Saturday, May 28, 2016

Trying to make sense of the Benedict Option

Benedict Option
Seeking the Benedict Option

While no one will really know the dimensions, forms, content, limits, or anything else about the Benedict Option until Rod Dreher publishes his book detailing such defining aspects of his invention in the spring of 2017, dedicated fans of his personality and prose nonetheless gather even now in pursuit of their salvation in his words.

UPDATE (as they say): A close friend and very highly placed bishop in one of the world's major orthodox religions who wishes to remain anonymous just emailed me to point out that the image above is not in fact one of devotees of the Benedict Option congregating a year in advance of finding out what it actually is in hopes of snaring a deep spiritual discount prior to its hard launch, but rather a flock of Welsh sheep who had gotten into a patch of cannabis. My apologies for the mistake. Further updates on both groups as they become available.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

What could possibly explain Alasdair MacIntyre's regret?

One of our faithful Anonymous commenters deserves recognition (although he/she obviously doesn't want any) for linking to an interview between a liberal protestant theologian, Stanley Hauerwas, and someone from Bruderhof a quasi-commune of sorts. My main interest is the exchange right at the beginning:

Peter Mommsen: You’ve written extensively about how the church should respond to the “end of Christendom” – the fact that we no longer live in a culture whose ground rules stem from Christianity. What about the “Benedict Option” proposed by the writer Rod Dreher? He argues that Christians should respond to secularization by following the example of the early monastics, withdrawing from a heathen civilization to build alternative communities where Christian virtues can be nourished and passed on. Is he right?

Standley Hauerwas: This Benedict Option idea comes from the last line of Alasdair MacIntyre’s book After Virtue, in which he observes that the barbarians have been ruling us for some time and that our future is “no doubt to have a Benedict, no doubt a very different Benedict.” Here’s the problem: Alasdair once told me that this is the line he most regrets ever having written! He wasn’t advocating some kind of withdrawal strategy – he was only pointing out that we can’t be compromised by the world in which we find ourselves. I don’t think your community, the Bruderhof, takes a withdrawal strategy, for instance.

I think it is appropriate to underscore MacIntyre's entire disapproval of the Benedict Option as well as his recognition for what it is, in the words of his theologian friend Stanley Hauerwas, "some kind of withdrawal strategy." Everybody using common English parlance recognizes two things: one, the intention of Alasdair MacIntyre's quip in After Virtue was not a fugit mundi and two, Rod Dreher's Benedict Option—if it is anything more than hashtag Christianity or fodder for a grad school mint julep fueled bull session—is most definitely a flight from the world, albeit with a few oddments crammed into one's pockets. Examples of the oddments would seem to include Diamond Dogs by David Bowie, Bitch by the Rolling Stones, a bottle of trendy French wine and a cell-phone photo of a one-legged stripper. Among other things.

Somewhere on the internets there is an article by a Benedict Option devotee wondering in print if MacIntyre was ever going to "break his silence" on the whole Benedict Option concept. I think the silence spoke loudly enough that, in the words of T. S. Eliot, it had the equivalence to a "That is not what I meant at all; that is not it, at all", and the development of the quasi-monastic lifestyle choice called the Benedict Option was based on a misperception of his original words. To put it mildly.

....What they set themselves to achieve instead—often not recognising fully what they were doing—was the construction of new forms of community within which the moral life could be sustained so that both morality and civility might survive the coming ages of barbarism and darkness. If my account of our moral condition is correct [one characterized by moral incoherence and unsettlable moral disputes in the modern world], we ought to conclude that for some time now we too have reached that turning point. What matters at this stage is the construction of local forms of community within which civility and the intellectual and moral life can be sustained through the new dark ages which are already upon us. And if the tradition of the virtues was able to survive the horrors of the last dark ages, we are not entirely without grounds for hope. This time however the barbarians are not waiting beyond the frontiers; they have already been governing us for quite some time. And it is our lack of consciousness of this that constitutes part of our predicament. We are waiting not for a Godot, but for another—doubtless very different—St. Benedict. (Source.)

Each Christian man or woman of good will must ultimately judge whether this paragraph has anything to do with the upcoming book about craft beer, communes, trips to Italy, photos of restaurant tables and thick glasses lying on stacks of books, etc. Personally I think MacIntyre would join the chorus of other thinkers we've noted—Bruce Frohnen, Joseph Shaw, John Zmirak (several times actually), Brendan Eich, Austin Ruse, William Briggs and Father Richard Heilman—and shout in unison: "BATS AREN'T BUGS!"

Well, if he were a shouting type of guy. By the way, yYou can add my voice to the mix as well if you'd like. That's my original thought on why we don't need the Benedict Option, or already have it and just don't use it enough.

It is worthy to note that the Bruderhof community is exactly the kind of group that cracks me up as much as Rod Dreher's silliness does. At one and the same time, they publish left-wing condemnations of private property as evil in and of itself and boast of the prime real-estate they own on their web-site. It's a cushy life-style; it reminds me one of my favorite scenes ever.

"You don't care about money because you have it."

I agree with the man: it should be about ideas

I advise everyone to sign up for Speaker Paul Ryan's updates. He is one of the most sensible people in the top levels of government in our country right now. It is very refreshing to read the things he communicates each day.

Reminds me of a quote: "Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people." True. Often attributed to Eleanor Roosevelt, this proverb is probably much older.

Monday, May 23, 2016

O Muse! O Seuss!

It's possible that no one on the GOP side of the political divide will ever receive a phone call asking for financial support ever again, now that a gracious billionaire like Trump is running things. But just in case we do get a fund-raising call, we now have the words to give to the script-reader in this brand new political world:

I filed my papers about a week ago. Everybody is amazed at the numbers. I'm very liquid. To finance a billion dollars I would have to sell a building, have to do something like that. Will I do that? I could. I have the option of doing it. I have a lot of cash and cash flow. Would I do that? I don't know. I have the option of doing it.

Will I do that? I could. I have the option of doing it. This is AWESOME. It is just what we'd been looking for. We finally have the words to use. It's entirely open-ended — it has the sound of a yuuuge promise to those praising the new emperor's wardrobe, but it's really just a tiny little shoulder shrug to the real people who actually have to hand cash money to other real people to buy groceries, light bulbs, etc. Plus it has that great Dr. Seuss ring to it:

Will I do that?
I could!
Would I do that?
I don't know.

The Cat in the Hat couldn't have phrased it any more poetically. Or convincingly.

So the tele-fund-raisers will start off their scripts by asking for $200.00 and I'll say "Will I give you $200.00? I don't know. I could. I have the option of doing that." And I'll wait t see if they offer me anything. This is all about the art of the deal. I've been giving too much away, you see, for signed photos of Bush and Romney. Now I want something real, something great.

So they'll ask if I can give the "minimum" of $45.00 and I'll say, "Would I do that? I don't know. I'm very liquid. I have the option of doing that. Who knows," and other short sentences, again waiting to see if the person can actually close the deal. I'm thinking that instead of a signed photo maybe they could get me a signed contract with my business and I'll make it $122.50.*

I'm hopeful that Mr. Trump has figured out how to Make Fund-raising Scripts Great Again since he has no doubt gotten his share of them in his lifetime from people making more that $11.00/hour. We'll have to wait and see.

* - Yes, I know that sounds like quid pro quo, but this is a brand new political era. Get with it, people.