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How Bad Is The Benedict Option?

My TAC colleague Emile Doak went last week to a panel discussion about The Benedict Option [1]It was sponsored by the Institute for Religion and Democracy, and held at the National Press Club in Washington, DC. Emile didn’t like what he heard, and writes about it in TAC today. [2] First, Emile identifies the panelists (I’m quoting this here because I’ll be talking about them later in this post):

Anglican Cherie Harder of the Trinity Forum, evangelical Alison Howard of the Alliance Defending Freedom, Joseph Capizzi of the Catholic University of America, Joseph Hartman of Georgetown University, and Bruce Ashford of the Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. Despite the panel’s ecumenical nature, its members were more or less unified in their reluctance to endorse a Christian “retreat” from the public square.

Emile questions whether “retreat” is what I’m actually calling for (again, more on this later), and says:

But the visceral reaction to the mere suggestion of stepping back from the public square from many in the Christian ranks reveals the much more subtle ways in which our small-L liberal politics has effectively Americanized Christianity.

Of course, Christians have an obligation to engage in the political sphere, a point made convincingly by Alison Howard from the Alliance Defending Freedom. Howard argued that, were all Christians to take the Benedict Option, the bakers, florists, photographers, and the like who are served by ADF would have no defense against a rapidly secularizing culture.

But this contention, compelling as it is, reveals the difficulty Americans have with grappling with the heart of Dreher’s thesis. Howard’s objection presumes that there will continue to be a sizable number of bakers, florists, and photographers who will raise Christian objections to secularism throughout future generations. This implies, more broadly, that current American political culture is hospitable, or at the very least neutral, to the cultivation of orthodox Christian practice. Under this pretense, robust political engagement among Christians can make sense.  The data, however, paint a foreboding forecast for Howard’s core presumption.

Read the whole thing. [2] Emile goes on to say that none of the presenters grapple with this side of the Benedict Option critique. That’s mostly true, though Bruce Ashford — notably, the only one of the panelists who lives and works outside the Beltway — touches on it in his presentation. It doesn’t get addressed directly until the very last audience question of the nearly two-hour event, in which a student says that everybody on the panel is ignoring one of the central claims of The Benedict Option [1]: that the church is especially feeble now, and unable to mount any real resistance to de-Christianizing trends in modernity.

That student is absolutely right — and it’s really important. More on which in a moment.

This morning, I watched a recording of the entire event online [3], and encourage you to do so, if you have the time. What follows is the summary of notes I took while watching. Consider this my own response to the panel.

The first speaker was CUA’s Joseph Capizzi. He questions my claim that the Indiana RFRA debacle and the Obergefell decision that followed soon after are “inflection points” in the religious and cultural life in America. What about Roe v. Wade? he asks. What about no-fault divorce? What about Jim Crow?

Let’s unpack this — and please keep in mind that these questions are answered in the book itself, should you care to read it.

First, on the Indiana RFRA decision, please go back and read this piece about my interview with “Prof. Kingsfield,” [4] an elite law professor, written in the immediate aftermath of the state’s capitulation to corporate pressure. The meaning of Indiana was that this was the first time corporate America took sides in the culture war — and it sided dramatically, powerfully, and consequentially with pro-LGBT activists, against the cause of religious liberty. In so doing, corporate America forced a Republican legislature and a Republican governor of a solidly red state to surrender. And get this: relatively few people objected. Kingsfield reached out to me after the Indiana RFRA, seeing in me someone sympathetic to his viewpoint. He said (this is from my 2015 piece):

“I’m very worried,” he said, of events of the last week. “The constituency for religious liberty just isn’t there anymore.”

Like me, what unnerved Prof. Kingsfield is not so much the details of the Indiana law, but the way the overculture treated the law. “When a perfectly decent, pro-gay marriage religious liberty scholar like Doug Laycock, who is one of the best in the country — when what he says is distorted, you know how crazy it is.”

“Alasdair Macintyre is right,” he said. “It’s like a nuclear bomb went off, but in slow motion.” What he meant by this is that our culture has lost the ability to reason together, because too many of us want and believe radically incompatible things.

But only one side has the power. When I asked Kingsfield what most people outside elite legal and academic circles don’t understand about the way elites think, he said “there’s this radical incomprehension of religion.”

Shortly thereafter came the Obergefell decision, which constitutionally mandated same-sex marriage. As I write in the book, Obergefell does not stand on its own, but is the culmination of a long process of Sexual Revolution, which includes no-fault divorce, abortion, and so forth. The reason the traditional marriage model collapsed so quickly in the face of gay activism is because the Sexual Revolution had already prepared the heterosexual majority to accept it. That is, most people already accepted that childbearing is only incidental to the meaning of marriage; that marriage is constituted solely by the love of two people; and that it is a contract that can be dissolved. Plus, most people have become convinced that sexual desire is at the core of one’s identity. It’s not what one feels; it’s who one is.

From a traditional Christian point of view, and from the point of view of religious liberty, these are massively important developments. For one, as Kingsfield avers, the constituency for religious liberty, when it conflicts with gay-rights claims, is disappearing. In The Benedict Option [1], I feature the comments of a former GOP state legislative leader, and a current lobbyist for religious liberty, describing how hostile the environment to it is in statehouses — and how powerful corporate interests are. In my view, there are still a vast number of Christians who do not understand any of this (the mainstream media is certainly not going to point it out to them), and who believe that the Republican Party is a faithful ally. It’s not true, and we’re fools if we think so.

But to be fair to the Republican Party, its goal is to win elections. If defending religious liberty costs it votes and campaign contributions, then it won’t defend religious liberty. If failing to defend religious liberty doesn’t cost it anything, then why should it take the risk of being called bigots and haters, and losing campaign contributions? The point I’m trying to make is that the Indiana RFRA moment was one of those times when the tide suddenly goes out, and you see who’s wearing a bathing suit, and who isn’t.

Obergefell is significant in particular because it puts traditional Christians on the same side, constitutionally, as segregationists. That is, it writes into constitutional law the modernist belief that sexual desire is constitutive of identity, and that to deny the full expression of that desire in law is to deny the full personhood of one who has those desires. If that is true, then in law, I see no way that traditionalists can be regarded as anything other than the moral equivalent of racists. If you don’t think this is going to have a long-term impact on religious liberty, you’re a Pollyanna fantasist.

Third, one meaningful difference between Obergefell and, say, Plessy v. Ferguson, the 1896 decision that upheld the “separate but equal” principle, is that Plessy was handed down in a culture that was still dominated by a general Christian worldview. It is a scandal to us today that many Christians of that time believed in segregation, but it’s important to observe that the cultural, social, and political forces that would eventually lead to Plessy‘s demise (in Brown v. Board) came out of the Christian church — especially the black church.

There is nothing like that in the churches today with regard to Obergefell, because churches either accept Obergefell as a victory for justice and moral progress, or think that it’s not that big of a deal. What Obergefell does is lock into constitutional law a view of marriage and family, and of the human person, that radically contradicts what the Bible and historic orthodox Christianity says is true. Prof. Capizzi is a Roman Catholic and a professor at the Catholic University of America. In 2003, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Vatican’s doctrinal arm, issued this statement about same-sex marriage. [5] Written by Cardinal Ratzinger and approved by Pope John Paul II, it reads, in part:

The Church teaches that respect for homosexual persons cannot lead in any way to approval of homosexual behaviour or to legal recognition of homosexual unions. The common good requires that laws recognize, promote and protect marriage as the basis of the family, the primary unit of society. Legal recognition of homosexual unions or placing them on the same level as marriage would mean not only the approval of deviant behaviour, with the consequence of making it a model in present-day society, but would also obscure basic values which belong to the common inheritance of humanity. The Church cannot fail to defend these values, for the good of men and women and for the good of society itself.

In light of this, I am mystified as to why Prof. Capizzi minimizes my concern about the Indiana RFRA and Obergefell as “somewhat provincial,” except perhaps in the sense that affirming them is easier professionally and socially out here in the provinces than it is in Washington, DC.

 

Capizzi accuses me of advocating “ecclesial introversion,” and says we don’t need that. Much later in the discussion — in answer to the final question — Capizzi dismisses the research Notre Dame’s Christian Smith has done, showing that young American Christians (and especially young American Catholics) are profoundly ignorant of basic Christian moral and theological claims. Capizzi says that faith waxes and wanes historically, so this is really not that big a deal. This is stunning. Capizzi sounds like one of those whistling-past-the-graveyard Catholic academics that Smith (himself a Catholic academic) reproves here [6], and, of course, at great length in this book [7] based on his sociological research.

In The Benedict Option [1], I cite a recent paper by two of the top sociologists of religion in the field, in which they survey recent and past findings, and conclude that America can no longer be plausibly thought of as a counterexample to European religious decline and secularization. We are now uncontestably on the same path as Europe — not as far along, but headed in the same direction. You go to Europe today, and talk to Christian parents trying to raise Christian children in a heavily post-Christian culture, and you try to maintain with a straight face that there’s not anything serious to worry about here.

Lots of people wonder why I use alarmist rhetoric in the book. This is why! When people are deaf, you have to shout.

Anyway, I do say quite explicitly that the church (Catholic and otherwise) in the West has to make its primary focus rebuilding itself internally. I will never tire of quoting church historian Robert Louis Wilken on this point: [8]

Nothing is more needful today than the survival of Christian culture, because in recent generations this culture has become dangerously thin. At this moment in the Church’s history in this country (and in the West more generally) it is less urgent to convince the alternative culture in which we live of the truth of Christ than it is for the Church to tell itself its own story and to nurture its own life, the culture of the city of God, the Christian republic. This is not going to happen without a rebirth of moral and spiritual discipline and a resolute effort on the part of Christians to comprehend and to defend the remnants of Christian culture.

With the partial exception of Bruce Ashford, not one of the panelists addressed this central claim of The Benedict Option. [1] I wonder why? Seriously, I wonder why. As I write in the book, we Christians are supposed to serve the world, but we cannot give the world what we do not have. 

Moving on, Cherie Harder had some complimentary things to say about the book. I should add that the Trinity Forum, of which she is the president, has been extremely open and generous to me in providing me a forum for the Ben Op. I consider Cherie a friend, and I am grateful for her constructive criticism. A real friend will speak openly and honestly with you. Certainly agreement on political, theological, and cultural matters is no requirement for friendship, at least not with me. I receive her criticism as that of a friend, and that is the spirit in which I offer my response.

 

I think she’s right that there are all kinds of ordinary things regarding keeping society running that we Christians cannot responsibly withdraw from. I thought that was pretty clear in my book, but maybe it wasn’t.

As a Protestant, Cherie says that I overstate matters by saying the Reformation stripped the West of Christian faith. This is a distortion of my argument. I included the Reformation in a list of events that, taken on the whole, and subsequently, got us to this de-Christianized place in Western history. The Reformation did not do this on its own, but only as part of a long process that, on my account, began around 200 years before the Reformation, within Catholic philosophical and theological circles. Of course, as I say in the book, the spectacular corruption of the Renaissance Catholic Church played a pivotal role too in bringing about the Reformation. The unhitching of believers from established Church authority might have been a good thing (I don’t think so, but let’s assume that it was), but there is simply no way to deny that it made inevitable the rapid fragmentation of Western Christianity, and set us all on a path to radical individualism, even though the Reformers could not have intended this!

My point in the book is not to say it’s all the Reformation’s fault. That is clearly untrue. But I hope that fair-minded Protestant readers will recognize that whatever the Reformation’s virtues, it played a pivotal role in ushering in modernity and classical liberalism. That used to be considered a feature, not a bug. It cannot be credibly de-emphasized now that liberalism has taken us beyond historically orthodox Christianity, even of the Reformation sort. This is the intellectual and theological legacy we all have to grapple with, not just Protestants. Most lay Catholics in the US today judge right and wrong by the verdicts rendered by their own consciences, which may or may not be meaningfully informed by the authoritative teaching of their church. Similarly, what does “Sola Scriptura” mean when you have so very many interpretations of Scripture? There are plenty of churches — including an increasing number of Evangelical churches — reinterpreting Scripture to affirm homosexual conduct and marriage. Who’s right? How does one know?

You need to read this very short, very important 2014 Tumblr post about the church and homosexuality, written by Alan Jacobs. [9] It’s addressed to Christians who are changing their minds and affirming homosexuality. Excerpt:

And that’s the key issue, it seems to me — that’s what churches and other Christian organizations need to be thinking about. Either throughout your history or at some significant point in your history you let your views on a massively important issue be shaped largely by what was acceptable in the cultural circles within which you hoped to be welcome. How do you plan to keep that from happening again?

OK, back to the IRD forum. I’m not quite sure why Cherie characterizes my book as saying that we all need to move to Elk County, Pa., and train our kids to be Latin-reading die fitters. That’s one example I use in the book to illustrate the kind of creativity faithful Christians are going to need in the future. It’s an example of rethinking what it means to live a good and successful life. I would rather have my son be a Latin-reading die fitter and live as a faithful Christian family man (if he is called to be a husband and father) than go to a top law school and get a job with a white-shoe firm in New York or Washington … and lose his soul, or the souls of his children. We are not all called to the trades, but far, far too many middle-class Christians don’t think of them as a plausible future for our children. Besides, the broader point I make in The Benedict Option [1] is that we are rapidly moving to a professional environment in which orthodox Christians will be effectively prevented from participating in certain professional fields because of their convictions.

This is not alarmist rhetoric. I talked to legal experts, medical professionals, and others who see it coming. What are we going to do when and if it does? Are we thinking about that? If we’re not, we’re fools.

 

Cherie also faults The Benedict Option for overemphasizing sexual sin, of emphasizing “sins of license” and underemphasizing “sins of oppression” — an odd criticism, as if I somehow think sexual license is worse than racism.

I admit, I didn’t see that coming. I don’t see that American culture is daily propagandizing its members with exhortations to embrace racism, and to celebrate it as liberation. I don’t see that churches are, in 2017, splitting in two because some claim racism is good, and others say it is bad. I don’t see that the issue of racism, or inequality, or poverty, or any other social ill, threatens to restrict religious liberty. At the present time, I don’t see marriages and families breaking up, or failing to be formed, because of racism. In the current issue of City Journal, Aaron Renn writes about the savaging of the social fabric in Appalachia.  [10]He writes:

Another problem is family dysfunction. Previous eras of economic hardship took place against the backdrop of a largely intact social structure and stable homes. Divorce and out-of-wedlock births are now far more widespread. As recently as 1990, only about 20 percent of Scott County births were out of wedlock. By 2002, this figure had doubled to more than 40 percent. The causes and effects of these shifts are subject to debate, but it is indisputable that legal reforms facilitated divorce and changing social mores dramatically reduced the stigma associated with out-of-wedlock births. Americans broadly want divorce and even single motherhood to remain socially acceptable choices—yet these behaviors are associated with poor life outcomes.

Scott County and places like it are dealing with the fallout. Conditions in the county now sometimes resemble stereotypes of the inner city, where parents are unfit or unable to raise their own kids. Graham observes: “One of the biggest changes is grandparents raising grandchildren, where you used to never see that—never.” These social changes occurred nationally but have hit communities like Scott hardest, leaving a sizable segment of the eligible population unemployable, regardless of how many jobs might be available. The problem in many working-class American communities today is as much social as economic.

Not “the only problem is family dysfunction,” but rather that it’s a problem — and one that is very hard to address, given that the sexual license embraced and promoted by our post-Christian culture — and even now in some of our churches — gives no solid ground on which to stand to re-form intact families.

From The Benedict Option [1]:

On a warm evening in the late autumn, a recently retired woman sits on the front porch of her neighbor’s house, talking about the ways of the world. It is two weeks before the Trump-Clinton election, and everything seems to be going to pieces, the neighbors agree. How did our country get to this place? they wonder. Both of the women are working class by culture, born into poverty but thanks to economic and cultural changes in the mid-twentieth century, they are now entering their golden years as members of a modest middle class. America has been very good to them and their families.

Yet neither woman is confident about the future for their grandchildren. One tells the other that in the past year, she has gone to six baby showers for young women in her family and social circles. None of the expectant mothers had husbands. Some had more than one child out of wedlock. The gray-haired women know what poverty and insecurity are like, and they can’t believe that these young women would bring children into the world without fathers in the home, given how much more likely children in those situations are to be poor. And where are the fathers, anyway? What is wrong with young men these days?

I happen to know these women. This is not a made-up anecdote. This is what life is like in the provinces. There is no structural oppression that will be more burdensome on those children than not having fathers in the home. I’ve had a number of conversations with Catholic and Evangelical college professors, both before and after the publication of the book, who have told me how worried they are that students they teach will not be able to form stable families — e.g., because the young men are preoccupied with pornography, because so few of these young people have examples of stable families to emulate, and so forth.

This is an enormous crisis. It doesn’t negate other crises, not at all. Economic inequality, for example, and structural barriers to social mobility is a huge one, and hard to solve. But I cannot think of a single crisis we face that is more important — and one that the church, by its nature, ought to be in a position to meet. But it isn’t acting like it. Why not?

Cherie says that my catastrophist’s tone is “overwrought and unhelpful,” because it’s simply not true to say that today, we have it worse than at any other time. She then cites a variety of social indicators that show we’re in much better shape than even back in the 1970s.

That’s certainly true, with regard to the statistics she cites. Plus, do we really want to argue that 2017 is worse than 1817, when millions of blacks were in bondage? Worse than 1917, when World War I was raging?

I think that kind of critique is too literalist. Why would an intellectual as brilliant and as theologically aware as Joseph Ratzinger liken our time to the fall of the Roman Empire? He says it’s because our civilization has lost its vital energy. It doesn’t stand for anything anymore. To take a MacIntyrean stance — as I do in the book — the dissolution we see around us comes from the loss of a shared view of the Good, or even confidence that such a thing exists. My argument is that our peace, prosperity, and social order is a façade. All it takes is a serious earthquake or two for it to come tumbling down.

There is no such thing as a Golden Age. Every age faces its own sins and challenges. Today, we may think that we’ve conquered the worst sins of our past, but you can be certain that a hundred years from now, our descendants will fault us for not being horrified by some great evil in our midst. The point I make in The Benedict Option [1] is that at least in the past, we had a generally agreed-upon moral framework for judging good and evil, and that meant we had a basis from which to understand it and to fight it. That basis was explicitly Christianity, or in the post-Enlightenment years, secular liberal values derived clearly from Christianity.

We have been in a period of transition away from that, and we are accelerating our distance from it. The signs of the times are clear in this regard. We Christians talk about influencing the world for the better, but increasingly, we can’t even successfully pass on the faith to our children. Why is that? This is a far more important crisis than whether or not Christians are effective advocates in the public square.

Finally, Cherie said that I shouldn’t call people “barbarians” because that’s unkind, and we can’t love our neighbors if we think of them as barbarians. Oh, it’s worse than that: I think of us modern Christians as de facto barbarians! Here’s the context in which I use the term. From The Benedict Option [1]:

MacIntyre said that a society that governed itself according to emotivist principles would look a lot like the modern West, in which the liberation of the individual’s will is thought to be the greatest good. A virtuous society, by contrast, is one that shares belief in objective moral goods and the practices necessary for human beings to embody those goods in community.

To live “after virtue,” then, is to dwell in a society that not only can no longer agree on what constitutes virtuous belief and conduct but also doubts that virtue exists. In a post-virtue society, individuals hold maximal freedom of thought and action, and society itself becomes “a collection of strangers, each pursuing his or her own interests under minimal constraints.”

Achieving this kind of society requires

This state of mind approximates the condition known as barbarism. When we think of barbarians, we imagine wild, rapacious tribesmen rampaging through cities, heedlessly destroying the structures and institutions of civilization, simply because they can. Barbarians are governed only by their will to power, and neither know nor care a thing about what they are annihilating.By that standard, despite our wealth and technological sophistication, we in the modern West are living under barbarism, though we do not recognize it. Our scientists, our judges, our princes, our scholars, and our scribes— they are at work demolishing the faith, the family, gender, even what it means to be human. Our barbarians have exchanged the animal pelts and spears of the past for designer suits and smartphones.

Insofar as we let the culture catechize us, and not the precepts of the historic Christian faith, the barbarians are us, even if we profess Christ and go to church on Sunday.

Joe Hartman is another friend of mine on the panel. It was he who introduced me to the concept of “liquid modernity,” which is important in the Benedict Option. I thank him in the acknowledgements. I received his criticisms in the panel as also coming from a friend.

I think I’ve addressed most of them in previous answers. I would just emphasize again that Obergefell was a major tipping point in that it marks the point at which the U.S. constitutional order became explicitly hostile to traditional Christianity, and to the Biblical model of sexuality, the family, and even the human person. It will be the basis on which religious liberty is taken from traditional Christians in the decades to come. And it is a signpost on the de-Christianization of America.

Yet I must emphasize here what I have stated many times in the past: if Obergefell had never happened, if there were no such thing as same-sex marriage, we would still need the Benedict Option. MacIntyre wrote After Virtue in 1981, after all. The diagnosis I make in my own book does not assume by any means that everything was fine until gay marriage, or that everything was fine until the Sexual Revolution. Bruce Ashford was the only one on the panel who discerned the core reason for the Benedict Option. I’ll get to that in a moment.

“The goal of the Christian life is to surrender our lives to Christ,” said Joe on the panel, not the achievement of virtue. OK, but what does it mean to “surrender our lives to Christ”? What are the fruits of that surrender? I have talked to more than a few Christians who seem to believe that faith is only a matter of one’s internal disposition. That as long as you have “accepted Jesus as your personal savior,” or in some other sense feel confident about one’s intentions toward God, that all is well. I was once at a meeting of Christians talking about the meaning of Obergefell, and one exasperated woman said, “When can we stop talking about gay marriage and get back to talking about Jesus.”  This is a disembodied, ahistorical, unscriptural, gnostic way of thinking of faith. Christianity separated from virtue as the fruits of humility, repentance, and faith, is nothing but emotivism.

I agree with Joe that we live in a secular liberal society that is heavily informed by Christian values. The Enlightenment was more or less a secularization of Christian values. What I would say to Joe, though, is that we can’t defend the good things of liberalism on their own terms. They have to be grounded in metaphysics — which is the very thing that contemporary liberalism denies.

 

I was most puzzled by the remarks of Alison Howard, a spokeswoman for Alliance Defending Freedom, one of the most important religious liberty advocacy groups. As I’ve said here on this blog [11], the work ADF does is absolutely vital to the survival of religious liberty in America. In The Benedict Option [1], I focus intensely on religious liberty, mentioning the phrase at least 17 times, by my count. Excerpt:

 

Though orthodox Christians have to embrace localism because they can no longer expect to influence Washington politics as they once could, there is one cause that should receive all the attention they have left for national politics: religious liberty.

Religious liberty is critically important to the Benedict Option. Without a robust and successful defense of First Amendment protections, Christians will not be able to build the communal institutions that are vital to maintaining our identity and values. What’s more, Christians who don’t act decisively within the embattled zone of freedom we have now are wasting precious time—time that may run out faster than we think.

Weirdly, Howard talks as if I believe that Christians should quit fighting for religious liberty. I cannot believe that she read the book that I wrote. She brings up Barronnelle Stutzman, as if the Benedict Option would leave her high and dry. In fact, I interviewed Barronnelle as part of my research for the book, and I wrote this in the book:

A Christian family might be forced to sell or close a business rather than submit to state dictates. The Stormans family of Washington state faced this decision after the U.S. Supreme Court upheld a state law requiring its pharmacy to sell pills the family considers abortifacient. Depending on the ultimate outcome of her legal fight, florist Barronelle Stutzman, who declined for conscience reasons to arrange flowers for a gay wedding, faces the same choice.

When that price needs to be paid, Benedict Option Christians should be ready to support one another economically—through offering jobs, patronizing businesses, professional networking, and so forth. This will not be a cure-all; the conversion of the public square into a politicized zone will be too far-reaching for orthodox Christian networks to employ or otherwise financially support all their economic refugees. But we will be able to help some.

Quite frankly, I’m ticked that Howard would give her listeners the impression that I encourage Christians to abandon people like the Stutzmans. On Friday, the Stutzmans asked the US Supreme Court to hear their case. They really could lose everything they own, this poor couple, if the Court refuses to hear their case, or rules agains them. The Benedict Option doesn’t say, “don’t fight this,” but rather, “If the Stutzmans lose, what then? What does the church do for them? What does it say to the rest of us about our futures? How are we going to cope with it?”

It all goes back to the way an Evangelical friend framed the question: “What’s your Plan B?” That is, what is the plan for when politics and law fails to protect us? How do we remain faithful under those circumstances?

Religious liberty is not an end in itself, but rather a means to an end, which is living a life of fidelity. Only a small part of The Benedict Option focuses on politics and political engagement. Mostly it’s about how to live a countercultural Christian life. Religious liberty does us no good if we don’t use it.

 

Howard goes on to say that she does not believe Christians are permitted to “withdraw or disengage.”

“Rod Dreher says he did not mean to encourage that. I don’t know,” she says to laughter, indicating that she doesn’t believe me. She goes on to say (starting at 1:09:30) that her biggest “contempt” for The Benedict Option [1] is that it encourages readers to believe that if we withdraw, “we will be left alone.”

The most charitable thing I can say to this is that Alison Howard manifestly did not read the book. If she had read the book, she could not have made that kind of false statement. If she did read the book, and still made that kind of statement, I am once again gobsmacked at how anyone can draw such a false conclusion from my words.

It is wholly false, and I invite you either to buy the book, or borrow it from your local library, and read it for yourself. You may disagree with some of it, most of it, or all of it. But at least you will know with what you are disagreeing.

Finally, my friend Bruce Ashford clearly did read the book, and to my way of thinking, understands the heart of it clearly. He says that what The Benedict Option [1] really addresses is the loss of “sacred order.” He says:

I think the heart of what [Dreher is] saying here is that he’s saying: Listen, you have thrown yourself into political activism for the past 30 years, and it has failed you. You have lost, and it is over. Don’t just redouble on the political activism. Take most of those energies — not all of them, don’t withdraw entirely — take most of those energies and put them towards strengthening local churches, local associations, families. So, less federal and state and more local; less political activism, and more church.

Weirdly enough, as the last of the five panelists, Ashford is the first one to say anything about “anti-political politics,” the politics I advocate, which takes up a big part of the book’s chapter on politics. None of the previous speakers even addressed this!

Bruce posits a Kuyperian alternative to the Ben Op, saying that we ought to have more church and more politics — a both/and, not either/or. He gives a short explanation of the Kuyperian concept of “sphere sovereignty,”  [12] which seems to me perfectly compatible with the Benedict Option. I hesitate to go further than that, because it’s likely that I don’t understand something about sphere sovereignty. But it makes sense to me. I especially resonate with what Bruce said about Abraham Kuyper’s teaching depending on the idea that there was a “normative order” to Creation. This is exactly what is lost in modernity — the idea that there is a sacred order manifest in the created world.

Bruce says that nothing is forever lost, and that we have to keep fighting for the regeneration of the created order. I agree with that too. The point of the Benedict Option, then, is to keep alive the vision of sacred order proposed by historic Christian orthodoxy (or, as the contemporary Reformed theologian Hans Boersma puts it, the “Great Tradition” of the church of the first millennium). We are failing to catechize, to form, to disciple, and to retain our own young people. We cannot hope to be for the world what God commands us to be if we lose this vision. And don’t doubt for a second that we are losing it.

During the Q&A period, someone in the audience asked if the Benedict Option, by positing that the West is in decline, implicitly agrees with Nietzsche’s proclamation that “God is dead”.

Well, let me take this opportunity to explicitly say that Nietzsche is right, in a particular sense. “God is dead, and we have killed him,” wrote Nietzsche. As you can read in this explanation of Nietzsche’s statement [13], the philosopher was an atheist who did not believe that there was a God to kill in the first place. He was saying that the Enlightenment destroyed the plausibility of belief in God, but the ramifications of that had not yet dawned on the West.

“When one gives up the Christian faith, one pulls the right to Christian morality out from under one’s feet. This morality is by no means self-evident,” wrote Nietzsche. “Christianity is a system, a whole view of things thought out together. By breaking one main concept out of it, the faith in God, one breaks the whole.”

Indeed. And by removing a central pin upholding the Christian anthropological vision, we will find that the whole thing will collapse. Nietzsche again:

What I relate is the history of the next two centuries. I describe what is coming, what can no longer come differently: the advent of nihilism. . . . For some time now our whole European culture has been moving as toward a catastrophe.

Joe Hartman says this remains a prophecy, that he personally is not convinced that we are in decline. I say that we are well into living out that prophecy, and that it is going to get worse. The most important thing to do is to think about how to endure what is coming faithfully, and then act.

UPDATE: Alan Jacobs loves you and has a wonderful plan for your confusing Ben Op life: [14]

 

100 Comments (Open | Close)

100 Comments To "How Bad Is The Benedict Option?"

#1 Comment By VikingLS On July 18, 2017 @ 9:55 am

“The “Mexicans are rapists” guy was swept into office with Evangelical support and maintains 80%+ approval from them.”

No, the guy who pointed out that the Mexican government was encouraging people they didn’t want to deal with, amongst them rapists (which is well documented) got elected.

#2 Comment By Franklin Evans On July 18, 2017 @ 9:55 am

Alan:

One thing anyone boosting religious liberty should understand: Secularists will never support religious liberty for Christians. Secularists will promote it for other groups, but we can’t depend on their support on religious liberty issues.

Like your reactions to he [non]readers of your book, Rod, I boggle at the myopic view of history promoted by statements like Alan’s. Alan, I don’t mean to talk past you, but your phrasing is perfectly in line with the 40+ years of my personal experience as not just a non-Christian, but a Pagan. Ponder that for a few moments, and as an aid extend the historic experiences of Jews and the recent experiences of Muslims. I write, as I must, from the perspective of a fringe religious group, but whose experiences ara a precise parallel to both of those groups.

To be blunt: Christians have proven for decades that they will promote religious liberty for some of their fellow believers, but we (Pagans, Jews, Muslims) cannot depend on their support on religious liberty issues.

There’s nothing complicated about this, good sir. There’s the group in power, and there’s those they support and those they oppose.

I respectfully suggest that you aren’t using secularists properly in this context. If you mean that to be people who elevate secularism to the level of a religion, they are very few and far between. Like Pagans, they have no holy text, no deity, no defining identity. They are free thinkers, in that they make a conscious choice to question and sometimes oppose the infusion of religious belief into politics and legislation. If anything, stipulating (not happily) that secularists are a monolithic grouping, they are firmly founded in the religion clauses of the First Amendment.

They are, q.e.d., quite as flawed and in some notable cases quite as corrupt as those they plan to replace in the seats of power. They use the politics of fear as quickly and as handily as the Trump campaigns and administration. They promote the notion of revenge, if not in so many words, but in rhetoric from which Rod can at least partially justify some of his more hyperbolic expectations of doom. This all has nothing to do with secularism, religious liberty or proving to Christians that they indeed have some things to fear. It is all about power, its acquisition and its use.

President Andrew Shepherd: He is interested in two things and two things only: making you afraid of it and telling you who’s to blame for it. That, ladies and gentlemen, is how you win elections.

— “The American President”, by Aaron Sorkin

There is a core validity to Rod’s Benedict Option, in my never humble opinion. It is the conscious and deliberate withdrawal from the dynamics of fear, and an attempt to build a rhetorical base on Christian faith and what I see is the oft repeated and completely laudable message of Jesus: love your neighbor. I trust Rod, his family, and the Christians with whom I’ve made acquaintance and contact through him. I find it very difficult to trust any Christian who insists on defining this moment in history as a competition of belief systems, and clearly (if only by implication) laments the competitive decline of the longstanding Christian hegemony in the U.S.

#3 Comment By DavidM On July 18, 2017 @ 10:04 am

What Tucker Carlson said in early 2016 about the results produced by bow-tied Establishment Conservative think tanks in general applies with even greater force to Cultural Conservative advocacy and policy organizations.

What has their advocacy, synthesizing, organizing, and strategizing accomplished? Losing ground, mostly. That they would be touchy about your pointing this out, and that something other and/or further than their work is now necessary for American/Western Christians, is no surprise. Not to be Bulverist in my analysis of their critiques, but they really need to dismiss The Benedict Option. So they do.

#4 Comment By Rob G On July 18, 2017 @ 10:07 am

~~~So what? There is no constitutional obligation for the law to conform to “what the Bible and historic orthodox Christianity says is true.”~~~

Tru dat. But the founders would be somewhat puzzled, to say the least, by the ensconcing of patently anti-religious, anti-Christian morality into law via non-Amendment amending of the Constitution.

That they would not have been enamored with Jerry Falwell doesn’t mean they would have embraced Dan Savage with open arms.

“All Christians now agree that we understand money better, that money is not really like a bottle of wine -Aquinas’ example- and that the correct reading of the Bible and the Church fathers, with our understanding of economics, makes it clear that charging interest is not a sin.”

Au contraire, over the past 10 years or so there has been a resurgence of interest (ahem) in the notion of usury and its relationship to consumerism, late capitalism, etc. See the work of Christopher Franks, Paul Cella, etc.

#5 Comment By Hector_St_Clare On July 18, 2017 @ 10:13 am

Oakinhou,

I love how the moral innocuousness of making ones living through charging interest is so obvious to you. It’s the basis of or society, so *of course* it couldn’t possibly be wrong right?

The moral innocuousness of interest isn’t at all obvious to me, and looking at late capitalist society today i don’t see why it should be obvious to anyone. I suggest there are a lot of Christians who might dissent from what you think “all Christians” today believe. Particularly in Russia.

Not every change that the church makes in the Name of progress is a good one, interest lending is a great example.

#6 Comment By TR On July 18, 2017 @ 10:23 am

If Potato is right and C. S. Lewis said he discovered reviewers don’t necessarily read the books they’re reviewing after he started writing fiction, then C. S. is stretching the truth. Any academic would have known that, and C. S. would have known exactly which of his fellow dons were especially guilty of the offense.

I started to write a long academic response explaining why certain readers/reviewers who do actually read the text are going to miss what you are saying, but why bore everyone–it’s evident that they do get you wrong. The only thing to say is “don’t take it personally, it’s just business”–the business of keeping their own preconceptions secure.

#7 Comment By Oakinhou On July 18, 2017 @ 10:27 am

“Reporting from the field…”

My true criticism of the BenOp (the book, and your blog posts) is that I think if focuses on a fairly limited sample of Christianity, and Christianity issues, and tries to extrapolate from it a general conclusion that I don’t feel is accurate.

What I mean is that you, Rod, write solely from a white, middle class, USA/European perspective. You’ve made clear why you haven’t, for instance, added the Black Churches perspective (because you are not familiar with it). Likewise, it’s clear that you don’t bring any of the Latin American/Hispanic Christianity (both in their Catholic and Evangelical/Pentecostal varieties) “worldviews”, and what are they doing right or wrong to perpetuate and pass on the Faith (*). And of course, the growing pains of the Church in Africa and Asia means they have to find ways to incorporate and align the traditional ways of life (for instance, polygamy) into Church life (**)

You, and others, might argue that it is unnecessary to consider the life and experiences of other communities because the Church’s teachings are crystal clear, and you either follow them, or you are not a true Christian. But the Latin American Catholic Church has for decades emphasized the social/economic teachings, from Rerum Novarum to Centessimus Annum and Laudatory Si, because they believe that’s what’s hurting the people they live with, much more than the USA bishops do. Will you argue that that is wrong, that they are MTDers, and that they are ignoring the true problem of Christianity?

(*) And I believe you would understand better Pope Francis and his pontificate if you understood the Latin American societies, their challenges and realities.

(**) I don’t mean for the Church to say polygamy is OK, but to find a way to incorporate the reality of existing polygamous families into Church life without just saying “kick the second wive(s) out of the house.”

[NFR: It is clear from my book that I didn’t set out to write a book about global Christianity, but only the Christianity of the West. Anyway, you think that the black church is free of Moralistic Therapeutic Deism? Really? — RD]

#8 Comment By Susan On July 18, 2017 @ 10:59 am

Regarding the post comparing revision of the prohibition of charging interest with the prohibition of same gender sex, the first was an Old Testament part of the Mosaic law and the second is clearly and unambiguously confirmed in the New Testament. We should realize that all have fallen short of the glory of God and not single out homosexuals as sinners but that does not mean that New Testament biblical morality should be discarded based on fashionable opinions of 21st Century people.

#9 Comment By Philly guy On July 18, 2017 @ 11:12 am

“And the whole world Has to answer right now Just to tell you once again Who’s Bad.” Michael Jackson

#10 Comment By dfb On July 18, 2017 @ 11:24 am

You seem to be handing “barbarians” a bum rap. According to the Roman historian Cornelius Tacitus, German barbarian tribes exhibited “objective moral standards,” accepted a “religiously or culturally binding narrative,” embraced the “memory of the past,” and were tightly bound by
“community” as well as any “unchosen social obligations.” For example:

“Thus with their virtue protected they live uncorrupted by the allurements of public shows or the stimulant of feastings. Clandestine correspondence is equally unknown to men and women. Very rare for so numerous a population is adultery, the punishment for which is prompt, and in the husband’s power. Having cut off the hair of the adulteress and stripped her naked, he expels her from the house in the presence of her kinsfolk, and then flogs her through the whole village. The loss of chastity meets with no indulgence; neither beauty, youth, nor wealth will procure the culprit a husband. No one in Germany laughs at vice, nor do they call it the fashion to corrupt and to be corrupted. Still better is the condition of those states in which only maidens are given in marriage, and where the hopes and expectations of a bride are then finally terminated. They receive one husband, as having one body and one life, that they may have no thoughts beyond, no further-reaching desires, that they may love not so much the husband as the married state. To limit the number of their children or to destroy any of their subsequent offspring is accounted infamous, and good habits are here more effectual than good laws elsewhere.”

Cornelius Tacitus, Germania, xix.

#11 Comment By LFM On July 18, 2017 @ 12:10 pm

TA says, “2) You are open to change, however infinitesimal, small, or large, acknowledging that the best we can do is get closer to God’s will without ever knowing it exactly – at least in this lifetime.”

Unfortunately, this is a heresy according to Catholic teaching. God does not keep His will with regard to our sexual behavior, or anything else, a secret from us, although of course it may take time for us to understand the implications of Christian teachings where there is a clear and explicit teaching.

Incidentally, on that subject, one of the reasons that it soon became obvious to Christian converts that Christianity and slavery were incompatible was that slaves had no free will regarding their own sexual behavior. Of course, slaves could be asked to commit all kinds of sins, including worse ones, but the evil of this was most visible in the sexual sphere because that was where illicit demands were most likely and most frequently to be made of slaves. If Master (or Mistress) demanded that you serve him sexually, you had to do so. But this was so clearly a violation of the human person’s free will that Christian thinkers began to consider whether it was right to violate free will in such a manner.

#12 Comment By Anne On July 18, 2017 @ 1:04 pm

Parents and pastors bewailing the state of pop culture has been practically a traditional American pastime for generations now. But considering American culture per se a threat to Christian faith and values is something else again. As a Catholic who grew up in the 1950s in a part of Protestant America where being Catholic was anything but cool, I find this attitude on the part of, not only some Catholics, but Protestants (!) disconcerting, to say the least. Although it seems to have slipped through our ancestral memory bank, American Catholics did manage to live in peace for some time with a Protestant majority who didn’t share many of our assumptions regarding sex, marriage and human nature even before the 1960s and its sexual revolution shook up virtually everybody’s traditional beliefs. Before then, the many occasions when that peace didn’t hold had little to do with anybody’s essential beliefs about sex, marriage or human nature, and a lot more with fears about who was taking whose jobs, and what would happen if Catholics got power and told them what to do.

Most of the fears you hear people expressing today seem fairly similar to the old ones, based more on personal needs and prejudices than teleology or tradition. Even now, it’s far easier to scare people with the specter of grown men in little girls’ bathrooms (as if) than to convince more than a few that their future depends on understanding the meaning of natural law.

#13 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On July 18, 2017 @ 1:21 pm

Or the time I walked into a corporate office in another southern state and immediately, came upon a table with a large open bible? Again, I remarked that this would most likely be a lawsuit in NYC. They chuckled, “liberals, pfft.”

You are blinded by your own prejudices. There would be no lawsuit, because the First Amendment bars congress, and as applied by the Fourteenth Amendment, the states, from establishing a religion. The constitution says nothing about whether a business will or will not display religious icons. And, if congress, using its authority to regulate interstate commerce, tried to ban such displays, it would probably be adjudicated as an infringement on the free exercise of religion.

Arguing about how gold has been the classical foundation for economies won’t be likely to get results.

True. There is nothing intrinsically valuable about gold. Its pretty, and malleable, but it serves as currency only because it is accepted as currency. As long as paper money is accepted at the grocery store, I can buy food with it. More and more, money is not even on paper, but simply a digital number in my bank account, which I can transfer on line or with a phone call. It is denominated in dollars, because we need a common point of reference. No particular reason it should be gold.

In James Blish’s Cities in Flight series (it was interstellar flight) for a long period germanium became the common unit of exchange, until a galactic depression made germanium nothing but a useful metal for electronics, and another substance became the accepted currency.

#14 Comment By davido On July 18, 2017 @ 1:37 pm

I am continually amazed at the capacity of my fellow Christians to be oblivious to what is happening under their noses. Most Christians don’t know RFRA from rutabaga, Obergfell from
orange juice. Meanwhile the Left is absolutely rabid. Combined with Biblical illiteracy, I think there will be a lot of falling away from the faith when it becomes apparent what the cost is. It will be a remnant, just like Isaiah prophesied.

#15 Comment By Khalid On July 18, 2017 @ 1:43 pm

” our peace, prosperity and social orde is a facade”

That’s a startling- and brave- thing to say. I think you’re right to say that this has been a long and drawn out process ( albeit one that has brought with it certain advantages and advances). The point remains: ” For what shall it profit Man..?”

Your point about the sexual revolution loosening things up ( or one in a series of attempts to normalise transgression) very much reminds me of Daniel Bell’s great ‘ Cultural Contradictions’.

If I understand you correctly you seem to be saying that other crises- financial, educational and cultural- are all secondary to, or stem from, an underlying * spiritual* crisis. Or is that wrong ? ( I know, I know, I should read the book!)

#16 Comment By Sands On July 18, 2017 @ 2:15 pm

The thing is, Rod, most American Christians, no matter what they claim, do not want to even partially withdraw from the culture. They’re sucked in as much as anyone.

[NFR: True. — RD]

#17 Comment By Rob G On July 18, 2017 @ 2:31 pm

“today, a sizable portion of Christians are saying that, with our understanding that homosexuality is not chosen, that homosexual people can -and do- enter into deeply committed, loving relationships, which, except for the Tab A in slot B part, are indistinguishable from those of opposite sex couples, with all that, we should conclude that the cobbler verses refer to certain behaviors, not to every same sex act.”

This is precisely the point at which the liberal view is incoherent. How can the “Tab A in slot B” part be radically unimportant ontologically, yet the “freedom” to manipulate the placement of these inherently unimportant tabs and slots at will be the most important freedom in the universe?

The compatibility of Tab A and Slot B means absolutely nothing, as does the incompatibility of Tab A and Slot C. Yet it’s frightfully important!, and of unprecedented historical seriousness!, that people be free to insert Tab A into Slot C without fear of other people saying it’s not a good idea.

I’m sorry, but WTF?

#18 Comment By Maris Taidgh On July 18, 2017 @ 2:55 pm

So, a bunch of people actually held a conference to respond to your book and didn’t invite you? Wow! They must find your ideas powerful. Else why would they bother? I would take an insane level of pleasure in this were I in your shoes.

#19 Comment By Prof. Woland On July 18, 2017 @ 2:57 pm

Interesting back and forth here.

I’m in the process of reading your book now.. so I won’t comment on the content raised in this thread.

I’m about 40 pages in.. and because I’m not the intended audience of this book (I’m a secular atheist–raised liberal catholic–who is involved in education and technology) I’m not likely to agree with the goals of the book for myself.. (and so far, I’m pretty unconvinced about a lot of the logic, claims, and evidence.. but more research is needed on my part yet..)

But that’s not what I’m really after. In the end, I don’t really have a bone in the fight about how Christians decide to act within their own little groups–it’s my secular liberal belief that they should do their own thing as long as they’re not imposing it on others.. so if they tend to turn inwards–that’s not so disturbing to me.

I’m more interested in the plan that I assume will be laid out to analyze it for whether it makes sense.. and when I finish it.. I’ll probably report back somehow.

[NFR: I don’t expect you to like the book at all, but I’m truly honored that you would take the time to read it. Thank you. — RD]

#20 Comment By Amish Farmer On July 18, 2017 @ 3:05 pm

A 1935 BOOK THAT’S VERY SIMILAR TO THE BENEDICT OPTION OFFERS PERSPECTIVE

In 1935 a book was published that makes very similar observations and arguments as “The Benedict Option” by Rod Dreher. The 1935 book is titled “The Church Against the World,” and was authored by H. Richard Niebuhr, Wilhelm Pauck and Francis P. Miller. Fortunately, this 1935 book is available to read for free online, on the Religion-Online web site. Here are some quotes from the 1935 book: “The task of the present generation appears to lie in the liberation of the church from its bondage to a corrupt civilization;” “In the crisis of the world the church becomes aware of its own crisis: not that merely of a weak and responsible institution but of one which is threatened with destruction;” and “A converted church in a corrupt civilization withdraws to its upper rooms, into monasteries and conventicles.” Now, what is the significance of a now forgotten book from 1935 that to a large extent states the problems and solutions found in Mr. Dreher’s Benedict Option book? Does it mean that every generation of the Church faces the problem of the possible corruption of the Church from the influences of a hostile culture and society? Recall that as early as about 60 A.D. the Apostle Paul wrote “Do not be conformed to the world” and the Apostle John wrote, “Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them…The world and its desires pass away, but whoever does the will of God lives forever.” And the Apostle James wrote: “Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God.” So it seems that even in the first generation of the Church the Church was already in danger of being corrupted by a hostile culture and society. But has the Church really been in danger of being corrupted in EVERY generation? Were there not glorious periods in the past when the general culture and government tended to support the Church and its mission? Don’t conservatives generally think of the 1940s and 1950s as such a glorious period? Well, this book from 1935 shows that at least some Christian thinkers saw the Church already being corrupted by a hostile society and culture in the 1930s. But what about the glorious periods when emperors, kings, czars and kaisers strongly supported the Church? Well, just read Dante, Dostoevsky, St. Augustine, St. Francis, Kierkegaard, Martin Luther, and St. Benedict to discover how corrupted and in need of reform the Church was in those times and places with the Church in partnership with the central government. Maybe in all times and in all places a large portion of professing Christians are always going astray and bringing dishonor upon the name of God and harm upon the mission of the Church. That doesn’t mean that diagnoses and prescriptions of “The Benedict Option” are of no value. On the contrary, it means that they are of perennial value.

#21 Comment By Charles Featherstone On July 18, 2017 @ 3:12 pm

It sounds like too many for whom partisan politics is their bread butter still don’t get that the church in the West, including (and possibly especially) America, has long lost any sense of what it means to follow and make disciples, instead substituting political and social pieties and an understanding of citizenship for the calling to follow Jesus .

If, as Andrew Perriman states, Christendom is the result of Christ judging “the nations” and making them subject to himself, then Christians and the Church must struggle with what it means to live in a world after Christendom. What do the promises of God mean to us given that we have no power, that we are not and cannot be the agents of that subjugation? This is where we need to remember the story of Israel, and that we *ARE* Israel. We need to understand Israel’s condition — faithfulness, apostasy, oppression, redemption, then rinse and repeat. We need to understand, to know, to *LIVE*, Israel’s rise as our rise, its demand to be like the rest of the nations, and the face that Israel’s own wealth and power were and are Israel’s very own undoing. That Israel was promised, from the beginning, blessings and curses for faithfulness and unfaithfulness, knowing that unfaithfulness is what Israel chose, and God *NEVER* abandoned or gave up on Israel. Israel goes into exile and captivity but is promised redemption and restoration. Is told how to be faithful in witness under occupation (“Serve the King of Babylon and live!”) and in Christ, is redeemed and restored. Christ is still judge of the Nations, and is still sovereign, even if we in our idolatry and decrepitness do not see it.

To live in post-Christendom is to live in exile. To live in exile is to weep on the shore of a foreign river in a foreign land, to serve masters we did not choose (and certainly did not vote for), and to bear witness to the power of God in our powerlessness — that we will risk fiery furnaces and lions dens trusting in God no matter what happens. We are unprepared for real powerlessness, and think we can still organize and fight our way out of this. That we can defeat the Babylonians and the Romans this time. We cannot today, anymore than we could then.

We must be a people prepared to endure and survive and even prosper in exile. And as long as we think we are entitled to a share in governing the empire that conquered us right now, we will be unprepared for that task.

#22 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On July 18, 2017 @ 3:35 pm

Tru dat. But the founders would be somewhat puzzled, to say the least, by the ensconcing of patently anti-religious, anti-Christian morality into law via non-Amendment amending of the Constitution.

That they would not have been enamored with Jerry Falwell doesn’t mean they would have embraced Dan Savage with open arms.

I am not enamored of either one. In fact, following Jean-Paul Sartre’s speculative theory of hell, I hope the two of them are sharing a stuffy baroque hotel room for eternity.

I am also not enamored of one-line arguments dripping with adjectives, when the substance behind the adjectives is not explained. I am querelous about Obergefell, but not because appellate justices have no legitimate authority to expound the meaning and application of the constitution — its an essential part of their job, as argued in The Federalist Papers. Also, not because the ruling is, per se, anti-religious. Rather, its a sloppy ruling that is more emotive than rational, and fails to define its terms (e.g., what is marriage) before proceeding to examine the controversy.

It is not, per se, anti-religious to decide that same-sex couples must be, or may be, or shall be, licensed, regulated and taxed. It is anti-religious to proclaim that anyone who harbors in their mind or teaches verbally or in writing that X is a sin, must be suppressed and prevented from doing so.

Would the founding fathers have been perplexed? Perhaps. There really was not a concept at the time of someone “being gay.” Homosexuality was a deviation that people fell into for various reasons. It was not respected, but not a high priority for prosecution either. And at the time James Buchanan occupied the White House, a senator who spent a lot of social time with the bachelor president was openly referred to as “Mrs. Buchanan.”

The genius of our constitution is that it does not try to spell out in detail all that is good and all that is bad. Government is delegated enumerated powers, citizens are protected by certain restraints on the powers of federal, and state governments, and certain powers are reserved to the states OR to the people (two distinct things). That’s why it has lasted so long — its a jurisdictional document. States can and should be restrained from exceeding their assigned powers, ditto for congress, the president, and the lower courts.

I think the religious conservative reaction was not so much to the fact that homosexual encounters happen, as to the shrill demand that it be normalized and respected. I think everyone needs to pipe down a bit. It ain’t all that, either in the positive or in the negative.

I don’t know what Alan means by “secularists,” but constitutionalists such as myself understand, in the immortal words of the late Justice Hugo Black, that when the First Amendment says “Congress shall pass no law…” it means congress shall pass NO LAW. It does not mean, congress shall pass no law unless congress and the supreme court decide that, on balance, the interest of the government in having the law passed is greater than the interest of the people in not having the law passed.

#23 Comment By Mike Elwin On July 18, 2017 @ 4:10 pm

The option is boringly typical–if you can’t change the system, isolate yourself and make a system that you can. It never achieves its grander goals but sometimes achieves lesser ones. After the anti-Vietnam War movement collapsed, thousands of activists ran to the countryside, explaining their actions in the same ways as the option is explained. They had some impact in advancing a broad cultural swing to the left, especially over environmental issues, but they’ve been ineffective in affecting national politics generally. The option is likely to have a similar outcome.

#24 Comment By TA On July 18, 2017 @ 5:32 pm

@LFM

I might have been unclear. Saying “we do not know” is not the same as saying that either God himself is changing or that advocating for normalizing same sex marriage is the right change to make. (Though I would take it in that direction.)

For example, in the Middle Ages the Catholic Church had very clear rules about the timing and circumstances for sexual relations. For example, here is a compilation of those rules as put together by scholar of the crusades:

[15]

That rule set is obviously nowhere in the Bible (though many were based on Biblical rules). I think those rules are silly, but would happily accept that the Church at the time was making them in good faith. i.e. That they believed they were discerning a more perfect understanding of God’s will for human sexual behavior.

The Middle Ages Church at the time developed them presumably in good faith. However, neither the early Church (~100 AD) or the Church of today would accept them as God’s will. The Church itself has changed it’s standards of right and wrong on sexual behavior.

So, someone is wrong, possibly to the point of heresy. And yet, if God’s will is so very clear, why such variation in teaching? Mainly because God may be clear, but we are very dense/stubborn.

None of that really has anything to do with SSM though. As an example of a logical possibility, the right answer could be that married couples are having way too much sex.

Bridging to SSM as an analogy to your slavery example there are two issues.
1) It’s pretty hard to twist “slaves obey your masters” into “slavery is antithetical to Christianity.” So, we now we just say Paul messed that bit up and don’t worry too much about it.

2) A plain reading of the New Testament makes it clear that Paul believes the Christian belief should be that marriage is an accommodation, not an exalted state/sacrament. Per Paul, it’s better to be single, but the fallback of marriage is necessary to avoid falling into greater sin. This mirrors the Orthodox teaching on divorce. It’s not ideal, but it’s a necessary nod to our natures.

Now, I don’t really agree with that hard-line, negative view of marriage and neither does any church (possibly outside the Shakers). However, it’s hard to reconcile saying “well, Paul just went kinda overboard with those bits” with “God’s will is just obvious.”

#25 Comment By Oakinhou On July 18, 2017 @ 5:50 pm

“NFR: It is clear from my book that I didn’t set out to write a book about global Christianity, but only the Christianity of the West. Anyway, you think that the black church is free of Moralistic Therapeutic Deism? Really? — RD]”

I do know quite a lot about the Church in Latin America, but all I really know about Black Churches can be written in a postage stamp, and I will still be able to send a letter, so I don’t doubt there is as much or as little MTD as you say there is.

But my question still stands, in a different way: Are you concerned about how to protect and strengthen Christianity, or how to protect and strengthen Western(*) Christianity?

(*) Using “Western” in a limited sense as proxy to Anglo Saxon USA/Canada/ANZAC and European Christianity. Latin Americans consider themselves (rightly) part of the Western Civilization

[NFR: I hope for Christianity to succeed around the world. My book is written for Christianity within the culture(s) I know, which is the Anglosphere, and to some extent Western Europe. I don’t know enough about Christianity in Latin America to say how applicable the Ben Op is to their situation, so I didn’t try. You’re mad not because of the book I wrote, but because of the book you think I ought to have written, but didn’t. — RD]

#26 Comment By Oakinhou On July 18, 2017 @ 6:29 pm

“Very rare for so numerous a population is adultery, the punishment for which is prompt, and in the husband’s power. Having cut off the hair of the adulteress and stripped her naked, he expels her from the house in the presence of her kinsfolk, and then flogs her through the whole village. The loss of chastity meets with no indulgence; neither beauty, youth, nor wealth will procure the culprit a husband. No one in Germany laughs at vice, nor do they call it the fashion to corrupt and to be corrupted”

I’m familiar enough with Tacitus to understand why this is, but it’s interesting to point out that all his description relates to the woman’s chastity, and the punishments to her if she violates that obligation. Tacitus is silent about how, if at all, the man was punished.

Given that German warriors were basically expected to rape the women of their foes (hello, uncle Chuckie), I doubt there was any concern about his obligations to remain a virgin until marriage, and chaste thereafter

#27 Comment By Hector_St_Clare On July 18, 2017 @ 6:50 pm

Susan,

Usury is condemned in the NT as well (Luke 6:34-35).

#28 Comment By Giuseppe Scalas On July 18, 2017 @ 6:56 pm

Oakinhou says:

July 18, 2017 at 7:58 am

But at some point, charging interest was de-sinned too, and, we act now as if interests had never been banned. Yet, Aquinas himself called it double charging, charging for the thing, and for the use of the thing, something we piously ignore when reading him.

All Christians now agree that we understand money better, that money is not really like a bottle of wine -Aquinas’ example- and that the correct reading of the Bible and the Church fathers, with our understanding of economics, makes it clear that charging interest is not a sin.

That charging interest was de-sinned is common myth that requires a little debunking.

As late as 1745 Benedict XIV, in the encyclical letter Vix pervenit, confirmed the doctrine. The same was made explicit again in 1873 in a Propaganda Fide instruction. Both documents reaffirm the conclusion of Scholastic Theology.

The Scholastics developed a theory of money as a universal measurement unit, which is compatible with the current understanding of money. According to St. Thomas, the final cause of money is facilitating exchanges. Therefore its only value is its use, or consumption. Whence the comparison with wine.

According to the doctrine of commutative justice, it is illicit to receive something exceeding the value of what was given. However, it’s licit ask a proportionate compensation for the risks and damages incurred because of the lending of money, namely: [16], [17], periculum sortis et dilationis (this latter meaning the compensation for the concrete danger that the loan is not returned).

Of the above titles for compensation, St. Thomas only admitted the first one, that is, the compensation arising from the unavailability of the money to the lender. However, other Scholastics admitted the other two titles.

St Thomas also accepted the return on financial investment as licit as, in that case, the money doesn’t change owner but is entrusted to a merchant or an entrepreneur who make a licit profit through the combination of their work with the goods and services bought with the money.

Though not central to the argument, it’s worth while pointing out that the most common reasons for loans, in money or in kind, were related to basic survival needs, such as getting through a bad harvest, a cattle epidemics or tax collections, or to fulfil inescapable social obligations (a marriage, a funeral…)
It was a common understanding that whoever asked for a loan, did so because he was in dire straits. Now, to make a profit out of a neighbour’s misfortune is obviously morally repellent, then as now.
The borrowing of money for discretionary consumption was almost unthinkable at the times of St. Thomas and, for sure, he would have condemned it as a sins of profligacy.

Finally, the 1917 Canon Law Code states on the matter:

“Can. 1543. Si res fungibilis ita alicui detur ut eius fiat et postea tantundem in eodem genere restituatur, nihil lucri, ratione ipsius contractus, percipi potest; sed in praestatione rei fungibilis non est per se illicitum de lucro legali pacisci, nisi constet ipsum esse immoderatum, aut etiam de lucro maiore, si iustus ac proportionatus titulus suffragetur.”

In other words: “If a fungible thing is given to someone into possession, for it to be returned in the same quantity and kind, no profit can be perceived because of such contract. However, as a guarantee for the fungible thing, it is not illicit to agree for a legal compensation, as long as it is not clearly immoderate, or even for an additional profit, if it is supported by a just and proportionate title”. Here it is made clear that the loan, per se cannot generate a profit, but as a compensation for the side effects of the loan (The validity and limits of those side effects have been clearly stated in the aforementioned encyclical letter href=”http://www.papalencyclicals.net/Ben14/b14vixpe.htm”>Vix Pervenit, which is unequivocally clear. There, the Pope warns against artificially inflating those “side effects” in order to gain an unjust profit from the loan.

#29 Comment By Hector_St_Clare On July 18, 2017 @ 6:58 pm

Oakinhou,

Latin America isn’t part of ‘the west’ insofar as the West is a useful term. Neither is all of Europe.

In any case, regarding homosexuality, I don’t know what you mean by ‘specific acts’, but I think the most likely interpretation of what Paul and the early church condemned was anal sex, per se, whether heterosexual or homosexual. Whether those acts were part of a loving relationship or not didn’t really concern them: what mattered was precisely Tab A in slot B.

#30 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On July 18, 2017 @ 7:41 pm

Anyway, you think that the black church is free of Moralistic Therapeutic Deism? Really?

The closest thing I’ve observed in black churches to what you facilely reference as “moral therapeutic deism” is an appetite for redundant and rather uninspiring lyrics set to pop music tunes. But in theology, they stick pretty close to traditional born-again Protestant beliefs, whether Methodist, Baptist, Holiness, or Pentecostal. What makes you think “MTD” must be rampant in black churches? (Besides the admitted fact that you known little to nothing about them, and that you see MTD everywhere like a Bircher used to see communists under every bed).

TA, God’s will is definitely not clear. That’s why I insist on being heterodox. If a full revelation were given to me of exactly what God wants and expects, with irrefutable proof that this was God speaking, not some devil, not my own imagination, I would have no choice but to comply — or I would be a fool not to. We don’t know. For now we see through a glass darkly.

For all I know, Erin Manning MAY be right on the role of the Papacy, the catholicity of the Roman church, abortion, gay marriage, and any number of other things. She believes these are true. Its not particularly productive for two people who are convinced of the best truth they know to argue about it. That’s why we have a First Amendment. I grew up knowing that my Catholic neighbors recognized seven sacraments, my Presbyterian church recognized two. It didn’t stop us riding bicycles up and down the street together.

I’m perfectly comfortable with the UCC proclaiming that God really isn’t bent out of shape about homosexuality at all. I’m perfectly comfortable with the fact that Pentecostal churches with 100 percent gay membership charismatically worship the living God, altar calls and all, while proclaiming that God loves their gay marriages. I’m perfectly comfortable with Missionary Baptist churches teaching that marriage is the union of a man and a woman.

Unless you are trying to pose a New Orthodoxy and cast the traditionally orthodox churches into outer darkness as heretics, the most you can claim is “Maybe I’m right.” And maybe you are.

#31 Comment By Seven sleepers On July 18, 2017 @ 8:09 pm

@Siarlys

Man, quite a verbose deployment of legalese. Repartee to what, at most, was a sarcastic quip on my part. Do put down that copy of Black’s, it is straining you, and seek out the series I mentioned called “Seinfeld”. It may be a helpful aid in elucidating future situations in which Nor’easter sarcasm is deployed.

@Oakinhou

How do I say this? What you are deploying is liberal fiction in which Rod or I cannot win. You want my response and his book to be about this larger vision of Christianity, but then you will berate us for not having that largesse or authority to speak on those topics?

This is very common in the liberal arguments deployed in Universities to which I have a simple reply that you will not appreciate, but which I mean without disrespect.

I agree with you.

Henceforth, never assume I am speaking to anyone or anything outside of people just like me. I am ok with that. Hope you are as well. I don’t believe in objective speech or universal language.

But, if I am only speaking to those I am permitted and authorized to speak to, are you, ostensibly, and others unlike me, just intruding on my private conversation? If you feel I haven’t addressed you or other global peoples(?), why did you insert yourself into my private conversation? To scold me? An honest question…

#32 Comment By JRP On July 18, 2017 @ 8:28 pm

The various naysayers have either not read your book Mr. Dreher or are simply pick-and-choosing for their own liking. I believe you made it very clear the intention for writing your tome in ch. 4; clearly it is not a call for full retreat, closing and locking the door behind us and then sequestering ourselves from the rest of the world and simply hope for the best but rather an orderly withdrawal to take stock of ourselves (i.e.the Church), to re-examine our relationship with the Divine, reinvigorate and solidify our faith but understanding too that as Christians – sons and daughters of God – we are not of this world and there is an enemy that we must contend with in all facets of our earthly and spiritual lives.
The accusation towards you of being an alarmist reminds me of the maligning of the great prophets of Israel. Take heart, you are in great company! The prophet Ezekiel was called by the Father to be His watchman on the wall and sound the trumpet of alarm. I believe your writing serves that very purpose and especially for those who can see the writing on the wall.

#33 Comment By TA On July 18, 2017 @ 11:36 pm

@Giuseppe

I have to say the attempt at “debunking” has the exact opposite effect. You used a lot of words but they boil down to:

“Sure the Bible says interest is wrong, but over the last 2000 years we’ve come up with a fancy argument that says it’s ok now.”

I agree with the end result, but it still comes down to some version of “we see through the glass a little less dimly now”.

#34 Comment By Oakinhou On July 19, 2017 @ 7:42 am

@Giuseppe Scalas

“St Thomas also accepted the return on financial investment as licit as, in that case, the money doesn’t change owner but is entrusted to a merchant or an entrepreneur who make a licit profit through the combination of their work with the goods and services bought with the money.”

This is the base of Islamic Finance (which prohibits charging of interest), including the understanding, present also in Aquinas, that if the merchant or entrepreneur failed in their enterprise, and the money was lost, the merchant had no obligation to repay it out of his own funds or assets.

This is closer to what we call preferred shares and preferred equity than to a typical bank loan.

#35 Comment By Oakinhou On July 19, 2017 @ 8:05 am

@ Hector St. Clare

” I don’t know what you mean by ‘specific acts’, but I think the most likely interpretation of what Paul and the early church condemned was anal sex, per se,”

I’m talking about what, specifically, is ‘arsenikoitai’, the very rare word used by Paul.

Because a similar construction is used in the Septuagint to translate Leviticus 20-13, it is likely that arsenokoitai does indeed refer to anal sex between men, which is, incidentally, the only activity homosexual condemned in Leviticus (*). In any case it is not the standard Greek contemporary word for homosexuality or homosexual acts. Hence the long debates about who and when, exactly, engages in arsenokoites.

(*) There is no condemnation of lesbianism in the Torah, though there are latter rabbinical ones. There is also no condemnation of oral sex between men.

#36 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On July 19, 2017 @ 11:39 am

Seven sleepers expounds on what the founding fathers really envisioned as they wrote the Supreme Law of the land. When someone responds to that question from a different angle, Seven sleepers tells us that all we need to know about constitutional jurisprudence he learned watching reruns of Seinfeld.

As to interest, I suggest that a modest return to compensate delayed gratification is reasonable. In other words, I could spend this money to buy a nice new car, although I don’t really need one. Instead, I loan it to you, and you start a business that will keep you and your family supplied with the necessaries of life. Over several years, you return the borrowed money, and pay me a bit more from the profits of the business, to compensate me for not having spent that money during the interim on things I would have liked to have.

That’s not much different from a person taking their own savings, not spending it on a new car, but instead investing it in a business that will support themselves and their family, and when the business generates more income, gets around to buying the new car.

#37 Comment By mike On July 19, 2017 @ 12:01 pm

Re: Alan Jacob’s chart. One way of understanding the different reads on BenOp may be that some Christians largely only understand their faith in terms of individual piety.

Christians who are trying to move out of fundamentalism’s individualistic and personal religion probably react negatively to BenOp, since it’s saying that the party’s over, culturally speaking.

#38 Comment By Rob G On July 19, 2017 @ 1:40 pm

~~I have to say the attempt at “debunking” has the exact opposite effect. You used a lot of words but they boil down to:

“Sure the Bible says interest is wrong, but over the last 2000 years we’ve come up with a fancy argument that says it’s ok now.”~~~

I think you need to read it again. More slowly this time.

#39 Comment By Oakinhou On July 19, 2017 @ 2:35 pm

As to interest, I suggest that a modest return to compensate delayed gratification is reasonable. In other words, I could spend this money to buy a nice new car, although I don’t really need one. Instead, I loan it to you, and you start a business that will keep you and your family supplied with the necessaries of life. Over several years, you return the borrowed money, and pay me a bit more from the profits of the business, to compensate me for not having spent that money during the interim on things I would have liked to have.

That’s not much different from a person taking their own savings, not spending it on a new car, but instead investing it in a business that will support themselves and their family, and when the business generates more income, gets around to buying the new car.

The difference, in Western finance, is that, if the Borrower’s business tanks, he still owes the borrowed money to the Lender. The Lender is not at risk in the success or failure of the business, he is entitled to money and his interest, no matter if the borrower was successful in his venture, or not.

That’s the plot of The Merchant of Venice. As far as everyone knows, Antonio’s businesses are under water -literally. Yet he still owes the same amount of money to Shylock. The success or failure of Antonio’s ventures have no impact on his obligations. Given that, even in the XVI century, it was understood that this kind of financing was contrary to Christian teachings, Shakespeare had to make the lender a Jew.

But, as someone said above, we see through a glass less dimly today. Otherwise, all our financial systems would be based in what is now called Islamic Finance (profit and loss sharing)

#40 Comment By Franklin Evans On July 19, 2017 @ 3:40 pm

As has been eloquently noted in several posts above, discrimination comes in many forms, has effects on various levels, and leaps over the boundaries of ideology and beliefs without regard to cogent arguments, however much they address the subjective aspects.

In topics like this one, I fall back on a deceased equine: the thrust of the Constitution and certain of the Amendments can be summarized as the government shall not pass laws solely based on morality.

The laws must pass a secular test. Regardless of the motivations of a person or employer, the act of discrimination cannot be justified on moral grounds.

I’ll skip over 14 years of being on the front line of regulatory compliance in the area of employment and benefits. I’ll further suggest that personal research will be egregiously tedious. Those not willing to have faith in my knowledge and experience are encouraged to pan the rest of this post. Those with plenty of time to spend can start with the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) of 1974.

Item: the explicit intent of Affirmative Action was to make the application, interview and hiring decision processes transparent. It defined the parameters for actions and decisions in each part. It was sabotaged by employers and politicians, notably by the unsupported use of quotas.

Item: Until recent decades, the social foundations for paying women less than men for the same work had moral support from many quarters. There were rational arguments made, some of them valid, but the sole remaining criterion — never stated openly, but with plenty of evidence supporting it — is because women can bear children, and employers don’t want to “waste” their money on employees who will predictably leave.

It should be remembered, as noted by at least one economist whose name I can’t recall, that employee compensation is seen by corporations as a cost of doing business, not due compensation for promoting and sustaining the business. Employee benefits used to be seen as incentives and an aid in retaining employees, and carried significant corporate tax breaks. In the present context, if corporations could use slave labor and be guaranteed zero taxation in the United States, they’d happily stay. Quod erat demonstrandum.

Christian business owners have a dilemma. They want to live their lives according to their faith, and cannot tolerate anything that prevents them from doing so even when the “prevention” serves to promote basic living conditions for their employees. I stand ready to respect that desire, but only if it stops short of the line drawn by our laws. That line is clear: in the conduct of commerce, beliefs are not justification for violating discrimination laws. In the conduct of faith and worship, no law can be written to either sanction beliefs to be imposed upon all, or to prohibit beliefs.

The Law of Merited Impossibility has a valid point: people are lining up to prohibit Christian beliefs, to be Orwellian Thought Police. That, in my view as a citizen and patriot, is an objective evil.

#41 Comment By Hector_St_Clare On July 19, 2017 @ 4:35 pm

Siarlys,

Alternatively, state run banks would nicely solve the moral problems having to do with usury.

#42 Comment By Susan On July 19, 2017 @ 4:48 pm

I would argue that Luke 6:34-35 is a call to generosity rather than a condemnation of usury.

#43 Comment By Giuseppe Scalas On July 19, 2017 @ 4:57 pm

TA

I have to say the attempt at “debunking” has the exact opposite effect. You used a lot of words but they boil down to:

“Sure the Bible says interest is wrong, but over the last 2000 years we’ve come up with a fancy argument that says it’s ok now.”

I agree with the end result, but it still comes down to some version of “we see through the glass a little less dimly now”.!

My point is quite different: What I’m trying to say is that the Church doctrine hasn’t changed significantly, not that the Church upholds the Old Testament prescriptions (interest is ok as long as it is charged to foreigners)

#44 Comment By Giuseppe Scalas On July 19, 2017 @ 5:08 pm

Oakinhou

This is closer to what we call preferred shares and preferred equity than to a typical bank loan.

This is definitely the case.
However, even in the case of actual loans, the Church always allowed for a limited premium (although until the XVII century there was a debate about the legitimate determinants of such premium, which coalesced around the three formulas I mentioned in my previous comment)
By the way, I’d be very much in favor to the emergence of BenOp financial institutions applying in full the Church doctrine on loans. And yes, they would partly resemble shariah banks.

#45 Comment By Giuseppe Scalas On July 19, 2017 @ 5:18 pm

Oakinhou

That’s the plot of The Merchant of Venice. As far as everyone knows, Antonio’s businesses are under water -literally. Yet he still owes the same amount of money to Shylock. The success or failure of Antonio’s ventures have no impact on his obligations. Given that, even in the XVI century, it was understood that this kind of financing was contrary to Christian teachings, Shakespeare had to make the lender a Jew.

This requires a clarification: a loan with no interest, or with a modixum of interest to cover for material riks, losses and expenses would have been legit even in the 1600s. However, this would have been very clearly an unprofitable business. That’s why Jews, who could legitimately reap a true profit from lending to gentiles, were the only ones in the business.

#46 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On July 19, 2017 @ 5:53 pm

When oh when is the middle going to rise up and dump the far left and the far right? Is there even a middle any more in this country?

That’s true of lending yams in traditional Ibo society too. Even if lending and borrowing were done through a People’s Central Bank, the individual depositor’s would expect the bank to make good on their savings accounts, while the collective funds of the bank would take the hit if the borrower had no assets to seize.

#47 Comment By TA On July 20, 2017 @ 12:07 am

@Guiseppe

My understanding was that you were calling on the Scholastics and Aquinas as the earliest points of reference for church doctrine. My point is that they are already quite late in church history so starting with them just ignores the majority of Church existence – especially if you view the Old Testament to be the precursor to the church. (i.e. Aquinas lived closer to our time than he did to Jesus’ time.)

I freely admit that my (quite Protestant) knowledge of the details of Catholic teachings is incomplete. However, starting with Aquinas’ time doesn’t really get you anything if you are arguing for consistency. Assuming you are correct that the Church has been wholly consistent since ~1200 AD, it would only demonstrate that the Church has been consistent for only the last 40% or so of church history.

By that logic, I have been married for my entire life. I just choose to start counting on my wedding day.

Any starting point other than the Old Testament, which is then viewed through the lens of the changed Covenant of the New, is just taking a selective, modernist view of the Church. Those much closer to the New Testament church (Basil, Gregory, etc.) did not view the Old Testament prohibition to have been lifted by the New Testament. At some later point, that changed.

Saying the Church has been completely consistent ever since it put the current policy in place for charging interest is just axiomatic.

#48 Comment By EngineerScotty On July 20, 2017 @ 3:14 am

The difference, in Western finance, is that, if the Borrower’s business tanks, he still owes the borrowed money to the Lender. The Lender is not at risk in the success or failure of the business, he is entitled to money and his interest, no matter if the borrower was successful in his venture, or not.

Of course the lender is at risk–if the borrower becomes insolvent, the lender gets a haircut. Lenders in the modern world are not entitled to claim a pound of flesh from a debtor, or imprison them, or subject them to forced servitude, or collect from relatives, or do any number of things that in centuries past, lenders could do to ensure a debt got satisfied. Even public humiliation of the debtor is nowadays illegal. And bankruptcy will wipe the slate clean (and US bankruptcy laws are well-known for allowing debtors-in-possession and their lawyers to bleed out a failing company, greatly reducing the recovery by creditors).

I’m speaking, of course, of legal lending businesses–your neighborhood loan shark may disagree with much of that.

That said–does this have any (theological) effect on the biblical prohibition against usury? Is usury no longer usurious if the creditor can no longer harm the debtor beyond collecting what assets he might still have, and as a result, bears far greater risk that the loan might go south?

#49 Comment By EngineerScotty On July 20, 2017 @ 3:18 am

This is the base of Islamic Finance (which prohibits charging of interest), including the understanding, present also in Aquinas, that if the merchant or entrepreneur failed in their enterprise, and the money was lost, the merchant had no obligation to repay it out of his own funds or assets.

The vast majority of business loans–whether venture capital investments (in which the risk of loss is high) or more conventional business loans (financing construction of a new building or other asset, for an established business), are made to corporate entites, which are legally separate from their equity owners. When a Silicon Valley startup goes bust, the founder doesn’t lose his house (or any other personal assets), because he personally isn’t on the hook; a corporation in which he is a shareholder (possibly the only one) is instead the named creditor. Limited liability 101.

#50 Comment By RES On July 20, 2017 @ 4:14 pm

One quibble that is really a larger weakness in this position than it might otherwise seem: I continue to find it appalling that Segregation is simply dismissed as a univocal scandal. Conversely, it truly mystifying that orthodox Christians today consider Integration as an unquestionable moral imperative. At the very least one might think that intelligent Christian pundits would recognize that the primary Liberal proponents of Integration were committed to that project for the same reason they are today committed to the gender/sexuality project

[NFR: I’m not sure I understand. Are you defending racial segregation? — RD]