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No, The Maginot Line Will Not Hold

Though he never mentions the Benedict Option by name, Claes Ryn writes in TAC a jeremiad against the very idea. [1] We agree that the country, indeed Western civilization, is in a serious crisis. But that’s about it. Excerpts:

Many Christians are calling for a return to moral and religious basics and for a reinvigoration of family and community life. Nothing would seem to be more appropriate and encouraging or to be more conservative. Are not our problems at bottom moral-spiritual? But here as elsewhere habits of avoidance threaten to turn a sound impulse into self-deluding escape.

Self-deluding escapism? Tell me more:

It is common for supposedly “traditionalist” Christians to say that the historical situation has become so bad that little can be done to reverse destructive trends. People of faith must resign themselves to retreating into their own separate spheres, to keep the flame alive in their corner of human existence. Has not Christianity always recognized an inevitable tension between faith and the world?

Quietism in our time! More:

Two objections immediately come to mind. It might be argued first of all that what is needed in threatening historical circumstances like ours is not a general disposition of retreat from challenges but a spirit of moral-spiritual toughness, a readiness and willingness to take on the world. In our era of flight from reality there is a danger that in practice a supposed return to moral-religious basics will turn into a combination of trepidation and dreaminess.

And:

Realizing the limited reach and efficacy of politics must not become an excuse for a general retreat from the front line of life. Granted, different people must play different roles. Those who have chosen the special witnessing of otherworldliness do, by definition, leave ordinary worldly responsibilities to parents, entrepreneurs, doctors, teachers, politicians, soldiers, scientists, et al., although here and there their roles may overlap with those of people active in the world. Most who lead ordinary lives will, and should, give their best energy in family, church, and local community, but these efforts should be influenced as little as possible by sentimental spirituality. What seems most needed is the virtual opposite: a moral-spiritual toughness capable of taking on our historical predicament. We all have a responsibility—small or great depending on our personal gifts and circumstances—to do what might be done to reverse large, dangerous trends. A wish to stay away from potentially painful, daunting tasks, understandable though it is, aids and abets the destructive forces.

This is not the Benedict Option as I have written about it over and over, and write about it in the forthcoming book [2]. More to the point, it is not the Benedict Option as I presented it to a conference earlier this year in which Claes Ryn was in the audience. He should know better. If he was confused on any point, I would have happily shared with him a copy of the speech, had he asked. But as usual with this kind of critic, they wish to argue with the Benedict Option as they imagine it to be, not the Benedict Option as I have explained it.

I started to undertake a point by point refutation of Ryn’s specious claims, but then realized that it would be pointless. However many times, and in however as much detail, as I explain that I’m not saying let’s all head for the hills and cultivate our lotus gardens, they are bound and determined to think so. It’s frustrating to have to argue with people who don’t listen the first time, and who mischaracterize my argument. But until the book comes out, I can give people who don’t read me regularly a pass on this. Someone who sat there and listened to me talk about this in some detail for about an hour, not so much.

You will notice in Ryn’s essay that he has no plan for how to address this current crisis. He simply says:

People who want to make the best of troubling historical circumstances must shake off tempting illusions and other escape mechanisms and employ all available levers and resources. They must avoid the twin forms of denial: retreat and surrender.

Yeah? So what would Prof. Ryn have us do, then? I could be wrong in this Benedict Option stuff, but I prefer the attempts I’m making to think creatively about the crisis to Prof. Ryn’s bah-humbugism, which, absent some detailed explanation of what it means to “employ all available levers and resources,” is really more escapist than anything I’ve put forth. Employ all those things to defend what, exactly? These old conservative generals can’t help fighting the last war, and resting in the confidence that their Maginot Line will hold if we just rally our spirit and reinforce the concrete. What they don’t get is that the Huns have already gone over, through, and around their defenses, and are occupying our territory. The Benedict Option is the Resistance.

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79 Comments To "No, The Maginot Line Will Not Hold"

#1 Comment By Chris Atwood On October 27, 2016 @ 10:15 pm

Short Prof. Ryn: You’re a coward, Rod
Slightly longer Prof. Ryn: you’re not a monk, Rod, so you have no business following the Sermon on the Mount, or any other distinctively Christian ethic. Pretending that the Sermon on the Mount has anything to do with you, a layman, is just a version of cowardice.
What Ryn wants you to do: write culture war articles like Rusty Reno and/or Robbie George all day long.

Prof. Ryn’s view that the Sermon on the Mount (using that as a shorthand for the ethic preached by Jesus in the Gospels) is binding only on monastics and is actively harmful for layfolks, is one that Luther already named and shamed in the sixteenth century. Sad to see it’s still alive.

#2 Comment By Silouan Green On October 27, 2016 @ 10:33 pm

I sure look forward to your book. But interesting you used that picture of a Maginot Bunker as what you are “not” talking about. I would really reconsider your book cover. To me, it gives off the impression that what the book will be about is retreating to a sort of Maginot line bunker, even though I know that is not what you intend to present. I’m afraid, in my opinion, the cover you have shown us reinforces the stereotype you are trying to avoid.

#3 Comment By PA15017 On October 27, 2016 @ 10:52 pm

Seems like there’s some misunderstanding of the Benedict Option. Responding to ARM’s comments, I actually think that by and large, serious Christians AREN’T doing anything to create a resilient, “separate” community. Most of what I see are facsimiles of pop culture with a Christian sheen.

#4 Comment By razorfangius On October 28, 2016 @ 12:12 am

What will happen to the BenOp when the government outlaws homeschooling? Or mandates quarterly checks by roaming school psychologists to see if your kids are suffering from their retrograde schooling?

I don’t see how, if the Huns are running wild, you can assume that it’s possible to set up parallel institutions, etc.

Benedict had a mountain fortress and was not resisting a totalitarian government, but rather anarchy and gangs of bandits.

[NFR: OK, let’s say the government outlaws homeschooling. What then? Y’all keep saying that like it’s a debate-ender. The more oppressive the government gets, the *more* we will need the Benedict Option. That’s it’s point! — RD]

#5 Comment By nemo On October 28, 2016 @ 12:34 am

My impression is that Ryn ought to review his Lindbom. ‘The Tares and the Good Grain’ and ‘The Myth of Democracy’, for the latter of which Ryn wrote the Introduction, not to mention Lindbom’s later life and vocations, present a true and attractive worldview which is far more akin to the ‘Benedict Option’ than to a ceaseless tilting at political windmills.

‘But seek ye first the Kingdom of God, and his righteousness…’

#6 Comment By relstprof On October 28, 2016 @ 4:17 am

Andrew Keen: “Rebuilding Christianity at a local level is an important task and I hope to do my part where I live. But “post-Christian America” is awfully depressing packaging for your strategy. I, for one, will not be surrendering to that fate anytime soon.”

Rod: [NFR: But … it’s true. You may not wish to see it, but it’s true. I wish it weren’t true, but it is. — RD]

Dispense with the “Christian America” and a “post-Christian America” narrative. Start there if you’re a conservative with a functioning mind.

The idea that the US was a Christian nation is manifestly false. It never was. It began as an Enlightenment colonial enterprise with a capitalist socio-economy that included slavery and indentured servitude. It continues as a global imperial force of exploitation and death-dealing by debt and drone and destruction of the earth. E.g., the continuous extermination of thousands of species of life as we throw away edible food.

And we’re the rational beings.

All the homeschooling in the world will never make the “founding fathers” of Washington, Jefferson, Madison, Hamilton, and Adams representatives of the Christian traditions.

You want America? You want to be America? Go for it. But know this: Uncle Chuckie is there before you, cause Cosmanian Orthodoxy is more real, and more authentically American, than any fantasy of a Christian America.

#7 Comment By Phillip On October 28, 2016 @ 8:25 am

I think the common thread in a lot of criticism is that many, many people don’t get that the US/West isn’t becoming post-Christian. It already is. (The Huns among us analogy.) The war is over, and we lost. And our occupiers will not be kind.

It’s hard to support a solution when you don’t comprehend that there is a problem.

Strange that the idea of “withdrawal” is so anathema to some that it can only be considered in its most extreme forms. Want an easy withdrawal from the culture? Turn off your television.

You don’t have to move to the mountains to stay more focused on Christ than Kim Kardashian. It might help, but you don’t have to.

#8 Comment By Joshua Mincher On October 28, 2016 @ 8:33 am

Chris Atwood nailed it.

“Slightly longer Prof. Ryn: you’re not a monk, Rod, so you have no business following the Sermon on the Mount, or any other distinctively Christian ethic. Pretending that the Sermon on the Mount has anything to do with you, a layman, is just a version of cowardice.
What Ryn wants you to do: write culture war articles like Rusty Reno and/or Robbie George all day long.”

#9 Comment By AdamA On October 28, 2016 @ 8:47 am

It just seems to me that a working Benedict Option that applies to all small o “orthodox Christians” will be untenable with no clear leaders, no uniform reconciliation of denominations, no clear rules of interaction with society. Soon there would be cries of apostasy, division, and those aren’t real “Ben op’ers” etc. That’s not to mention the real possibilities of small religious enclaves that turn into fanaticism, harsh disciplinarians, and essential cult like traits. History is full of examples of originally pious communities or groups that turn grim. For every Amish/Mennonite example there is the FLDS.

To expect the Benedict Option to paper over and unite Mormon, Evangelical, and Catholic is as useful as a generic ecumenical proclamation. To purposefully marginalize themselves from “mainstream Christianity” within their own denomination and parishes is unworkable and divisive. Is it not more honest to call for a complete break and new denomination of “new orthodox Christians” committed to a unifying strict sense of guidelines, with a robust enforcement that is understood by all?

#10 Comment By dan On October 28, 2016 @ 9:57 am

The most effective lever available to Christians is to counter the prevailing Zeitgeist with the creation of an alternate “spirit of the age”. That means living something real, having a postive vision of what Christian life is and (Gag me) “being the change we wish to see”.

That’s what I envision as the Benedict Option. Its critical to avoid just being reactionary, and defiing ourselves against the dominant culture. This will be difficult.

#11 Comment By ARM On October 28, 2016 @ 10:40 am

“The profusion of verbiage, each phrase qualifying the next, I found to be as confusing and as hard a slog as I know many of your readers find my comments here frequently to be.”

That’s a Voegelinian thing (Ryn’s philosophical allegiance) – I presume they’re trying to match their guru’s prose, which was equally awful.

#12 Comment By KD On October 28, 2016 @ 11:42 am

I didn’t see the article as an attack on the Benedict Option.

It is more an attack on this kind of phenomenon:

[3]

Its a political party leadership that wants to remove General Patton from command because he uses cuss words, has a mistress, and is a racist. May you enjoy the fullness of the “compassion and inclusiveness” of the Victors.

#13 Comment By AJ On October 28, 2016 @ 12:48 pm

Andrew Keen says:

“You are asking us to surrender to the idea that America will become a post-Christian nation. That may come true on its own, but if we accept your advice it certainly will. I hope you understand why some of us resist your fatalism.”

Wake up and smell the stench, the America you are speaking of is dead and gone. America is already a post-Christian nation and has been for some time.

#14 Comment By spudnik On October 28, 2016 @ 1:28 pm

Ryn’s position reminds me of Lucy telling Charlie Brown that if he just forgets the past and takes one more run at that football, it will be different this time. The political elite has become proficient in marshaling different political constituencies (including Christian conservatives) behind varying notions of “change” and then delivering more of the same. The underlying premise is not to question the concentration of all wealth and power in Washington; only to promise that if the “right” people gain control of it then things will get better. It’s a sucker’s bet. The social compact is broken. A people trained to be incurious and visceral in its decision making isn’t going to produce a better system than what we’ve got.

#15 Comment By mwing On October 28, 2016 @ 2:30 pm

AJ says:
Change the name of the Benedict Option, or be forever explaining/arguing that it is not like a monastic withdrawal from the world.

Yeah. Mr. Dreher, I believe you may be overthinking this. (shocking, I know! ;-P). That name, that title, and that book cover image, much as I like it, say monastic withdrawal to, well, pretty much everyone at first look.
So then you’re constantly having to explain that you don’t mean THAT- to which one thinks, well, then, why did you call it that?
I wish you best of look with the book and the project. But your choice of names was a bit of an own goal.

#16 Comment By Sam M On October 28, 2016 @ 4:20 pm

“what is needed in threatening historical circumstances like ours is not a general disposition of retreat from challenges but a spirit of moral-spiritual toughness, a readiness and willingness to take on the world”

Seems to me that what he is missing is the idea that we first have to figure out what WE think and believe before trying to sell it to others. That so much of our tradition has been lost that we need to reinvigorate ourselves before engaging more fully.

Look. Even people who hold the line at the trenches occasionally have to duck down and reload. Why just charge out into the line of fire with a stick and a temper?

#17 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On October 28, 2016 @ 8:31 pm

Its a political party leadership that wants to remove General Patton from command because he uses cuss words, has a mistress, and is a racist.

To give General Patton his due, when he was tentatively offered the 76th Tank Battalion, with the apologetic note that the only tank unit left was Negro, Patton replied “Who the f*** asked for color? I asked for tankers.” And, when a “white” colonel cluelessly ordered the battalion’s Charlie Company to make a fruitless attack into a visibly well-covered corridor that Lieutenant Pop Gates told him would be useless slaughter with the tanks sitting ducks, Patton came afterward to ask Gates why he lost so many tanks, and upon being told, relieved the colonel of command and sent him back to the states. Gates referred to the colonel as a honky SOB. Patton called him m*****f*****.

So yes, Patton cussed. And Eisenhower also had a mistress. But don’t toss “racist” into the pot just for p.i. effect. What raised an outcry to fire Patton was that he slapped a soldier in a field hospital and called him “yellow.” Patton was wrong, but in the middle of a war, generals who win battles are in short supply, and not to be lightly dismissed. You have to be utterly insubordinate at a strategic level, like MacArthur, to be fired.

Oh, and the government won’t be outlawing home schooling. Pierce v. Society of Sisters and all that… the case which first offered the words, children are not mere creatures of the the state.

#18 Comment By Charles Cosimano On October 28, 2016 @ 9:49 pm

“Look. Even people who hold the line at the trenches occasionally have to duck down and reload. Why just charge out into the line of fire with a stick and a temper?”

Because there will always be someone manning the machine guns to mow them down.

#19 Comment By Joan On October 29, 2016 @ 9:23 am

Given Ryn’s lack of any specific positive recommendations, he does sound like he’s saying “Keep doing the same thing, but expect different results.”

#20 Comment By Joan On October 29, 2016 @ 9:35 am

For explaining the BenOp, I can offer this quotation: “Don’t be the only one.” It’s advice from Alice Walker for young African American students just arriving at overwhelming white colleges. She meant, not just that they should avoid letting themselves be used as tokens, but also that being the only one is demoralizing. This also applies to being the only traditional Christian family in the neighborhood. Ultimately it’s about surrounding yourself with your own kind, even if you have to move to Elk County or Baton Rouge.

#21 Comment By KD On October 29, 2016 @ 6:07 pm

Patton was a racist, Siarlys. Read a good biography of him.

Not only a racist, but he had a whole theory of race based on the Hindu caste system and theories of reincarnation. You could even categorize him as one of a number of Indo-Aryan mystics of the interwar period.

So, perhaps we should have found a nice progressive choir boy to command.

#22 Comment By gk On October 30, 2016 @ 10:45 am

Somebody Stop the Flood.

The BenOp @ Work–Same As It Ever Was 🙂 🙂 🙂

‘After experiencing the most dramatic growth over the last decade in its entire history, St. John’s Seminary in Brighton, Mass., the seminary of the Boston archdiocese, has bought back space it had sold to Boston College in order to accommodate the influx.’

[4]

#23 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On October 30, 2016 @ 6:11 pm

Patton was a racist, Siarlys. Read a good biography of him.

KD, you seem determined to prove that Patton was a racist, in order to make the point that racism is OK, as long as you are good at your job. Which may be true, IF in fact you are able to “be racist” without allowing that IN ANY WAY to cloud your judgment, or to poison your working relations with subordinates and executives in position to give you orders, etc.

But my point is, whatever it means to say that Patton “was a racist,” it did not stop him from making effective use of a battalion of black tanker crews, or backing them up against a clueless “white” officer when they knew their job and the white man didn’t.

Its a little bit like, Andrew Jackson was livid that escaped slaves were finding refuge in Spanish Florida, but, he was also capable of making good use of, and lavishing praise on, soldiers of African descent at the Battle of New Orleans, and instructing a paymaster to shut up and do his job when the paymaster complained about paying these troops the same rate as “white” troops.

So, like much else in life, its complicated. Pinning labels on people doesn’t always elucidate much of anything.

#24 Comment By KD On October 31, 2016 @ 12:16 pm

Siarlys Jenkins:

No, I am saying holding your breath and waiting for the choir boy to come and make things right is a recipe for disaster.

By the standards of some voices in the conservative movement, they would have removed Patton from command on concerns about his temperment, his intemperate and inflammatory remarks, his snap judgments, his sexual immorality.

Instead, they would have surrendered and left the field of battle, attempted to pray the Nazis away for 4 years, and which point maybe they would go back on the campaign, provided they had a choir boy to lead them.

#25 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On October 31, 2016 @ 2:58 pm

Well KD, your choir boy seems to be quite a universal straw man. Who exactly are you casting as the choir boy in this discussion anyway?

But while we are on this tangent, what are your thoughts about the Bosnian government, circa 1990, finding itself without arms or army, turning to the local criminal rackets for muscle, and having to essentially allow the head of those rackets impunity from frequent rape charges, because they needed his guns to fight the Serbian forces?

#26 Comment By KD On November 1, 2016 @ 11:14 am

Siarlys:

I’ll defer to Pascal:

Justice, might. -It is right that what is just should be obeyed; it is necessary that what is strongest should be obeyed. Justice without might is helpless; might without justice is tyrannical. Justice without might is gainsaid, because there are always offenders; might without justice is condemned. We must then combine justice and might, and for this end make what is just strong, or what is strong just.

Justice is subject to dispute; might is easily recognised and is not disputed. So we cannot give might to justice, because might has gainsaid justice, and has declared that it is she herself who is just. And thus being unable to make what is just strong, we have made what is strong just.

#27 Comment By KD On November 1, 2016 @ 12:27 pm

Siarlys:

In further answer to your question, what is a government but a criminal racket? If you have a “government” without muscle, where else would you turn, except to another criminal racket?

The Bosnian example is simply too blatant for most of us. We want a ritual and then a protracted penance before we give our assent. That is to say, as you describe it, the move lacks sufficient theurgy to grant legitimacy.

#28 Comment By JonF On November 1, 2016 @ 1:47 pm

KD,

Comparing Trump to Patton does not work. Gen Patton, whatever his flaws, was competent and capable. Trump is not, for the office he seeks. He is like one of the feckless Civil War Union generals full of bluster and bragging and bloodthirsty talk– and nothing else.

#29 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On November 2, 2016 @ 4:02 pm

Pascal really tied himself in a knot there, didn’t he? Does all that really have any significance in the end?

When KD speaks for himself, he comes closer to the truth. Having read Keith Otterbein’s work on the origins of war, and the state, it is certainly true that government began as a criminal racket, pure and simple. Some of the more extensive street gangs have also begun to function more like a government over time. Only later did some highly successful racketeers given thought to promulgating laws for which they would be revered when dead. Somewhere along the way, having tribal or state organization provided an opportunity for agitation to improve them. There is also the fact that if the existing government disappeared, it would merely open a vacuum which would come to be dominated by a new and more blatant criminal racket, unrestrained by checks and balances.