Who’s Theo?

I have been occupied with an unusual number of responsibilities the last several weeks, and so have not gotten to everything I need to. Responsibilities are like grapes; they come in bunches. One of the things I have needed to do is finish my review of Crunchy Cons — there are only two chapters left.

Chapter Seven is entitled “Religion,” and Dreher begins it this way. “Scratch the surface of a crunchy con, and you’ll usually find a serious religious believer” (p. 180). My criticism of Dreher’s approach here is two-fold.

But I have to set the first criticism up.

“To be traditionally religious, at least in the cultures informed by biblical religion, is to hold in some form a sacramental worldview . . . To see the world sacramentally is to see material things — objects and human actions — as vessels containing or transmitting ideals” (p. 182).

Someone who is steeped in the VanTilian understanding of the antithesis can see the incipient problem immediately — “some form of a sacramental worldview” misplaces the antithesis. There is a sacramental worldview that is faithful to Scripture, and there are sacramental worldviews that are wholly idolatrous.

Initially, this appears to be helpful to Dreher because it enables him to move in an ecumenical direction, past his own Catholicism.

“My politicals are cultural, and they are wholly tied to my Catholicism” (p. 186).

“It’s why I’d rather have a staunch self-described ‘Scotch Calvinist’ like Caleb Stegall, whom you’ll meet shortly,in my culture war foxhole than most of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops” (p. 187).

Now I think Dreher is doing the right thing here (hanging out with Calvinists) but I suspect the reason. Shared appreciation of free range chicken is not sufficient to overcome these historic boundaries. But in this chapter, Dreher includes in his crunchy con ecumenism an appreciation of Protestant, Catholic, Eastern Orthodox and Jewish approaches.

He implies that a sacramental crunchy con approach means that the fundamentals are sound. But at the same time, he acknowledges (perhaps unintentionally) something else.

“In short, if one’s religion is to mean anything, if it is to last, it has to stand outside of time and place. Its truths have to be transcendent . . . To be blunt, a god that is no bigger than our own desires is not God at all, but a divinized rationalization for self-worship” (p. 187).

This is exactly right, but it collides with his ecumenism, especially with an ecumenism based on shared sacramental feelings about the food you eat. If religous truths are transcendent, and they are, then Jesus is the Messiah or He isn’t. The Catholic Church is the one true Church, or it isn’t. The kind of ecumenical approach that Dreher takes here is one that assumes that religious claims are not transcendent. If the conflicting claims of the Christian and the Jew are subsumed under a shared crunchy con lifestyle, then this is tantamount to denying transcendental truths.

This is related to my second criticism.

“I sure don’t want to live in a theocracy; a society in which one is free to choose one’s religion, or no religion at all, is the best of all alternatives, it seems to me” (p. 189).

But if we are talking about lifestyle, and if lifestyle refers to something more than a personal consumption item, at some point we are going to have to enact laws. Culture is impossible without them. But cultures differ because they serve different gods, and different gods require different things. This means the laws are different. Every society is a theocracy. The only question is, “Who’s Theo?”

When any behavior is criminalized, that is always done to fulfill the will of a god, whoever that god may be. As Dylan put it in one of his better moments, “you gotta serve somebody.” Dreher here says that he wants a secular democracy to run things, and believers of various stripes can choose their religion, just like we choose our clothes and our food.

The problem here is that it becomes irrelevant that Jesus disapproved of greed (p. 181). If the reigning god disapproves of greed then we can do something about it. But the reigning god most certainly does not disapprove of greed — his name is Mammon after all — and so we can do nothing about it. And if Dreher wants to do something about this greed, and he appeals to Jesus, well, then, he’s a theocrat now.

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