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‘Le Pari Bénédictin’ Est Arrivé

Today is a big day for me, personally. The French translation of The Benedict Option [1] is published today in France. The French title is Comment être chrétien dans un monde qui ne l’est plus: Le pari bénédictin [2]which translates as: How to be Christian in a world that no longer is: The Benedictine gamble. 

I will be traveling to Paris at the end of this month to give a few talks. Believe me, I am very curious to know how French Christians will receive the book. The translator, Hubert Darbon, surely had a challenging job, trying to make a book that was written for US Christians relevant to the French.

Of course things aren’t so very different between our countries, not beneath the surface. This morning I corresponded with a French Catholic friend about the book and how it might be received in his country. We were talking about similarities and differences between the situation Christians face in the two cultures.

“Europe is old and crumbling,” he wrote. “We desperately need new ideas, new ways of assessing our own situation. Having an American viewpoint might be just the right thing, however paradoxical it may seem.”

My friend said that at least in the US, there is a robust community of Christian intellectuals still debating ideas. However diminished American Christians may be, they are still a force. In France, he said, “Our intellectual world has become one of political correctness, almost incapable of producing a decent religious discourse.”

We had an exchange about the place of faith in public life. I told him that it seemed to me that we Americans were moving swiftly toward a US version of laïcité, the French idea that exiles religion to the private realm. In France, it’s more than mere separation of Church and State. It confines religious belief to one’s personal life, and considers it inappropriate to mention faith in public. France has lived with this for a long time, and it’s clear that we Americans are moving in that direction too, though it will take us a while to get there.

Laïcité is strongly defended by the far left and the far right, said my friend, and both left-wing and right-wing parties of the middle vacillate between defending it and trashing it to accommodate Muslims. Otherwise, in politics, Catholics — and most French Christians are Catholic — have failed to make themselves into a meaningful political force, though not for lack of trying. Similar to the US, my friend says, Christians have directed most of their energies towards politics, and have ignored culture. The result is that most live no differently from everybody else. While trying to be a force in France’s political culture, they have allowed themselves to decay from within, and to be assimilated into modern life. Sounds familiar.

My friend also said that the only issues on which Christians there speak with a unified voice are abortion, gay marriage, and euthanasia. On economic and foreign policy, Christians fall in line behind the political right. Catholicism is (wrongly, in my friend’s view) understood as being a neoliberal capitalist with socially conservative views. “It is almost as though we have lost our ability to produce our own Christian political agenda,” he writes.

Again: sounds familiar.

I mentioned to my friend that I am unsure what to say about the question of Islam, which I expect to come up in one or more of my talks. I know it is a much more urgent and pressing question in France, where Muslims are about 11 percent of the population, than it is in the US. I told him that in the US, the public discussion of Islam is highly dishonest. Generally speaking, to the extent that we talk about it here, the media police the boundaries to keep anyone from drawing negative conclusions about the religion and what it might mean in American life. On the other side, it’s far too easy to find hysterical anti-Muslim paranoia on the right. I blame the media gatekeepers for this situation. I think many people grasp that the media cannot be trusted on the subject of Islam, but the lack of an informed public debate leaves the door wide open for some pretty nasty characters to have their say.

My friend said that Islam is “one of the most burning subjects here” — but the public discussion is dishonest in the same way it is in the US. The left demands laïcité, but is quick to discard that principle for the sake of embracing Muslims, including those who wear the veil. 

“It seems as though nothing can really be said about Islam,” writes my friend. “Whatever your opinion might be, you cannot really complain about its influence and the way it could endanger, or at least disrupt the Western way of life. You would be called an Islamophobe.”

Again and again: sounds familiar. But in the US, the question is at this point theoretical. We have a relatively small Muslim population. Not so in France. My friend said I should bear in mind that the Muslim question not only divides French society, but also divides Christians.

If I have any readers in France, I would love to hear your thoughts about these things, and also your advice for presenting the Benedict Option to French audiences.

22 Comments (Open | Close)

22 Comments To "‘Le Pari Bénédictin’ Est Arrivé"

#1 Comment By mdc On September 13, 2017 @ 10:13 am

Real question which would help me understand whether the BenOp is fundamentally anti-liberal, or rather fundamentally liberal. (I suspect the latter, but can’t always tell.)

That is: does the BenOp support religious freedom for tactical reasons (something like: we need religious freedoms in so far as they will secure the spiritual life of orthodox Christians in a diverse society), or on principle (something like: the state should protect religious freedom of each citizen out of respect for their equal dignity)- ?

#2 Comment By Nancy E. Head On September 13, 2017 @ 10:58 am

Fundamentally liberal in the classical sense. But we pursue freedom for tactical and moral reasons. It is both a matter of strategy and principle.

Spread the word, Rod. Spread the Word. God bless!

#3 Comment By ADG On September 13, 2017 @ 11:17 am

You might want to rephrase the “Muslim question” just so it doesn’t draw any allusions to the infamous “JQ”

#4 Comment By Khalid On September 13, 2017 @ 11:20 am

Good luck with the launch. I wonder if, when it comes to Islam, people are still reading massignon or h. Corbin?

#5 Comment By russ On September 13, 2017 @ 11:21 am

Beware of French hecklers.

#6 Comment By russ On September 13, 2017 @ 11:28 am

Vid didn’t embed, let’s try again:

[youtube [3]

If it still doesn’t embed, here’s the link: [4]

Beware French hecklers.

#7 Comment By Potato On September 13, 2017 @ 11:29 am

That is: does the BenOp support religious freedom for tactical reasons (something like: we need religious freedoms in so far as they will secure the spiritual life of orthodox Christians in a diverse society), or on principle (something like: the state should protect religious freedom of each citizen out of respect for their equal dignity)- ?

Very important question. After several years of reading here I am still not certain of the answer.

In other words, if it were suddenly possible to impose the rules of orthodox Christianity on the wider society, including on people who do not agree with those rules or whose religious opinions are otherwise, would the BenOp people go ahead and do it? All the talk about criminalizing homosexual sex and making same sex marriage illegal suggests that the BenOpers are only refraining from actions like that because they could not get away with it currently.

Historically my own church, the Catholics, have been anything but fans of religious freedom. Orthodox, the same, and many Protestant groups, the same.

#8 Comment By Dan Lo Pan On September 13, 2017 @ 11:39 am

I really would like to know where are all the American liberals who supposedly embrace Islam. The only place I hear about them is from conservatives in this com box.

#9 Comment By charles cosimano On September 13, 2017 @ 11:49 am

The media gatekeepers don’t do a very good job of keeping gates these days. No one is influenced by them any more because folks have seen through the con game.

In any event, congratulations. At least you will have some idea if the translation is accurate. When my books were published in Hungary they could have been goulash recipes for all I knew.

#10 Comment By JonF On September 13, 2017 @ 12:42 pm

I noticed “Pari” in the title at once. Are you OK, Rod, with your idea becoming a “gamble” in French?

[NFR: I was told that word better conveys in the French language what I mean by “option”. — RD]

#11 Comment By lexcaritas On September 13, 2017 @ 2:31 pm

Le pari . . . est arrive. (A single e to agree with the masculine subject. The French title is excellent: How to be Christian in a world that no longer is.

Our religion is privatized by the way, only because we have first made it so and, then, have agreed to submit and keep it that way.

How to change it? Be genuine and public about the One Who has made and saved us and Whom we love and serve.

Christ is in our midst,
rlb+

[NFR: Thanks, I fixed it. I’m losing my edge, fo’ sho’. — RD]

#12 Comment By catbird On September 13, 2017 @ 3:07 pm

When something happens all over the world independently, it’s smart to wonder if there isn’t a reason.

“On economic and foreign policy, Christians fall in line behind the political right. Catholicism is (wrongly, in my friend’s view) understood as being a neoliberal capitalist with socially conservative views. ‘It is almost as though we have lost our ability to produce our own Christian political agenda,’ he writes.”

So the majority religious community supports the more nationalist, more free market political party. Speaker seems to think this is an unusual problem. But really, how common is this?

US? Christians vote Republican, check
France? check
Israel? Observant Jews vote nationalist and free market, check
India? Hindus vote BJP (nationalist & free market), check
Turkey? Observant Muslims vote AK (nationalist & free market), check
Mexico? Observant Catholics vote PAN (not so nationalist, but free market), kind of check

In other words, nowhere in the world do religious majorities vote for economically left wing parties. (If someone has a major counter-example, let me know.)

Yet somehow, every single religion also has a small minority of academics who argue vociferously that the religion really demands somewhat left wing economics. Rod is one of them. On certain days, I might be one too.

What is this phenomenon? I don’t really understand it. You would think the content of the religion has some influence; but it doesn’t seem to have any influence at all on the economics supported by the majority party–Protestant, Catholic, Jewish, Hindu, Muslim–the religious parties all support deregulation and the agenda of the business class.

Whatever this is, it isn’t some peculiar US or French mistake, and it isn’t something that can be blamed on this or that clever electoral strategist.

#13 Comment By Renee On September 13, 2017 @ 3:26 pm

Dan Lo Pan @ September 13, 2017 at 11:39 am:
I really would like to know where are all the American liberals who supposedly embrace Islam. The only place I hear about them is from conservatives in this com box.

Dan, come to a university campus. You can’t avoid them.
Incidentally, a young Muslim student friend tells me that Islam is even deader than Christianity when it comes to the spirit of the religion. He says for the young it’s all surface and lots of hypocrisy. Certainly from a few students I know, they seem to suffer from the same embrace of contemporary western liberal culture that we see with many young Christians.

#14 Comment By JonF On September 13, 2017 @ 4:25 pm

Re: What is this phenomenon? I don’t really understand it.

Religiously involved people tend to be people with a certain amount of leisure and stability in their lives– middle class and above. And top religious leaders are often in or near the 1%. No surprise that they support the economic status quo.

#15 Comment By oakinhouston On September 13, 2017 @ 6:46 pm

Is there a reason why the cover was changed so dramatically? Particularly since Mt. St. Michel is in, you know, France.

[NFR: I don’t know, but I can easily imagine that a photograph of MSM would not have the same effect on French readers as on Americans. I think it’s also true that the image — which first appeared on the cover of Christianity Today — conveys more accurately what the book is about. — RD]

#16 Comment By cecelia On September 13, 2017 @ 10:13 pm

Just returned from a trip to Italy UK and Ireland. This is anecdotal but here goes. I was stunned to see how Italy has changed. Small communities with only the elderly. An absence of children. Refugees are apparent in the streets all over as soon as you leave the airport. Never heard so many people referring to the Battle of Tours. UK forget it – the globalist cosmopolitan neo liberal elites who benefit from a knowledge economy have no concerns for the communities outside London that are dying nor do they feel empathy for those who do not participate in that global knowledge economy. I feel like England is gone but no one wants to talk about it. And every criticism is met with cries of “racist” “xenophobic”. Ireland is still a different place – Catholic Church hit hard by abuse scandals but church attendance still decent and they have not totally succumbed to the consumerist culture. But the loss of confidence in the Church is apparent.

Materialism is a disaster and the institutions supporting it are so powerful. People seem to know things are amiss but there is no leadership to show them another way. But the unrest was apparent everywhere I went.

#17 Comment By kevin On September 13, 2017 @ 11:02 pm

“Laïcité is strongly defended by the far left and the far right, said my friend, and both left-wing and right-wing parties of the middle vacillate between defending it and trashing it to accommodate Muslims”

??? Um, was your friend asleep when France banned wearing visible religions symbols in public explicitly in order to stick it to the Muslims? Or when all major parties agreed on the burkini ban?

#18 Comment By Eric Mader On September 14, 2017 @ 5:52 am

Felicitations, Rod, with the accent aigu on the “e”, which I can’t find on this iPad keyboard.

When are you in Paris? Myself, your Taiwan fan, I’m here until the 25th. It’d be great to attend any talk you give, hear your French in action.

[NFR: Oh, too bad! I don’t arrive until 9/28! It is a blessing, though, that you don’t have to hear my French in action. Happily, the publisher is providing me with a translator. — RD]

#19 Comment By Stan On September 14, 2017 @ 7:21 am

Re: What is this phenomenon? I don’t really understand it

Socialist parties have tended to have a lot of members sympathetic to atheistic communism and occasional anti-Christian policies and this may be why some Christian voters have voted for fiscal conservatives in the past.

#20 Comment By Will Oberton On September 14, 2017 @ 7:59 am

Congratulations Rod. It is really great the book and the idea are speading. I really like the benedict gamble, bit. We really don’t know if it will work but we have to take the bet.

#21 Comment By Lewis Grant On September 15, 2017 @ 12:52 am

Have you read Pierre Manent’s Beyond Radical Secularism?

Or read this article of his?
[5]

#22 Comment By Pat Connor On September 15, 2017 @ 11:14 pm

Re: Free market support amongst the religious

In some ways, particularly in countries like Israel and France with highly concentrated public sectors that traditionally have seen a large degree of exclusionism and elitism among those who control the spoils, the free market actually does have a redistributionist and social justice element to it.

In Israel in particular, Netanyahu made a name for himself after his unsuccessful first go around as PM as the Finance minister, in which he broke up a bunch of old monopolies and copied what Thatcher did with British Telephone Co. and ensured that average people had access to the auction by putting a stiffer surcharge on those who bought more shares.

But in general, I would say that it has more to do with cultural identification. Communism and the Far Left, except in the Latin American context through Liberation theology, is deeply anti-religious and disruptive to localist institutions.

Some of my more conspiratorial minded friends believe that leftism basically is a religion into itself with deities (muh marginalized groups, muh gays), a punisher to sacrifice to (the Environment), a hierarchy of importance (intersectionality debates; white gay men? Not as important as disabled trans black women), and a permanent struggle against evil (privilege and inequality, which by the way is only ramped up by more diversity, causing another struggle to form). The idea is that leftism and irreligion are linked. To some degree, I can see that. The deificiation of the state and the idea that the state can be all powerful is a leftist urge.

There are examples of leftist religious parties holding power, however, especially in the Middle East. Saddam’s Ba’athist Party was relatively leftist, and went from secular in the 60s to fundamentalist in the 90s (remember the Blood Koran? Likely heretical, but still..).

In Romania, the Social Democrats are supported by socially conservative religious people, in opposition to the market liberals and social liberals. The same I believe goes for Slovakia, or one of the other post-Eastern Bloc states. And of course, Law and Justice in Poland is a relatively left leaning party on economic matters and is virulently Catholic on social matters. So I think Eastern Europe is probably what you would be looking for with a non-free market religiously supported party. I believe the reason for this is that the Communist elites of the 80s in Eastern Europe never really believed in Communism, but just in elitism, and they turned their coat quite quickly in the 90s and kept their elite, social liberal status.