Wikipedia notes author Rod Dreher’s involvement in controversies on race and gender, among other issues https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rod_Dreher

***

Rowan Williams, “The Benedict Option: a new monasticism for the 21st century,” NewStatesman, May 30, 2017 https://www.newstatesman.com/politics/religion/2017/05/benedict-option-new-monasticism-21st-century.

 Its argument is simple. For conservative religious believers, the battle on the political field has largely been lost; there is no point in wasting energy on forming coalitions to challenge or change legislation. What is needed, instead, is to develop a more densely textured religious life, in which regular patterns of communal prayer and intellectual and spiritual development will keep alive the possibility of inhabiting a nourishing, morally rich tradition. Christians ought to be more like Orthodox Jews or conscientious Muslims: living visibly at an angle to the practices of contemporary society.

This will demand a distancing from the assumptions of capitalism and the all-powerful market, and it will indeed entail the risk that Christians will find themselves de facto excluded from some professions. Dreher – an Eastern Orthodox Christian and a prominent conservative blogger in the United States – is sharply critical of a Christian rhetoric that ignores the evils of public acquisitiveness and selfishness while castigating personal delinquencies. He points to the tradition of monasticism as a model for developing alternative community patterns – hence the reference to Benedict – and invites a close reading of the saint’s precepts for monks as a guide to the practical challenges of living in close quarters with others. What lies in the more distant social or political future is not for us to see; but for now, what we need is a community life that seeks to live and worship with integrity and hopes to attract and persuade by the quality of its mutual care and the fulfilment of its members.

***

Yet there are aspects of his rhetoric that leave a deep unease. “The LGBT agenda” is a phrase that appears on the third page of  the first chapter, and the prominence given to same-sex relations reinforces the common perception that the only ethical issues that interest traditional Christians are those involving sexual matters. In recent interviews, Dreher has been rather less vocally negative about same-sex relations in general than he seems to be in this book, but the phraseology (as in the derogatory use of “transgenderism”), here and elsewhere, sounds a note of angry anxiety and contempt typical of some voices prominent in conservative American religious circles, and somehow jarring with the commendation of Benedictine hospitality and equanimity.

<hr>

David Brooks, “The Benedict Option,” New York Times, March 14, 2017 https://www.nytimes.com/2017/03/14/opinion/the-benedict-option.html.

Faith seems to come in two personalities, the purist and the ironist. Purists believe that everything in the world is part of a harmonious whole. All questions point ultimately to a single answer. If we orient our lives toward this pure ideal, and get everybody else to, we will move gradually toward perfection.

The ironists believe that this harmony may be available in the next world but not, unfortunately, in this one. In this world, the pieces don’t quite fit together and virtues often conflict: liberty versus equality, justice versus mercy, tolerance versus order. For the ironist, ultimate truth exists, but day-to-day life is often about balance and trade-offs. There is no unified, all-encompassing system for correct living. For the ironists, like Reinhold Niebuhr or Isaiah Berlin, those purists who aim to be higher than the angels often end up lower than the beasts.

The ironists believe that this harmony may be available in the next world but not, unfortunately, in this one. In this world, the pieces don’t quite fit together and virtues often conflict: liberty versus equality, justice versus mercy, tolerance versus order. For the ironist, ultimate truth exists, but day-to-day life is often about balance and trade-offs. There is no unified, all-encompassing system for correct living. For the ironists, like Reinhold Niebuhr or Isaiah Berlin, those purists who aim to be higher than the angels often end up lower than the beasts.

Throughout history we’ve seen a lot of purist religious faiths, from the Spanish inquisitors to the modern Islamic radicals, who believe in a single true way of living. Today we see a lot of secular purists: the students at Middlebury who want to shout down differing opinions, the legal activists who want to force Orthodox Christian bakers to work at gay weddings, against their conscience.

This movement has led many Christians to conclude that they are about to become pariahs in their own nation. One of these is my friend Rod Dreher, whose new book, “The Benedict Option,” is already the most discussed and most important religious book of the decade.

***

Rod is pre-emptively surrendering when in fact some practical accommodation is entirely possible. Most Americans are not hellbent on destroying religious institutions. If anything they are spiritually hungry and open to religious conversation. It should be possible to find a workable accommodation between L.G.B.T. rights and religious liberty, especially since Orthodox Jews and Christians aren’t trying to impose their views on others, merely preserve a space for their witness to a transcendent reality.

My big problem with Rod is that he answers secular purism with religious purism. By retreating to neat homogeneous monocultures, most separatists will end up doing what all self-segregationists do, fostering narrowness, prejudice and moral arrogance. They will close off the dynamic creativity of a living faith.

One thought on “‘The Benedict Option’: Notes and quotes from Rowan Williams, David Brooks

  1. I have been following the writing of Anne Snyder who I met through Plough, the Bruderhof magazine. Imagine my shock to find that she is David Brooks’ wife. No wonder he is in the middle of a religious conversion.

    Like

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