As our culture changes, secularizes, and grows less tolerant of Christian orthodoxy, I’m noticing a pattern in many of the people who fall away (again, only Sampson knows his heart): They’re retreating from faith not because they’re ignorant of its key tenets and lack the necessary intellectual, theological depth but rather because the adversity of adherence to increasingly countercultural doctrine grows too great.
Put another way, the failure of the church isn’t so much of catechesis but of fortification — of building the pure moral courage and resolve to live your faith in the face of cultural headwinds.
In my travels around the country, one thing has become crystal clear to me. Christians are not prepared for the social consequences of the profound cultural shifts — especially in more secular parts of the nation. They’re afraid to say what they believe, not because they face the kind of persecution that Christians face overseas but because they’re simply not prepared for any meaningful adverse consequences in their careers or with their peers.
This is exactly true — and this is the main reason I wrote The Benedict Option. The other day on this site, some commenter made what is by now a familiar remark, about the secular left: “They’re not going to let us do the Benedict Option.”
People like that have this mistaken idea that the Benedict Option is about retreating to some sort of redoubt in the mountains after the secularist takeover. Wrong, wrong, wrong. It is about small-o orthodox Christians preparing ourselves and our children right here, right now, for facing adverse consequences in our careers, in our studies, and in social settings. It is about better catechesis, certainly, but it is more about formation, which is to say, discipleship.
You will be seriously tested. All of us will be. How will you hold up? What makes you think that you’re not going to temporize and rationalize?
French’s blog post brought to mind a quote that I cite a lot in this space. It was something a professor at a conservative Evangelical college told me. He said that 99 percent (his estimation) of the students there have been thoroughly formed by the emotivism of church youth group culture. When they leave campus, and get into the real world, and face challenges to their faith, they will collapse. The professor said specifically that they’re not going to know what to do when someone tells them that their Christian convictions are “mean.”
(You shouldn’t read this as a critique specific to Evangelicals. The data, both scientific and anecdotal, show that Catholic college students are significantly worse off than Evangelical youth. See Christian Smith on this topic.)
I posted yesterday about a ridiculous article in Outside magazine celebrating a drag queen who wears high heels in the great outdoors. A younger reader commented:
I shared this article with my roommate, his reaction was so ordinary that you would have thought it was an article about the life cycle of water; absolutely nothing is wrong with it, more than not being “wrong” it seemed to him to be “good”.
For all those who rip on the baby boomers (I do so myself) you just wait for the next generation to take the reins. Rod is fighting the good fight but we are 10 years away from being utterly obliterated by this.
Is there nothing the broad queering of American life will leave alone?
Many people think this is somehow a fringe movement; that a unique band of freaks is driving this train, but that view is mistaken. Outdoor magazine readers like these stories, like my roommate, the idea of ever increasing sexual boundaries excites them. It is not just a way to virtue signal, they take pleasure in these stories in the same manner many of us take pleasure in seeing someone baptized.
For the readers who will mock this lunacy, don’t, because the sexual revolution v2 clearly has the influence to converge even a magazine who’s mission couldn’t be farther away from sexualization. You laugh, blink, look again, and your own cherished institution/magazine/club is doing the same thing.
For the readers who claim that this is a nothing-burger, don’t, because the sexual revolution v2 clearly has the influence to converge even a magazine who’s mission couldn’t be farther away from sexualization. You deny it’s happening, and then deny it again when it happens somewhere else.
Yep. Signs of the times.
UPDATE: This e-mail just came in from a 21-year-old Catholic reader, who gave me permission to post it:
I’ve been following your blog for the last two years, read the Benedict Option three times, and am looking forward to your next book on tech companies. A consistent theme in BenOp and some of your posts is MTD or something related to it. Considering MTD and the recent mass shooting tragedies, I wish to share some thoughts.
I am no stranger to MTD. In high school, I was active in the “Catholic Charismatic Renewal,” and attended charismatic youth conferences. Much of the religious content we were taught through the CCR was vapid and poisonous. What I am referring to as “vapid and poisonous” covers several things, but I will strike on two things: trust in God and chastity.
1) Trust in God has always been a weak spot in my spiritual armor. Whenever I was prayed over at rowdy meetings, and the leader’s intended result by uttering (vain?) words to God didn’t happen, I was blamed for not trusting in God enough. Generally speaking, I suffered with this notion for years that if I did not trust God hard enough, He would not answer my prayers. I recall little emphasis on God as love and mercy, and had a vision of God as a laughing tyrant.
2) No one taught me the positive beauty of Christian chastity. Every chastity talk I was forced through from 7th to 12th grade was a rattling off of the usual no-no’s, weird fixations on pornography addiction, and getting “chastity cards”. No minister, and I repeat, no minister, talked about the beauty of love, the greatness of abstinence, or the necessity of Christian courtship. It was almost implied that being attracted to a woman was treading on dangerous ground. This mindset strangled me for years, scared me from dating, and might have been partially responsible for my first attempt at dating to fail.
Once I got to college, following a near apostasy at the end of high school, I embraced Catholic traditionalism. I found in the traditionalist expression of the Catholic faith real answers and a renewed desire for God’s presence in my life. My trust in God began to strengthen. Recently, my understanding of chastity, courtship, and marriage was corrected by Fr. T.G. Morrow’s “Christian Dating in a Godless World.”
Where am I going with this? Well, MTD, in my case above, was veiled with a pseudo-Roman Catholic veneer. How one felt in prayer was strongly over-emphasized. It was implied that consolation meant God’s favor, and desolation meant God’s disfavor. In addition, discerning the voice of God was reduced to a hit-and-miss clockwork: if you missed it, then He won’t speak again. In modern Catholicism, I can tell you that this principle infects the minds of young men who want to be priests; there is vocation literature which suggests that a man must wait and wait until God speaks. While I agree that a certain spiritual stillness and silence makes one more conducive to hearing God, I don’t think that’s what the vocation literature was aiming at.
MTD creates a dangerously shallow spirituality. Modern Christianity is rejected as ridiculous by society because it comes off as ridiculous. There is a compromise which the faith made with the world and makes the two at least blurred, at most indistinguishable. All the shallowness of the faith and the uselessness of many clergy cause people to turn to unhealthy means of social identity and sanctity. This is what happened with the Dayton and El Paso killers. Christianity, especially Catholicism, can only be taken seriously again when it stops taking the trappings of postmodernism, rejects them, and replaces it with historical Christian doctrine and liturgy; many Catholics, even at my Catholic school, don’t seem to value or understand the need of liturgical solemnity, and I am convinced that liturgical iconoclasm greatly fosters MTD (and sexually abusive clergy, but that’s another rant). I fear the falling away of my peers from the faith because of MTD and the possibility of it creating among them ideological extremists, incels, failed engagements and divorce, and atheists.
These are my thoughts as a Gen-Z Catholic.
UPDATE.2: From a reader:
As a British Christian who has spent many years enjoying friendship and fellowship with American Christians, I have often found them to be a bit naive in regard to the nature of Christianity in America. Both in the US and in the UK there seems to be pervading attitude amongst American Christians that while the US will ultimately face the challenges of a ‘post-Christian’ world, those challenges are 30 or 40 years down the road and, for the moment, the American faith is strong, valid and a bastian from which much confidence can be taken.
And yet, if anything the pace of change in America is such that I think the US has already overtaken the UK in terms of moving beyond Christianity. We – as in the UK – are now in danger of seeing the climate of faith in Britain accelerate to a more aggressive ‘post-Christian’ reality because of the cultural waves coming from America, be they secular or Christian.
I mentioned this to an American pastor at a church in the UK – who has also founded an American-UK exchange programme which seeks to place Americans in UK churches to both serve those communities and learn about the ‘post-Christian’ future – and he responded with utter confusion. Even angry frustration. He was adamant that the US is decades from any form of new faith reality and that it was still the great leader of global Christianity. Which baffled me equally.
Perhaps the pace of rapid change is rooted in the actual reality of the American churches. There are, of course, many good, great, and excellent churches and many faithful people, but my limited experience in the US itself revealled a faith lacking in depth. There was an incredible Christian culture (from a UK perspective), churches on every corner, and vast churches drawing thousands every week. But no-where was there an understanding of the gospel. Instead of meek humility there was Christian thrash metal. Instead of people encouraging one another in Scripture over coffee, there was a school bus with a jet engine. All very strange.
But yes. To me America has already become something else and is changing rapidly. But to many Americans – Godly, faithful folk – all they see is the New Jerusalem. It’s a strange thing.