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Among the Wrapped Too Tights

G.K. Chesterton, a patron saint of the Benedict Option (Giveawayboy/Flickr)

In response to my most recent Benedict Option Dark Side post, a reader tweets:

Boy, is that ever true. I call people like this Wrapped-Too-Tights. More from Dean Abbott:

I think this is a helpful topic to discuss in teasing out what the Benedict Option could, and should, mean.

You know the old joke about how a Puritan is someone who is terrified that someone, somewhere, might be having fun? That’s not a bad way to described a Wrapped-Too-Tight. There’s a deep fear of losing control — of themselves, and of others around them. Contrary to what many outside critics think, it’s not that they are eager to impute sinfulness to others because they think they are so righteous. Often, in my experience, they fear loss of social control because they are all too aware of their own flaws and temptations. In fact, to the extent that I am wrapped too tight, it’s precisely because of this.

And you know, it’s not a bad thing at all to be concerned about this kind of thing. It’s necessary for a morally stable, healthy society. The problem comes when a desire for order overrides every other concern. This can express itself as joylessness, not because the WTT doesn’t want to experience joy, but because the WTT is so afraid that by experiencing joy, he and others might lose control of themselves, and … what? They often can’t say.

One of my great character flaws is that I can’t bring myself to enjoy the prose of G.K. Chesterton. Oh, I have tried. I really have. It’s like eating fruitcake: a thing of richness and comfort, but an acquired taste. And I have not acquired it. But I do consider myself Chestertonian, in the sense that I find real joy in Christian orthodoxy, and in conservatism. I prefer a poetic approach to life to a rational one. Chesterton has written:

Poetry is sane because it floats easily in an infinite sea; reason seeks to cross the infinite sea, and so make it finite. The result is mental exhaustion. To accept everything is an exercise, to understand everything a strain.

And he has also said:

The comedy of man survives the tragedy of man.

I believe that man is tragic, but I prefer to embrace his comedy. It’s in my disposition. I would a thousand times sup with humane, Rabelaisian sinners than with grim and abstemious saints. But that’s just me. Things don’t have to make perfect sense for me to recognize their reality.

I think the Wrapped-Too-Tight, whether a religious conservative or a secular liberal, is someone who cannot abide disorder or injustice of any kind. Radical permissiveness, or Wrapped-Too-Looseness, is equally a problem. Again, I have the WTT tendency within myself, but it is overcome not by any sense of prudence of virtue, but by the fact that I like to eat and drink and to laugh, and I can’t help myself. Nor do I want to.

The kind of Christianity that I find ideal is Chestertonian: it finds joy and freedom in in orthodoxy, and within the boundaries orthodoxy sets. Prudence really is the key to all this, I think. And for individual Christians, and Christian communities, joylessness is a sign that you ain’t doing it right.

On the other hand, I could be guilty here of being like the gripey driver who says everybody who drives faster than him is a lunatic and everybody who drives slower than him is an idiot. Your mileage may vary. Anyway, Dean Abbott is right: WTTs are easy to spot, but hard to describe.

A good rule of hand, when confronted by a possible case of WTT-ness. Ask yourself: “What would Chesterton (or Lewis, or Tolkien) think?”

UPDATE: Just saw this in Gregory Wolfe’s newest essay collection:

Beware the temptation of moralism, which has reached epidemic proportions in our culture, both within religious communities and outside of them. Righteousness so easily becomes self-righteousness. To my way of thinking, moralism is the opposite of true religion. The antidote to moralism is presence: not “do this,” but “I’m here.”


about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. He has written and edited for the New York Post, The Dallas Morning News, National Review, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, the Washington Times, and the Baton Rouge Advocate. Rod’s commentary has been published in The Wall Street Journal, Commentary, the Weekly Standard, Beliefnet, and Real Simple, among other publications, and he has appeared on NPR, ABC News, CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, and the BBC. He lives in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, with his wife Julie and their three children. He has also written four books, The Little Way of Ruthie Leming, Crunchy Cons, How Dante Can Save Your Life, and The Benedict Option.

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