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Political Discontent In Our Time

Interesting column today from Damon Linker, talking about the forms political discontent is taking in our contemporary society. He mentions Your Working Boy here:

The anti-modern tendency also comes in a more quietistic mode that doesn’t so much seek a total revolution as respond to the impossibility of such a revolution by advocating withdrawal into an insular community that is somehow in but not of the modern world. Blogger Rod Dreher’s “Benedict Option” for the religious right (inspired by the work of Catholic philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre) takes this form, holding out hope that traditionalist Christians might manage to overcome their deep dissatisfaction with aspects of modern life by a severing of ties with secular trends they consider the source of their unhappiness.

Well … yes, to a point. But it’s more complicated than this, because I also agree with Damon here:

A second tradition, represented in different ways by ancient Greek tragedy, the Hebrew Bible, and Christian civilization, views discontent as an understandable response to the human condition. We are victims of fate, exiled, fallen, broken, lost, wandering through a vale of tears; no wonder we often feel confused about how to live and what would fulfill us. For the Greek tragedians, the only adequate response is resignation through the mediation of tragic drama. For the monotheistic traditions, we can find a modicum of contentment by turning our eyes to God — living according to his law (in the case of Judaism) or following Jesus (in the case of Christianity) — while we await the only thing that will relieve our suffering for good: the divine redemption that awaits us with the arrival or return of the Messiah.

The Benedict Option is a catch-all term for Christian attempts to adopt practices that make it possible to hold on to the Christian religion, and to be faithful to its precepts, in a hostile, anti-Christian culture. Because we are Christian, we know that the human condition is one of exile. There will be no utopias before the Second Coming, and the attempt to build them can only end in catastrophe. Benedict Option Christians are those who have come to understand that modernity, particularly in its current stage, poses an existential threat to traditional Christianity.

If modernity is not successfully resisted, Christianity will ultimately be assimilated and dissolved, just as modernity has done and is doing to all non-Orthodox Judaism. Here’s Jonathan S. Tobin writing about that phenomenon:

[T]his exodus of non-Orthodox Jews is largely the function of free society in which Americans have a choice as to whether they will retain their faith and the breakdown in barriers between faiths that has caused non-Jews to be willing to marry Jews. But it is exacerbated by a societal trend in which the overwhelming majority of American Jews have lost all sense of what it means to hold onto a viable Jewish identity that can be handed down to subsequent generations. If you believe, as most do, that Judaism can be summed up in the phrase “tikkun olam” — a concept about repairing the world that has become a tired cliché and been stripped of its particular Jewish meaning or, as the old quip goes, the Democratic Party platform with holidays thrown in, why be a Jew at all?

The answer from all too many liberal Jews is that there is no real reason to stick with Judaism and the result are the numbers that the Pew Center published. Sadly, both the leaders of the Conservative movement and Bachmann’s Reform movement, have taken a blasé attitude toward the Pew statistics, claiming that their impact is either being exaggerated or misinterpreted rather than raising an alarm. That sort of complacence is on display in the quotes in the Times article from both Bachmann and Reform leader Rabbi Rick Jacobs. They urge Jews not to “build a wall around their Judaism in an effort to preserve it. But it’s difficult to view the catastrophic numbers in a context other than one in which the consequences of not preserving distinctions or viewing Judaism as religious liberalism are becoming apparent. As scholars Jack Wertheimer, Steven Cohen and Steven Bayme have pointed out, the only way to preserve non-Orthodox Jewry is to emphasize both Jewish particularity as well as seek to promote endogamy.

Emphasis mine. Look, we have lost the culture for the foreseeable future. We are now fighting for our faith. The political form of that battle is fighting for the right to be left alone, but the political form is less important than the cultural form. That is, we may hold on to the right to be left alone, but if the next generations reject the faith, it’s over.

The complacency of orthodox Christians has to end. David French writes today about how wanting to avoid trouble is a disastrous strategy for us. Excerpt:

This is how culture wars are lost: through the slow accumulation of individually defensible but collectively unjustifiable decisions not to resist. It’s the decision that objecting during diversity training simply isn’t worth the hassle. It’s the decision not to say anything when you see a colleague or fellow student facing persecution because of their beliefs. It’s a life habit of always taking the path of least resistance, keeping your head down, and doing your best to preserve your own family and career. The small fights don’t matter anyway, right?

I recently spoke to a mid-level executive at a major corporation who had been forced to sit through mandatory “inclusivity” training. The topic was transgender rights, and the trainer proceeded to spout far-left ideology as fact, going so far as to label all who disagreed with the notion that a man can become a woman “transphobic.” I asked if anyone objected to any part of the training, and the response was immediate. “Are you crazy? No one wants to deal with HR.”

Hey, I get that! The wise man has to choose his battles. I’ve done it plenty of times. The problem is, you get used to compromising over and over, and finally you’ve forgotten what it is to resist evil, or why you should do so in the first place.

As I’ve said, I believe that my side has lost the culture wars decisively. The fact that the Republican Party is about to nominate Donald Trump is just one sign that social and religious conservatives have been thoroughly routed. It’s important to give up false political hope, because trying to defend ground that we have already lost blinds us to what we might yet successfully defend (such as, concentrating our efforts behind groups like the Alliance Defending Freedom and The Becket Fund For Religious Liberty, upon which everything about our future as religious dissenters depends).

False political hope also blinds us to preparing for the long siege ahead, and mounting an effective resistance. To continue the culture war metaphor, we are going to have to live for some time under occupation, but that only means that we have to find within ourselves courage, creativity, and new reserves of fidelity.

If you are the kind of conservative Christian who is used to staying quiet and hoping that this will past, you are not going to make it through what’s coming with your faith intact, and neither will your descendants. This is no time for complacency. Whether Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump is elected this fall, orthodox Christians are facing a difficult and challenging future. The signs of the times are there, whether you want to see them or not. The more you try to convince yourself that there’s a place for you in the emerging post-Christian order, the harder it is going to be to do what you have to do for the sake of your faith and family when the time comes.

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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