C.S. Lewis’s Benedict Option

Long before the '60s, the great Christian apologist perceived that things were coming apart.

Credit: Life Magazine/Public Domain

A few weeks ago, my fiancée and I attended, against our will, the second wedding of a relative who had callously moved in with his much younger mistress while his abandoned wife grieved over a devastating family tragedy.

As a traditionalist Christian, I was obviously not excited about this wedding, but so long as they were married by a friend or justice of the peace, I figured I would have no problem keeping my mouth shut and enjoying the party. Instead, the happy adulterous couple managed to find a spineless wolf in sheep’s clothing of an evangelical pastor to whitewash their sepulcher for them by declaring their marriage to be “God’s will.”

I was aghast. The marriage service, perhaps due to the officiant’s awareness that significant “impediments” did exist, provided no opportunity for objections, but I had several. I knew, of course, that what 21st-century secular society calls marriage bears little resemblance to the Christian form of the institution, but never before had I seen such abject cowardice and accommodation on the part of a church.

I thought immediately of Rod Dreher’s Benedict Option, in which I’d read that orthodox Christians have “lost the public square.” In post-Obergefell America, Dreher argues, those who would preserve Christian marriage must circle the wagons. There is no sense in continuing to wage a legal and cultural war over gay marriage when one wing of our army has defected to the enemy and the other has, through its lax attitude toward divorce, left its flank exposed.

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In light of such distortions and compromises, it becomes easy to look back with nostalgia on the 1940s and ’50s, when Christianity and its idea of marriage permeated secular society far more fully and sex had not yet been severed from reproduction by the birth control pill or reduced to a mere means of self-actualization by the Sexual Revolution.

Yet even in 1943, in a radio broadcast that would later become a chapter in Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis freely acknowledged the loss of the public square, especially on the subject of marriage. “A great many people seem to think that if you are a Christian, you should try to make divorce very difficult for every one. I do not think that,” he said, adding, “My own view is that the Churches should frankly recognize that the majority of the British people are not Christians and, therefore, cannot be expected to live Christian lives.”

Dreher also acknowledges the futility of using state authority to cudgel non-believers into accepting Christian ethical standards with which they disagree. “Political power,” Dreher writes, “is not a moral disinfectant.”

Lewis and Dreher also share, despite the temporal (and perhaps exaggerated) cultural gulf that separates them, a common strategy for the preservation of Christian marriage, with Lewis anticipating the Benedict Option by over half a century.

“There ought to be,” Lewis argues, “two distinct kinds of marriage: one governed by the State with rules enforced on all citizens, the other governed by the Church with rules enforced by her on her own members.” So far, so good. Dreher agrees and even praises a Baptist congregation that excommunicated a couple who insisted on divorcing. But although Lewis held no illusions about living in a Christian nation, he failed to foresee that the churches themselves would soon cease to be a safe harbor for Christian marriage. Lewis tells his audience that all major denominations “regard divorce as something like cutting up a living body” and that the main differences between denominations is that some (like the Roman Catholic Church in the days before its American branch handed out annulments like candy) say that “it cannot be done at all” while others “admit it as a desperate remedy in extreme cases.” He failed to foresee a world in which, even in his own Church of England, “[t]he exceptional is now routine.” Today, as the wedding my fiancée and I attended illustrates, no couple will have any trouble finding a minister to endorse the view that marriage is nothing more than what Lewis calls a “simple readjustment of partners.”

Of gay marriage, Lewis says nothing because such a concept was still largely unthinkable in his day. If half a century ago, the churches had taken his advice and maintained a more or less united front on the topic of divorce even in the teeth of liberalized family laws, we would, perhaps, never have been driven to the extremity of defending our churches, as the United Methodists were recently forced to do, against the consecration of gay marriage. Appeasement will get us nowhere. When we fail to stand fast on the beaches and the landing grounds, we will be forced to fight in the streets, at which point the enemy will have penetrated so far into our territory that we would better serve our cause by taking to the hills to regroup.

It may be tempting, especially for embattled Christians attempting to preserve their faith in a thoroughly post-Christian society, to look with rose-colored glasses on everything before the 1960s as an era of simple, universal piety. This attitude is evident in the creepy fetishization of the 1950s common in some Catholic Facebook groups. As Lewis reminds us, however, those decades were far from prelapsarian. Even in 1943, less than a decade after a firm defense of Christian marriage forced King Edward VIII from his throne and 75 years before the Archbishop of Canterbury would openly marry a royal prince to a divorcée, Lewis already perceived that Christians would soon lose control of the public sphere and would have to fortify themselves if they were to survive.

Imagine if, instead of fighting a long and futile culture war that did lasting damage to the reputation of the Church, we had instead spent the latter half of the 20th century implementing the Dreher-Lewis vision of the Benedict Option. The flood might have come sooner, but our ark would not have been nearly as leaky as it is today.

Grayson Quay is a freelance writer and M.A. student at Georgetown University.

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42 Responses to C.S. Lewis’s Benedict Option

  1. tz says:

    You fail to mention contraception that makes even heterosexual marriages “gay”.

    Removing the telos, it is hard to preserve anything else.

  2. English Prof -- retired says:

    Those interested in the Benedict Option and CSL should read his novel That Hideous Strength. The little St. Anne’s house group is obviously a Benedict Option mini-community avant le lettre.

    Rod, you should read it if you haven’t done so before. There’s a great deal in it that relates to our time.

  3. Joshua says:

    I consider myself a traditional Christian, and always agree with Lewis. However, I think you should reconsider how quickly you judge your relative and the minister who married them. Consider the possibility, that you might not know the full story of your relative, or why the minister married them. You might find yourself in a similar situation someday. You never know. Think about it.

  4. Brendan says:

    It’s easy in 2019 to second guess the culture war strategy, and to see it as a bad idea from the beginning. I have often had that thought myself — many more traditional Christians have, in recent years.

    The more I think about that, however, the more far-fetched and unfair it seems. What the church faced in the middle and later 20th Century was a complete revolution which had, at its core, an attempt to change the society and civilization from the foundations on up — to change the very worldview, priorities, public morality and so on. The means by which this, now largely successful, revolution was waged were comprehensive, and included all manner of cultural and political means — it was a total war, without question, and war which is now approaching its “mop up” stage.

    To reflect, using 20/20 hindsight, that the decision to engage in this war was misguided is itself rather questionable. Looking at what was actually happening — again, the attempt to utterly change everything, and in no small part by using political means — it seems unreasonable to me to expect that the reaction would have been (or even should have been, without the benefit of such hindsight) that the church would be best to focus on prayer and discipleship, tone down any involvement in politics designed to counter what the aggressive revolutionary left was doing, and simply maintain the witness of the church. That would have been an extraordinary reaction in the face of nothing short of the attempt to utterly de-Christianize public morality and mores in the space of a generation, again largely by means of using various state organs, including courts. It’s much more reasonable to expect that the church, as the civic/religious backbone of the entire civilization for centuries if not millenia (depending on when one considers the beginning of the civilization), would have used every means available to defend and vindicate its long-standing values in the public square. This is even more particularly to be expected in a place like the United States which, unlike Lewis’s England, had no state church and in which therefore churches had more leeway to act as independent actors in a challenge to what the state was trying to do. And I say that as someone who largely agrees that the strategy was a failure and, in hindsight, a mistake … that’s very different, however, from saying that it was a mistake to do it at the time, without the benefit of hindsight.

    Where the church made the most errors in this period was in its lack of consistency. It’s easy to say that the church waged a fruitless culture war, but in reality the culture war that it did wage was largely fruitless because it was half-assed. First there were the divisions among Christians about the new post-Christian moral order around sex, reproduction, marriage and so on, with some churches enthusiastically supporting these and other criticizing them — always a recipe for a weakened witness.

    But more important is the fact that even in (or even particularly in) the churches that were took the most critical stance towards the new morality, the approach to actually enforcing that stance amongst their own members was incredibly weak. Divorce proliferated among Christians — even conservative ones, even Catholic ones, etc. — like weeds. Christian young people adopted with gusto the new life script of late marriage following a drawn-out period of fornication with multiple partners and a period of cohabitation, and their parents largely turned a blind eye to it (and still do today almost everywhere in the church). Over the years millions of Christian young women with bright futures quietly obtained abortions, despite being pro-life and attending conservative churches, often with their parents tacit approval, also despite being pro-life and attending the same churches. And on and on.

    The fact of the matter is that the churches basically didn’t enforce much of the sexual revolution among their own members because … the sexual revolution, in practice, was largely popular among their own members, and was largely practiced among them, despite everything. That is, the rank and file membership of even a good portion of the more conservative churches was “taking advantage of” the new cultural norms to the same, or (over time it was noticed) an even greater degree than the highly educated secular crowd and their kids. This basically destroyed the witness of the church in these areas — and it destroyed it long before the religious right put all of its chips down for GWB and, later, Trump. Long before that it was clear to almost everyone that the churches were largely not practicing what they were preaching, and this fatally damaged their image, precisely because they had taken such a vocal, public stance against the more prominent aspects of the sexual revolution, feminism and the rest. This is the main reason why the culture war approach failed — the church didn’t really fight the culture war inside itself, it kind of accommodated the new culture inside itself instead, while railing at the sins of the broader culture. Once the broader culture became aware of the inconsistency, the church’s reputation in the area was more or less completely destroyed in the broader culture (and this is even leaving aside the Catholic sex abuse scandals and their effect, which was in itself massive) and, again, this was before the elections of the 2000s where the support of the religious right sticks in everyone’s craw. This is, of course, why the church was so quickly steamrolled on the gay rights issues — the credibility on sexual and related issues had long been destroyed and so people largely ignored what the critical churches had to say, and gay rights passed through the nation at warp speed.

    So while at this point I think it is easy to see that the strategy was a failure and, in hindsight, was the wrong strategy, the reasons for that largely relate to the failure of the churches who were fighting that war to actually stand by their own stance on these issues when it came to their own membership and their behaviors. They failed dramatically in this, and they have reaped what was thereby sown.

  5. Michael Allard says:

    As a voracious consumer of the mind of C S Lewis, I say these thoughts have been a long time coming. Thank you very much.

  6. Akira Kurosawa says:

    ” There is no sense in continuing to wage a legal and cultural war over gay marriage when one wing of our army has defected to the enemy and the other has, through its lax attitude toward divorce, left its flank exposed.”

    ~ I strongly disagree. As people of faith it is our duty and responsibility to continue ‘the war’ until our last breathe of air. That is what faith is and G-d tests the worthy not the weak. As for our own cowards the Romans had a tradition ‘decimatio’ which I think would instill the proper discipline in our own ranks. The bible as well as history books provide countless examples of successfully waging a hopeless war. Let us fallow in Sun Tzu’s example and enter deaths ground. Let us learn from Akira Kurosawa and carve our paddle into a sword methodically along our journey to drive the other side to self defeat. Hold the line at Thermopylae and live as example for the rest of time. A small dedicated force can turn the tide against a larger bloodthirsty enemy and faith demands that we do thus.

  7. Kent says:

    I don’t think I will ever understand why some Christians feel the need force their views on others by law.

    Jesus very specifically defined divorce as sin. If you are a follower of the teachings of Jesus, then don’t get a divorce. I am and I haven’t.

    But, for God’s sake, don’t call yourself a follower of Jesus and then vote for Ronald Reagan or Donald Trump. Once done, it cannot be undone. And you’ve lost all credibility in the public square.

  8. JonF says:

    Large numbers of orthodox (small “o”) and conservative Christians tolerate divorce as a sometimes necessary evil and regard birth control as licit within the confines of marriage. The attempts by traddy Catholics to promote their views as litmus tests for Bendict Option participation is as bad an idea as if they advocated transubstantiation or papal infallibility.

  9. LFM says:

    As J.R.R. Tolkien said after reading Lewis’s ideas on the subject of divorce, society cannot permit divorce for non-Christians any more than it can permit theft for non-Christians. (Not, at any rate, if it takes its view of divorce as seriously as it takes its view of theft.)

  10. Gavin James Campbell says:

    The American Conservative can’t make it up it’s mind as to whether the biggest threat to the West is liberalism and progressivism; or whether the West is threatened by an onslaught of Islamic migrants with high birth rates.
    So that it’s editors can declare that Eastasia has always been the enemy; to then casually declare that Eurasia has always been the enemy. And the readers of AM will flood the comments with attempts to make themselves to look well-read and super smart.

  11. Fran Macadam says:

    “I don’t think I will ever understand why some Christians feel the need force their views on others by law.”

    All well and good Kent, but you do realize someone is going to force their views on others by law.

    You might like those even worse, instead of the mild peaceable society influenced to some degree by Christian conscience.

  12. EliteCommInc. says:

    “But, for God’s sake, don’t call yourself a follower of Jesus and then vote for Ronald Reagan or Donald Trump. Once done, it cannot be undone. And you’ve lost all credibility in the public square.”

    Absolute nonsense. President Trump is not my pastor, nor my spiritual savior. There is a difference.

    Here’s an interesting tid bit. Neither Christ, nor a single Apostle preached against state service, including military service to Roman Emperors. And let’s face it, promoters of christian virtue they were not. No christian needs to be saddled with the brick of guilt based on their vote for candidate Trump alone.

    And no one who so voted had to support behaviors that were outside the bounds of christian faith and practice to have voted for the same.

  13. Gavin James Campbell says:

    The other innate absurdity of this editorial being that C.S. Lewis found a permissive Anglican priest who would wed him to a divorced woman.

  14. DW says:

    LFM wrote: “As J.R.R. Tolkien said after reading Lewis’s ideas on the subject of divorce, society cannot permit divorce for non-Christians any more than it can permit theft for non-Christians.”

    No good comes out of theft, but as Lewis said, divorce is sometimes like a necessarymedical operation — with people coming out the healthier on the other end of it. That’s the difference.

    Also, take Tolkien’s sentiment and imagine it coming from a Muslim regarding stoning for adultery as something that simply has to be applied to non-Muslims as well. And now realize how appalling Tolkien’s view is as compared to Lewis’, at least in a free Western society.

    It seems to me that a lot of the religious types who post here would happier in a Middle-eastern theocracy than in a Western democracy.

  15. Kent says:

    LFM said:

    “As J.R.R. Tolkien said after reading Lewis’s ideas on the subject of divorce, society cannot permit divorce for non-Christians any more than it can permit theft for non-Christians. (Not, at any rate, if it takes its view of divorce as seriously as it takes its view of theft.)”

    And therefore, must also use the force of law to ensure care for the sick and poor, care for widows and their children, and the visitation of prisoners.

    I point this out only to make it obvious why the conservative branch of Christianity lost in the public discourse.

  16. Lee says:

    Why would you attend a wedding that you disagreed with “against your will”? Did your mother drag you in by the ear? Actions, even small ones, speak louder than words. Courage of conviction means doing things that may make you or others uncomfortable.

    Marriage as an institution predates Christianity by many thousands of years. Christians now tend to see everything through the prism of Christianity. I used to be the same. I don’t think failed marriages are a good thing, I think marriage and family is the bedrock of society and it’s the natural condition between men and women. Marriage and family should be encouraged and supported, but at this point I don’t see any church with the moral authority to dictate the rules of marriage, if it they every had any in the first place. The ancients got married for love, convenience, political alliance, etc. Family was the basis of their civilization too, occasional divorce was not the reason for it’s fall.

    If I don’t agree with a particular marriage for some reason, I just won’t go to the ceremony. In the unlikely event I ever get invited to a gay wedding, I will politely decline due to previous commitments. No one will force me to go to a marriage I believe is wrong or false.

  17. hooly says:

    Interesting anecdote with the wedding you attended. It just underscores the fact that the enemies of traditionalists, conservative Christians, etc, etc are not gays, immigrants, Muslims, socialists, etc, but rather yourselves. The constant whining about ‘the Other’ just obscures the fact that you are your own worse enemy. And the fact that conservative Evangelicals voted en mass for The Donald proves this point.

    @Akira Kurosawa

    Please refrain from cultural appropriation, drafting non-Christians like Sun Tzu, (the real) Akira Kurosawa, the ancient Spartans into your Christian Jihad against ‘the Gays’ is rather disingenuous and down right pathetic.

  18. Ken Zaretzke says:

    C. S. Lewis once ridiculed the modern feminist as someone crying “Make me a minx, a moron, and a parasite.” I wonder what he would have said about people of the same sex getting married, and society’s endorsement of it.

    Urbane though he was, he did sometimes use words as weapons. We need more of that by people who share his worldview.

  19. Allen says:

    Kent: Such a tiresome idea, that one party or candidate is more virtuous than another. Or that my relationship with Christ depends on politics. Or that there are any White Hats left in Washington D.C.

    Your naïveté is astounding, sir.

    Plus, the public square can go climb a rope.

  20. Virginia Gentleman says:

    I agree with Brendan’s “fact of the matter” in his sixth paragraph and would add that most churches (parishes) cannot exist financially if they go against their members’ possibly sinful practices.

    For the record, my recollection is that by the 1950s divorce was only really frowned on in Catholic circles. There was no particular shame attached to being divorced and it was already clear that the law was going to have to adjust itself to the new reality.

    Note to “tz”: I don’t see why God had to make sex so goldarned attractive to teenagers if its “telos” was simply reproduction.

  21. JonF says:

    LFM,
    Tolkien was a fool on that. Especially today when vast numbers of people regard divorce as an unpleasant necessity. How many people are down with theft? Moreover the Church Fathers themselves rejected the notion that civil law must reproduce the moral teachings of the Church in every hot and title: they were willing to tolerate legal prostitution, for example.
    The Ben Opt needs to have a least common denominator when it comes to sectarian precepts, and that includes on divorce and birth control as well as on theological dogmas, and things like drinking alcohol, what calendar to use, the inclusion of heterodox groups like the LDS, etc. Sincere Christians can and do differ on these things and those differences should not wreck the underlying concept. The point of it is to carve out a space where such folk can live according to their beliefs, not that everyone’s beliefs must conform 100% to this or that church’s.

  22. Sis2lis says:

    Y’all do know that C.S.Lewis late in his life married a divorced woman, first in a civil marriage so she and her sons could stay in the UK (she was American) and then, after they fell in love, in a religious ceremony when he located an Anglican priest who was willing to officiate.

  23. Lee says:

    Kent,

    Not that I’m claiming to be a big Christian, but why can’t a Christian vote for Reagan or Trump. That’s absurd. It’s ok to vote for Obama or one of the current crop of whack jobs in the democratic party? I mean when did Jesus endorse same sex marriage, boys pretending to be girls and infanticide? Riddle us that?

  24. Vern Hughes says:

    Increasingly, I find myself parting company with Rod Dreher’s Benedict Option, not because I disagree that the ‘public square has been lost’ and that the priority for the church is now to rebuild itself to live in a hostile culture. I fully agree with those key points. But it is faith, not marriage, divorce, or sexuality, that is the issue. Small o orthodox and small c catholic faith is what we must preserve – not particular cultural forms of marriage and expressions of sexuality.

    Increasingly, it seems to me that Rod is obsessed with the latter, and makes it his rod (npi) for determining orthodoxy in belief. That is surely a contentious position to place at the foundation of The Benedict Option. It’s not one I can wear. I want intentional Christian communities based on small c catholic faith and life – but to require an entire bio-ethical worldview (no contraception, no sexual activity before marriage, prohibition of abortion, even opposition to divorce) as a requirement for subscribing to the BenOp direction is quite simply self-defeating. On these matters, we part company.

  25. Requiescat in Pace says:

    “This [rose-colored glasses] attitude is evident in the creepy fetishization of the 1950s common in some Catholic Facebook groups.” EWTN flooded rapidly into mind!
    But now that the secular horses have escaped the barn, what did we now do? I am surrounded with many (nominally Christian) friends who choose the cohabitation option, and I am clueless how to treat them with love.

  26. Johannes de silentio says:

    tz nails it:

    “You fail to mention contraception that makes even heterosexual marriages “gay”.

    Removing the telos, it is hard to preserve anything else.”

    In fact, Genesis 1:27 explicitly defines humankind as man and woman, and thus God’s image, with the telos to love and to be loved, in mutual dependency on Grace. And Isaiah 34:14, in a tripart description of demons, probably refers to contraception, homosexuality, and masturbation. On the other hand, those sexual demons seem to be in Limbo, which implies that those sexual sins are quite small personal sins.

    Secular society outside of God’s invisible Church can, perhaps at most, be Limbo. But, moral relativism and sexual liberalism that needs political-economical socialism, with abortion genosuicide, to support its denial of human reason, must eventually fail, with the failure of the state by large. Indeed, if the Second Vatican Council was overly optimistic with its appeal to human reason, perhaps its time has not yet come. But give another fifty years, and towards the end of our century, as the western world has declined into socialism, and as Asia and Africa has risen into capitalism, then the Second Vatican Council, with its balanced theological heritage, from the second Christian millenium, can probably appeal to the third. After all, the Church is supposed to be Noah’s ark.

  27. Brian says:

    You speak of cowardice but you went to the wedding of this obvious slimeball and his mistress. Why? From fear of future social awkwardness? You are nearly as complicit as the officiant.

  28. LarryS says:

    All laws legislate morality. The only question is: whose morality? The church referred to is not some monolithic organization that has the power to impose its morality on the government. Individual Christians have as much right as anyone else to vote for people and policies that reflect their values and worldview.

    Our Constitution and government is designed to reflect the values of the majority. When founded the US was a Christian nation because the majority of the people were. If the majority of Americans are no longer Christians then we may become an atheist country or maybe even a Muslim country.

    While I prefer to live in a predominantly Christian country I need to be prepared for the worse.

  29. Roger Parkinson says:

    There is a difference between the USA and the UK with respect to Christianity. In the UK the Anglican Church is the *established* church, it is part of the mechanism of state. In the USA the government is secular, in the UK it is Anglican. Historically this has caused the UK all kinds of problems around the questions of how much Chistianity (specifically Anglican Chistianity) should be enforced in law. Secular governments don’t have this problem. Anglicans can be Anglicans, Methodists can be Methodists and Hindus can be Hindus. The minimum necessary laws we need to get along need to be enforced, the rest is personal.
    This is pretty much what Lewis seems to be thinking of in his proposal of two kinds of marriage.

  30. galanx says:

    To write an article on C.S.Lewis, marriage, and divorce and not mention Joy Gresham? Lewis was of course wanting to marry a divorced woman, against the doctrine of the Catholic Church, but also against the teachings of the Anglican Church of which he was a member. They had to go shopping for a priest who would perform the ceremony and did so only because he was Lewis’ friend and in spite of going against the rules of the Church- one of those liberal types who was opposed to authority and thought it was okay to marry divorced people; he thought the rules “terribly unfair”.
    Tolkien thought that Lewis was being totally specious (which he was) in saying civil marriage was acceptable in cases where a Christian felt like breaking the laws of the Church. For a Catholic to cast Lewis as a great defender of Christian marriage- let us just say that it goes far, far beyond anything Francis has to say about the matter.

  31. Adriana says:

    Those who bewail contraception should point the finger of blame to the drop in infant and child mortality.

    Because once you were sure that any children you have will live to adulthood, then the pressure to have more of them is eased, and instead you have to figure out the resources each child consumes until he or she reaches productive age. The decline of child employment and extended schooling makes the need to manage resources more urgent.

    Also, telos is very nice, and if it means more women dying in labor, like in the good old days, well, what does it matter? After all, as Martin Luther said, that’s what women are for. To die giving birth.

    Telos = excuse to abuse women.

  32. Michael W Allard says:

    I applaud the comments of everyone who has responded to the article by Grayson Quay on April 17, 2019. The thoughts expressed by everyone have encouraged me to stop, ponder, and then offer some of my own thinking as a Christian. I am not an eloquent communicator with words so you will please forgive my simplicity.
    The idea of circling the wagons for the sake of preservation has never really worked as we have seen in history. Soon the circling enemy grows larger and larger, calls in reinforcements, the circle grows smaller and smaller until it is crushed. There certainly exceptions to this statement. For Christians, it is not an option I believe. There is no question, as I look out over the world, that I am sometimes beset by discouragement at the state of moral decay that is currently circling our “wagons”. The wagons formed by our families and our churches are, in my opinion, besieged by the lure and attraction of a world that says, “I am okay and you are okay. All is well, accept all things, resist nothing, and you will live stress-free and happy lives.” Any THINKING Christian will realize this is the battle cry of the dark side.
    My understanding of scripture, (the Christians go-to book of standard practices), says, “expose darkness”, “fight the good fight”, “put on the full armor of God”. These are fighting words! They are not suggestions- they are commands. Our response is and is growing worse, is to toss our armor in the closet, lock the door, and forget where I put the key. We are tired and weary of fighting and want peace and quiet and a place “in the country”. We have grow so tolerant of the enemy that our battle cry now becomes, “I don’t really care about the morality of our leaders or any person for that matter as long as my space is not invaded. That is, my home and family are safe, my job is safe, and my investments are growing. What’s not to like?” We even believe we can escape the darkness around us by “moving to the country”. We forget this is not our home but instead a battleground where we try with all our might to “fight the good fight,” as the Apostle Paul says. Where we continue to carry on what Jesus began at the cross 2,000 years ago. There is no rest-there is no retirement for the Christian and there is no circling the wagons.
    Our fight should begin at the home with our own families. If we fail there, success in the world will elude us. We cannot blame the churches for our failures when they are filled with members who have run from the battle to seek peace and comfort while the battle rages outside the front doors. Church leaders must continually point us back to the “battle front” and not the “retirement homes”. Failures at home release more and more of us who are not quite certain about what is right and what is wrong into the world. The consequences are terrible-the world will usually win our hearts and minds. We, then, pass this laissez-faire way of life on to the next generation. I have raised four children and have seen this principle born out in their lives. Yes, they have a will and are free to choose morality or reject it. But if we give them no choices, they won’t even consider it. The glamour of the world is overwhelming.
    If we are looking for the answer to advancing the Christian message, we should look to ourselves. Building walls and wagons will not help us.

  33. Bowl of Petunias says:

    After the rise of the blogosphere, another thing that has come to widespread attention is the terrible job done by so many pastors and elders in situations of marital abuse and domestic violence. I know I’m not the only one who can’t take seriously churches/denominations waxing eloquent about the indissolubility of marriage, and the need for wifely submission, when they largely refuse to protect women in bad marital situations. Religion which deliberately turns a blind eye to such evil either needs reformation, or dissolution.

  34. M. Orban says:

    @LarryS
    “we may become an atheist country or maybe even a Muslim country.”

    One possible outcome is that we become a more agnostic, secular country. Another is that Christian denominations reverse their decline and bounce back. The latter happened before.
    But a Muslim country? What are your numbers? Trends?
    If of someone leaves the church because he finds its teaching at odds with reality, history, science, its apologia bit true for the most part, why would that individual would turn around and embrace on other flavor of the Abrahamic religions?

  35. Johannes de silentio says:

    @ Adriana :
    “After all, as Martin Luther said, that’s what women are for. To die giving birth.

    Telos = excuse to abuse women.”

    Of course, Martin Luther was wrong about this, and telos is not excuse to abuse women. For the Christian cathechism on marriage, see 1 Cor ch. 7. It was not meant to be easy.

    Certainly, contraception, prostitution, homosexuality, and masturbation (cf. Is 34:14) must not be illegal under secular law, as the Church is not the world.

    According to Aristotle, the human soul has several layers, of materiality, life, motion, and reason. According to Søren Aa. Kierkegaard, the human soul is capable of three stages of developement, the aestethical, the ethical, and the religious, which perhaps compare with political sympathies for, socialism, liberalism, and conservatism. When a man is addicted to sexual pleasure, he is on the aesthetical stage, most women are on the ethical stage, and few men that can be examples in sexual abstinence, are on the religious stage. Children need both a mother, when they are below teenage, and a father, when they are teenagers, to develop through those three stages. The religious man is suited for marriage with the ethical woman, but the aestethical are not suited for marriage. It is the role of the male hierarchy in the Church to teach men respect for women. Male sexuality is linear, with sexual abstinence developing his capability to be friend, husbond, father, and king. Female sexuality is cyclic, originally synchronized with the phases of the Moon. In holy marriage, the man owes to the woman, what she wants, and the woman owes to the man, what he wants, that is, if they cowork for their religious vocations. What the ethical point of view can never give us, is our dependency on Grace. Hence holy marriage in the Church is religious, and civic marriage in the state is ethical. Most woman really do want good men for husbonds who can take responsibility for children. We are human persons who were not created as gender neutral. It is part of dignity.

  36. JeffK says:

    Being against divorce just doesn’t make any sense. Maybe we should make it harder for people to get married.

    I am the child of divorced parents. One of my earliest memories (around age 3, age 4 my parents divorced and we moved from that house) is standing in the kitchen yelling at my parents “Stop fighting! Stop fighting”.

    My parents, for whatever reason, fell out of love. ‘Requiring’ them to remain married for the rest of their lives would have been ludicrous.

    My father remarried a really nice woman (whom he may have met while married to my mother. It happens) and is married to her to this day. He just turned 89 and she is 80. They are both very happy. My mother married a wonderful guy, and they were happy together till the end.

    I married at 24 but was not happy, realized I made a mistake, and got divorced at 28. After that I married my current wife, and we have been together almost 30 years. We are both very happy. I really hope my ex is happy to.

    Relationships are messy and complex. Very few get married with the intention of divorcing. But life happens.

    You only have one life on earth, best I can tell. Is it better for two married people that are miserable to stay together for the sake of the kids? I suspect most children would say not. Home life in that situation is often miserable. That’s the reality of it.

  37. “Here’s an interesting tid bit. Neither Christ, nor a single Apostle preached against state service, including military service to Roman Emperors. And let’s face it, promoters of christian virtue they were not.”

    Does Romans 13 support that? When we visit a foreign country we abide by its laws. Paul would remind us that, as pilgrims in the world, all countries are foreign to us, including the one in which we reside. There’s a difference between submitting to one’s government and condoning its actions — it’s the difference between avoiding rebellion and being an advocate of government policies. An obvious example of this dilemma is the German Church in the Nazi years, but all churches face the challenge to some degree. The State does not bind itself to the commands of Christ but the Christian is bound by them (e.g., Matt 5:38-39, Luke 6:27-28) and cannot use the excuse of government service to avoid them, thereby placing the State above Christ. Peter said: “We must obey God rather than men!” (Acts 5:29). Romans 13 was not a recruiting pitch by Paul to join the State, which was pagan at the time of his writing (see 1 Cor 6:1,6), and Christians didn’t respond by rushing to join the army. On the contrary, he said: “our struggle is not against flesh and blood” and “For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world.” He doesn’t end Romans 12 with: “…unless you’re a soldier.”

    In order to use stories of Roman soldiers in the service of dictators to justify Christian service in the military we would have to concede that, throughout history, it has been permissible for Christians to serve in ANY military, including those of Germany and Japan in WWII (Rom 13:1). Assuming that Christians serving in the military are authorized by God to kill enemies of the state, then it was appropriate for German and Japanese Christians (yes, there were some) to kill Americans and that God expects Christians to kill each other in war (see what Paul says about killing believers in 1 Corinthians 3:16-17 and what John says in 1 John 3:15). God would be, in effect, raising up one army to be opposed by another. Jesus said: “If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. If a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand.” (Mark 3:24-25)

  38. The Village Atheist says:

    I respectfully disagree with LarryS. Not all laws legislate morality. Property rights, environmental laws, traffic laws, building codes, health and safety laws, etc. They are (supposedly) for the protection of the commonwealth from the harmful behavior of the individual. Some laws do reflect morality and some change over time. I remember “Blue Laws” that prohibited private businesses from being open on Sundays. It is interesting only three of the ten commandments are illegal; killing, stealing and bearing false witness. The other seven? I would bet that 90% of the people on the street couldn’t name all seven correctly.

  39. Kyra says:

    I’m a middle aged woman, dated many young men in my twenties, and found this article jejune at best. As a society, if that’s not a misnomer at this point, we have much bigger fish to fry, like Yemen or dying small US towns or misguided grad students calling for their ideological enemies to die, than punctilious marital rules that don’t always work in real life.

    Maybe the wife is better off indeed without her ex-husband; to me, it’s patronizing to her to argue otherwise. Maybe the “mistress” is a human being, just like you.

    In my time, I’ve seen a number of awful deeds committed by so-called respectable married people, unmarried people; it’s really about individual character, not one’s status.

    The author would do well to live and read a bit more–Middlemarch, Age of Innocence, and The Golden Notebook come to mind–so that he can at least see that wrapping his priggishness inside moralistic rhetoric is not particularly enlightening.

  40. Adriana says:

    @Kyra Indeed. WE have people now dying because the pharma giants have priced insulin beyond their means. I do not see any Christian commentators denouncing the pharma companies – the same ones that pushed Oxycotin through doctors telling them it was no addictive.

    That tells you what their priorities are. So they should not be surprised when people with more urgent priorities turn their backs on them.

    Because in real life it is not a question “who does agree with me” Or “who shares my values” but “who has my back”. And if you do not have my back I have no obligations towards you.

  41. Adriana says:

    @Johannes de silentio

    Yeah, the catechism teaches about marriage. But once we get down to the nitty gritty, priests have condoned abuse of women. Like that priest who told a woman that if she divorced her husband who beat her regularly that she would burn in Hell. No thought of telling the husband that he would burn in Hell for beating his wife. The woman killed herself to escape her marriage.

    Or the priest that was called because the drunken husband was rampaging. He told the woman that it was her fault for not being submissive enough.

    THAT is what telos comes down to.

    And unless the Church gets serious about disciplining priests who behave like that, I will not believe a world of what the catechism says, because words without deed are just so much mouth music.

    And forcing women to undergo pregnancy after pregnancy, even at the rist of death is not abuse?

  42. Hector_St_Clare says:

    How many people are down with theft?

    JonF,

    This is somewhat begging the question, since theft is sort of defined as unlawful or immoral taking of property.

    Lots of people on the other hand disagree about what the appropriate morality and legality surrounding property relations are. We had a Cold War over that very issue, and today you can find plenty of people who say “property is theft” and others who say “taxation is theft”, so this is certainly a live issue in society as much as sex and marriage are, and really always have been.

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