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A Knight Prepares For Battle

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This evening I received the following letter from a Christian college undergraduate. I was really moved by it. He agreed to let me publish it here, though by agreement, I have slightly edited it to hide any identifying details:

My name is ____ and I have been a long-time reader of yours ever since I was in high school. Now I am a junior at [college] and I wanted to take the time to write you as I finally took the time to read The Benedict Option, which I finished today. Having been an avid member of your readership, I only felt that it was right that I finally read your book. I found myself resonating with its entirety as I have with most of your writing over the past three years I have been a reader. Given my background and the current context of the country, I merely want to convey a few of my thoughts and concerns about the future of the Church and the West for what they are worth.

I suppose it would be beneficial to explain my background as to provide context to my thoughts. I was raised in [major suburb] for my entire life and beginning in middle school I was sent to the private Christian school that was a part of the [conservative Evangelical] megachurch that I was raised in.  I found many of your reflections regarding consumerism, pornography, and hypocrisy in the church to be especially poignant given my own life experiences and not unlike things I have been saying for a while.

My family and church growing up espoused a Christianity that I would characterize as nearly equal in its emphasis of the Republican party platform as it did the gospel.  I say none of this to give you the idea that my family’s Christian faith is heretical or insincere but rather to highlight the blind spots that played into their lives and corresponded with my reading of your book.

In The Benedict Option, you write about numerous things involved in the creation of strong Christian communities such as classical Christian school, theologically faithful congregations, and networks of patronage, all of which I found my specific experiences in the suburban megachurch evangelical world corresponding to.  My family placed my sister and me in [a conservative Christian school] due to the increased opportunity and better environment, or so he thought. The school did an admirable job attempting to integrate biblical teaching into the curriculum along a mild classical liberal arts model, but all the hallmarks or upper-class consumerism and immorality ran rampant throughout the school. Your writings on pornography and its effects on young men are especially pertinent to my experiences as while I was originally exposed to it at a very young age, my time at the Christian institution was where it was first introduced in its most substantial way. The school attempted to integrate biblical leadership and correction but they sacrificed the institution’s credibility on the altar of athletics as they allowed (and supposedly recruited) many underqualified, spiritually-compromised, and intellectually inept individuals into the school for the sake of championships. Furthermore, the school, it seemed, began loosening its moral standards of admission as they began pricing out the faithful Christian community and merely needed paying customers to keep the machine going. I say none of this to make myself seem like the perfect student as some of my greatest moral failings occurred during my time there. However, the sheer lack of integrity that I observed in terms of who was admitted and permitted to stay after violations left me slightly disillusioned with my memories of the institution.

Despite its shortcomings, I still received a fabulous education but that allowance of mediocrity, both moral and intellectual, was not doing the institution nor its students any favors. In reading your book, it seems imperative to me that any Christian educational projects be willing to uphold the sanctity of their schools by admonishing students and families in love to live differently but not be under any illusion that a family with no commitment to the Church is somehow going to be evangelized by having a child attend the school. Some of my greatest mentors were my teachers at the institution but it seemed like the administration was constantly attempting to bolster the grandeur of the school through a new building program or athletic success rather than heeding their responsibility toward forming young people. The school did imbue me with a great appreciation for western civilization and they made a great effort in educating every student in apologetics, philosophy, systematic theology, and logic but there comes a point when Christian educators realize they also have a duty to protect their institutions from corrupting influences.

Ultimately, my time there prepared me expertly for college as I find having a cohesive and coherent Christian worldview leaves me well-armed toward my studies in [the humanities] However, I see the fissures in the foundation of the ecumenical Church as I am member of a Christian [male organization]. Our organization is so ecumenical that their does not even seem to be a total consensus on what Christian manhood and masculinity look like. We are split 50/50 between theological progressives and theological conservatives. There is beginning to be greater animosity as the progressives are pushing wokeness emanating from their frankly bankrupt theology onto the rest of us, and it seems like eventually we will reach an impasse where cooperation will no longer be possible.

This is quite the time to be a young man about to enter into the world as I see the culture my ancestors labored for 400 years in this land to build yanked down by what I see are barbarians and philistines with no capacity to create, but only to destroy. I understand the nuances of the discussion, and I am far more nuanced than I may appear in this missive but now I only see ideological excess and the wrath of man. Some have said that my very existence as a privileged (using the word correctly) white man of old WASP stock is a moral affront to them. How am I supposed to reason with that? My father taught me to treat everyone as Christ treated humanity, with a servant’s heart abounding in love, yet even with this they still consider me an enemy. It became apparent to me a while ago that the enlightenment worship of reason has been collapsing in on itself, and all that is left is self-deception. The most comical part of the entire episode of the riots in [my city] was that all the affluent white liberals promptly emptied their local gun shops of anything they could get their hands on. All I have taken out of the episodes of these last two months is that COVID-19 did not matter (because it would be politically incorrect to suggest that approved protests would aid its spread), gun ownership isn’t a problem, and school shootings aren’t an issue (because the left doesn’t want police in schools). The ideological cannibalism would be funny if it weren’t so serious.

I will conclude this letter with my reflections and angst regarding the future. I have been blessed with many opportunities but many of my cohort (theologically and politically conservative young men) are concerned that they should be making as much money as quickly as possible, acquiring guns and money, and building the walls high before the Jacobins descend on the suburbs to burn the manor houses. I personally am interested in law or military service but what happens if there comes a point when ideological purges are the new norm in government service? I say all this not to sound like I have lost hope but I am a realist by training and it is hard for me to ignore a hurricane lumbering just off the coast. Christ is with us in this age just as he was with all those who came before us but it is hard to watch that which you love be subsumed under the destructive passions of men.

Please pray for our young men and women, preparing for a life more uncertain and tumultuous than most of us have known. We in the churches, and within our families, are doing such a poor job of preparing them for the world as it is, and as it will be. We must do better.

What would you tell this young man? He reads this blog. Worthy advice only — if you smart off, I’m going to spike your comment.

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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