Little Bewildered Benedict Bands

Rod Dreher is to be commended for many aspects of The Benedict Option. But at the end of the day, it reminds me of a fistful of pearls, with no thread available to make the necklace. I am glad I read it, and I am glad for the stand that Dreher is taking against various outrages. Good on him.

In my view, the reason Dreher has the pearls but no thread has to do with the fact that he has no eschatology to shape or form his view of history. We are in the middle of the historical narrative, and our chapter is leading somewhere. Where is that? Apart from a defined, eschatological vision, Christians must necessarily give way to the pagans who have an erroneous (but clear) allegiance to their march of progress.

Where is God taking us? And how does He want us to behave on the way? The answers to these questions are found in biblical eschatology and biblical law respectively. Without these things clear and defined, without hope and law, we will huddle into our little bewildered Benedict bands (LBBB), holding onto traditional values for some reason, trying to postpone the day when we are all herded into the cattle cars of tolerance at the points of sensitivity bayonets.

And so it is telling that Dreher ended his book with dire warnings about technology. As I have argued a number of times, it is not that technology is a neutral and benign thing. Technology is a form of wealth, and so it is that all the warnings in Scripture about wealth bringing in a sense of autonomy and self-sufficiency are warnings that pertain. God gives wealth. God gives us technology. And we are solemnly warned not to wax fat, kicking like Jeshurun. We are not told to reject the covenant blessing of wealth.

“In 2013, for the first time ever, over 90 percent of us had mobile phones” (Loc.  3218). “This likely explains why Americans are so naïvely optimistic about technology” (Loc. 3260). “The Enlightenment ideas upon which America was founded” (Loc. 3261). “What enables this hypocrisy? The technocratic mentality” (Loc. 3293). “that technology must never be accepted as part of the natural order of things” (Loc. 3481). “in ancient Greek, techne, or ‘craftsmanship,’ versus episteme, or ‘knowledge gained through contemplation’” (Loc. 3326).

Dreher has, and holds faithfully to, many fragmented elements of the Christian worldview. But it does not cohere in his hands—he does not have the worldview itself. He cannot bring it all together in a coherent Christian vision for life in this world.

And as though he meant to illustrate this melancholy fact, Dreher concludes by telling the story of how his friend Andrew Sullivan achieved serenity. “My friend Andrew Sullivan was one of the most prolific and influential bloggers on the Internet” (Loc. 3430), and one day just quit. In Sullivan’s words, “And so I decided, after 15 years, to live in reality” (Loc. 3438). Dreher met up with him a few months later, and found him “fit and glowing.”

Now what the heck? When it comes to the plague of same sex mirage, Andrew Sullivan is our very own Typhoid Mary. Stop for a minute. Let me change metaphors. This is like the Captain Dreher of the Titanic sending out an earnest set of distress signals, but wrapping up his Benedict SOSing with the observation that the iceberg appeared to be “fit and glowing.” I dare say. The iceberg was fine.

So Andrew Sullivan went on an Internet fast. But did he repent of anything the Bible talks about?

Many of Dreher’s observations are genuinely astute. They are astute, but radically disconnected. And so it is he does not have the ability to be a general in these wars of ours. The Benedict Option is full of good quotables. But there is no plan to speak of.

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Aquila Aquilonis
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Aquila Aquilonis

Are you going to go through Anthony Esolen’s book?

Dale
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As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, both Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox are good at identifying the problems in culture. But neither system has the ability to *fix* the problem. This has a lot to do with their common eschatological system of amillennialism. Or as Richard Niebuhr identified in his famous “Christ and Culture”, they hold to a “synthesis version” version of Christianity. For instance, when the British went into India, one of the first things they did was to outlaw Sati ( the practice of burning widows). Based on their Christian mores, they outlawed Sati. You would not see the Roman… Read more »

John Callaghan
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John Callaghan

The Spanish who conquered Mexico outlawed human sacrifice. I’m sure that if the Aztecs had practiced Sati then that would have been outlawed too.

Jill Smith
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Jill Smith

The French missionaries to the Iroquois certainly stopped the practice of human sacrifice. The Oblates of Mary Immaculate who missionized the far North stopped the Inuit from putting their aged on ice floes. One can disagree with the extent to which syncretism occurred, but it is simply not true to say that Catholics turned a blind eye to murderous practices.

Eric Stampher
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Eric Stampher

Dale – Amilliennialism is a subset brand of postmillenialism — after the millenium comes final happy rule. It’s a misnomer to say your typical amiller doesn’t believe there’s a millenium happening. They (we) hold that Jesus rules successfully & pervasively now. Doug’s brand of postPostmil is also a subset of postmillenialism — we might call it Dispensational Postmil vs Amill Postmill. Postmil proper = that Jesus returns after the millennium of Christ’s rule on the throne here on pre-new-heaven & new-earth. Amillers buy that, but say He’s been rulling handily for quite some time now (in my book, since Eve).… Read more »

Dale
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John & Jill,
Thanks for these examples. Those are greatly helpful.
Given what Niebuhr wrote, I’m wondering if these examples are more outliers (exceptions) rather than the norm.

Jill Smith
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Jill Smith

It is always difficult to form an accurate impression of this kind of history. We would like to believe that, when India was controlled by the British, they took one horrified look at a funeral pyre and immediately suppressed suttee. But they didn’t. According to a range of Victorian historians, both British and Indian, a lot of factors made it difficult for the British to act decisively to abolish this ghastly practice. The attitude and actions of Warren Hastings, Governor General from around 1773 to 1783, have been described as follows: Hastings was certainly dogged by allegations of corruption, and… Read more »

John Callaghan
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John Callaghan

The most notable modern-day example along these lines is abortion.

In the last half century, the Catholic Church has been the most consistent version of Christianity resisting the culture’s embrace of death for the unwanted in society.

Chesteron’s Orthodoxy still contains the most memorable description of the relationship between Christianity and culture.

MeMe
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A “fist full of pearls with no thread” is a very elegant metaphor. I was thinking more along the lines of a boneless chicken ranch, where the poor creatures are forced to just lay around in the yard like chicken puddles because they have no bones. I’m quite sure such things are real because I’ve seen pictures on the internet.

Jack Bradley
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Jack Bradley

“… biblical eschatology and biblical law respectively. Without these things clear and defined, without hope and law, we will huddle into our little bewildered Benedict bands (LBBB), holding onto traditional values for some reason…”

Exactly right. Thanks, Douglas!

Dave W
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Dave W

It would have been very considerate of Dreher to praise Andrew Sullivan at the beginning of the book so as to save a lot of people from wasting their time by reading it. When a guy does something like that, who the hell cares about his teaching? Not I, said the Christian.

John Callaghan
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John Callaghan

“Love the sinner. Hate the sin.” It is a difficult principle to put into practice – and hard to recognize when others do it. There is hope for every sinner. Andrew Sullivan may well repent before the end. Oscar Wilde did before his death. Sullivan wrote: “And so I decided, after 15 years, to live in reality.” We should pray (as I am sure that Dreher does) that Sullivan will continue his journey back to reality by deciding to embrace the full reality of our human nature. A few weeks ago, the two friends continued their conversation on that topic:… Read more »

Barnie
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Barnie

You’re arguments against BO have been pragmatic and tactical but you aren’t that much of a pragmatist. There is some more fundamental problem that you have with it and I hope that you yourself are aware of what it is so that you’ll reveal it to us by the end of this series.

Arthur Sido
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“Dreher has, and holds faithfully to, many fragmented elements of the Christian worldview. But it does not cohere in his hands—he does not have the worldview itself. He cannot bring it all together in a coherent Christian vision for life in this world.” How would someone who holds to an aberrant form of “Christianity” and has a warm, fuzzy spot in his heart for Rome have a coherent Christian worldview? It seems to me that being a Christian, first and foremost, is a prerequisite for having a Christian worldview. That is one of the core problems with The Ben Op… Read more »

John
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John

I confess I have little time for Dreher. He is King of the Religious Chattering Classes. He is a classic intellectual who cannot see the wood for the trees.