A Friendly Amendment to “The Benedict Option”

No mention of Pope St. John Paul II: That’s odd.

Dreher’s chapter on the Sexual Revolution neglects both John Paul II and contraception. That struck me as odd.

St. John Paul wrote volumes, literally, on the human sexuality. Michael Waldstein, the editor of the second edition of Male and Female He Created Them: A Theology of the Body, goes so far as to say that this work is JPII’s response to Cartesian mind-body dualism. I agree with him.

Dreher liberally quotes Wendell Berry, who speaks eloquently on gender complementarity, but who can’t figure out the problem with genderless marriage.  But no mention of JPII. That is just: odd.

Relentless propaganda for the Sexual Revolution

Along with neglecting the person of JPII, Dreher neglects the issue of contraception. The government and the major cultural elites have engaged in near-constant promotion of the contraceptive ideology: everyone is entitled to unlimited, child-free, care-free, costless sex. Without this ideology, the distortions of sexualty Dreher rightly decries would not be even remotely plausible. Perhaps these two omissions are related. He quotes Michael Hanby, in the chapter on technology. I know for a fact that Hanby understands the connection between technology, contraception and modernity. How could Dreher overlook this point?

St. John Paul’s reply to Decartes

So here is my friendly amendment to the Benedict Option. Dreher includes many suggestions for Benedict Option communities. Here are a few additional suggestions for a counter-cultural Christian sexual lifestyle. First, for young people of child-bearing age:

  1. Throw away your condoms, your diaphrams and your pills. (But don’t flush them down the toilet: its probably not good for the environment.)
  2. Go to your doctor and ask him or her to remove your IUD or the implants from your arms.
  3. Ladies, begin charting your cycle. It is completely harmless, and you will know your body very well before you get married.
  4. Young married couples, go take a good Natural Family Planning class. Learn to cooperate with God, and with your body. I don’t care which method: Billings, the Sympto-Thermal Method, or any other fertility awarenss method. The right method for you, is the one that you will use regularly and comfortably.

For old people like me who are past child-bearing age, you can help the young families in your community:

  1. Support them in getting married at a reasonable age, in their mid-twenties, rather than insisting they wait until they have a Masters degree and their student loans paid off. That may mean:
  2. Help them avoid college debt in the first place.
  3. Help them with babysitting, transportation, and other necessary chores, if they have kids while they are still in school or in the early stages of their careers.
  4. Help them with low-cost housing.
  5. Be pro-active in seeing what things would improve the quality of
    The true counter-cultural radical.

    their family lives. We got recruited this past weekend, to do yard clean-up for a family expecting their 7th child. By “we” I mean me, my husband and our 28 year-old son. We were recruited by a couple in their 30’s, who observed the situation, and moved into action. We try to say “yes” as often as possible to these requests.

  6. Above all, tell them how much you enjoyed your parenting years, and how the kids will be grown before you know it, and how you wish you could have had more kids.

I can honestly say that a lot of us Baby Boomers wish we had more kids. We were full participants in the Sexual Revolution. We didn’t figure out that we were being bamboozled until it was too late.

(If you’d like to share your story, consider contributing to our Tell Ruth the Truth blog. We’re always on the look-out for honest, heart-felt tales that will encourage the young to stay the course, and to discourage them from buying the lies of our toxic sexual culture.)

Christian sexual morality is good news for everyone, male or female, gay or straight, young or old. And, Dreher correctly observes, getting sex right is the key to rebuilding a truly Christian civilization.

Dr J on “The Benedict Option”

I just finished reading the Benedict Option by Rod Dreher. I also recently read and reviewed Tony Esolen’s new book, Out of the Ashes, which is in my opinion, the better book of this genre. Dreher’s book has generated an enormous amount of attention. But if you only have time to read one book, read Esolen’s book.

I am not clear on whether the Benedict Option is:

  • a quietistic retreat from politics, or
  • a strategic retreat to live to fight another day, or
  • a joyful embrace of the full Christian life because it is the life most worth living, no matter what may be going on in the World.

I’m not sure whether Dreher himself is clear. Option #3 was certainly the motivation of the original St. Benedict, and his many sons and daughters down to this day. And, Tony Esolen is definitely an option #3 guy.

What makes The Benedict Option worth reading:

  1. Its argument is explicitly Christian. No more making arguments that are accessible only to “public reasons.”
  2. Dreher argues that Christianity is good, and deserves to survive. In fact, the World needs for faithful Christians to keep the Christian message alive, because the World is not doing well without it.
  3. Dreher has many practical suggestions for maintaining and building a Christian identity, in the face of an increasingly hostile World.

Having said all that, I do have a couple of problems with this book, and with Dreher’s writing in general.

First, he sometimes acts as if he is the only guy who has ever thought of these things. This is an annoyance, but not a super-serious problem. He says: “One reason the contemporary church is in so much trouble is that religious conservatives of the last generation mistakenly believed they could focus on politics and the culture would take care of itself.” (pg 81)  Who ever thought that?

West Coast Walk for Life or One Walk LA 2016 (That looks like a red Stanford jacket in the foreground. I happen to know there are active Students for Life groups at both Berkeley and Stanford!)

Further on, he makes this remarkable claim (without a footnote, mind you): “Fundamental abortion rights remain solidly in place, and Gallup numbers from the Roe v Wade era until today have not meaningfully changed.” (pg 82).

That’s odd. The millenial generation opposes abortion and favors its restriction more than older generations, even if Millenials do not self-identify as “pro-life.”  The pro-choice Guttmacher Institute breathlessly reports that states have enacted over 1,000 abortion restrictions in the past 5 years. This doesn’t sound like complete political failure to me. Nor does it sound like a complete failure of cultural engagement. On the contrary, it sounds like successful involvement in both arenas.

“Fundamental abortion rights remain solidly in place” because the Supreme Court has repeatedly circled the wagons around said “rights.”

I know very well the frustration of having Courts overturn social conservative measures that were duly enacted by voters. I was a spokeswoman for Proposition 8. I lived through that whole drama, of winning the election (quite decisively, thank you very much) and then watching courts overturn it on one flimsy pretext after another.

I sympathize with Dreher’s frustration. But enacting measures and then having the courts repeatedly overturn them is not an argument against politics per se. Nor is it an argument that we have done politics badly.

It may mean we need a new strategy.  But I do think we owe it to the people who have knocked themselves out in the public square to acknowledge their efforts. We should not dismiss them so casually as Dreher appears to do in the passage I quoted and in other places.

The evacuation at Dunkirk, June 1940. The Allies came back 4 years later on D-Day to defeat the Nazis.

This brings me to my biggest complaint about The Benedict Option. He keeps saying: “We lost.” This bugs me. A lot. For several reasons.

  1. It is one thing to say that a particular political effort failed. It is another to say “we lost,” as if there is no longer anything left to do but hunker down and accept permanent dhimmitude.
  2. It is one thing to say that our strategies are not working, and that we need to try something else. I get that. In fact, I have myself advocated strategic retreat for the purpose of regrouping. But that is not the same thing as saying, “we lost,” as if the battle is over.
  3. Finally,and most importantly, the cause of Truth is never decisively lost. It cannot be. We have a responsibility to continue to speak the Truth, love the Truth and live the Truth, no matter what the outcome may be. I would call this the Solzhenitsyn Option, or the Václav Havel Option.

We Christians cannot continue doing our ordinary occupations in our accustomed manner. What will come after the Modern World shakes itself apart? And what will Christians contribute?  Dreher has done a great service in inducing so many people to be part of this all-important discussion.