Aaron Renn has a new issue of The Masculinist, his e-mail newsletter, out. Read past issues, and/or subscribe, here.  Renn has launched a Patreon to support his work on The Masculinist — please consider donating. If you’ve become a fan of the newsletter, you know that it’ll be money well spent.

The thing that jumped out to me from the new issue is this coda at the end, taken from an e-mail a friend sent to Renn:

I saw [big name pastor redacted] on some panel recently. What struck me is how irrelevant just about everything he said was. He shares that with [big name Christian organization redacted] in general. However, I can also see why he was regarded as being so important say, 10 years ago. I’m re-reading The Magic Mountain, Thomas Mann’s work about pre-1914 Europe, and one of the points he makes is that life can go on for years, decades even, with little change, and then one day something happens, so that last week seems like 50 years in the past. At some point in the last few years, that happened here. Suddenly everything was different and the old ways no longer suffice. Trump is an obvious clue, but it is far deeper than that. The old ways don’t work and American Christianity hasn’t adjusted, partly because the irrevocable change is so recent and the future seemed predictable. You talk about this but it really stared me in the face listening to [redacted]. He doesn’t know his ideas no longer matter–he’s an old man so that’s fine. But the younger generation following is going to be a problem.

This reminded me of something a professor, himself a conservative Christian, I spoke with at Notre Dame said to me about The Benedict Option. He asked how it had sold, and I said pretty well, but probably not as well as he thinks, given the hype. He said that he believes the book has only gotten started. How come? I asked.

“Most conservative Christians don’t understand what’s going on in the culture,” he said. “It’s going to take Trump losing, and the Democrats taking over in Washington, for them to feel the full force of the post-Christian culture on their necks. Right now, they don’t grasp how precarious things are for us — but they will.”

It’s odd to have one’s professional success tied to the decline of one’s culture. I would rather sell no more books and be wrong about the future! But I don’t think I am wrong about the future.

I first discovered The Masculinist when a friend forwarded Renn’s September 2017 issue, which discusses briefly the Benedict Option. Renn has asked bloggers not to link directly to individual issues in his archive, so I’ll just put the link to his archive here, and advise you to go to the one titled “The Lost World of American Evangelicalism” (Renn is an Evangelical). I wrote about that issue last year in this space. 

In that issue, Renn lays out his theory of why Evangelicalism is not ready for the world as it is — or, to be precise, as it has quickly become. (Note well: He focuses on Evangelicalism, but everything he says is true of almost all forms of American Christianity.) The old Religious Right types, he says, are still living in the fantasy world that tells them America is essentially a Christian nation, and feels positively disposed to Christianity. Much of the present Evangelical leadership understands that world has passed, and believe instead that Christians live in a culture that is “neutral” about Christianity. This is where the “winsomeness is next to godliness” approach to the world comes from.

I wish we lived in that world! It is the world that is ideally suited to my temperament, and the temperament of all the Christian conservative intellectuals I count as friends. We’re traditional Christians of one sort or the other, but we’re not mad about it.

Unfortunately, and increasingly, the world as we find it is not neutral about Christians who hold our convictions. Isabella Chow is living in the real world today.  It is imperative, conservative Christian, that you read her story and realize that at some point, that’s going to be you, and if not you, then will certainly be your children or grandchildren. Unless you apostatize, and stop offending the world. This is going to happen too. And unless you and yours are well grounded in the faith and its disciplines, you’re going to think that you must be insane.

In his Masculinist essay, Renn says that he has some significant problems with the Benedict Option, but that it’s the only attempt he sees by Christians to grapple with the world in which we find ourselves. This is a world that, according to Renn, will require “masculine virtues,” which, he says, are in short supply in the church today. Renn:

The template is Paul, who was one tough hombre. Paul was a Jewish blueblood on the fast track to high council membership who threw it all way to endure beatings, imprisonment, etc. (One of the underappreciated virtues of Paul is just how physically and mentally tough that guy was). He said he counted it all as loss for the surpassing worth of knowing Christ. He also someone who could say, “I have not shunned to declare unto you the whole counsel of God.”

Here’s the thing, says Renn: Paul did not focus his struggle on the world, but within the church itself. Aside from seeking converts, he doesn’t advise his followers to engage the culture, get politically active, or anything like that. Nor did he instruct his followers to run away from the world. Rather, he focused on building up the church in holiness, and exhorting believers in the new faith to overcome the world in themselves. 

It can be assumed that everything after that followed. Renn concludes:

[T]he church needs the manly virtues of enduring suffering, hardship, and having values that are higher than worldly social status and success – people who stand on solid rock, not who have a finger in the air to see which direction the wind is blowing so they can conform.

Encouraging the development of these virtues — which cannot be willed into existence overnight — is the central goal of The Benedict Option

So, about the Magic Mountain of our time, by which I mean the thing that changes everything, such that the old way of understanding the world no longer works. Some years ago, I interviewed Oxford historian Bryan Ward-Perkins about his book The Fall Of Rome.  Ward-Perkins draws on archaeological data to understand late antiquity, and the period after the collapse of Rome in the West. In his book (and in our interview), he emphasized how massive the collapse of technical knowledge and skill was in the West. For example, he said that it took something like six centuries for Europeans to learn how to build roofs as well as the Romans could. It wasn’t only architecture. People forgot how to do a lot of things — the kind of things you assume are unforgettable.

I found this hard to wrap my mind around. How could such basic knowledge be just … lost? Not having books and mass literacy certainly creates an environment conducive to mass forgetting. But you’d think that basic life skills like how to cultivate crops, rudimentary metallurgy, and so forth, would not be so easily forgotten. It happened. Could that happen to us? Hard to see how, given that we do have mass literacy, and books.

Think about it, though: we have forgotten as a culture and civilization what marriage is for, and are well on the way to forgetting what men are, and are for, and women too. This is not a matter of knowledge being denied to us. This is a matter of will.

In 2004, Dark Age Ahead, the final book by the urbanist Jane Jacobs, was published. It’s not a very good book, I’m afraid, but only because it reads like a rough draft. Jacobs was not a religious person — in fact, she was quite secular — but she warned nonetheless that our civilization was at risk of entering a new dark age, a period that is characterized by “mass amnesia.” Jacobs saw these signs of impending catastrophe:

Community and Family: People are increasingly choosing consumerism over family welfare, that is: consumption over fertility; debt over family budget discipline; fiscal advantage to oneself at the expense of community welfare.

Higher Education: Universities are more interested in credentials than providing high quality education.

Bad Science: Elevation of economics as the main “science” to consider in making major political decisions.

Bad Government: Governments are more interested in deep-pocket interest groups than the welfare of the population.

Bad Culture: A culture that prevents people from understanding the deterioration of fundamental physical resources on which the entire community depends.

(Taken from the Wikipedia entry on the book.)

This list reflects her own concerns, but I share them. I would add to this list Bad Religion (I trust I don’t need to elaborate for this blog’s readership on the ills of Moralistic Therapeutic Deism) and the triumph of modernist ideology. According to the social anthropologist Paul Connerton, the modern condition is defined by “forced forgetting.” From the Enlightenment on, we have consciously chosen to cut ourselves off from the dead weight of the past (though the wiser among us would have called it “ballast”), for the sake of expanding individual freedom. Since the 1960s at least, the Sexual Revolution has required us to “forget” as a culture elemental truths about marriage and family, and now, even of the meaning of male and female. We are now indoctrinating children in gender ideology in elementary schools. 

This will not end well. At all.

Let me repeat what Aaron Renn’s interlocutor said to him:

I saw [big name pastor redacted] on some panel recently. What struck me is how irrelevant just about everything he said was. He shares that with [big name Christian organization redacted] in general. However, I can also see why he was regarded as being so important say, 10 years ago. I’m re-reading The Magic Mountain, Thomas Mann’s work about pre-1914 Europe, and one of the points he makes is that life can go on for years, decades even, with little change, and then one day something happens, so that last week seems like 50 years in the past. At some point in the last few years, that happened here. Suddenly everything was different and the old ways no longer suffice. Trump is an obvious clue, but it is far deeper than that. The old ways don’t work and American Christianity hasn’t adjusted, partly because the irrevocable change is so recent and the future seemed predictable. You talk about this but it really stared me in the face listening to [redacted]. He doesn’t know his ideas no longer matter–he’s an old man so that’s fine. But the younger generation following is going to be a problem.

Take this seriously. We are like people on a beach, watching a tsunami build on the horizon. You know how tsunamis work, right? There’s an earthquake far out at sea, and the shock wave travels through the water towards shore. Its intensity only manifests when it hits the shallows, and the wall of water builds into a devastating monster. The wall of water is coming at us. There’s no holding it back. There’s only building arks as fast as we can, and doing our best to ride it out.