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The Rich Young Rulers Vs. SJWS

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A reader who is a college professor and a practicing Christian writes to say he just spent a year on an intensive program mentoring freshmen at his college, and observing how relentless is the progressive propaganda the school (which is public) hits them with. He writes:

Here’s the thing I learned from spending a year talking to freshmen, though: none of them care. The perfect storm of progressive groupthink that sends out waves of propaganda on college campuses seems to turn students into rocks on the sea coast. They go quiet and hunker down and let the waves beat on them. They stay away from activities in droves (every one of the all-dorm events I attended had more faculty than students), and they respond to invitations to converse with stony silence. As one student said to me, “They keep telling us to be nice. How many times do they have to tell us?” This indoctrination that seems so near and dear to the hearts of university progressives seems a bit like public lectures on Leninism from the late Soviet days: everyone promises to come and pay close attention and but all anyone wants to do is avoid notice. I’m sure a few students are inspired by this preaching, but my experience tells me that support of these dogmas is total just as long as someone is listening. Only true believers are excited by this ham-handed piety.

In Dorothy Sayers’ The Man Born to Be King, Judas is a high-minded idealist and revolutionary who betrays Christ because Christ does not share his enlightened view of history. Sayers’ Judas comes to mind when I think about people like those currently persecuting Paul Griffiths at Duke. They are the true believers who will gladly sacrifice a human on the altar of humanity. My worry with the students I encounter is not that they will become a Judas, but that they already are the Rich Young Ruler: “All these things have I kept from my youth up: what lack I yet?” The young men I spent the year with are nice fellows, but they will bow to SJWs because there’s too much to lose. They’re too complacent to radicalize, but also too rich and too connected to stand up to radicalism. I’ve yet to read The Benedict Option (mostly because my priest has my copy), so I’m sure you’ve already tackled this in that book, but it seems to me that a successful call to the young must emphasize the ascetic: SJWs are loud and obnoxious, but for every one of them, there are ten Rich Young Rulers on college campuses that need to be told, “Sell all you own, take up your cross, and follow me.”

From The Benedict Option‘s chapter on work:

In the end, it comes down to what believers are willing to suffer for the faith. Are we ready to have our social capital devalued and lose professional status, including the possibility of accumulating wealth? Are we prepared to relocate to places far from the wealth and power of the cities of the empire, in search of a more religiously free way of life? It’s going to come to that for more and more of us. The time of testing is at hand.

“A lot of Christians see no difference between being faithfully Christian and being professionally and socially ambitious,” says a religious liberty activist. “That is ending.”

True story: a couple in suburban Washington, D.C., approached their pastor asking him to help their college student daughter, who felt a calling to be an overseas missionary.

“That’s wonderful!” said the pastor.
“Oh no, you misunderstand,” said the parents. “We want you to help us talk her out of ruining her life.”

Christians like that couple won’t make it through what’s to come. Christians with sacrificial hearts like their daughter’s will. But it’s going to cost them plenty.

A young Christian who dreams of being a lawyer or doctor might have to abandon that hope and enter a career in which she makes far less money than a lawyer or doctor would. An aspiring Christian academic might have to be happy with the smaller salary and lower prestige of teaching at a classical Christian high school.

A Christian family might be forced to sell or close a business rather than submit to state dictates. The Stormans family of Washington state faced this decision after the U.S. Supreme Court upheld a state law requiring its pharmacy to sell pills the family considers abortifacient. Depending on the ultimate outcome of her legal fight, florist Barronelle Stutzman, who declined for conscience reasons to arrange flowers for a gay wedding, faces the same choice.

When that price needs to be paid, Benedict Option Christians should be ready to support one another economically—through offering jobs, patronizing businesses, professional networking, and so forth. This will not be a cure-all; the conversion of the public square into a politicized zone will be too far-reaching for orthodox Christian networks to employ or otherwise financially support all their economic refugees. But we will be able to help some.

Given how much Americans have come to rely on middle-class comfort, freedom, and stability, Christians will be sorely tempted to say or do anything asked of us to hold on to what we have. That is the way of spiritual death. When the Roman proconsul told Polycarp he would burn him at the stake if he didn’t worship the emperor, the elderly second-century bishop retorted that the proconsul threatened temporary fire, which was nothing compared with the fire of judgment that awaited the ungodly.

If Polycarp was willing to lose his life rather than deny his faith, how can we Christians today be unwilling to lose our jobs if put to the test? If Barronelle Stutzman is prepared to lose her business as the cost of Christian discipleship, how can we do anything less?

We will be able to choose courageously and correctly in the moment of trial only if we have prepared ourselves in every possible way. We can start by thinking of our work as a calling, as a vocation in the older sense: a way of life given to us by God for His own glory and for the common good. There is no reason why we can’t serve the community and our own desire for professional excellence as doctors, lawyers, teachers, or almost anything else—as long as we know in our hearts that we are the Lord’s good servants first.

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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