On My Bookshelf: The Benedict Option II

I made it through the second fifty pages since my last post on this book. Chapter Three involves a visit to an Italian Benedictine monastery. I find it curious that Mr Dreher would choose to cross the Atlantic to detail a monastic movement from the inside when he had dozens of choices much closer.

Trappists are perhaps the most hardcore of the Benedictine heritage. Other communities have found fruitfulness in a country not always welcoming of Catholics.

I had the same reaction to the lament over persecution as I’ve had when I’ve read conservative Christians online. Warnings about losing one’s job and having one’s children barred from the college of their choice are a choice brand of apocalypticism. That kind of thing happens in the Middle East. Ejecting people from jobs has been a favorite political tactic of the American Right. Not to mention LGBT people being accepted into church jobs with a wink and their children embraced as Catholic school students, only to have the wink rescinded once the sexuality of partners or parents was outed.

When Rod Dreher talks about “A New Kind of Christian Politics” it reads like sour grapes. I know: he had a lot of keystrokes invested in the culturewar. I understand his bitterness with business interests determining that they have more to gain by embracing a wider net of people. What did he expect? Political conservativism involves no bestowal of immaculate freedom from sin. Likewise for the self-styled faithful orthodox. We are all human beings, Left and Right. As such, we all sin and fall short of an ideal of virtue.

As for the suggestion to delve into “antipolitical politics,” I’ve read of a lot of liberals doing the like for the past forty years:

Secede culturally from the mainstream. Turn off the television. Put the smartphones away. Read books. Play games. Feast with your neighbors. It is not enough to avoid what is bad; you must also embrace what is good.

What the author speaks of here is an intentionality about one’s life. To decide what the best course for fruitful living might be, and then to take steps to aim toward it. A lot of non-religious people are doing it. Also liberals, libertarians, hippies, Greens, and a larger assortment of people than with whom Mr Dreher usually chums, I suspect.

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About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in the Pacific Northwest, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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3 Responses to On My Bookshelf: The Benedict Option II

  1. Liam says:

    I am a regular interlocutor with Rod at his blog for years, and he has quite a following of progressive types there (much to the ire of the paleoconservative and NRx types). As is often the case, don’t confuse the writer personality with the real-life personality. His first book, Crunchy Cons, was premised on confusing “assortments” of people.

    • Todd says:

      Agreed. As a writer, he is very much a political man of his secular times. He stokes his base. He leans heavily on prejudices–his own included. His political caution rules him. The frustrating thing as a reader is that the man has real passion. He also has a grasp on some very positive notions: intentionality, culture, making and keeping commitments. He also acknowledges his own faults (mostly). A trait there of an honest man. If he were my neighbor, I suspect we would be good friends having an occasional vigorous discussion over a beer.

      • Liam says:

        Rod sells on his journalistic traits and personality to underwrite (not just in the financial sense) his family’s life and Rod’s deeper goals – a dynamic that is hardly remarkable as it’s so common among so many of us. Rod has a certain resemblance to Andrew Sullivan in being what the latter was sometimes called “a good hater” who is readily riled and creates spectacular messes, but later can become remorseful and contrite. Like Andrew, Rod shares hard empathic blindspots – hard mostly because of their vulnerability to *rash judgment* (which their publishers and many readers must love) and struggle to detach from anxiety/resentment rather than using them to groom the readership, as it were. Also, Rod is too credulous about what I’d call the still-powerful residue of the Whig school of history; his lack of really deep and critical historical reading and policy chops leaves him looking more shallow than is helpful when he has to confront human nitty-gritty. When Rod steps off the topical treadmill, his writing gains immensely. He judges himself too harshly about this, but sometimes that seems more like an exercise to avoid making the shift that would benefit him (again, a very human thing there, not special to Rod).

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