McKenzie: I could throw a bunch of statistics back at you about how automation has actually changed the job place more than global trade or how globalized production helps working families by keeping the price of products like cars and jeans lower. But I think what you are describing is a far more visceral response. It’s a fear of losing what was. So, if you’re like me, and think it is important that America not retreat from the global economy, how do you reach people who feel the way you describe?
Dreher: You’ve hit on one of the defining political issues of the period into which we have now entered. It’s one in which the familiar ideological stances of left and right don’t offer much help. Nor does the new populism, as articulated by Trump – if “articulated” is the right word – have a clear idea what to do about automation, for example. We are all, to some extent, flying blind.
I don’t think the fear is based on nothing. The numbers on income stagnation, a slowdown in productivity, the loss of good manufacturing jobs, and so forth, are undeniable. People feel in their guts that something has gone very wrong – and they’re not wrong. I don’t believe that Trump has the slightest idea how to get the economy back on track, but who could possibly have confidence that the neoliberal establishmentarians of the Democratic and Republican parties do?
A lot of folks on both the left and the right sensed that those establishments were satisfied to manage the decline of the middle class. This is what the Bernie Sanders phenomenon was about on the left, by the way. Sanders didn’t have the answers either, but at least he was speaking to the deep sense of alarm that people have, and the erosion of authority in the normative institutions – especially the political parties – in contemporary America.
The economy cannot be easily separated from the rest of life. It matters a lot to the sense of self-worth of workers that their labor is meaningful. Cheaper cars and jeans cannot compensate for the loss of work with dignity.
This problem is not quantifiable, which, in the minds of many economists and others, renders it unreal. But it’s happening. I am doing better economically than most people my age, but now that my first child is getting ready for college, it occurred to me the other day that I do not believe that my children will be more secure economically than their mother and I are.
I grew up in a working-class home in the 1970s, and despite the economic travails of that era, my generation was raised with the confidence that we would be better off than our parents. That was the natural order of things, or so we thought.
It didn’t hit me till the other day that I don’t know anybody who believes that anymore. Most of us, in my experience, believe that our kids will have to fight hard simply to hold on to what we have. The crash of 2007 and 2008 shattered a lot of people’s faith in the economic future, and I don’t think it has recovered.We can argue over the extent to which globalization has caused this widespread economic destabilization, but I think we can agree that it will be politically impossible to return to the status quo. Brexit and Trump show us that. In the future, politicians of the left and right across the West will have to find a way to rein in market forces for the sake of social stability.
We can argue over the extent to which globalization has caused this widespread economic destabilization, but I think we can agree that it will be politically impossible to return to the status quo.
Pope John Paul II said that the market was made for man’s flourishing, not man for the market’s. Before the present moment, one might have considered that to be religious idealism. Now, it’s political common sense, and leaders who don’t understand the wisdom there are going to be swept aside. Greater automation, though, is going to make the job of politically managing the decline of manual labor even more difficult.
What I don’t hear too many people on the left or the right talking about is the role that moral libertarianism plays in the unraveling of our society. I’ve been reading an advance copy of “Move Fast And Break Things,” a hard-hitting book by Jonathan Taplin, director emeritus of the Annenberg Innovation Lab.
The book’s title was Facebook’s motto for a while, meant to express Mark Zuckerberg’s ethos of disruption, which is what they call “creative destruction” these days. Taplin writes about how the form capitalism has taken in the digital age has tremendously negative consequences for democratic self-government. His book goes into detail about the Silicon Valley ideology of “techno-libertarianism” – Taplin’s term – has come to exercise outsized power in postindustrial America. It’s an economics book, mostly.
What I find so fascinating about the book is how the economic libertarianism Taplin talks about has developed alongside an equally powerful moral libertarianism – one that cannot help but have serious social and political effects. Put simply, radical individualism is powering the digital economy and dissolving old forms of doing business, just as it is powering social change, and dissolving old customs and forms.
The loss of community has been something social critics of the left and the right have been talking about since the end of the Second World War. Now we are seeing the family falling apart. A professor at a conservative evangelical college told me not long ago that he doubted whether many of his students would ever form stable families. When I asked him why, he said, “Because so few of them have ever experienced one.”
Capitalism is tearing apart the social institutions – families and communities — it needs to sustain itself. Don’t misunderstand – I’m not advocating socialism. But we have to understand what the dynamics of our individualistic cultural and economic values are doing to our social fabric, and deal with the world as it is, not as we wish it were.
Here’s the result of a good conversation I had with my old friend Bill McKenzie, who is now the Editorial Director at the George W. Bush Institute, and editor of its magazine Catalyst, in the current issue of which the entire interview appears. We’re talking about politics in the Trump era. Excerpt:
A reader writes:
I’m a Roman Catholic Seminarian studying for the Priesthood. I really appreciate your work. I just wanted to a) respond to your post b) ask you a question.
I think that you are essentially right; Catholicism and Orthodoxy both have the tools to survive the upcoming storm. But like a man with a big beautiful garage full of wonderful wood-working gear, it won’t really matter what fancy tools we have unless we use them. I think there are increasingly more young men studying for the priesthood (in the Catholic side of things) who are very faithful and orthodox Christians, and who want to use the tools at hand. Most of them are associate pastors and seminarians right now, but hopefully we will see some changes in the near future at the parish level.
That doesn’t mean, of course, that things will be easy for them. They will have to deal with a Church infrastructure designed in the 19th century which is rapidly fading; we have too many churches, built in a time when people had to walk to get to church, and not enough parishioners to support them all. I know a young priest who has four country parishes to minister to and is the vocation director for his diocese. I don’t know how he will be able to build a rich Catholic community with all that work, but by God he is trying.
Additionally, I notice in the commentary that some readers think that the Ordinary Form of the Roman Rite is not capable of providing the rich liturgical backbone for any Ben Op community. I would disagree, though I will admit I understand why they say that; there are a lot of boring masses, and a lot of study, silly things can happen in a parish during the mass. But I think that the Ordinary form, done with reverence, can be just as powerful as any other Liturgical rite out there. I might be a little biased though, that is the rite I am studying!
Which leads me to my question: What should pastors and those studying for the priesthood do to build up rich, fervent communities of dedicated Christians? It sounds strange, but you often hear about discussion about what the Laity can do (which is fantastic) but I am thinking about the Ben Op from a pastor’s point of view.
What a good question. It brings to mind something a Catholic parish priest friend told me 15 years ago: that the laity has no idea at all about the crisis coming their way — meaning the priest shortage. The numbers don’t lie, he said, but the laity carries on as if what they have today is going to go on forever.
Anyway, I agree with you about the Novus Ordo, believe it or not, because I have seen it celebrated with great reverence — especially by Father Paul Weinberger out in Greenville, Texas. Making a successful Ben Op dependent on the Traditional Latin Mass is unnecessary and futile. Don’t get me wrong, I fully support the TLM for Catholics who want it. I just don’t believe it’s strictly necessary. That said, that’s not an argument for me, but for Catholics.
What could priests and pastors (including Evangelical pastors) do for the Benedict Option? Here are some thoughts that come to mind:
- Prepare their congregations for hard times to come. No need to get all End Times about it — that would be counterproductive. But start talking in concrete terms about how important it is to double down on studying Scripture, church teaching, church history, and the lives of the saints.
- Build a culture of prayer and contemplation. Spiritual progress does not come without inner stillness, which is something very difficult to find these days. Churches tend to be very good at teaching people how to be Martha (that is, active in the world), but not so good at teaching people how to be Mary (that is, still, contemplative, present with Jesus). For many of us (this is certainly true about me), we think that we are doing the Lord’s work when we are reading theology or blogging, et cetera, when in fact we may be undermining ourselves and our Christian commitment by neglecting our prayer lives.
- Talk about what makes Christians different from the world, and the risk of losing our distinctiveness, and indeed our faith, through assimilation. Far too many of us prefer to live in a bubble, thinking that everything will always be this way. It won’t be. Which distinctives are important to hold on to? Where is the threat of assimilation coming from? How do we meet it?
- Take your parish school to the classical model. It falls to the Christian churches to preserve the heritage of the West. More importantly, classical Christian education provides a powerful counternarrative to what the world says the human person is. Education will be a prime locus of resistance to post-Christianity.
- Encourage community building, in part through doing traditional liturgies, communal prayers, and feasts. We need to thicken our communities, including our ties to the church of the ages, by reacquainting ourselves with traditional Christian culture. Read this Robert Louis Wilken essay for an idea of what we need to be doing. I just received this e-mail from an Evangelical who runs a school:I attended a well-regarded evangelical seminary. While there we learned that one of the great errors of the old missionary movements was the transmission of culture in addition to the Gospel.Why it did not dawn on me (or anyone else) that the moment we cross a border with a book, we are importing a culture, I do not know. I suppose only knowledge heavy, analytical math types (my seminary had many) would think they can reduce the Gospel to the affirmation of propositions. To this day, many evangelical seminarians are great analyzers of the text but have trouble putting it back together into a story that affects the culture and inhabits a people. Do Greek Orthodox believers have discussions about leaving culture behind while taking the Gospel?
After reading you and Jamie Smith, it is clear that culture is much harder to divorce from the Gospel than many had hoped or envisioned. There are cultural practices that either support or do not support Christianity. In typical evangelical Protestant ignorance, we abandoned traditional culture and norms without realizing that something would necessarily take its place! Its like abandoning liturgy but having the same you’ll-be-damned-if-you-change-it order of service every Sunday.
It is obvious to me now as a school principal that if we are going to direct the loves of our children that culture is the very thing we need to preserve. The practices of the old tradition were amenable to the necessary philosophical underpinnings of Christianity. Unfortunately, our youth programs in churches abandoned any adherence to the norms and traditions of Christianity and adopted progressive views of education from public schools. Youth group often amounted to nothing more than having a good time with emotive moments of commitment while transferring Christian content and encouraging children not to do bad things.
Take the entertainment god as an example. The love for unbridled and unabated entertainment enabled by the always-on-Internet has been co-opted by many youth pastors. All the while, this god requires us to think only of the pleasures of entertainment while ignoring that we are physical and spiritual beings with an obligation to self-sacrificial works which ennoble the soul. What good does it do to teach Christian content in a medium which teaches that pleasure is the ultimate goal of existence?
In my experience, Catholics are no better at this (despite having more resources), and neither are a lot of Orthodox churches. We all have to do better. All of us.
- Bring back fasting. Catechizing congregations on the importance of asceticism is critically important. All Christians used to fast at the appropriate times in the church calendar. They should again. It’s important.
- Don’t fear hard teaching. You will offend lots of people if you talk about what the church teaches, especially in the areas of sin that are most likely to have captured your congregation. If people leave, they leave. They were bound to do so anyway. If you preach right, you will call some to repentance, and you will encourage those who are trying to do the right thing — and especially you will encourage parents who are trying to teach their kids the faith. They (we) need to know that the church is behind us.
- Present the Christian life as a pilgrimage and an adventure. As something that cannot be reduced to rituals and moralism. As something that offers a real and powerful alternative to the emptiness of mainstream post-Christian culture. I did not know until I was an adult that there was more to Christianity than that, and that it was accessible to me as an ordinary believer, though I would have to work at it.
- Talk about real life. One grows weary of sermons that are perfectly good on paper, but that have no apparent application to the challenging lives people actually live.
- Challenge your congregation to get its hands dirty. I often tell the story about sitting around my Brooklyn apartment circa 2000, griping with some Catholic friends about the mediocrity of the institutional church and parish life. There was an orthodox Catholic priest present, and he said, “Everything you say is true, but you know what? That means that you guys have to step up.” He told the story about how his parents, raising him in the 1970s, could see the collapse of catechesis in their parish, and took it upon themselves to educate him and his siblings in the faith. The priest continued, “You can go onto Amazon.com tonight and order a library that Aquinas couldn’t have dreamed of, and have it delivered to your door. The resources are out there. Stop complaining and do something for yourselves.” I’ve never forgotten that. You, as a pastor, cannot be expected to do it all yourself. We in the laity have to step up. It was true in 2000, and it’s especially true in 2017.
Those are some thoughts off the top of my head. What do you orthodox Catholic, and believing Orthodox, readers think? Do you have some more suggestions? If you want to see the church liberalize, please withhold your comments on this thread.
(I wouldn’t mind hearing from conservative Evangelical readers too.)
I apologize for being away from the keys most of the day. Today is my 50th birthday. I drove up to the country to have lunch with my mother. We reminisced about the old days. “Lord, but you had a big head,” she said. The really old days.
She presented me with a present she has been working diligently on for over two years: a hand-stitched quilt incorporating my late father’s old work shirts, which he selected himself. The center panel, shown above, was lettered by him at the start of the project, months before he died. That’s his handwriting, is what I’m saying, rendered in stitches by my mother.
Look at the level of detail in her work:
Every single stitch, put there by hand! And here’s the thing: she has arthritis, which means that she labored through pain. For over two years! Stitching a quilt big enough to cover a bed.
It’s an heirloom, of course, and I love it with all my heart. What a sweet, kind, generous mother I have. She gave me life. I am knitted together from scraps of her and him. And now I have this quilt forever.
Julie and the kids gave me some nice presents too, but this one just knocked me flat and made me cry. It’s a watercolor of my faithful friend Roscoe:
I apologize for the glare in the photo. I couldn’t figure out how to get the reflection off of the glass (the painting has been framed). The artist is our friend Susan Woodard Kelly, who paints all kinds of things, including pets. When I took the wrapping off and saw the image, I was looking at Roscoe. I mean, this is my dog! I don’t know how Susan captured his expression, but she did. It’s all in the eyes. Oh, I was so happy! I cried like a baby. If you love your dog, you need to click on that link to Susan’s name, and commission a watercolor. She did that one from a photo of Roscoe. That too is an heirloom.
It was a happy birthday. It is still going to be a happy birthday. For dinner, we’re having sushi, vintage Champagne, and Chantilly berry cake.
I would like to read an open thread here from readers talking about how they met their true love. No politics, no culture war — just tell your love story. Now, I’m going out to get the sushi, and I will try not to break my hip. Fifty! Lord have mercy. Grateful, is what I am. Grateful.
UPDATE: Best dog ever. Don’t you dare contradict me:
UPDATE.2: View from your birthday table:
Not even a month into the new administration, and already its National Security Adviser has resigned after admitting lying to the Vice President and other White House officials about a conversation he had with the Russian ambassador. Just another day in the hot mess that is the Trump administration. David Brooks today writes about how to best resist the calamity.
If the main threat from Trump is that he will impose autocracy, then the model of resistance is Dietrich Bonhoeffer, writes Brooks, and that means mass protests and “aggressive nonviolent action.” But what if the main threat is that national politics turns into a sinkhole of wrathfulness, backbiting, and corruption? Brooks:
If that’s the threat, St. Benedict is the model for resistance. Benedict was a young Umbrian man who was sent to study in Rome after the fall of the empire. Disgusted by the corruption all around, he fled to the wilderness and founded monastic communities across Europe. If Rome was going to sink into barbarism, then Benedictines could lead healthy lives and construct new forms of community far from the decaying center.
If we are in a Benedict moment, the smart thing to do is to ignore the degradation in Washington and make your contribution at the state and local levels.
Karlyn Bowman of the American Enterprise Institute notices that some of the interns in her think tank are thinking along Benedictine lines. In years past they were angling for career tracks that would land them in Washington, but now they are angling to go back to the places they came from.
That’s interesting. Last week, I spoke with someone well-connected in Washington, who said that there are a lot of Christian Millennials in DC who are considering quitting their jobs and moving back home out of disgust, and because they believe that they can do more meaningful work elsewhere.
Read the entire Brooks column. He explains why he thinks we’re neither at a Bonhoeffer nor a Benedict moment, but rather at a Gerald Ford moment, awaiting a figure who can restore confidence and effective government to a system shaken to the core by crisis.
But first, the crisis. After these first three weeks, that crisis is not going to be long in coming.
UPDATE: By the way, The Benedict Option contains an entire chapter prescribing “antipolitical politics”.
UPDATE.2: I’m curious to know if any of this blog’s readers who work in or around Washington in a political capacity (including being part of the federal bureaucracy, working in a think tank, for a lobbying group, etc.) have been considering leaving for more settled pastures. If so, why?
The Trump administration has decided to keep President Barack Obama’s top advocate for gay rights issues at the State Department in defiance of evangelical groups who called for his immediate expulsion, Foreign Policy has learned.
Randy Berry, the Special Envoy for the Human Rights of LGBTI Persons, is continuing “in his role under the current administration,” a State Department spokesperson said on Monday. The move marks the latest surprise decision by President Donald Trump on gay rights as he juggles the agenda of his staunchly conservative cabinet and top aides, and his cosmopolitan, New York-bred daughter Ivanka and son-in-law Jared Kushner.
The special envoy position was created during the Obama years to fight back against the discrimination of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people around the globe. Conservative groups have called the office an attempt to “entrench the LGBTI agenda” into the United States government, and accuse it of browbeating countries opposed to gay-friendly school textbooks and same-sex marriage.
Berry repeatedly stressed that his goal was to convince foreign governments to stop violence against gays and lesbians rather than pressure every nation to allow same-sex marriage. “He was mindful not to be heavy-handed or overly colonial,” said Murray, who mentioned his work in countries with less tolerance for LGBT people, such as Uganda and Nigeria.
On Jan. 20, in one of the Obama administration’s final acts, it also named Berry deputy assistant secretary to the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor. Conservative groups blasted that decision as an 11th-hour move to place an LGBT-friendly diplomat in a position that has influence over U.S. policies at the United Nations. The State Department spokesperson said Berry maintains his duties in both roles in the Trump administration.
The spokesperson declined to say why Berry wasn’t reassigned or dismissed last month when a slew of other political and career officials were booted by Trump loyalists. A recently updated State Department organizational chart shows continued vacancies in positions opposed by Republicans on ideological grounds, such as the Special Envoy for Climate Change, a position previously filled by Jonathan Pershing. But Berry’s name and position remain intact.
I suppose the State Department will continue to catechize missionaries from post-Christian America. Look, if the US State Department stands up to countries that severely persecute LGBTs, especially with violence, well, I support the US State Department. But here’s the memo President Obama signed directing a policy change across the US Government, regarding LGBTs. Here are two particularly problematic paragraphs:
Sec. 3. Foreign Assistance to Protect Human Rights and Advance Nondiscrimination. Agencies involved with foreign aid, assistance, and development shall enhance their ongoing efforts to ensure regular Federal Government engagement with governments, citizens, civil society, and the private sector in order to build respect for the human rights of LGBT persons.
Sec. 5. Engaging International Organizations in the Fight Against LGBT Discrimination. Multilateral fora and international organizations are key vehicles to promote respect for the human rights of LGBT persons and to bring global attention to LGBT issues. Building on the State Department’s leadership in this area, agencies engaged abroad should strengthen the work they have begun and initiate additional efforts in these multilateral fora and organizations to: counter discrimination on the basis of LGBT status; broaden the number of countries willing to support and defend LGBT issues in the multilateral arena; strengthen the role of civil society advocates on behalf of LGBT issues within and through multilateral fora; and strengthen the policies and programming of multilateral institutions on LGBT issues.
To the extent this means that the US Government fights traditional religious and cultural family values through official channels and through civil society (e.g., like partnering with George Soros-funded organizations and others to undermine Orthodox Christian values in Macedonia), I strongly oppose my government.
Does Donald Trump wish to continue funding America’s culture war mercenaries abroad? The signs do not look good.
At some point, I’m betting that conservative Christians are going to wake up and realize that they’ve been played for chumps. I wonder what Mike Pence is going to do on the day he wakes up and realizes this? I’m not the only one who does.
UPDATE: Please notice that the Executive Order on religious liberty is now, apparently, dead. Trump did promise to sign the First Amendment Defense Act if Congress sends it to his desk. Well, Congress?
1. You spend time in places like Youngstown. And you walk around. And you think, "Damn. This is what the status quo has provided…" pic.twitter.com/HNUEKhZYAN
— Chris Arnade (@Chris_arnade) February 13, 2017
2. Blocks and blocks of streets with a few well kept homes next to empty lots. Then across the street is stuff like this. pic.twitter.com/s4GRGqhg5A
— Chris Arnade (@Chris_arnade) February 13, 2017
3. This isn't just a Youngstown thing. It is lots of places I go in America pic.twitter.com/U08Xt5qKfr
— Chris Arnade (@Chris_arnade) February 13, 2017
Read the entire thread. Thirteen posts. Thanks to reader M.C. for sending in the link.
You might have heard of Arnade. He’s a former Wall Street trader who has been traveling around America taking photos of ordinary people. Arnade is against Trump, but he’s also against smug, out-of-touch liberals and conservatives who don’t understand why so many Americans went for Trump. Read this Arnade piece. Excerpts:
Trump voters may not vote the way I want them to, but after having spent the last five years working in (and having grown up in) parts of the US few visit, they are not dumb. They are doing whatever any other voter does: Trying to use their vote to better their particular situation (however they define that).
Labeling them dumb is simply a way of not trying to understand their situation, or what they value.
1) The US is bifurcated into two (actually a few more, but at the highest level only two). There are the “elites” and there is everyone else. These two Americas are segregated, culturally, socially, geographically, and economically. They have gotten more segregated over the last 40 years.
The growing income inequality is one measure of this. Yet it is more than that. The elites have removed themselves physically. They cluster in certain towns (NYC, LA, Northern Virginia, Boston) and within those towns in certain neighborhoods. They dress differently. They eat differently. There is a culture of elitism.
The best single measure of elitism I see is education, the type and amount. A Harvard professor of sociology is more similar (despite different politics) to a Wall Street trader, than either is to a truck driver in Appleton, Wisconsin, or a waitress in Selma, or a construction worker in Detroit.
If you earn your money using your intellect (like Jonathan Chait), you score high on elitism, and you probably view the world very differently from a man driving heavy equipment in Birmingham, Alabama, who uses his body for labor. Or a guy flipping burgers in the Bronx.
2) The elites by and large control things. They control the money. They control the rules on how you make it. They also control the social capital. They set/define what is acceptable, what is allowable, and what is frowned on. (In snazzy academic speak: The elites define what is valid cultural capital, and have defined it to further empower themselves)
Arnade then applies a mathematical model to explain why non-elites vote as they do. It’s really worth looking at. And then he says:
Where do most of the press and elites get it wrong? They don’t believe that we live in a two-tiered system. They don’t believe, or know they are in, the top tier. They also don’t understand what people view as value.
When the Democrats under Clinton in the early ‘90s shifted towards a pro market agenda, they made a dramatic shift towards accepting the Republicans definition of value as being about the economic.
Now elites in both major parties see their broad political goal as increasing the GDP, regardless of how it is done.
This has failed most Americans, other than the elite, in two ways. It has failed to provide an economic boost (incomes are broadly flat), and it has forgotten that many people see value as being not just economic, but social. It has been a one-two punch that has completely left behind many people.
For many people value is about having meaning beyond money. It is about having institutions that work for you. Like Church. Family. Sports Leagues.
Read the whole thing, especially his conclusion. It’s punchy and to the point.
Are you a fiction writer who fears that your work may not be politically correct? Well, consult a “sensitivity reader” to find out. From Slate:
And so before her manuscript went to print, she reached out to a group of “sensitivity readers.” These advising angels—part fact-checkers, part cultural ambassadors—are new additions to the book publishing ecosystem. Either hired by individual authors or by publishing houses, sensitivity readers are members of a minority group tasked specifically with examining manuscripts for hurtful, inaccurate, or inappropriate depictions of that group.
On the site Writing in the Margins, which launched in 2012, the author Justina Ireland articulates the goal of this new fleet of experts: to point out the “internalized bias and negatively charged language” that can arise when writers create “outside of [their] experiences.” In April of last year, Ireland built a public database where freelance sensitivity readers can list their name, contact information, and “expertise.” These areas of special knowledge are generally rooted in identity (“queer woman,” “bisexual mixed race,” “East Asian, “Muslim”) as well as in personal histories of mental illness, abuse and neglect, poverty, disability, or chronic pain.
As a push for diversity in fiction reshapes the publishing landscape, the emergence of sensitivity readers seems almost inevitable. A flowering sense of social conscience, not to mention a strong market incentive, is elevating stories that richly reflect the variety of human experience. America—specifically young America—is currently more diverse than ever. As writers attempt to reflect these realities in their fiction, they often must step outside of their intimate knowledge. And in a cultural climate newly attuned to the complexities of representation, many authors face anxiety at the prospect of backlash, especially when social media leaves both book sales and literary reputations more vulnerable than ever to criticism. Enter the sensitivity reader: one more line of defense against writers’ tone-deaf, unthinking mistakes.
Well, what’s a “tone-deaf, unthinking mistake”? Is something that offends a Marginalized™ censor a “mistake”? That’s an extraordinary amount of power to give to someone over the creation of your art. More:
Even these readers acknowledge the risks of overpolicing artists if the practice were to be taken to the extreme. “Of course that’s a danger,” Roderick said. “Art is a mode of free expression, and if you put constraints on it, it can become stilted and contrived.” The hassle and potential discomfort of soliciting such feedback could theoretically have a chilling effect on writers working up the courage to venture outside themselves. “If authors are frightened of offending members of a diverse group, and having to deal with the horrible outrage that can ensue in those situations,” she said, “then they’re definitely going to shy away from writing diverse characters.”
Ya think? I’m old enough to remember a time when secularists made fun of Evangelicals for producing art that was bad because it featured arguments masquerading as characters, and narratives constrained by religious ideology. And now look.
I don’t think this is entirely wrong-headed. For example, I shared drafts of The Benedict Option with Evangelical readers because I wanted to gauge their reactions to the claims and propositions I was making in the book. In some cases, they made me rethink my position, and in others, their commentary helped me rewrite a passage to make my meaning more clear to Evangelical readers. This was tremendously helpful.
But I did not seek their counsel to avoid offending Evangelicals. Some of the material in the book will challenge them, and some will not agree with it. But it’s not offensive, or at least I intend no offense at all. I wanted Evangelicals to read it not so much for “sensitivity,” but for accuracy (about their own beliefs) and to help me understand if I was making my arguments in ways that made sense to Evangelicals.
I wonder if the “sensitivity readers” of these novels are able to tolerate a character or plot point that is anything but laudatory or otherwise positive about their particular demographic group. It’s hard to imagine a work of fiction getting better for its author having submitted it to the Politically Correct Review Board before sending it to its publisher — or the publisher doing so before going to print.
A “sensitivity reader” would be useful if he judged a work of fiction by whether or not it was realistic in its presentation of certain characters or scenarios. He might hate the fact that the villain of a particular novel is black/gay/disabled/whatever, but if the author has created a credible character and a credible setting, then he should have no objection.
UPDATE: Reader Kansan comments:
This post brings to mind a passage from the Dark Mountain Manifesto, which I got around to reading after Rod’s post on Paul Kingsnorth’s Dark Ecology a few weeks ago:
“Yet as the myth of civilisation deepened its grip on our thinking, borrowing the guise of science and reason, we began to deny the role of stories, to dismiss their power as something primitive, childish, outgrown. The old tales by which generations had made sense of life’s subtleties and strangenesses were bowdlerised and packed off to the nursery. Religion, that bag of myths and mysteries, birthplace of the theatre, was straightened out into a framework of universal laws and moral account-keeping. The dream visions of the Middle Ages became the nonsense stories of Victorian childhood. In the age of the novel, stories were no longer the way to approach the deep truths of the world, so much as a way to pass time on a train journey.”
I think you’d want a sensitivity check if you were aiming to sell books that pass time on a train journey more than if you were trying to approach the deep truths of the world.
Last week, I had a fascinating conversation with Dr. Al Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, in a podcast that has just been released today. In it, he asked me if I thought that Evangelicals had what it takes to do the Benedict Option. I told him I didn’t know. He said the answer is no, they don’t — but that historical Reformation Protestantism does. He goes on to say why Evangelicals need to draw much closer to their roots in the thought and practices of Reformation Christians.
Well, what about Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox Christians? Do they have what it takes to do the Benedict Option — that is, to live in a strongly countercultural way, building families, schools, and communities that serve as a contradiction to the post-Christian age?
My answer, as someone who has been both a Roman Catholic and an Orthodox believer for nearly a quarter-century, is, Yes, but — and it’s a big ‘but’.
We have a rich treasury of prayers and devotions in our traditions that have stood the test of time for over a millennia or longer. We retain a robustly incarnational worldview, which is important to the Benedict Option because it counters the gnosticism that has corrupted Christianity since the Enlightenment. As Ken Myers says:
Christians have the only account of human and natural origins that can give cultural life meaning. But even after 2,000 years of opportunity to reflect on the Incarnation, many contemporary Christians persist in believing in a Gnostic salvation, a salvation that has no cultural consequences. In such a dualistic understanding, our souls are saved, the essential immaterial aspect of our being is made right with God, but the actions of our bodies — what we actually do in space and time — are a matter of indifference if not futility. Salvation is an inward matter only. It affects our attitudes and some of our ideas. But insofar as our cultural activities have any Christian significance it is as mere marketing efforts — things we do to attract others to our essentially Gnostic salvation.
In the East, we have retained a beautiful and all-consuming liturgy. The Byzantine Catholic professor Adam DeVille, encourages Latin Catholics to learn from the East:
The first kataphatic or positive way the East might enrich the West is by helping it answer anew the question: what is liturgy for? If a Western liturgist observes Eastern liturgy, he will not have to wait long for the answer: it is for the glorification of God in the most beautiful manner possible. In the East, the Divine Liturgy is called that for a reason: it is about worshipping God in the beauty of holiness.
To learn from the elaborate, complex beauty of Byzantine liturgy, you must first stop believing all the fantasies foisted on people in the 1960s, when it was put about that the liturgies of Christian antiquity were supposedly pristine examples of simplicity, accessibility, and transparency (a “community meal”) until they were cluttered up with “medieval accretions” that Vatican II had to remove. Read Catherine Pickstock’s magisterial reversal (in After Writing: On the Liturgical Consummation of Philosophy) of this romantic guff.
In this spirit, stop assuming that young people today want “simple” liturgy using “relevant” or “modern” music patterned on concerts or Protestant mega-churches. They don’t. For almost a decade now, I have been sending hundreds of students a year to Byzantine liturgy as part of a class assignment. Every single time they come back staggered by what they see. Time and time again they confess, almost in a stammer, “these people are serious about worshipping God!”
And it is worship they are seeing—not a Bible study or community rally or lecture imparting “information.” In this light, the West must stop assuming that liturgy is primarily pedagogical and that pedagogy involves propositional learning in discrete, non-repeated phases and phrases. Once more, pay careful heed to Pickstock’s unrivaled critique of the modern Mass’s problematic assumptions of linear time. The human mind does not work that way, nor especially the human heart.
All Eastern liturgical traditions understand this wisdom of loving repetition. We repeat because we love. Byzantine liturgy is replete with its repetitions, usually in groups of three, both because love demands repetition (the child flung into the air by Daddy screams what? “Do it again!”), and because threefold repetition is of course a mnemonic device bearing a Trinitarian imprint.
It is hard to express to someone who has not experienced Eastern Orthodox (or Byzantine Catholic) worship how much richer it is than whatever they are used to. I’ve been doing it for ten years, and it has shaped my spirituality profoundly, in ways I could not have anticipated when I entered Orthodoxy. Eastern liturgy is an occasion of awe, of true wonder. And liturgy is important. Among Protestants, James K.A. Smith has been writing about this for some time, including discussing how things we do with our bodies forms our hearts. And, from The Benedict Option:
Even secular sociologists recognize the power of these physical acts to maintain cultural memory. In his book How Societies Remember, the social anthropologist Paul Connerton studies practices that various peoples have undertaken to hold fast to their stories in the face of forgetfulness. He says that when a community wants to remember its sacred story, the one that gives it meaning, it must make the story a matter of “habit-memory.” That is, it must absorb the story as something “sedimented into the body.”
The most powerful rituals involve the body, says Connerton. They make use of all the senses to impress the sacred story upon the individuals gathered. For example, when worshippers kneel or prostrate themselves at a certain point in a ritual, they learn in their very muscles the awe-filled meaning of that sacred moment—and it helps them remember.
Connerton’s study found that the most effective rituals do not vary and stand distinctly apart from daily life in their songs and language. And if a ritual is to be effective in training the hearts and shaping the imaginations of its participants, it has to be something that they are habituated to in their bodies.
Christianity is much more than an effective liturgy, of course. A rich liturgy that is not accompanied by sound teaching and strong practices would be little more than an aesthetic experience for a congregant. But if corporeality is how God created us to function, and if our tradition provides us with biblically based liturgies that cement the cultural memory of Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection in our bones, why would we not implement them?
Similarly, Orthodoxy retains a robust sense of asceticism among the laity, by observing the ancient fasts of the church, which have been all but forgotten in the West. Orthodoxy also offers a sense of stability (liturgical and otherwise) that has not been so present in contemporary Catholicism. And both traditions are vastly more stable than Evangelicalism, which is protean.
Catholicism, however, has a particular gift to offer the universal church: a matchless history of deep and complex philosophical and social thought. An Evangelical joked with me recently, “We outsourced all our thinking to the Catholics.” Plus, while Orthodox Christians are very thin on the ground in the West, Catholicism has the infrastructure and the population to support all kinds of local Ben Op efforts.
The problem is this: most of us don’t care.
That is, far too many of us treat our patrimony like it’s no big deal. We are ignorant of what we have, and don’t care. The people who are supposed to be teaching it to us failed. And we fail ourselves. Mediocrity is rampant. Unlike many of our Evangelical brethren, we lack zeal. We lack zeal for our own Christian lives, we lack zeal for the Bible, and we lack zeal for teaching the faith to others. We don’t have a sense of community, not like Evangelicals do. Our parishes become little more than sacrament factories or meeting halls for the tribe to plan its ethnic festival. All those sacraments, all that beautiful liturgy, all those profound prayers and deep thought — it means nothing if it does not draw us to a life-transforming relationship with Christ.
It doesn’t have to be this way. In The Benedict Option, my friend Marco Sermarini talks about his Catholic community in Italy:
In my travels in search of the Benedict Option, I found no more complete embodiment of it than the Tipi Loschi, the vigorously orthodox, joyfully countercultural Catholic community in Italy recommended to me by Father Cassian of Norcia. Motoring with Tipi Loschi leader Marco Sermarini through the hills above his city, I asked him how the rest of us could have what his community has discovered.
Start by getting serious about living as Christians, he said. Accept that there can be no middle ground. The Tipi Loschi began as a group of young Catholic men who wanted more out of their faith life than Moralistic Therapeutic Deism.
“That used to be my life,” said Marco. “I didn’t know the teaching of Jesus Christ was for all my life, not just the ‘religious’ part of it. If you recognize that He is the Lord of all, you will order your life in a radically different way.”
What Marco and his friends found, to their great surprise, was that everything they needed to live as faithfully together had been right in front of them all along. “We invented nothing,” he said. “We discovered nothing. We are only rediscovering a tradition that was locked away inside an old box. We had forgotten.”
We are only rediscovering a tradition that was locked away inside an old box. We had forgotten. Yes. This.
These are my initial thoughts. I actually have a lot more to say about Catholics, Orthodox, and our strengths and weaknesses on the Benedict Option, but I’m eager to hear from you. Make your comments constructive, please. Remember, we’re all in this together.
Megan “Not A Liberal” McArdle has a good column out concerning Trump outrage fatigue. She says that the outrageous things Trump does are coming so fast and furious that people will start to consider normal what ought not to be normal behavior for a POTUS. Excerpt:
Americans have a sort of privilege, a blindness to how wrong things can go in a country, because we live in one of the oldest constitutional republics in the world. Two centuries of largely peaceful proceduralism have enabled us to forget just how precious our civic norms are. They are precious, and they need to be maintained by active work. Instead, both sides of the political spectrum are increasingly looking to tear them down, always justifying their disastrous rending of our political fabric by the twin excuses of the splendid aims they mean to achieve, and the big holes that have already been ripped by those louses in the other party.
I’m also concerned that those of us whose job it is to point this out won’t be up to that job. I’m already tired of writing the “Trump had done something outrageous” column, because how many times can I point out that the man keeps acting in a distressingly unpresidential manner? And even if I write it, how long are readers going to be willing to read the same thing, over and over, with only the details changed for variety?
That’s what liberals worry about when they talk about “normalizing Trump”: that the sheer repetitiveness of his offenses against liberal democracy will make them ordinary and banal, that we will lose our ability to understand that each new outrage is, in fact, outrageous, and must be treated as such if we are to retain the precious legacy bequeathed to us by our Founding Fathers, and two centuries of successors who painstakingly built the liberty we now enjoy. When his supporters dismiss criticisms as hysteria, saying “It’s not that bad,” in some sense, they’re right: So far, he has not openly defied the courts, a la Andrew Jackson, nor explicitly threatened people who threaten his business interests. The problem is that the way you get to “that bad” is often through a long succession of “At least he hasn’t …” until finally, he does, and you find that the permission granted for earlier transgressions has created a blanket hall pass for gross abuses of power.
No, liberals are right to worry, and in fact, I don’t think they worry enough. Because the biggest risk is that even if we keep shouting “This is not normal!”, voters who have heard that a thousand times before will eventually yawn and say “No, actually it is.”
Read the whole thing. I thought about this last week, when the President of the United States tried to start a Twitter war with a retailer (Nordstroms) over its discontinuing Ivanka’s clothing line. As McArdle writes:
It also matters that it’s happening in the first month of his presidency, when he’s supposed to be busy figuring out how to run the country. If he’s this openly shilling for his kid’s business now, what will things look like in a year or two, when he’s had time to settle into the job?
During the fall campaign, I was not terribly worried about Trump’s proposed policies, at least not by comparison to his temperament. He has no maturity, which entails a complete lack of prudence. It shows in the chaotic way his White House is being run. Here’s a big story about how crackpottily the National Security Council is being run (e.g., staffers are having to read the president’s tweets and make policy to conform to them). And now we have to worry that the National Security Adviser lied to the Vice President about his pre-Inauguration contacts with the Russian embassy. The United States cannot afford incompetence (at best) and deception (at worst) at this level.
Ross Douthat writes today on the effect that Trump’s thin-skinned lack of discipline is having on him politically:
As a result, right now his presidency is in danger of being very swiftly Carterized — ending up so unpopular, ineffectual and fractious that even with Congress controlled by its own party, it can’t get anything of substance done. The war with liberals and the media may keep his base loyal and his approval ratings from bottoming out. But it does nothing to drive any kind of agenda, or pressure Congress to enact one. And the more the Trump White House remains mired in its own melodramas, the more plausible it becomes that the Trump-era House and Senate set a record for risk avoidance and legislative inactivity.
This morning, Trump tweeted out a bitchy remark about Mark Cuban, in response to an anodyne comment Cuban made to a group of business leaders, telling them not to worry about currying favor with the president, but rather to put the good of the country first.
I know Mark Cuban well. He backed me big-time but I wasn’t interested in taking all of his calls.He’s not smart enough to run for president!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 12, 2017
It cannot be said often enough: this surpassingly petty behavior demeans the presidency. The time Trump spends focusing on things like this is time he’s not spending focusing on the country’s real problems, and getting done what the people who voted for him want to get done.
Andrew Sullivan returned last week to a regular column. In his first one, he writes about how Trump lies constantly, about the tiniest things, and how exhausting this is. More:
One of the great achievements of free society in a stable democracy is that many people, for much of the time, need not think about politics at all. The president of a free country may dominate the news cycle many days — but he is not omnipresent — and because we live under the rule of law, we can afford to turn the news off at times. A free society means being free of those who rule over you — to do the things you care about, your passions, your pastimes, your loves — to exult in that blessed space where politics doesn’t intervene. In that sense, it seems to me, we already live in a country with markedly less freedom than we did a month ago. It’s less like living in a democracy than being a child trapped in a house where there is an abusive and unpredictable father, who will brook no reason, respect no counter-argument, admit no error, and always, always up the ante until catastrophe inevitably strikes. This is what I mean by the idea that we are living through an emergency.
I disagree. Under Obama, for example, the White House busied itself with Title IX activism, and with inserting the senior levels of the federal government into the way high school locker rooms are run. Still, I take the point. I’m starting to worry that the only real legacy Trump will leave is having unified and enraged the Left.
UPDATE: This morning’s examples of pettiness unbecoming a president:
Just leaving Florida. Big crowds of enthusiastic supporters lining the road that the FAKE NEWS media refuses to mention. Very dishonest!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 12, 2017
Assistant to the president and White House director of social media https://t.co/q1btswVE1R
— Jake Tapper (@jaketapper) February 13, 2017
We’re only in Week Four, by the way.
Below, three extremely thoughtful responses, the first from an Evangelical, the second from a Mainline Protestant, the third from an Orthodox.
This one is from Edward Hamilton:
One respect in which evangelicals share a set of challenges with Catholics is that they have an ecclesiology that is broad and open with respect to theological detail. In Catholicism this openness centers around sacramental practice, and in evangelicalism it centers around a personal conversion experience (and ongoing attempts to recreate the emotional dynamics of that experience during worship). But that forces both evangelicals and Catholics to be open to all comers, and to be slow to impose tests for doctrinal orthodoxy.
Most of the mainline denominations have a historical tradition of imposing boundaries, and are comfortable with documents (confessions, catechisms, canons) that clearly define those boundaries. That means that as mainline Protestantism has veered theologically leftward in the aggregate, it’s been pretty easy to reappropriate the same models that historically were used to segregate Lutherans from Presbyterians, and apply them to the project of segregating conservative Lutherans from liberal ones. Evangelical churches are terrified of shrinking their membership (church growth has become almost an idol), and with a near total absence of knowing how to express clear doctrinal standards in writing, they are constantly subject to a “hollowing effect”, as a generation of young Christians who don’t care much about doctrine will keep attending to sing comfortable songs, cultivate relationships, and start young families. This means they need to be culturally vigilant about infiltration in a way that (say) the LCMS never does. I think this is a utilitarian function of the constant tendency toward vacuous red-state expressions of solidarity: patriotism, American flags, anti-Obama sentiment. It’s an immune-system response that encourages self-deportation of outspoken progressives, but without requiring actual confrontation or schism.
If you average together all mainline Christians, then evangelicals actually look quite orthodox compared to mainlines, and it’s hard to make a case that higher liturgy and sacramentology (or for Anglicans, the episcopacy) are a silver bullet for surviving in a hostile culture. It’s mostly that conservative dissenters from the mainline crisis are much better equipped to draw lines around themselves that prevent them from being confused with the progressive wings of their own traditions. (“Look, it says ‘Orthodox Presbyterian’ right on our sign!”)
At the same time, everyone needs to realize that evangelicals got to this point (the elaborate but non-doctrinal subculture of Christian books, music, etc) for very good reasons. The more you try to fall back on doctrinal divisions, the more you have to be content to occupy a single niche. This is the challenge that the BenOp faces, as it realizes that every person has a slightly different set of essential points on which the culture must be resisted. Everyone wants a vision for the movement that is only rock-ribbed on exactly the right set of issues — boldly conservative on abortion and marriage, say, but relatively liberal on women’s ordination or creationism. (Pick your own set of issues to put in column A and column B.) And of course, the sort of denominations that are praised as being bastions of conservative Reformational Protestantism have that dynamic in spades. If you attend an Orthodox Presbyterian church, you’re going to be a theological Calvinist, full stop, and you’re going to regard that as an important aspect of your identity. If you aren’t or don’t, keep shopping.
One final thought, in reply to some of the specific complaints of the reader letter above. Evangelicalism, for all its faults, has been (like Donald Trump in politics) the beneficiary of being right about What Is Becoming Most Important In The World, even as it is has been wrong about the precise diagnosis or the correct response. That makes it very hard to deflect evangelicalism away from its current identity.
As a historical example of how this has worked, think about the Dispensationalist movement, which basically asserted three things: (1) Israel as an ethnic category will be important to God’s future plans, (2) the world, including the Church, will get worse rather than better as we get closer to the end of history, and (3) history will end with a terrible crisis, under the rule of a diabolic antichrist figure. Those claims probably sounded pretty crazy in the 19th century when they were first made, but the events of the 20th century made them seem vastly more plausible: world wars, fascist and communist regimes, the perpetual Middle East crisis. From a predictive standpoint, the optimistic postmillennialism of mainline missions agencies looked so very retroactively naive. Dispensationalists were certainly “crazy on the details” (like Trump) but they were absolutely right about the big themes at a time when everyone else was wrong — and in some sense, they deserved to conquer the evangelical subculture as their spoils of victory.
The same thing is happening right now. Even if the author of this letter thinks that evangelicals have been wrong on many the details about sex and gender since the Moral Majority emerged to defeat of the ERA in the 70s, it cannot be denied that evangelicalism was 100% correct in identifying that these issues were the essential pivot points around which post-Christian America would rotate into view. All of us are subject to confirmation bias, but the evangelical movement feels it is being quite rational in continuing to focus on these issues as the basis for their distinctiveness, as history keeps vindicating their revolutionary significance. That means that any attempt to say “No, we should instead by organizing around liturgy, or around sacrament, or around reading deeper into tradition” is going to remain a hard sell. This makes me pessimistic about the idea that evangelicals will move in large numbers toward a deeper vision of worship and praxis — which is exactly what they most need for long-term sustainability. Evangelicalism is a victim of its own successes.
This one is from REB:
People are very quick to criticize other people’s Christian traditions, and they are also very quick to lift up reasons that any tradition, other than one’s own, will wither under the assault of our hostile culture. By and large, most of these critiques have some merit. There will be a thinning of churches, left, right, center, orthodox, heterodox, and all other sorts. People who go to church and claim Christian faith for some reason other than genuine commitment to God as revealed in Jesus Christ will find the cost to be too high.
Some churches will cease to exist, others will hang on. But the wholesale dismissal of a tradition like Evangelicalism is silly. There are parts of Evangelicalism that will wither away. Many of the defenses that so-called Evangelicals use (like supporting Trump as if he is going to enact policy that will protect them) will speed the path to destruction. But there is a depth of faith and desire to wrestle with what Scripture says in many Evangelical congregations that I have not often found in other places.
I was having lunch one day with a group of Protestant theologians from several countries – USA, Australia, Germany, England – and the discussion was about the problems inherent in Protestantism, which are legion, and the appeal of Roman Catholicism and Orthodoxy. Then one of the theologians, who does a lot of work in Christian ecumenism, said that while all three great Christian traditions are beautiful and powerful in their own right, in practice they often don’t live up to the power and beauty of their greatest thinkers and proponents.
I am a Mainline Protestant, and am satisfied with that designation about 50% of the time, although I am theologically conservative for a Maninliner. I have read Schmemman on the Eucharist and have been moved by its beauty and power. I have listened to Orthodox priests talk about the transcendent beauty of the Liturgy and have thought that, perhaps, I should convert. But then I have been to Orthodox parishes that seem as thin and dead as any progressive mainline congregation, and have met people who are Orthodox who do not know much and seem to believe less. Then I read about how the Orthodox churches have been pulled into and have supported all manner of nationalist movements, including the Russian church’s broad support of Putinism, and I think, “Maybe they won’t make it.”
I have read Aquinas, Benedict, John Paul 2, and many other Catholic theologians and have been impressed and challenged by the power of the Church and its faithful witness through the centuries. I have been to mass and have been moved by the power of the rituals. But I have also been to mass where everyone, including the priest, seems bored to tears. I have been with people who claim to be devout Catholics who told me that they go to Saturday evening Mass to fulfill their duty before they go out to the bars to get wasted. I have met many Catholics who believe that the Church’s teaching is optional. When I see these things, I think, “Maybe they won’t make it.”
Protestantism is always struggling with questions of authority. I have met Protestant theologians and biblical scholars who are faithful, intelligent, and desire to understand and teach the scripture so that the Church will be strong enough to stand up to the tides of culture. Calvin, Luther, Martin Bucer, Menno Simons, Jan Hus, and many other shining lights of the Protestant Reformation and the magisterial reformers wrote and preached with conviction that is seldom matched. Their lives bore the fruit of repentance and obedience. But then, I go to Protestant churches that think the gospel never touches one’s personal life – especially one’s sex life. I have met Protestants who know NOTHING about the Bible or Christian doctrine (to be fair, I have met people from all Christian traditions who know nothing about the Bible). In Mainline congregations, I have sometimes wondered why everyone didn’t sleep in instead of going to hear another self-help sermon. When I see these things I think, “Maybe they won’t make it.”
If the culture is really turning against Christians (and I believe it is), and we are in for a time of winnowing and testing, then perhaps we should work to understand one another better. There are things that we can learn from one another. Orthodox and Catholic brothers and sisters can learn from Evangelicals to think about the place of our subjective experience of the gospel, and even to see where “marketing,” to some limited degree, can be redeemed. They can learn from the best of Mainline theology and theologians that there can be a rigorous and faithful questioning of scripture and tradition that begins with a hermeneutic of trust rather than suspicion.
Protestants of all stripes can learn from the Orthodox and Roman Catholic Churches the power of liturgy and deep practices that are too often stripped away from Protestant worship and practice. We need to be reminded of the deep tradition, and that the latest, greatest thing is not always the best and should be examined with skepticism and caution.
There are a lot more things that I could add to this list, but suffice it to say that serious Christians need to talk to each other, listen to each other, challenge each other, and pray for each other if any of us are going to survive the coming days.
There will be multiple traditions that survive, and the outward particulars will vary. We will still disagree about how the Lord is present in the Eucharist, whether worship should be led by guitars or organs, whether extemporaneous prayer or written prayer is better for our spiritual development, and whether women can serve fully in ministry or not. But these things are what Calvin called “adiaphora,” or things indifferent. That doesn’t mean that they don’t matter, only they are tensions we can live with and still consider ourselves brothers and sisters in the same struggle.
Amen to that. Evangelicals have a lot to learn from the Orthodox and Catholic traditions, things that I believe may help them to be better countercultural Evangelicals. Likewise, we Christians from the older traditions have things to learn from our Evangelical brothers and sisters — things that will help us be better countercultural Catholics and Orthodox. We will all need each other in the days to come, and we will find, as many of us are finding now, that we have more in common with serious Christians in other churches and traditions than we do with lukewarm Christians in our own. On Monday, after Dr. Mohler posts his podcast interview with me, I am going to link to it in a post posing Dr. Mohler’s question to myself and to Catholic/Orthodox readers: Do Catholics and Orthodox have what it takes to do the Benedict Option?
Reader Chickadee, who is Orthodox, speaks to what I’m talking about re: what we Catholics and Orthodox have to learn from Evangelicals about community-building:
I recently went to a reformed evangelical church. I was impressed with the strong sense of community there, and the warmth in which I was received. I had been to this church before for an apologetics group and met some of the worship leaders. All very orthodox, some having been involved in pro-life work. Young, too, and focused on their faith, many living in walking distance of the church (I live in the city). I am an Orthodox Christian, and read about the BenOp with some interest but it seems quite unrealistic if I were to consider it in my current context. I go to church to receive the sacraments and pray, and then I go home. I’m not the only one doing this. I may speak to a few people at coffee hour, but the church social life centers around (mainly ethnic) families and a very small number of tightly knit converts who have shown little interest in opening their group in the few years I’ve been attending. Perhaps it is out of survival in an ethnic church that these cliques develop, or perhaps it is a problem that occurs when like-minded people band together– they are suspicious and unwelcoming of outsiders. I don’t know. I do not see the kind of vital interest and zeal for living out the gospel that I saw in the reformed church, which is a shame because Orthodoxy is so steeped in tradition. I’ve observed–from my limited view–that most attending are coming out of family obligation and habit, and probably more at home in the world (based on numbers of late attendance, early leaving, clothing choices, only coming on Sundays and barely anyone during the week, etc). That’s fine and I don’t judge, but as has been said exhaustively in this blog– this mild approach will likely not withstand the winds of our changing culture, as it becomes more and more hostile to Christianity. Anecdotally, I have a friend there who deeply struggles with her cultural/ethnic identity (of which being an Orthodox Christian is an important part) and her liberal politics. She openly disagrees with the teachings on sex, abortion, and so on. I doubt she’s the only one, she’s just more vocal.
I mean to say nothing bad about where I attend – it is a lovely place to worship and the people are friendly enough. And I will not abandon the Orthodox Church because of any difficulties or challenges it faces today. But as for the closer forms of community and the zeal for the faith that seem necessary to living out a BenOp.. I have yet to go to an Orthodox Church where I have found that. I say it with sadness. I say it knowing that I am part of this reality, and know little about how to change the situation. From my own life’s experience, with Evangelical family, friends, etc.. for all of the ways I see it falling short, they do seem to have a real advantage in the area of community, and community that is built around Christ and discipleship. Perhaps they don’t have a strong foundation, but from where I’m at it seems like those Catholic or Orthodox interested in the BenOp could learn a lot from Evangelicals in terms of community building, hospitality, and the like. I include myself in this. Again, I could be totally wrong and having a weird experience but I have the feeling that I’m not.
You’re not having a weird experience. I wish you were. You have identified a big problem with Catholics and Orthodox.