Home/Rod Dreher/Who Is The Plenty Coups Of The Christians?

Who Is The Plenty Coups Of The Christians?

Plenty Coups, Last Chief of the Crow (painting by Chuck Creasy)

Well, more bad news on the religion front, this time from Gallup:

Sarah Pulliam Bailey, writing in the WaPo, qualifies the numbers:

Tara Isabella Burton, author of “Strange Rites: New Religions for a Godless World,” attributes the national decline in religious affiliation to two major trends among younger Americans. First, she points to broader shifts suggesting a larger distrust of institutions, including police and pharmaceutical companies. Some Americans are disillusioned by the behavior of religious leaders, including the Roman Catholic Church’s sexual abuse scandal and the strong White evangelical alignment with former president Donald Trump.

The other major trend Burton describes is how people are mixing and matching from various religious traditions to create their own. Many people who don’t identify with a particular religious institution still say they believe in God, pray or do things that tend to be associated with faith.

“Why shouldn’t I pray or meditate or attend a liturgy, or perhaps I feel closer to the divine when I can do something privately rather than something that’s prescribed for me,” she said. “It’s my own spin on it.”

Younger generations that grew up with the Internet have a different kind of relationship with information, texts and hierarchy, Burton said.

“Existing trends in American religious life were exacerbated by generations that grew up in Internet culture that celebrates ownership — the idea that you can re-create a meme or narrative,” she said. “You have ownership over curating your own experience.”

That makes perfect sense, but this is still terrible news for Christianity (and other forms of revealed religion). Christianity, Judaism, Islam and other religions proclaim that their teachings are objectively true. This new spirituality holds the choosing individual as the ultimate arbiter of truth. What the choosers are doing is worshiping themselves. In most respects, we are no better off with a “spiritual but not religious” people, because the revealed truth will be lost in one or more generations. The only advantage I can see is that the young who give themselves over to this cafeteria spirituality are at least not denying the reality of the numinous and the transcendent, as atheists do. That is a starting place for true conversion.

Shadi Hamid notes the danger, saying that Trumpism/QAnon on the Right and wokeness on the Left have become pseudo-religions for people:

“The vacuum [of religion] can’t just remain a vacuum,” Hamid said. “Americans are believers in some sense, and there has to be structures of belief and belonging. The question is, what takes the place of that religious affiliation?”

Hate to remind you, but in the early 20th century, Communism and Nazism moved into the place created by exhausted Christianity. These political ideologies were pseudo-religions. Among a number of young American Christians, the pseudo-religion of wokeness is parasitically conquering Christian structures and language, because even though it is counter-Christian in some key ways, it provides a more vigorous experience of moral rectitude and purpose.

Anyway, the new Gallup data are just one more sign that we are in a post-Christian nation. My book The Benedict Option came out four years ago this month. A lot of Christians said it was too pessimistic, even alarmist. I wonder how these words from the first chapter look now, in light of all that has happened since then, and in light of the new Gallup findings:

The advance of gay civil rights, along with a reversal of religious liberties for believers who do not accept the LGBT agenda, had been slowly but steadily happening for years. The U.S. Supreme Court’s Obergefell decision declaring a constitutional right to same-sex marriage was the Waterloo of religious conservatism. It was  the moment that the Sexual Revolution triumphed decisively, and the culture war, as we have known it since the 1960s, came to an end. In the wake of Obergefell, Christian beliefs about the sexual complementarity of marriage are considered to be abominable prejudice—and in a growing number of cases, punishable. The public square has been lost.

Not only have we lost the public square, but the supposed high ground of our churches is no safe place either. So what if those around us don’t share our morality? We can still retain our faith and teaching within the walls of our churches, we may think, but that’s placing unwarranted confidence in the health of our religious institutions. The changes that have overtaken the West in modern times have revolutionized everything, even the church, which no longer forms souls but caters to selves. As conservative Anglican theologian Ephraim Radner has said, “There is no safe place in the world or in our churches within which to be a Christian. It is a new epoch.”

Don’t be fooled by the large number of churches you see today. Unprecedented numbers of young adult Americans say they have no religious affiliation at all. According to the Pew Research Center, one in three 18-to-29-year-olds have put religion aside, if they ever picked it up in the first place.2 If the demographic trends continue, our churches will soon be empty.

Even more troubling, many of the churches that do stay open will have been hollowed out by a sneaky kind of secularism to the point where the “Christianity” taught there is devoid of power and life. It has already happened in most of them. In 2005, sociologists Christian Smith and Melinda Lundquist Denton examined the religious and spiritual lives of American teenagers from a wide variety of backgrounds. What they found was that in most cases, teenagers adhered to a mushy pseudoreligion the researchers deemed Moralistic Therapeutic Deism (MTD).

MTD has five basic tenets:

1.  A God exists who created and orders the world and watches over human life on earth.
2.  God wants people to be good, nice, and fair to each other, as taught in the Bible and by most world religions.
3.  The central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about oneself.
4. God does not need to be particularly involved in one’s life except when he is needed to resolve a problem.
5. Good people go to heaven when they die.

This creed, they found, is especially prominent among Catholic and Mainline Protestant teenagers. Evangelical teenagers fared measurably better but were still far from historic biblical orthodoxy. Smith and Denton claimed that MTD is colonizing existing Christian churches, destroying biblical Christianity from within, and replacing it with a pseudo-Christianity that is “only tenuously connected to the actual historical Christian tradition.”

MTD is not entirely wrong. After all, God does exist, and He does want us to be good. The problem with MTD, in both its progressive and its conservative versions, is that it’s mostly about improving one’s self-esteem and subjective happiness and getting along well with others. It has little to do with the Christianity of Scripture and tradition, which teaches repentance, self-sacrificial love, and purity of heart, and commends suffering—the Way of the Cross—as the pathway to God. Though superficially Christian, MTD is the natural religion of a culture that worships the Self and material comfort.

As bleak as Christian Smith’s 2005 findings were, his follow-up research, a third installment of which was published in 2011, was even grimmer. Surveying the moral beliefs of 18-to-23-year-olds, Smith and his colleagues found that only 40 percent of young Christians sampled said that their personal moral beliefs were grounded in the Bible or some other religious sensibility.4 Unfortunately, it’s unlikely that the beliefs of even these faithful are biblically coherent. Many of these “Christians” are actually committed moral individualists who neither know nor practice a coherent Bible-based morality.

An astonishing 61 percent of the emerging adults had no moral problem at all with materialism and consumerism. An added 30 percent expressed some qualms but figured it was not worth worrying about. In this view, say Smith and his team, “all that society is, apparently, is a collection of autonomous individuals out to enjoy life.”

These are not bad people. Rather, they are young adults who have been terribly failed by family, church, and the other institutions that formed—or rather, failed to form—their consciences and their imaginations.

MTD is the de facto religion not simply of American teenagers but also of American adults. To a remarkable degree, teenagers have adopted the religious attitudes of their parents. We have been an MTD nation for some time now, though that may have been disguised.

“America has lived a long time off its thin Christian veneer, partly necessitated by the Cold War,” Smith told me in an interview. “That is all finally being stripped away by the combination of mass consumer capitalism and liberal individualism.”

The data from Smith and other researchers make clear what so many of us are desperate to deny: the flood is rising to the rafters in the American church. Every single congregation in America must ask itself if it has compromised so much with the world that it has been compromised in its faithfulness. Is the Christianity we have been living out in our families, congregations, and communities a means of deeper conversion, or does it function as a vaccination against taking faith with the seriousness the Gospel demands?

If you haven’t read the book yet, then read the whole thing.  I met a prominent West Coast Evangelical pastor last fall in Nashville. He told me that when The Benedict Option came out in 2017, a lot of people in his circles dismissed it as alarmist. Now, he said, it’s their reality.

Last week, I read a fascinating short book relevant to this issue, and wrote about on Daily Dreher, my Substack newsletter. I almost never quote my newsletter here, but the Gallup news makes this pertinent. Here’s what I wrote, in part:

I have just finished, within the past few minutes, an extraordinary book. It is short — you can read it in one long sitting — and very much worth your time. It is called Radical Hope: Ethics In The Face of Cultural Devastation, by Jonathan Lear. It is about Plenty Coups (1848-1932), the last great chief of the Crow tribe, and how a dream vision he had as a boy guided his people in the agonizing transition between their traditional way of life, and modernity imposed by the white man. This little book, and the life and work of Chief Plenty Coups, has much to teach us traditional Christians in this post-Christian, and increasingly anti-Christian, age.

I learned about the book when one of you, or perhaps someone who reads my blog (I’m not sure; information comes at me these days in a firehose stream), sent me this 2009 review essay by the philosopher Charles Taylor. Taylor writes:

Radical Hope is first of all an analysis of what is involved when a culture dies. This has been the fate of many aboriginal peoples in the last couple of centuries. Jonathan Lear takes as the main subject of his study the Crow tribe of the western US, who were more or less pressured to give up their hunting way of life and enter a reservation near the end of the nineteenth century.

The issue is not genocide. Many of the Crow people survive; but their culture is gone. Lear takes as his basic text a statement by the tribe’s great chief, Plenty Coups, describing the transition many years after in the late 1920s, near the end of his life: “When the buffalo went away the hearts of my people fell to the ground, and they could not lift them up again. After this nothing happened.”

Lear concentrates on those last four words. What can they mean? Of course, they could be an expression of dejection, of depression. But he sets that aside for good reasons. He argues that if we interpret the statement psychologically, we are being “guided by our own sense of what is true” and ignoring the question of “Plenty Coups’s humanity” and the particular cultural circumstances in which he found himself. We have to take this expression more literally. We can grasp it if we try to understand the Crow culture when it was fully functioning, when hunting (mainly of buffalo), and then war, which was necessary to maintain a sufficient territory for hunting, were the crucial activities around which excellence and honor revolved. The concept of a “coup” (reflected in the informant’s name) was of a heroic exploit, but of a very special kind. The sense of the word is more or less the same it has in the English borrowing from the French, as when someone says: “I pulled off a great coup.”

“After this, nothing happened” means, in Lear’s interpretation, that nothing comprehensible to the traditional Crow way of understanding happened. Their worldview was smashed to bits by the coming of the white man.

When the white man conquered all Indians, he put an end to the way of life in which achieving coups in the Crow way was possible. Jonathan Lear, the author, tries to explain how utterly devastating the victory of white culture over Indian culture was by using the metaphor of a restaurant. Say you went to a restaurant and ordered a buffalo burger, but were told that buffalo burgers were no longer on the menu, because there are no more buffalo. That would be bad, but that’s not really what the Crow suffered. Rather, imagine that you wanted to go to a restaurant to order a buffalo burger, but discovered that restaurants no longer existed, and that “ordering” had no meaning. That is more like what the Crow endured.

That is to say, everything that gave their lives meaning was taken from them. They came from a warrior culture, in which excellence was understood to be fighting well and victoriously. The telos of the tribe was victory in war. The women of the tribe understood their roles as preparing their men for war against their enemies, principally the Sioux. All of that was taken from them, and from all Indian tribes, by the white man. Lear’s book doesn’t argue whether or not this was right; he rather examines the phenomenon of cultural collapse, and investigates the role this visionary chief, Plenty Coups, played in giving his people hope through the storm.

Lear talks about one manifestation of cultural collapse: the fate of the Sun Dance. It was an important religious ritual for the Crow, connected to their militarism:

To take one example we have already encountered: The Sun Dance, being a prayer for revenge, was naturally saturated with military episodes. What is one to do with the Sun Dance when it is no longer possible to fight? Roughly speaking, a culture faced with this kind of devastation has three choices:

1. Keep dancing even though the point of the dance has been lost. The ritual continues, though no one can any longer say what the dance is for.

2. Invent a new aim for the dance. The dance continues, but now its purpose is, for example, to facilitate good negotiations with whites, usher good weather for farming, or restore health to a sick relative.

3. Give up the dance. This is an implicit recognition that there is no longer any point in dancing the Sun Dance.

When I read this, the first thing that came to mind was a story told to me by the headmaster of a Christian school serving the poor in a major city. All of the students there were either black or Hispanic. The headmaster told me about a time that the grandfather of two little black girls (whom he was raising) could not make it to school to pick them up on time. The headmaster took the girls to his own home to await the grandfather. The children were fascinated by framed photographs of the headmaster and his wife at their wedding.

The older of the little girls pointed to one of the pictures, then said to her sister, “See, this is how it’s supposed to be.”

As went the Sun Dance for the Crow, so has gone marriage for the urban black poor. And now the loss of the meaning of marriage is spreading more widely in our civilization. We are forgetting how to do this, and why.

We are also forgetting the meaning of Christianity. Some continue to carry out the rituals, though no one can say with confidence what the rituals are for. Those people are dying out. Others — the young — are giving up the religion. That leaves the rest of us to figure out how to live out the faith in these radically new circumstances.

Back to the Crow. Lear says that the collapse of the telos of the Crow tribe destroyed their idea of what it meant to be a Crow. In other words, it was a devastating attack on “Crow subjectivity.” Lear writes:

If the traditional Crow experienced devastation in things they might do, they also experienced a terrible attack on what they might be. If we consider a vibrant culture, it is possible to distinguish:

1. Established social roles. These will include socially sanctioned forms of marriage, sexual reproduction, family, and clan; standard social positions such as warrior, squaw, medicine man, and chief; ceremonial rituals; and so on.

2. Standards of excellence associated with these roles. These give us a sense of a culture’s own ideals: what it would be, say, to be really outstanding as a chief, as a squaw, as a warrior, as a medicine man.

3. The possibility of constituting oneself as a certain sort of person-namely, one who embodies those ideals. I shall call such a person a Crow subject. This is what young Plenty Coups aspired to: to be a chief, to be outstanding as chief, and thus to be a living embodiment of what it was to be a Crow.

The idea of a Crow subject requires more than this sort of identification. It requires internalizing the ideals associated with the standards of excellence associated with social roles. And it requires making those ideals a life’s task. To take an example from traditional Crow culture, being a Crow warrior subjectively understood was not just a matter of occupying the social role of Crow warrior.

Nor was it merely a matter of being extremely good at being a Crow warrior-understood as a social role. That is, it was not enough merely to be very good at killing Sioux in battle, and so on. To be a Crow subject one had to fulfill these conditions, but one also needed to constitute oneself as a person for whom living up to the relevant ideals constituted who one was.

This was more than a mere psychological matter of “identifying” oneself in a particular way. It required a steadfast commitment stretching over much of one’s life to organize one’s life in relation to those ideals. And it required a certain success in doing so. That is, being a Crow subject required more than inhabiting a social role, being excellent in that role, and even identifying oneself in those terms. It required all these things, but in addition it required a lifelong commitment to shaping oneself to be this kind of person. Subjectivity, so understood, is a never-ending task.

This helps me understand more clearly what I was getting at in The Benedict Option: advocating for the creation of ways of life within which authentic Christian subjectivity can be realized in the face of a hostile broader culture that denies it. In my judgment, most Western Christians today haven’t really contemplated the terrifying fact that Christian subjectivity (in the Lear sense) is being devastated by post-Christian culture. The change that has come over the West in a short period of time has not been comprehended by most Christians, who believe falsely that it is possible to continue living the faith without real effort. That is, they don’t comprehend how radical the attack on Christianity is. And they don’t comprehend the futility of a response based on the false idea that we simply need to keep doing the same things that we have always done, and everything will work out.

Lear says that by 1940, it became possible to ask an ironic question that would have made no sense in 1840: “Among the Crow, is there a Crow?” That is, among the people who still identify as Crow, is there to be found anyone who is recognizably Crow? How do you know? More:

Alma Hogan Snell reports that her grandmother regularly complained, “I’m living a life I don’t understand”: She would lament, “I’m living a life I don’t understand.” She would be working and talking-then immediately she would fall silent. She would continue to work, but she was silent. I would be with her, and I would sit silent and wait for her. I became accustomed to that, so I was a very quiet individual at times. Then she’d come up with this sound she always made, “Hummmm, aaahh.”

She said it mournfully, like this thing that she was thinking about in her mind was so overwhelming; “Why has this thing come upon us? Now we are made to say `yes’ and `no.’ When the white man comes to us, we just naturally say `yes.’ We are not obligated to take what he has, but my children, my grandchildren are always right there to say, `Yes, we’ll do it. We’ll do it.’ They seem to like to do it. They seem to like what they see. I feel like I am losing my children to this new world of life that I don’t know.””

Sounds like a lot of Christian parents I know. By now you may be thinking, “What can we Christians learn from the cultural catastrophe that befell the Indians?”

So let’s ask: what did Plenty Coups do for his people?

As a boy, Plenty Coups did what Crow males often did, which was to fast and go out into the woods to dream. He had a dream in which he was shown the disappearance of the buffalo, and the triumph of the white man, symbolized by a devastating storm. This would devastate his people. But they could overcome it, said the dream, if they would listen to the voice of the chickadee. In Crow culture, the chickadee is a small bird, but a very wise one. The meaning here is that the Crow should learn to rely on their intelligence to prevail. The old martial values of Crow life would not help them survive against the war being waged against them. They needed something different.

Lear’s account of the dream’s meaning:

As a youth, alone in the woods for a few days as part of a tribal ritual of manhood, Plenty Coups dreamt of a storm that would fell all but one of the trees of the forest. On that one, lone surviving tree was a chickadee, a humble member of the Crow people’s aviary pantheon, noted for its capacity to listen and adaptively change course. When Plenty Coups returned, he told the dream to the tribal elders who interpreted it to mean that the Crow would face some catastrophe (the dream’s devastating storm) and that to survive it they would have to adapt from Crow virtues to Chickadee ones: from war virtues to other, more humble habits like listening, observing, and adapting to new situations, trading one sort of courage (martial) for another. They thought that the old Chickadee, who was no Crow, would have to be repurposed as a new icon of a new kind of courage and take the old Crow’s place.

A tribal elder said:

“The tribes who have fought the White man have all been beaten, wiped out. By listening as the Chickadee listens, we may escape this and keep our lands.”

The Crow accepted communally this interpretation of the dream, and committed themselves to living by its wisdom — this, even though the dream had not specified what the wisdom of the Chickadee would mean precisely for them.

Plenty Coups grew up to lead his tribe through this agonizing transition. The Crow made common cause with the white man against their enemies, not, said Plenty Coups, out of love for the white man or hatred for their enemies, but because they reckoned that this was the only way for them to survive as a people and keep their land.

Lear:

This is a problem for moral psychology. If, roughly speaking, we believe ought implies can: if we think that in these challenging tines people ought to find new ways-not just of surviving-but of living well, we need to give an account of how it might be psychologically possible to do so. It would be depressing news indeed to learn that, should a civilization collapse, there might nevertheless be decent ways to go forward-but the best people of the civilization would be the least equipped to find them. Is it in the lineaments of our psychological natures that my flourishing as a member of my culture makes me less able to confront the challenges of a radically new future?

That is, are there ways in which a person brought up in a culture’s traditional understanding of courage might draw upon his own inner resources to broaden his understanding of what courage might be? In such a case, one would begin with a culture’s thick understanding of courage; but one would somehow find ways to thin it out: find ways to face circumstances courageously that the older thick conception never envisaged. The issue would then be one not simply of going over to the thick concepts of another culture, but of drawing on their traditions in novel ways in the face of novel challenges.

If this is a possible act, it would be good to know what kind of psychological adjustments make it possible. I want to argue that Plenty Coups did make just this sort of transformation.

First, the entire tribe fortified itself for this apocalypse by taking Plenty Coups’ dream as a valid prophecy sent by God. They could not fully comprehend its meaning at the time. All they could be sure of was that apocalypse was coming, and that they would survive as a people only by listening to the wisdom of the Chickadee. Lear writes:

The only substantive commitment embodied in the chickadee virtue is that if one listens and learns from others in the right way-even in radically different circumstances, even with the collapse of one’s world-something good will come of it.

We would like our ethics to be grounded in psychological reality. Thus whatever flexibility is required of a virtuous person, it ought to be something that can be inculcated in the education and training of a culture. But a culture does not tend to train the young to endure its own breakdown-and it is fairly easy to see why. A culture embodies a sense of life’s possibilities, and it tries to instill that sense in the young. An outstanding young member of the culture will learn to face these possibilities well. The situation we are dealing with here, however, is the breakdown of a culture’s sense of possibility itself.

This inability to conceive of its own devastation will tend to be the blind spot of any culture. By and large a culture will not teach its young: “These are ways in which you can succeed, and these are ways in which you will fail; these are dangers you might face, and here are opportunities; these acts are shameful, and these are worthy of honor-and, oh yes, one more thing, this entire structure of evaluating the world might cease to make sense.”

This is not an impossible thought to teach, but it is a relatively new idea in the history of cultures, and one can see why a robust culture would avoid it.

You can see in this why so few Christians today can conceive of our own devastation, and why we are not preparing our young for what is coming into being now. Plenty Coups’ dream-vision prepared the Crow people for the catastrophic reality coming for them, but also offered them hope for survival.

Plenty Coups led his people toward compromise with the white man, and allyship, even though he had every reason to believe that their world was over. He was trying to shore up a place for his people amid the ruins of Indian life. The Sioux, on the other hand, chose to fight to the end. Chief Sitting Bull of the Sioux criticized the Crow as collaborators. But time has shown that Plenty Coups’ vision was vindicated. Those who resisted the white man violently, however much courage that required, lost everything. The Crow managed to negotiate much better terms for themselves, and to come through the crisis in far better shape than their rival tribes.

This, says Lear, is because Plenty Coups gave his people “radical hope” — that is, hope that despite apocalypse, survival is possible if the people meet the onrushing crisis with a certain understanding. This is the virtue of the Chickadee: to listen and, despite your weakness, to pivot wisely based on the information you gather. Lear says that the Crow had to alter their definition of courage in the face of radically new circumstances. The old warrior virtues were useless under these new conditions. It was impossible to defeat the might of the white man. Plenty Coups saw that if it was impossible to survive this kind of fight, then it was no longer honorable to die this way, but rash. What Plenty Coups did, anchored by his faith that his dream was truly sent by God, was to redefine what it meant to be courageous, and what it meant for the Crow to live well.

Plenty Coups encouraged the young people of his tribe to get an education, because only by learning the knowledge of the white man would they be able to protect their people from the white man’s depredations. And he made a number of trips to Washington to fight — often successfully — for the land rights of his people. He was under no illusions about the white man, but he berated those of his people who surrendered to victimhood (though they were indeed victims!), saying to them, “Self-pity has stolen your courage, robbed you of your spirit and self-respect.”

Lear explains the “radical hope” of Plenty Coups like this:

Thus I think the case is made not just that it was psychologically advantageous not to give in to despair but also that it would have been a mistake to do so. It would also have been a mistake to “go down fighting.” The radical hope that was embedded in the ideal of the chickadee helped Plenty Coups throughout his life to make creative decisions in radically new historical circumstances.

And his fidelity to hope fits all of Aristotle’s hallmarks of courage. With the virtue of the chickadee he was able to reorient himself to what was genuinely shameful (criterion 1)-and to teach others. What would be shameful now would be to turn one’s back on the genuine wisdom of others; to give in to despair; to nostalgically insist that one can go back to the old ways without any change.

At a certain historical point, feeling ashamed that you can no longer live as a traditional warrior may be psychologically understandable, but it is a mistake. By providing an ideal for the times, Plenty Coups did not merely give himself and his people the psychological resources to adapt to a new situation; he also gave them an ideal in relation to which they could aim for something fine (criterion 2).

The aim was not merely the biological survival of the individual members of the tribe-however important that was-but the future flourishing of traditional tribal values, customs, and memories in a new context. This is an admirable goal. Moreover, the virtue of the chickadee explicitly advocates developing good judgment, and making decisions on how to act that are based on knowledge (criterion 3). This has been evident in the tribe’s defense of its land. And Plenty Coups’s strategy has involved serious risk (criterion 4).

This was not the paradigm risk of death on the battlefield, to be sure. It was a greater risk: that one had reoriented oneself toward shame in the wrong sort of way, and was unwittingly doing something shameful, not fine; that one’s strategy would not ultimately work and that the Crow would lose their land, their values-indeed, that they would be destroyed as a people. The stakes could not have been higher for Plenty Coups and his people.

Finally, it has been the aim of this entire chapter to argue that Plenty Coups’s radical hope was not mere wish-fulfilling optimism (criterion 5), but was rather a radical form of hope that constituted courage and made it possible. After all, through a series of canny decisions and acts, the Crow were able to hold onto their land, and Plenty Coups helped to create a space in which traditional Crow values can be preserved in memory, transmitted to a new generation, and, one hopes, renewed in a new historical era. This was possible because Plenty Coups was able to bring about an astonishing imaginative transformation.

Through his dream — and his fidelity to it — Plenty Coups was able to transform the destruction of a telos into a teleological suspension of the ethical. A traditional way of life was being destroyed, and along with it came the destruction of its conception of the good life. The nature of human happiness became essentially unclear and problematic. In such conditions, the temptation to despair is all but overwhelming.

And it was in just such a moment that Plenty Coups’s dream predicted that destruction and offered an image of salvation-and a route to it. The traditional forms of living a good life were going to be destroyed, but there was spiritual backing for the thought that new good forms of living would arise for the Crow, if only they would adhere to the virtues of the chickadee.

… I often receive criticism from other Christians who say that the Benedict Option is a form of surrender. These are people you might call Sitting Bull Christians. I don’t doubt their bravery, and I wish it were possible to prevail following their counsel, but I think it is a wasted gesture if you are riding horses into the face of liquid modernity’s Panzer divisions. This is what we are facing now. How can we endure faithfully, and having endured faithfully, prevail over those who would destroy us, body and soul, and our cultural memory of what it means to be Christian? This is what constitutes victory for Christians in the post-Christian world.

We really are living through a civilizational apocalypse that is visiting on us small-o orthodox Christians the same disorientation and dispossession that the coming of modernity via the US Army and the pioneers visited on the Crow and other Indian tribes. Chief Plenty Coups was baptized into the Catholic Church in 1917. We have the right to hope that he is in heaven, and that he will pray for us to attend to the wisdom of the Chickadee.

(If you like that kind of content, you can subscribe to Daily Dreher here, for five dollars a month.)

In light of the catastrophe that is overtaking us, familiar modes of Christian leadership are dead, dead, dead. We need leaders who can give us radical hope, and who can forge a path for us within which we can remember who we are, and what we are to do. Yes, we are waiting for another, doubtless very different, St. Benedict, but we are also waiting for another, doubtless very different, Plenty Coups.

about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. A veteran of three decades of magazine and newspaper journalism, he has also written three New York Times bestsellers—Live Not By Lies, The Benedict Option, and The Little Way of Ruthie Lemingas well as Crunchy Cons and How Dante Can Save Your Life. Dreher lives in Baton Rouge, La.

leave a comment

Latest Articles