadcast to everyone beforehand be called strategic? Sloppy usage of battlefield language is a betrayal of unseriousness.

Secondly: "Should we withdraw we will merely devolve into insular groups, many run by crackpots (there already are too many examples to mention) and most so cut off from one another that they will die out." Emphasis mine. And the groups will be insular by definition. Diane could probably list off a number of crack-pot, insular "communities"— it's one of her specialties. In theory, I realize, the proposed BenOp communities will be enlightened, immaculately clean, free from scandal, covetousness, dissension and bickering in the ranks about small worldly matters such as, oh, I don't know... money for example. But in practice just look historically at the groups of people who have tried this. And please, don't argue for the Amish. I live in Northeast Ohio OK?

A day before Dr. Frohnen wrote this, John Zmirak wrote another article condemning the Benedict Option. (We blogged his first here.) Excerpt:

So is it time to give up, hide, and hope for the best? Should we throw down the weapons we still have, which God provided us? Shall we surrender America to the sex radicals, and leave our children with none of the liberty that we inherited from our parents? Is it moral to abandon our fellow citizens and neighbors to the ever-escalating demands of the secular culture of death? Is it time to dissolve all activist divisions of the pro-life movement, which has made so many strides, and accept that abortion on demand, for nine months, for any reason, will be legal here forever?

All of these outcomes would flow from the misnamed “Benedict Option,” favored by Dreher, who for years has advocated a sort of apolitical Christian separatism. I am not surprised that the same magazine that publishes a piece from a writer wanting to crush the churches with the tax code has given Dreher a venue to counsel surrender. Any conquering army hopes to sow defeatism in the enemy. Remember all those leaflets in Arabic we dropped on Saddam’s troops in 2003, promising good treatment and hefty rations for those who defected? Think of Marshal Petain’s appeal to the French Army in 1940 to throw down their guns and collaborate. The Germans were happy to broadcast it.

Kudos to John Zmirakwho attained his BA from Yale and his PhD from LSUfor bringing it to the fight and not worrying about offending the guru of the BenOp, with whom I understand he briefly attended school. He rightly points out that Dreher is a favorite of the ultra-liberal TIME because they like the separatism and withdrawal as much as he does.

I hope more Catholics will follow Zmirak's' lead and less will take Father Longenecker's on this ridiculous fantasy.

UPDATE: Commenter 'Peter' gives us a link over at a post by a kindred spirit. Thanks, lads!

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Brendan Eich on the Benedict Option

Brendan Eich is quoted here refusing to play the victim. (I capitalized the Theological Virtues; I don't think Mr. Eich will mind.) Excerpt:

On Obergefell and the inevitable SSM story, I do wish Rod [Dreher] would not drop my name so much, because while I did lose my job, and also FYI I did have to face a blackball-dropping event at one other Valley big company, I’m not a martyr. We should all pray for greater Faith, Hope and Charity, and stop whinging about SSM or the US-based global elite that’s pushing it as just one step along a revolutionary road. More and worse is coming, and complaining is far from being ready. Pulling out of society also isn’t going to work, or satisfy Christ’s injunction to be “salt and light” to the world.

Emphasis mine. I would like to point out that Eich's attitude is very close to my own, and perhaps he is expressing it better than I ever have when he states "More and worse is coming, and complaining is far from being ready." It's not denial nor defeatism. It's not a shrug nor is it a shriek. It's the happy warrior mentality, and it is attractive and contagious.

“Pulling out of society also isn’t going to work, or satisfy Christ’s injunction to be 'salt and light' to the world.” Loved that remark; frankly I didn't realize that Eich was a Christian. I guess I didn't pay a lot of attention when all that was going on, only to assume that the man was brilliant and wouldn't end up on the street.

I have to mention that I find Dreher's Prufrockian comment about Brendan Eich's view of the Benedict Option totally hilarious, even though it's hardly the first time we've heard it. [H]e’s not a fan of the Benedict Option, though I don’t think he understands what it is." Join the very large club, Mr. Eich. None of us quite understands what it is. We have many divergent theories, all useful to some degree.

Family Option versus Benedict Option

Diane mentioned a word-coupling oft-heard in circles of serious Catholics, Domestic Church, and something sort or half-clicked in my head. Then I see the phrase again in this piece by Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz in reaction to the SSM ruling:

We have perhaps not done enough to teach the beauty of marriage and the purpose and inherent design of family life, but the Church is here to accompany couples as they make the courageous choice to follow this life-giving vocation. We will pray with them and will advocate for them. It is a good time to recommit ourselves — all of us whether clergy or lay — to cherishing marriage and the children of each union as a joy, a place of love and a path to virtue and holiness. If you do not know the deep beauty of the Church’s teachings on marriage and family life, I urge you to make a little time to read and ask questions. Many of the great saints have spoken about the family as the domestic church, the dignity of every person, the sacrament of marriage as a path to holiness, the complete gift of self, the blessedness of fruitful marriage and other topics worthy of contemplation and pursuit.

...and this time it's kind of like V8 head-slap moment. Everything that people want from the so-called Benedict Option is already available to the Domestic Church which is the Catholic Family. Or Christian Family, if you wish. For example, what goes on at our house? Well... Morning Offering, grace before meals, instruction of the ignorant, peace-making, morality 101, political/ethical discussions with those old enough, spiritual reading, Rosary, Angelus (sometimes in Latin), Spiritual Communions, examination of conscience, spiritual reading, Lectio Divina, doing chores and projects, regular meals, obeying rules, consequences for not obeying rules, nighttime prayers where we mention all our friends by name, etc.

What doesn't go on at our house? Network television, excessive use of entertainment media and gaming, pornography, acceptance of sin as OK or "normal", questionable publications, etc. All that secularism stuff.

So no rocket science, no brain surgery, no Benedict Option required to let the good stuff in and keep the bad stuff out.

My wife and kids and I are not perfect, nor do we claim to be. We don't always say the Rosary like we should every day, we don't always remember we're children of God and sometimes we lose our temper (ha! he wrote "we"...) or give in to arguing, bickering, fighting, etc. But that's the Church, that's the Domestic Church, and that's every group of human trying to get along since Adam and Eve. If I was doing everything I could be doing 100%, or even 90%, and there was evidence that something was still missing, maybe I'd buy a quart or two of Benedict Option to throw in the tank. (If it existed.)

So here's the question: why would any serious Christian run after a nebulous and undefined concept like "the Benedict Option" which has no authoritative structure, no discernible form, and no practical precedent in history other than failed communes headed by someone possessing a certain level of nuttiness? The natural alternative is the Family Option, or the Domestic Church, a title for the Christian Family with roots going back to the beginning of Christianity. Every time I hear someone defending the Benedict Option by defining it as a number of holy and good things of which I heartily approve I think they are actually describing a really good example of a Christian Family, a Domestic Church, and not really anything which Rod Dreher & company have in mind for the yet-to-be-defined Benedict Option.

But wouldn't the Benedict Option be helpful to families trying to live up to this ideal? Again, not knowing what the Benedict Option is, we have no idea. All I know is that the Church supports me leading my family and transmitting the faith to them, and so do all our Christian friends and conservative Jewish friends. Even the nominal Catholic people I know respect the fact that I have six kids and am more religious than they are. As for resources, there are all kinds of groups out there like Knights of Columbus, Opus Dei, Spiritual Direction and the USCCB giving out stuff for free.

Did you know you can get the Summa for free on Kindle?

Did you know some creative Catholic people started a website called

I think we know enough about the what the Benedict Option supposedly is to say that either it is way too restrictive and one-size-fits-all, or if it isn't, then we already have it in the Domestic Church, the Christian Family. Jared Staudt, an actual Benedictine Oblate who I recently mentioned, has his own take on what the Benedict Option might be:

I would propose that the Benedict Option is something simple, which anyone can live, whether they have withdrawn to an enclave or not.... The Benedict Option is really quite simple: it is living the Christian life in a coherent, simple, and prayer centered way in the modern world.

But shouldn't children be sheltered from the world at least until a certain age? Most definitely! That's why God invented the Christian Family. a place where the goal isn't to push them through into adulthood like a factory, but rather to form them into the Christian adults they are meant to be. If you want to live close to a monastery, more power to you. But know that you can probably do more than you are doing right now without living near a monastery. Are you going to Mass every day? Or do you want a personal monk to bring you the Holy Eucharist in your compound so you don't have to get out of your slippers?

In closing, I think that this Benedict Option issue demarcates two ways of thinking about how to approach the challenges of the modern world from a Catholic perspective. I noticed this for some time, ever since I heard people like Rod Dreher speaking favorably of the title of Hillary Clinton's famous ghost-written tome, It Takes A Village. I remembered years before, circa 2000, hearing a priest say something like the following in a wedding homily:

There are a lot of books I'd like to read still in my life, and there is a book which, if it is on the list at all, is fairly close to the bottom. The name of that book is something like "It takes a village to raise a child." [snickers from the congregation] Because truthfully, it doesn't take a village to raise a child. All it takes to do that is a Mother and a Father.

I don't know what we should call these two approaches or how they can be categorized. What I do know is that if we get to do a vacation this summer with our seventh child due to arrive within weeks, we are all going. Together. Yes, we always take the Domestic Church on the road, man.

The face of the Benedict Option

Rod Dreher enjoying the Benedict Option immensely

Hey there!

Living out that Middle Ages monastic dream like you were told to?

Cashed out your 401(k) to stack your basement to the ceiling with tubs of Wise Foods and good old wholesome white Navy beans?

Powering through another bowl of cold granola as you nod?

Kids still happy with their 538th viewing of the discount copy of Bambi you got them?

Good for you! You'll never be drinking at the horse races in Italy anyway.

Laissez les bons temps rouler, homeboy!

A brief note on religious taxation

Unlike institutions kept by the State, churches and other religious institutions which spurn such ownership agreements as conditioned special tax treatments have no worries about losing what they do not possess when the time comes to speak out about individual politicians and their policies from the pulpit.

Having both individual and hegemonies of churches directly addressing the specific people and policies in their communities and nationally which affect them and their religious liberty is a pressure from which the political class has previously been free.

Why not give those who would remove special religious tax treatment exactly what they want, good and hard?

Monday, June 29, 2015

Did Obergefell just rewrite the First Amendment?

That is, with respect to the free exercise clause, has Kennedy and the majority just left us now with a Bill of Rights containing, in order, a 3/4th Amendment, a Second Amendment, a Third Amendment, etc? A lot of people fainting onto their blogging couches today seem to think so, finding evidence for it both in Kennedy's reference to religious liberty and even in the words of the four dissenting Justices.

But Obergefell simply wasn't about the First Amendment or religious liberty, it was about a federal right to gay marriage. Like many badly built thought structures - ::coughObamacarecough:: - Obergefell almost certainly contains deformative logic bombs which will continue to detonate at later times, more likely unpredictably than predictably, and, as I continue to argue, very, very likely with predictable consequence to Obergefell itself as a legal precedent.

But while, of course, Obergefell has immediately set up imminent clashes with religious liberty protections under the First Amendment - duh...that's what legal logic bombs do - that is patently not the same thing as a claim that the former has now effectively trumped and subordinated the latter (I had originally written "not the same thing as suggesting that", but that is patently what it is: mere suggestion, preying upon suggestibility).

Still, like my grocery list (ribeye steaks, Macallan 12,...), First Amendment constitutional protections of religious liberty remain just words on a piece of paper until someone acts on them one way or another. I usually find that, if I don't make it a point to buy my groceries myself, those words just continue to lie there and I don't get to enjoy their promise.

If you believe Obergefell has immediately and directly threatened or curtailed your separate First Amendment religious rights, let's hear about it.

And if you think, as I do, that religious liberty questions will always be their own, separate and distinct battles, let's hear your arguments as well.

UPDATE (as they say): Unifying marriage, or fun with logic bombs.

This is entirely tangential to the thrust of this post, but I'm sticking this addendum here anyway. The question is, if the courts can unify marriage federally with respect to gender, on what basis could any state still argue its primacy with respect to any other discriminating marital provision such as blood tests, waiting periods, expiration of marriage licences, etc?

UPDATE 2 (also a non-sequitur):

Q: Why are people terrified of doing to Scientologists what they'll cheerfully do to Christians?

A: Because they know that Scientologists will legally tear your legs off and beat you to death with them for trying while Christians will simply take it.

Benedict Option: back to the Middles Ages - for you, at least

In his latest post calling For a New Middle Age, Rod Dreher now identifies his chimerical Benedict Option with a return to the Middle Ages, citing a post-Bolshevik Russian from 1923 as the authority who guides him (you can sample other quotes from the mentor Rod would guide your life by here):

In his 1923 book The End of Our Time, the Russian thinker Nikolai Berdyaev says that modernity has spiritually exhausted mankind, and that the time is ripe for a return to interiority, to a world in which the spiritual was more important than the material. To enter into this “new middle age” requires, he says, a “revolution in spirit.”

The Benedict Option is the term I use to describe this rising movement for a new Middle Age, a spiritual revolution in a time of spiritual and cultural darkness. The monk was the ideal personality type of the Middle Ages. Few of us will be called to the monastery, but all of us who profess orthodox Christianity are called to rediscover a monastic temperament, putting the service of God before all things, and ordering our lives — our prayer and our work, and our communal existence — to that end. We are going to have to recover a sense of monastic asceticism, and do so in hope and joy, together.

Naturally, in Dreher's Benedict Option as in post-Bolshevik Revolution Russia, the "monastic asceticism" of "this new Middle Age" will be for thee, not for he: this post was set up to drop automatically because Rod and his male companion, the "hirsute Italian" Sordello, have better things to do than a pursue a monastically ascetic Benedict Option, having just launched their fabulous, female-free European eating vacation beginning in Lyon, France and ending in Sienna, Italy.

As in most inchoate revolutionary and pseudo-religious hustles, the intelligentsiya proposes, the proletariat - that would be you chumps buying into Dreher's scam - disposes in order to support the former's lifestyle fancies.

You will carry out the social withdrawals and other inconveniences to your life, including all that Internet and other culturally dark stuff necessary to fulfill Dreher's Benedict Option delusion's and, hopefully, land him another book deal.

He will continue, as always, to do whatever strikes his fancy at any given moment, including ditching the missus to chow down on some snails in France with a hairy Italian man.