When the Way of Improvement Can’t Lead Home: A Brief Review of Tara Westover’s *Educated*

Educated Tara Westover

Sometimes the way of improvement leads home. It did for Philip Vickers Fithian, the eighteenth-century son of New Jersey farmers who got an education at Princeton and spent the rest of his short life wrestling with what that meant for his relationship with friends and family in his “beloved Cohansey.”  Fithian eventually returned home, but since he died in the American Revolution we will never know how long he would have stayed.

Wendell Berry left home to become a writer.  He eventually returned to Port Royal, Kentucky and never left.  The conservative writer Rod Dreher went back to LouisianaBruce Springsteen came back to New Jersey.

Sometimes the way of improvement does not lead home, but the newly educated traveler finds ways to stay connected and deal with the psychological and emotional challenges that come with displacement.  Richard Rodriguez’s education led him away from home on a variety of levels, but he spent the rest of his career writing about his family and his “hunger for memory.”  Sarah Smolinksy, the fictional character in Anzia Yezierska’s Bread Givers, got educated and left the tyranny of her father’s immigrant Jewish household in New York City.  Yet she figured out a small way to honor her father and sustain a relationship with him, even inviting him to live with her.

But sometimes the way of improvement can’t lead home.  When Frederick Douglass learned how to read he was exposed to a world of abolitionism and anti-slavery that he never knew existed.  Education led to liberation. (This is why we call it “liberal arts education”). There would be no going back to the tyranny of slavery.

We see all three of these models in Educated, Tara Westover’s memoir of growing up among fundamentalist Mormons on a mountain in Idaho.  Westover had no formal schooling, but managed to educate herself well enough to score a 28 on the ACT and win a scholarship to Brigham Young University.

At first, Westover never imagined that her education would take her somewhere beyond the mountain.  She came home every summer and seems to have fully expected a return to her family.  But education changes a person.  Sarah learned that she was becoming something different–something very unlike her physically abusive older brother, her spiritually abusive father (in this sense, her story is most similar to Smolinsky in Bread Givers), and her mother who rejected science and medicine in favor of “essential oils.”

Through the study of psychology Westover learned that her father and brother might be bipolar.  Through her study of history she learned that her father’s conspiracy theories were built on a very shaky historical foundation.  With the help of roommates, boyfriends, and a Mormon bishop in Provo, she learned that doctors and medicine are good things.  With the help of BYU history professor Paul Kerry (a professor who once showed me around Oxford University), she encountered a world of ideas and learning that she never knew existed.  Kerry, with the help of Cambridge historian Jonathan Steinberg, convinced her that she belonged in this world.

Westover not only survived in this world, but she thrived in it.  She won numerous academic awards at BYU, including a Gates Fellowship to Cambridge.  Her way of improvement led her to a visiting fellowship at Harvard and a Ph.D in history from Cambridge.

Yet the longing of home–of family, of place, of roots–continued to pull her back to the mountain. She spent long months during her doctoral program in a state of depression as she came to grips with how education was uprooting her.  When she to tried to bring light to the dark sides of her childhood, address the tyranny, abuse, and superstition that took place everyday on the mountain, and somehow try to bring the fruits of her liberal learning to the place she loved, her family ostracized her.  The way of improvement could not lead home.  There would be no rural Enlightenment.

Westover’s story is a common one, but rarely do we see the tension between “the way of improvement” and “home” play out in such stark contrasts.

What a Historian Does During Vacation

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Ezra Fitz

With the first leg of the Believe Me book tour behind me, I decided to spend a few weeks in August (including an Outer Banks ,NC vacation), relaxing and consuming things that I do not usually consume during the rest of the year:

I read Rod Dreher’s The Little Way of Ruthie Leming.  Anyone familiar with Dreher’s The Benedict Option should read this book as well.  Dreher’s memoir about his sister and his Louisiana hometown made me think differently about The Benedict Option.

I read Carlos Eire’s moving memoir Waiting for Snow in Havana: Confessions of a Cuban Boy.   This book will be with me for a long time.  Eire, a Yale religion professor, tells the story of his Cuban childhood in the years before and after the revolution.

I read Hannah’s Son, Stanley Hauerwas’s “theological memoir.”  Hauerwas, the man who Time once called the “America’s Best Theologian,” writes about his upbringing in the Texas working-class, his close relationship with his son, his experience with a mentally-ill wife, his engagement with the world of academia, his spiritual journey, and, of course, his theological views.

I went back and reread Huxley’s Brave New World.  Many are reading this book again in the age of Trump.  The comparisons between the World State and Trump’s America are a bit of a stretch, but Huxley’s points about the differences between building a society based on “truth” and “beauty,” and building a society based on “happiness” and “comfort,” are always worth thinking about.

I learned a lot about Dominican culture from reading Junot Diaz’s novel The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao.  I don’t understand Spanglish very well, and had to look-up the meaning of some of the words, but overall it was worth my time.  There are some great New Jersey scenes in the novel.

My daughters sucked me into binge-watching the ABC Family drama Pretty Little Liars.  Don’t judge me!  My favorite line of the show came in Season 7 when Aria Montgomery asks her fiance, a novelist named Ezra Fitz, to remove a dead body from the trunk of her car.  Fitz tells Aria that they “need to deal with the problem in your trunk.”  Aria asks, “how?”  Fitz replies: “I have a master’s degree in American literature.  There’s nothing I can’t handle.”

Bring on the new academic year!

*The Washington Post* Piece on Rod Dreher

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Washington Post writer Karen Heller went down to Baton Rouge to visit conservative blogger and cultural critic Rod Dreher, the author of The Benedict Option and other books.

Here is a taste of her piece: “Rod Dreher is the combative, oversharing blogger who speaks for today’s beleaguered Christians“:

Rod Dreher’s life is an open book. Several, actually. “The Little Way of Ruthie Leming,” about his late sister. “How Dante Can Save Your Life,” about his love of the Italian poet. His latest, “The Benedict Option,” is a call to beleaguered Christians to divorce themselves from the increasingly secular American mainstream.

But really, every work by this conservative Christian writer is a literary act of confession, a quest for purpose and a purge of disillusionment. An influential and prolific blogger for the American Conservative — he averages 1.3 million monthly page views on his blog — Dreher is credited with helping introduce J.D. Vance of “Hillbilly Elegy” to a larger audience. He founded the “crunchy con” ideology — another book, back in 2006 — wedding cultural and moral conservatism with an organic, co-op-and-Birkenstock lifestyle.

He is, however, no supporter of President Trump.

“I’m a social and cultural conservative, and I think Trump is a disaster,” says Dreher, 50. Asked why, he spits back, “Because of his incompetence, his recklessness and his malice. Plus, he is destroying conservatism as a credible public philosophy. The conservative movement needed serious reform, but this is annihilation.”

Read the rest here.  1.3 million page views a month?  Wow!  If all goes well The Way of Improvement Leads Home will have 2 million page views this year!  Here’s hoping that Rod reads this and give us a shout-out at his blog.  🙂

Rod Dreher Interviews Alan Jacobs on *How to Think*

ThinkHere is a taste from Dreher’s blog:

I initially thought How To Think would be a basic primer of informal logic. It’s not that at all, but something more interesting. What’s the book about, and why did you write it? 

Last year, when the Presidential election campaign was ramping up here in the U.S., and my British friends were being roiled about by the Brexit debate, I was working on a different book (an academic one), but kept being distracted by all the noise. It seemed to me that everyone was lining up and shouting at everyone else, and no one seemed able to step back from the fray and think a bit about the issues at stake. More and more what attracted my attention was what seemed a complete absence of actual thinking. And then I asked myself: What is thinking, anyway? And what have I learned about it in my decades as a teacher and writer? I sat down to sketch out a few blog posts on the subject, and then realized that I had something a good bit bigger than some blog posts on my hands. So I set my other book aside and got to work.

You write, “The person who wants to think will have to practice patience and master fear.” What do you mean? 

Practicing patience because almost all of us live in a social-media environment that demands our instantaneous responses to whatever stimuli assault us in our feeds, and gives us the tools (reposts, likes, faves, retweets) to make those responses. Everything in our informational world militates against thinking it over. And mastering fear because one of the consequences of thinking is that you can find yourself at odds with groups you want to belong to, and social belonging is a human need almost as important as food and shelter. I’ve come to believe that our need — a very legitimate need! — for social belonging is the single greatest impediment to thinking.

Read the entire interview here. Learn more about How to Think here.

 

Rod Dreher Calls Out the Court Evangelicals

Puerto

In a post criticizing Donald Trump’s handling of Puerto Rico, American Conservative blogger Rod Dreher (of Benedict Option fame) wonders why the court evangelicals have been so quiet.

Here is a taste:

Where are Donald Trump’s court Evangelicals on this? If you cannot stand up to your friend the US president when he threatens to stop sending humanitarian aid to American citizens who are hungry, thirsty, sick, and without shelter, then God help you when you come before the King of Kings.

Read the entire post here.

Is Freedom a Biblical Concept?

Liberty

Earlier today I posted a piece from Rod Dreher’s blog about patriotic worship.  At the end of the piece I was struck by Dreher’s “update” in which he published a message he received from one of his readers.  Here it is:

“Freedom” is not a Bible concept. Nowhere are we exhorted to throw off oppression and liberate ourselves. To the contrary, the Jews were under real oppression at the time of Christ, and he told them to pay taxes to Caesar and obey a soldier’s command to carry his pack. There were many revolutionary bands at the time, men who could not bear the Roman oppression who were determined to fight for independence. And Jesus never supported them or their cause. He really did have no kingdom in this world. The Apostles failed to get this so consistently that even at the Ascension they asked, “Will you at this time restore the fortunes of Israel?” He didn’t. He had no stake in whether Israel was enslaved or free.

This huge emotional connection between throwing off the British yoke, and being grateful for our beautiful country, all there is to legitimately celebrate and express thanks to God for–between that, and the core teaching and message of Christianity, is false.

“Freedom” is not a Biblical concept, but it’s a capitalist concept–it keeps us “free” to choose teal or autumn gold, leather or aluminum, etc, all those tiny forced choices that really are no choice, as Matthew Crawford says. But it feels “free,” and we enjoy the choosing so much, that we emotionally link it with our faith. Bah humbug.

Interesting.  There were many Loyalists in America during the age of the American Revolution who made a similar arguments.

Don’t get me wrong, I think freedom, and particularly religious freedom, can be rooted in a Christian view of human dignity.  But when I hear my fellow evangelicals talk about “religious freedom” it often sounds like a baptized version of American individualism. Rights and freedoms must always be understood in relationship to the common good. Yet many evangelicals understand religious liberty solely in terms of protection against the potential of government interference with their right to make political statements from the pulpit.  True religious “freedom” also comes with duty, service, and care for others and the creation.  I know many evangelicals believe this, but how come they never frame things this way?

Thoughts on this?

Rod Dreher: It’s “grotesque idolatry”

jeffress

Rod Dreher, conservative blogger and author of The Benedict Optionunloads on Court Evangelical Robert Jeffress, his First Baptist Church in Dallas, and patriotic worship.

Here is a taste of his blog post at The American Conservative:

I find it impossible to watch that ceremony (I’ve been sitting here in the Miami airport watching much of it) and judge it as anything but grotesque idolatry. Not patriotism, idolatry. It’s idolatry of Donald Trump, and idolatry of the United States of America. It is shocking and repulsive, and there will be heavy consequences for conflating the Gospel of Jesus Christ with burning a double handful of incense to President Trump and the USA.

It is good to love one’s country, and to be grateful to God for it. I do, and I am. But this is something different.

What, exactly, does it mean to call on the church to “lift the torch of freedom all across the land”? It’s cant. It’s kitsch. “Freedom” is not the same thing as righteousness. As St. Augustine taught, sin is disordered love. You can love good things in a disordered way, and fall into sin. Christians whose moral imaginations are formed in this way, what is going to happen to them when the US government — under Donald Trump, or some future president — does something wicked, something that followers of Jesus Christ ought to stand against?

Read the rest here.

“That’s why I chose you”

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Check out John Allen‘s interview with Father Juan Julian Carron, leader of the Catholic movement Communion and Liberation.  Carron offers some important reflections on how Christians need to live in this world.  I hope the court evangelicals are reading.

Here is a taste:

Allen: Rod Dreher recently argued that Christians should abandon the culture wars in the West because we’ve already lost, and the most we can hope for is a ‘Benedict option,’ meaning creatively preserving small islands of the faith amid a decaying and hostile culture. You too seem to be saying that we should get past the culture wars, without abandoning those positions, but for a different reason.

Carron: Certainly, absolutely. It’s always struck me, the contraposition between trying to make Christianity into a civil religion, on the one hand, and on the other, trying to make it entirely private. To me, it’s like trying to amend the design of God. I ask myself, who would ever have bet that God would begin to reach out to the world by calling Abraham? It was the most unlikely, most confusing, way of going about it anyone could have imagined.

The choice can’t come down to either the culture wars or a Christianity emptied of content, because neither of those options has anything to do with Abraham and salvation history. Abraham was chosen by God to begin introducing into history a new way of living life, that could slowly begin to generate an external reality with the capacity to make like dignified, to make it full.

I imagine that if Abraham were around today, in our minority situation, and he went to God and said, ‘Nobody’s paying any attention to me,’ what would God have said? We know very well what he’d say: ‘That’s why I chose you, to begin posing to reality a presence significant enough, even if no one believes it, that I will make of you a people so numerous that your descendants will be like the stars in the sky.’

When he sent his son into the world, stripped of his divine power to become man, he did the same thing. It’s like St. Paul said, he came to give us the capacity to live life in a new way. That’s what generates a culture. The question for us is whether the situation we’re in today gives us the chance to recover the origins of the design of God.

Allen: You seem fairly optimistic that’s still possible.

Carron: Yes, absolutely. I’m completely optimistic, because of the nature of the faith itself. I’m an optimist based on the nature of the Christian experience. It doesn’t depend on my reading of things, my diagnosis of the sociological situation. The problem is that to be able to start over again from this absolutely original point of departure, we have to go back to the roots of the faith itself, in what Jesus said and did.

If there’s a case for pessimism, it’s that too many times we’ve reduced Christianity either to a series of values, an ethics, or simply a philosophical discourse. That’s not attractive, it doesn’t have the power to seduce anyone. People don’t feel the attractive force of Christianity. But precisely because the situation we’re living in today is so dramatic, from every point of view, paradoxically it’s easier to get across the novelty of Christianity.

Read the entire interview here.

*The New Yorker* Tackles *The Benedict Option*

BenopCheck out Joshua Rothman‘s article on Rod Dreher, author of The Benedict Option: A Strategy for Christians in a Post-Christian Nation.

There was a time when a secular New York magazine like The New Yorker couldn’t have cared less about a book like The Benedict Option or a guy like Dreher. What does the New Yorker’s decision to devote so many words (it’s a long-form essay) to the subject of this book tell us about the role of religion in American culture today?  Just a thought.

Here is a taste of Rothman’s piece:

Dreher takes the phrase “the Benedict Option” from “After Virtue,” a 1981 work by the Scottish philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre. MacIntyre argued that Western civilization had lost its ability to think coherently about moral life. The problem was the Enlightenment, which put individuals in charge of deciding for themselves what was right and wrong. This, MacIntyre thought, rendered moral language meaningless. Try to say that something is “good,” and you end up saying only that it’s “good (to me)”—whatever that means. It becomes impossible to settle moral questions or to enforce moral rules; the best we can do is agree to disagree. Such a world falls into the hands of managers and technocrats, who excel at the perfection of means but lack the tools with which to think deeply about ends. Surviving this new age of darkness might call for the construction of local forms of community, where a realist approach to morality lives on. Today, MacIntyre wrote, “we are waiting not for a Godot but for another—doubtless very different—St. Benedict.”

Dreher’s book describes a number of intentional “Benedict Option communities” that serve, in his view, as arks in a liquidly modern sea. (Dreher hopes that many different kinds of communities—even, in theory, Muslim and Jewish ones—will adopt the “Benedict Option” label.) One is in Hyattsville, Maryland, a small suburb of Washington, D.C. The community has no name—residents just call it Hyattsville—but, judging from the size of its two gendered Listservs (“Barn Raisers,” for men, and “Hyattsville Catholic Women”), around two hundred Catholic families live there, in modest brick homes with front porches. They send their kids to St. Jerome Academy, a local Catholic school that they have more or less taken over.

Read the entire piece here.

Andy Crouch on the Benedict Option

BenopWe have done a few posts here on Rod Dreher’s book The Benedict Option: A Strategy for Christians in a Post-Christian Nation.  

Over at his website, Christian writer Andy Crouch offers a very witty take on the reception of the book:

1. Social hostility and legal restrictions will undermine the viability of many Christian institutions, and significantly limit individual Christians’ participation in many professions and aspects of public life, in the United States within a generation or so.

Portion of The Benedict Option devoted to this claim: 20%

Portion of journalistic coverage of the book devoted to this claim: 90%

Portion of social media buzz (pro and con) devoted to this claim: 98%

Likelihood of this claim being true: 50%

How much this should cause acute distress for those who believe that Jesus is Lord: 5%

2. Due to a lack of meaningful discipleship and accommodation to various features of secularized modernity and consumer culture, the collapse of Christian belief and practice is likely among members of the dominant culture (and many minority cultures) in the United States within a generation or so.

Portion of The Benedict Option devoted to this claim: 80%

Portion of journalistic coverage devoted to this claim: 10%

Portion of social media buzz (pro and con) devoted to this claim: 2%

Likelihood of this claim being true: 90%

How much this should cause acute distress for those who believe that Jesus is Lord: 100%

Hat tip to Eric Miller for bringing this post to my attention.

Answering “Secular Purism” With “Religious Purism”

benedict-sanctus

Alternative title for this post: “The heroes of Rod’s book are almost all monks.”

David Brooks has reviewed Rod Dreher’s The Benedict Option

Here is a taste:

Rod is pre-emptively surrendering when in fact some practical accommodation is entirely possible. Most Americans are not hellbent on destroying religious institutions. If anything they are spiritually hungry and open to religious conversation. It should be possible to find a workable accommodation between L.G.B.T. rights and religious liberty, especially since Orthodox Jews and Christians aren’t trying to impose their views on others, merely preserve a space for their witness to a transcendent reality.

My big problem with Rod is that he answers secular purism with religious purism. By retreating to neat homogeneous monocultures, most separatists will end up doing what all self-segregationists do, fostering narrowness, prejudice and moral arrogance. They will close off the dynamic creativity of a living faith.

There is a beautiful cohesion to the monastic vocation. But most people are dragged willy-nilly into life — with all its contradictions and complexities. Many who experience faith experience it most vividly within the web of their rival loves — different communities, jobs, dilemmas. They have faith in their faith. It gives them a way of being within the realities of a messy and impure world.

The right response to the moment is not the Benedict Option, it is Orthodox Pluralism. It is to surrender to some orthodoxy that will overthrow the superficial obsessions of the self and put one’s life in contact with a transcendent ideal. But it is also to reject the notion that that ideal can be easily translated into a pure, homogenized path. It is, on the contrary, to throw oneself more deeply into friendship with complexity, with different believers and atheists, liberals and conservatives, the dissimilar and unalike.

I think Brooks’s “Orthodox Pluralism” and “practical accommodation” is similar to John Inazu’s Confident Pluralism.  See my discussion of Inazu as it relates to the Benedict Option here.

The Benedict Option and Christian “Persecution” in America

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Baptists were persecuted in colonial Virginia

Are American Christians being persecuted for their faith?  I am not sure persecution is the right word.  No one is coming into the homes of Christians with weapons threatening to kill them if they do not publicly denounce their faith.

But if this was happening, wouldn’t it be a good thing?

Didn’t Jesus say “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.  Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” (Matthew 5:11-12).

The other day, while lecturing on seventeenth-century Quakers and the deaths they suffered as martyrs for their faith, I recalled my old friend Tim. Back in the day Tim and I used to exchange letters.  Rather than end his letters with the standard “Sincerely Yours” or “Warmly,” he would often write “May You Suffer and Die for Christ, Tim.” My Christian students got a good laugh when I told them about Tim, but I wonder how many of them took such a call to martyrdom seriously.

I should also say that claims of persecution by American Christians make them look foolish and petty in light of the real persecution Christians are suffering around the world.

But I digress.

It seems everywhere I look online these days someone is debating whether or not American Christians are experiencing persecution (or perhaps discrimination) for their beliefs. Over at Commonweal, Julia Marley suggests that the “evangelical martyr complex” was partially fueled by the 1995 D.C. Talk song “Jesus Freak.” More on this below.

But most of the discussion on this front has stemmed from Rod Dreher’s recent book The Benedict Option: A Strategy for Christians in a Post-Christian Nation. Some of you may recall that we blogged about this book a couple of weeks ago and tried to find common ground between “The Benedict Option” and what law professor John Inazu has called “Confident Pluralism.”

Recently Calvin College philosophy professor James K.A. Smith thought it was necessary to criticize Dreher’s book from the pages of the website of The Washington Post.  (I am still a bit confused as to why Smith would turn to the Washington Post to debate how Christians should live in a secular world. But in an era of social media where everyone is privy to intramural debates among Christians I guess it doesn’t really  matter).  Smith’s points about Christians living in fear are well taken.  I have made a similar argument in the context of the evangelical support of Donald Trump’s refugee policy.  But Smith’s suggestion that he was trusting in “a savior who rose from the dead” (and by implication Dreher was not) seemed a bit over-the-top.

Dreher was particularly upset by the way Smith, who Dreher claims was an early supporter of the “Benedict Option,” apparently changed his mind about the book when writing for his Washington Post audience.  Dreher responded with a post at his blog titled “The Benedict Arnold Option.” (This is not the first time Smith’s assault on a Christian writer has led to a strong push-back. The Smith-Dreher exchange reminds me a little bit of Smith’s scuffle in 2010 with Baylor philosopher Frank Beckwith).

Meanwhile, Darryl Hart offers some historical context.  Evangelicals, he argues, have felt marginalized in American culture for over a century.  This is why, for example, they founded faith-based “Christian colleges” like Calvin College to protect them from the secularizing tendencies of the outside world and to instill them with a “Christian world view.” (In the process he reminds Smith of the location from which he writes).  As Hart notes: “As I have indicated many times, what bothers me about the BenOp is that Rod seems to understand a cultural crisis now when some Christians (the mainstream calls them fundamentalists) saw it at least a century ago.” Hart is right. At the turn of the 20th century when evangelicals were ousted from the denominations, and by extension the culture, they turned inward and founded a host of institutions that we now often describe as the “evangelical subculture.” Joel Carpenter wrote about this in Revive Us Again: The Reawakening of American Fundamentalism and a couple of oft-cited articles.  Was this development something akin to a “Benedict Option?”

This leads me to best review of The Benedict Option I have read so far.  It comes from Damon Linker at The Week.  While Hart argues that the persecution complex in American evangelicalism began over a century ago, Linker takes an even longer view.  He wonders if there was ever a moment when Christianity was powerful enough to hold sway over American life:

Yet it’s worth asking whether Christianity as both Neuhaus and Dreher understand it ever exercised rule in quite the way they imagine it did. Certainly it did in Puritan New England, and in certain regions of the country during the Great Awakenings of the 1730s and early 19th century. And clearly American civil religion, partly derived from Puritanism and reinvigorated countless times by various religious and cultural influences down through the centuries, has always had a broadly Protestant and deistic character.

But was this default Christianity anything like the doctrinally, liturgically, and morally rigorous forms of worship and belief that Dreher advocates? I don’t think so. Yes, rates of church attendance were higher in the past, but those rates fluctuated quite a bit from time to time and place to place. And in many of those times and places, the forms of worship were decidedly low-church, with tent revivals, renegade preachers, and faith healers barnstorming the country, while in most white churches the message broadcast from pulpits either explicitly endorsed a racist status quo or passed over it in silence.

But Linker’s approach is more nuanced than this.  He differs slightly from those like Julia Marley who suggest that the sense of persecution felt by evangelicals is built on a false understanding of Christian persecution in the Roman Empire and the belief that the United States is a Christian nation.  Linker argues that there have been significant changes in the culture–particularly in the area of sexual morality– that might justify evangelical concern.  He writes:

Intercourse outside of marriage, masturbation, the use of contraception, homosexuality (including same-sex marriage), transgenderism — none of it will register as raising significant moral or theological issues and problems. That wasn’t true in the 19th-century U.S., in 17th-century Prussia, or in 11th-century France. In all of those times and places, news of what growing numbers of people (including people who define themselves as Christians) think of as sexually acceptable behavior would have been received as inexplicable, and an abomination.

That is what makes our time decisively different from past eras in the history of the Christian West: We live on the far side of the sexual revolution. Neuhaus thought that revolution could be at least partially reversed through concerted democratic action. Dreher has no such hopes and so advises withdrawal and self-protection.

If traditional sexual morality is an absolutely necessary component in an authentic Christian life, then America may well be the post-Christian nation Dreher insists it is, with devout Christians reduced to the status of exiles within it and facing the prospect of outright persecution in the workplace and elsewhere. (Dreher’s book discusses some of these persecutory possibilities, and he regularly highlights and ponders them in considerable detail on his blog at The American Conservative.)

Dreher’s concerns about persecution may be somewhat exaggerated, but they aren’t delusional. Now that same-sex marriage has been declared a constitutional right, the full weight of anti-discrimination law is poised to bear down on those whose faith precludes them from accepting the licitness of such arrangements. That has inspired many religious conservatives (and a few liberals, like myself) to demand new laws to strengthen the First Amendment’s religious liberty protections, specifically to clarify that the “free exercise” clause is not limited to what takes place within the walls of a church.

I appreciate Linker’s approach here because it acknowledges what I and others believe are real threats to religious liberty that should not be dismissed. At the same time, it affirms a lot of my own historical work on the problematic assertion that the United States was founded as a Christian nation.

Linker concludes:

What if Dreher and other conservative Christians could know that they would not be forced to bake cakes or provide other services for same-sex weddings, that religious colleges would not be forced to permit same-sex cohabitation, and that employees would not be fired or otherwise penalized for holding traditional views about sexuality? Would that render the Benedict Option unnecessary?

I doubt Dreher would think so — because Christians would still find themselves living in a country in which a range of authorities within civil society constantly convey the message that same-sex marriage is good and opposing it is bigotry, in which pornography is ubiquitous, and in which gender is increasingly treated as a human construct entirely disconnected from nature, marriage, procreation, and a divinely authored order of things.

But why is that such a problem? Don’t Orthodox Jews and observant Muslims, who hold analogous views about sex, manage to live and thrive in the United States, despite its sexual turmoil and lasciviousness? Indeed they do. But they are and have always been tiny minorities in America — which means that, in the decisive respect, they already practice something like the Benedict Option. They don’t need to be taught how to preserve themselves in the face of constant counter-religious temptations.

Perhaps that consideration partially explains why Dreher sometimes seems to hype the persecution that conservative Christians already confront or will soon face — as a kind of shock therapy for the complacent, as if to say: “We’re no longer in charge here! If we don’t start protecting and preserving ourselves soon, there won’t be anything left to protect or preserve!”

Read Linker’s entire piece here.

Rod Dreher and the Dominionism of Ted Cruz

Cruz Iowa

I have taken a lot of heat from Ted Cruz supporters for my recent Religion News Service post (published in The Washington Post) about the candidate’s connection to dominionism and the so-called “end-times transfer of wealth.”  If the e-mails filling my mailbox are any indication, Cruz supporters think I am engaging in the logical fallacy of “guilty by association.”  Perhaps this is the case.  Cruz has never mentioned “Seven Mountain Dominionism” or the “end-times transfer of wealth” on the campaign travel.  But as Rod Dreher, blogger extraordinaire at The American Conservative points out, I think it is at least time for Cruz to address some of the theological and political ideas put forth by his father, Rafael Cruz, and others in the evangelical world with whom the candidate has connections.  

If Barack Obama had to explain the views of Jeremiah Wright, then Cruz needs to explain the views of his father, Larry Huch, Glenn Beck, and David Barton.

The last time I checked, Cruz does not believe in the separation of church and state because, as he rightly notes, the phrase is not mentioned in the Constitution.  He is a strong defender of Christianity in public life and believes that a candidate’s Christian faith should inform his or her politics. So I think it is fair to say that Cruz himself has opened a door to questions about his religious approach to politics.

Here is a taste of Dreher’s post at The American Conservative:

Shoot, I’m a Christian and I don’t get this at all. That video is up on Drudge now. It was taken four years ago at a Dallas-area Pentecostal megachurch, New Beginnings, pastored by a husband and wife team, Larry and Tiz Huch. Everybody’s talking about how, in his appearance at the church, Rafael Cruz, father of Ted and a Pentecostal evangelist, preached about Dominionism, and how, in his view, it is God’s will that Christians take the property of non-Christians, and rule over them. John Fea wrote about this in the Washington Post:

Anyone who has watched Cruz on the stump knows that he often references the important role that his father, traveling evangelist Rafael Cruz, has played in his life. During a 2012 sermon at New Beginnings Church in Bedford, Texas, Rafael Cruz described his son’s political campaign as a direct fulfillment of biblical prophecy.

The elder Cruz told the congregation that God would anoint Christian “kings” to preside over an “end-time transfer of wealth” from the wicked to the righteous. After this sermon, Larry Huch, the pastor of New Beginnings, claimed Cruz’s recent election to the U.S. Senate was a sign that he was one of these kings.

According to his father and Huch, Ted Cruz is anointed by God to help Christians in their effort to “go to the marketplace and occupy the land … and take dominion” over it. This “end-time transfer of wealth” will relieve Christians of all financial woes, allowing true believers to ascend to a position of political and cultural power in which they can build a Christian civilization. When this Christian nation is in place (or back in place), Jesus will return.

Rafael Cruz and Larry Huch preach a brand of evangelical theology called Seven Mountains Dominionism. They believe Christians must take dominion over seven aspects of culture: family, religion, education, media, entertainment, business and government. The name of the movement comes from Isaiah 2:2: “Now it shall come to pass in the latter days that the Lord’s house shall be established on the top of the mountains.”

Now, it is unfair to Ted Cruz to assume that everything his father believes, he also believes. But this stuff is so extreme that he has to talk about it publicly, and either defend it or separate himself from it in a clear way. What’s striking to me about that video is that this megachurch has no cross above its stage, but rather a menorah. Again, don’t blame Jews for this; I’m sure most Jews are as mystified by that as most Christians would be.

Read the entire post here.

*America* Magazine: Ross Douthat Does Need a Ph.D in Catholic Theology or History to Write About the Catholic Church

We covered this story yesterday from the perspective of Rod Dreher’s criticism of a letter written to The New York Times from a group of progressive Catholic intellectuals who did not like Ross Douthat’s column on the Church’s debate over divorce and remarriage.  (Click on the link at the beginning of this sentence to get up to speed).

Over at the progressive-leaning America, a Catholic magazine published by the Jesuit community, Jim Keane, the former associate editor, makes a case for why Douthat’s voice needs to be heard in this debate.  The piece is less about the content of Douthat’s argument or the content of the scholars who composed the letter to The Times and more about the issue of what qualifies a person to write about the Catholic Church.

Here is a taste of his piece “Thoughts on Heresy.”

…Which brings me to my second point. The following phrase in the letter from Mr. Faggioli, et al: “Aside from the fact that Mr. Douthat has no professional qualifications for writing on the subject…”
Well. One could argue that the greatest scourge to face the Catholic Church in the centuries since the French Revolution was not the widespread defections from the faith, not the increasing irrelevance of religious practice for many in the modern world and not even the monstrous acts of sexual abuse perpetrated by priests and religious over the years: in fact, the greatest scourge may have also been the cause of all these things: clericalism. The instinctive habit of protecting your fellow priests because you’re part of a special club immune to consequences and privy to special grace.
Once you think you’re part of a special club that no one else can join, you’ll do whatever you can to keep that club intact—including enforcing strict rules about who is in and who is out, including stout defenses of those already in, no matter how monstrous their crimes, including a willful denial about the world around you.
When we try to exclude Mr. Douthat and his ilk from the conversation on the grounds they don’t have the professional qualifications, we are no better than Rome’s worst clerical gatekeepers. We are setting up a self-validating club that protects its own and refuses to listen to anyone lacking the proper magic touch. I’ve a personal perspective on this, too, because a decade of Jesuit life (I left the order in 2012) showed me exactly what it’s like to have the temptation to exercise clerical privilege wherever you go. Answer? It’s awesome, and it’s a sin. 
Let us avoid clericalism in all its forms, including casting those without Ph.D.s into the outer darkness. Even the self-appointed Jeremiahs.
Ross Douthat doesn’t have a Ph.D. Actually, I don’t either. Nor does Jim Martin. Or Matt Malone. Or Kerry Weber. Or Grant Gallicho. Or David Gibson. Or Kaya Oakes. Or Ken Woodward. Or Robert Ellsberg. I want to say Peggy Steinfels doesn’t, either, but in fact I have no idea. Which is kind of the point, right? Because it didn’t make much of a difference. We’ve all been getting our Catholic news and commentary from folks whose hard work and talent made them who they are, not their membership in an imagined elite. 

Duck Dynasty Trounces the Tea Party in Louisiana Election

Great post here from Rod Dreher.  Apparently a candidate for the in Louisiana’s 5th Congressional District who had the support of Willie Robertson, the star of the popular television show Duck Dynasty, defeated a Tea Party candidate who had the support of Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal. Here is a taste of Dreher’s post:

A stunning election result tonight in Louisiana’s 5th Congressional district. Political newcomer Vance McAllister beat the snot out of State Sen. Neil Riser in the runoff. Both men are Republicans, and both quite conservative. Riser was understood as having the support of the state GOP establishment, including Gov. Bobby Jindal. Riser was also backed by the state Tea Party. After the primary election, McAllister began to sound more conciliatory, saying that he would work with Democrats. Riser jumped on that, trying to paint him as a squish.
McAllister’s secret weapon: the Robertson family. Duck Dynasty’s Willie Robertson cut a last-minute ad for McAllister. That has got to have had a huge effect. It was a total McAllister blowout tonight. The Tea Party is nothing compared to the Duck Commander dudes.