Search Results for benedict option

The Benedict Option

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It’s Time for Christian’s to Disappear! 

What? Yes, to hide, to go underground, to withdraw to the margins of society, in some cases literally “head for the hills.” We have entered a dark age for Christianity, and the only way to preserve the seeds of faith is to form small Christian subcultures that intentionally orient their lives fully around the worship of God. These cell groups will practice out of their faith through the rigorous keeping of church traditions, liturgy, and the church calendar. They will practice asceticism, (fasting, prayer, and limitations on distractions & entertainment)  live close to one another and share life together. The absolute priority of these small groups will be to pass on the faith to the next generation. Just like Benedict did in the 5th century. 

Why must Christians go into hiding? 

Secular humanism is the dominant narrative of our time, it runs in complete opposition to Christianity. It’s like a riptide at the beach, the current is just too strong now to resist. All Christians who remain immersed in the surf of our culture will eventually be swept out to sea and lost. The linchpin of cultural Christianity according to Rod Dreher is its views of sex, sexuality, marriage and gender. The Christian worldview doesn’t work with today’s view of whatever, whenever, however, and whoever. If a Christian tries to draw a moral line in the sand that is different from the cultural norm of “be whatever you are” and “love is love” he is shot down with increasing brutality. Also, Christianity needs contemplation and prayer to work but today’s society is constantly abuzz with one distraction after another, followed by one temptation after another. The section that details the staggering amount of pornography consumption in the West and the latest scientific studies about its adverse effects on the brain is unnerving, to say the least. Dreher is unashamedly alarmist. The Western world is not a safe place to hang out anymore if you are a Christian. All Christian efforts to be relevant, missional, or “cutting edge” need to be stopped in the interest of survival. 

What exactly are we talking about here?

  • No more public school education — Putting your kids in public school is “spiritual suicide” says Dreher. And most Christian schools are not much better either. The only solution is what he calls “Classic Christian” education, or homeschooling of a similar vein. 
  • If you are a compromised professional, quit — It’s going to be increasingly difficult for Christian lawyers, doctors, educators, politicians, nurses and the like to avoid having their convictions compromised in their workplaces. The solution says Dreher is to quit. Christians must become comfortable with less money and less notoriety.  He suggests working in the trades, becoming an entrepreneur, or taking up farming.  
  • Move in close to each other. Geographical proximity will be necessary for the dark night ahead.
  • Create a self-contained sub-culture. Dreher has no time for Christianized imitations of the world, whether that be pop-Christian music, radio, technology, consumerism. Etc. Etc. The sub-culture he envisions is unashamedly counter-cultural. Entirely other from the world in which we now live.  

Should we be worried? 

In 8 years living as a missionary embedded in the secular culture, I can certainly see his point. I’ve seen more Christians leave the faith then come into it. I’ve experienced first hand the increasing hostility of influential people who don’t share my Christians worldview. I at times have felt the enticing currents of secular humanisms pull. I’m concerned for sure about the decidedly non-Christian fashions that entice my family and me. My neighbour from Iran lamented to me that his daughter is losing the Persian language and culture, “I can’t keep up” he said. “We practice in our home, but all day at school it is English, English, English.” His daughter is being assimilated into the English Canadian world, not the Farsi Persian one. Is the same happening to us with our Christian heritage? We are teaching Christianity in our home, and at our worship gatherings, but all day, it’s secular humanism, secular humanism, secular humanism. Can I expect anything less than assimilation for my family and me if something more drastic is not done? Dreher’s point is to resist assimilation at all costs. He fears that most Christians are already functionally assimilated, believing in what he calls Moralistic, Therapeutic Deism, rather than Christianity. “Be nice, be happy, God is not really involved.” Indeed there is a dearth of Biblical and Theological understanding among so many who purport to be Christian. 

Is it time to buy 40 acres in northern B.C.? 

Should I take my family and friends and go “off the grid” to preserve our way of life? That strategy is not without historical precedent. Monks, Mennonites, and Puritans have all made that move in times gone by. Is Dreher a prophet of doom whose dire warning I must head? Undoubtedly much of what he says is not without merit and Christians would do well to consider what strategies might work best towards a more comprehensive form of Christian indoctrination. However, I would like to offer some gentle push back as I conclude this review. 

  1. Don’t let fear dominate. The whole message of the book is driven by fear. All is lost if we don’t radically separate ourselves from the cesspool that is our world. Love not fear should dominate our worldview. Are there not things in our culture today that by our very presence we can redeem? Can we not appreciate truth and beauty wherever we find it, even if it is not necessarily Christian? The answer is yes to both these questions. Fear forces us into the false dichotomy that “Christian” is good and “Non-Christian” is bad. 
  2. Serve do not Run. We have lost our voice to be sure, but we have not lost our hands or our feet. We can serve; indeed, we must! My input is not welcome at our local public school that has been made abundantly clear; however, I can still stack chairs, and run the BBQ on Sports Day. Is that not Jesus’ message to us when he washed the feet of his disciples? 
  3. Follow Jesus’ example. Jesus our Saviour and our model for worldly interaction was a friend of publicans and sinners. He regularly scandalized the religious separatists of his day through his intimacy with those who did not think or act in line with him. 
  4. Education is not the Saviour. I’m not convinced classical Christian education is the panacea Dreher claims it to be. Never have I witnessed praises heaped so high upon an educational system before. Perhaps Dreher was overstating his case to make his point. 
  5. Let us not confuse tradition with the gospel. It’s an easy thing to let non-essentials become essentials, especially if they are cherished and have had a long cultural shelf life. This is not a new problem. Every generation of Jesus followers since the first century have attempted to innovate, to grow, to change, to morph, to evolve their faith in a variety of ways and this is not necessarily a bad thing. The big bag of “cultural Christianity” that Dreher wants to carry with him into the back 40 may actually need to be emptied of some of its contents. Christians are at their best with less cultural baggage, not more.
  6. Sex is not the centre of cultural Christianity. Unquestionably Christian views on sexual morality are at odds with the culture of our day, but they have always been at odds with the natural inclinations of the human heart. In this sense, there is nothing new here, except a stern reminder for Christians to take the beam out of our own eye first! The linchpin of cultural Christianity is love, not sexual restraint. Self-sacrificing love that manifests itself in forgiveness, perseverance, patience, and kindness is the mark of true Christianity. Love that extends a worshipping hand to God and a helping had to others, whatever their belief system or sexual point of view might be. 

The book certainly scared me, but I’m not moving up north just yet, check back with me in a years time, and I’ll let you know if I’ve changed my mind! 

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Atheist Delusions

We remember what we want to remember

    Every age necessarily reinterprets and rewrites the past in accord with its own interests, ideals, and illusions (33) The past is always to some extent a fiction of the present (129). 

Hart is disgusted. The tale that modernity is wishing to call history has gotten entirely out of hand, most notably in its recollections of Christianity. 

The story that modernity wants to remember

  • Once upon a time, there was a late Roman Hellenistic culture that cherished the power of reason and pursued science and high philosophy. Then came Christianity, which valued only blind obedience and irrational dogma, and which maliciously extinguished the light of pagan wisdom. Then, thanks to Islam, thirteenth-century Christendom suddenly rediscovered reason and began to chafe against the bondage of witless fideism. And then, as if by magic, Copernicus discovered heliocentrism, and reason began its inexorable charge toward victory through the massed and hostile legions of faith. 
  • The emergence of the secular state rescued Western humanity from the rule of religious intolerance. 
  • Secularism is the exuberant adventure into the adulthood of the race so long delayed by priestcraft, superstition and intolerance. Secularism is the great revolution that liberated society and the individual alike from the crushing weight of tradition and doctrine.

What does Hart think of this story? 

   Utter bilge. Hart criticizes Hitchens, Dawkins, Dennett, Harris, Kirsch, Gibbon, MacMullen, and Freeman to name a few. To Christopher Hitchens subtitle on his bestseller “How religion poisons everything” He directs particular malice. What precisely is meant by everything? Hart wonders, then he lists an entire page of wonderful things that would not exist were it not for Christianity, things like the abolition movement, the golden rule and hospitals. He concludes with the comment “It borders upon willful imbecility to lament the rise of Christendom.” One example of the “selective memory” of modernity comes to us through Edward Gibbon’s majestical work The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. In it, Gibbon argues that Pagan polytheism was more “tolerant” than Christianity because of the plethora of pagan deities to choose from. This “tolerance” is pure fiction. Pagans slaughtered with “extravagant violence” says Hart, Jews and Christians alike. Anyone who denied the god’s existence was in mortal danger.  Adding to pagan “tolerance” was the reality of human sacrifices both on alters, and more prevalently in the coliseums. Pagan systems of belief cared nothing for the homeless, the gladiatorial spectacle, crucifixions, the disposal of unwanted infants, or the brutal slaughter of war captives or criminals. Paganisms “tolerance” was completely ambivalent towards tyranny, injustice, depravity or cruelty. In Gibbons over-reaching bid to prove paganism more tolerant than Christianity, he leaves all these considerations out these items out.  Hart is not about to let him or anyone else get away with it. 

“Vacuous arguments afloat on oceans of historical ignorance, made turbulent by storms of strident self-righteousness. — Their rantings are as contemptible as any other form of dreary fundamentalism.”

Christianity not perfect but…

    “It is true” is the single most used phrase in the entire book. Hart uses it to acknowledge that Christians were not perfect. For example,

“It is true that Christianity’s greatest historical triumph was also its most calamitous defeat”. Hart admits that when Christianity became a politically dominate force unfortunate tragedies happened. “It is true that Christendom in many respects was hardly Christian. Even so, the gospel has at best flickered through the history of the West, working upon hard and intractable natures—the frank brutality of barbarians, the refined cruelty of the civilized— producing prodigies of sanctity and charity in every age.” 

Critics of Christianity point out that slavery and the abuse of women continued on into Christendom. Hart acknowledges that “it is true” but then takes us on a fascinating journey where the norms of abuse accepted without question in paganism gradually fell prey to the corrosive influence of Christian thought. Hart concludes

Christianity has been the single most creative cultural, ethical, aesthetic, social, political, and spiritual force in the history of the West, to be sure; but it has also been a profoundly destructive force; and one should perhaps praise it as much for the latter attitude as for the former, for there are many things worthy of destruction.

The extinction of Paganism was a good thing.

    Pagans became Christians to such a degree that paganism became extinct because paganism was terrible.

“It was time for the gods of that age to withdraw: for too long they had served as the terrible and beautiful guardians of an order of majestic cruelty and pitiless power.”

  • Pagan thought did not embrace science and reason: Christianity upended the progression of science we are told. According to Hart, science as we understand it, didn’t even exist in pagan times, “all its methods, controls, and guiding principles, its desire to unite theory to empirical discovery, its trust in a unified set of physical laws and so on—came into existence only within Christendom, and specifically under the hands of believing Christians.” The “so-called” dark ages of Christendom brought about the university, the first real steps in medicine, and the devolvement of incredible new science-based technology. The same cannot be said for the Hellenistic world or the Muslim world for that matter. They remained technologically static in part because they never developed science beyond theory and they remained committed to a slave culture. The church muting Galileo always comes up as evidence that the church and science were not friends. Hart is not buying it. What’s the story then? “That story demonstrates nothing of Christianity’s aversion to Science but only how idiotic a conflict between men of titanic egotism can become.” 
  • Paganism was depressing: Harts assessment of paganism is particularly bleak: 

“In any event, to return to my principal point, the Christianity of the early centuries did not invade a world of noonday joy, vitality, mirth, and cheerful earthiness, and darken it with malicious slanders of the senses, or chill it with a severe and bloodless otherworldliness.  Rather, it entered into a twilight world of pervasive spiritual despondency and religious yearning….It was a pagan society that had become ever more otherworldly and joyless, ever wearier of the burden of itself, and ever more resentful of the soul’s incarceration in the closed system of a universe governed by fate.

Christianity is a better story.

    In addition to the fundamental goodness of the world, Christianity taught the indispensable value of a human person. The followers of Jesus saw in persons something godlike, to be cherished and adored. Then adding to the image of the divine in all humanity comes the grand rescue story of Jesus, proving once and for all that humanity is loved by God and welcomed into a divine eternal relationship. As Hart puts it: 

By contrast, Christianity taught the incorruptible goodness of the world, the original and ultimate beauty of all things, inasmuch as it understood this world to be the direct creation of the omnipotent God of love. (144) … Christianity brought a deep and imperturbable joy” (145) 

    The advent of Christianity unquestionably changed the world for the better. For Hart, it is unconscionable for respected historians and philosophers not to recognize this. Hart is not apologizing for Christian’s who may have misbehaved in the past. Hart quips “Humans frequently disappoint,” but this truth is not limited only to Christians. He will not accept criticism from angry, misinformed people who:

“have not even paused to acquaint themselves with, for example, the Inquisitions actual history, while at the same time completely ignoring twenty centuries of unprecedented and still unmatched moral triumphs. — its’ care of widows, and orphans, its almshouses, hospitals, foundling homes, schools, shelters, relief organizations, soup kitchens, medical missions, charitable aid societies, and so on.”

    The secular nation-state is the problem – Hart refuses to take the blame for the “so-called” religious wars of the 15th -17th centuries. He insists that they be renamed as the first wars of the modern nation-state. “Religious allegiances, anxieties, and hatreds were used by regional princes merely as pretexts for conflicts whose causes, effects and alliances had very little to do with faith or confessional loyalties.” The protestant reformation succeeded because it served the interest of the emerging nation states. It wasn’t that the Germans became protestant and now wanted independence from the empire. They wanted independence from the empire, and so they became protestant. Hart takes us on an entertaining albeit very disturbing walk through the 15-17th centuries and concludes with a statement that hardly needed to be said. “Few would be so foolish to suggest that any side fought for religious reasons” As the common bond of Christianity decreased in Europe, so the standing armies of the future nations increased. Violence increased in proportion to the degree of sovereignty claimed by the state, and that, whenever the medieval church surrendered moral authority to the secular power, injustice and cruelty flourished. Before the shift, for example in the 10th-11th centuries, the church instituted “Peace of God” days and “Truce of God” days, making war illegal on certain days of the week, fast days, and feast days. By the time the church was finished with the calendar three-quarters of it consisted of periods of mandated tranquillity, the churches great work though not carried out perfectly was always tilted towards peace. 

What came after Christianity faltered was the absolute state and total war. The “religious wars”  were the moderns state’s great struggle to free itself from those institutional, moral, and sacramental allegiances that still held it even partially in check. So that it could now get on with all those mighty tasks—nationalist wars, colonial empires, universal conscriptions, mass exterminations of civilians, and so on.

Is the post-Christian world better?  

    First, for any people, comes its story, and then whatever is possible for those people becomes conceivable within that story — slowly and relentlessly, for centuries now, another story has been replacing the Christian one. Attempts to reverse this process are probably futile. (239)

  • A New God — Freedom.

At the deepest level of their thoughts and desires, they are obedient to principles and promptings that rest upon no foundation but themselves…Freedom of the will is our supreme value. It is for all intents and purposes our god and certain kinds of god (as our pagan forebears understood) expect to be fed.

Human freedom is the thing that drives people to a passionate and often articulate hatred of belief in God. Anything that stands in the way of freedom must be destroyed. Freedom might just as well be seen — from certain more antique perspectives as a kind of slavery to untutored impulses, to empty caprice, to triviality, to dehumanizing values. Modern Freedom is nihilism. The question to ask is where does nihilism lead? Nowhere good.

  • A Better Story — Knowledge. Technological mastery is not just our guiding ideal but our model of truth. Power over material reality is all that matters, that’s the better story of the post-Christian world. 

    Only Christianity teaches the infinite dignity of every soul and the infinite value of every life. Because of Jesus, charity became the shining sun around which all other values were made to revolve. In the Post Christian world, this is no longer the case.  If there is a God of infinite love and goodness, of whom every person is an image, then certain moral conclusions must be drawn; if there is not, those conclusions have no meaning… What Nietzsche understood was that the effort to cast off Christian faith while retaining the best and most beloved elements of Christian morality was doomed to defeat…A civilization, it seems obvious, is only as great or as wonderful as the spiritual ideals that animate it…But as a cultural reality, even love requires a reason for its preeminence among the virtues. Love requires a reason, and the post-Christian world doesn’t have a reason. 

    Then to scare us entirely out of our minds, he quotes the ideas of Joseph Fletcher, Linus Pauling, Peter Singer, James Rachels, and Lee Silver, whose post-Christian ideals seek to manage humanity in what Hart describes as “robustly merciless terms.” When Christianity goes, so goes the sanctity of human life. Reading these guys makes this claim perfectly visible.

    When the aspiring ape ceases to think himself a fallen angel, perhaps he will inevitably resign himself to being an ape. He will rejoice that the universe demands little more from him than an ape’s contentment. This is no description of progress, this is a descent into darkness. 

What can a Christian do? 

    Hart is not jubilant. Christianity’s inexorable movement towards extinction is only resisted by his confidence that the Christian story is a cosmic truth that can never finally be defeated. Hart recommends retreat for the Christian into the desert as the monastics did in the 4th century. They rebelled against Christianity’s own success, to discover again in the quiet wastelands, what it really meant to live for the love of God and one’s neighbour. To banish envy, hate, and resentment from the soul and to seek the beauty of Christ in others. The success of secularism to Hart is the same as the success of institutionalized, politicized Christianity of the 4th century. The authentic Christian retreats from both. In many ways, I think Harts very brief conclusion tilts toward an agreement with another book I read recently, The Benedict Option

Body counting might not be the best comparison.

    Hart with almost monotonous regularity takes the reader back to the 20th century to remind us that the most savage and sublimely violent period in human history was brought about by secular governments who had embraced thoroughgoing materialism informed by Darwinian biology. My one issue with this constant refrain is the failure to consider technology into the body count. The real question to ask in my opinion is what would the badly behaving religious leaders of Christendom have done with weapons of mass destruction had they had them? A question impossible to answer, but I get an uneasy feeling that the body count discrepancy from the Christian to secular would not have been nearly as high if both had weapons of equal capability. 

Flourishing​

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A Chuckle: I think the contents of the book could have been reduced by as much as 1/3  if all the sentences that said “as I will argue in Chapter 4, as I said in chapter 6, as I alluded to in Chapters 8 etc. etc. were removed. Whatever page you were on, there seemed to be a verbal arrow pointing you somewhere else. 

Globalization is a mess – Market driven globalization has its obvious benefits, but for Volf, the cost to benefit analysis is still very much an open question.  The author refers to globalization as the ultimate temptation to live “by bread alone.” Something Jesus, when tempted by the devil, refused to do. To live by bread alone is to live only according to mundane realities. If all that exists is bread than life is reduced to the accumulation of worldly goods and sensory experiences. Reality becomes commodified, and according to Volf, humanity is lost in the transaction. Through globalization, morality becomes subservient to material wants. Technology makes it, so human interactions are based primarily on usefulness and self-interested appeal. Volf share’s with his readers, the troubling story of the iPhone. Its creation is truly a feat of globalization, which enriches a few, benefits many, but at the same time crushes many more. Globalization’s history is the journey to “success” over the broken backs of others. 

Religion is still vital, and it’s growing. Transcendence defines human beings say’s Volf, and religions exist to connect people to that transcendent realm. Humanity will never be content with mere science and material facts. Truth extends beyond facts for humans. When people use globalization to live life to the fullest but only on the flat plain of ‘this-worldliness’ their lives become caged, hollow, and light. Religion gives meaning, orientation, and a pleasure to all our mundane endeavours like nothing else can. That’s why world religions are growing not shrinking says Volf. He backs up his claim with a fist full statistics.

Volf’s detractors fold their arms and throw shade on the stats. Relativism, they say,  comes from pluralism and since the West, thanks to globalization and technology is living together in an increasingly pluralistic society, the inevitable result will be less and less absolutism, which means less and less religion. But Volf isn’t buying it. The false assumption of this theory is that people are comfortable with relativism. They are not. So they bounce back to the stability of various forms of absolutism which are found in religion. The proliferation of relativism is precisely why all the world religions are growing at such exponential rates. 

Wait for a second! I’m not so sure

  • Is transcendence such a big deal? What if that longing for the transcendent isn’t really as crucial as Volf thinks?  What if that empty space in the heart of humanity that Augustine claims can only be filled with God either doesn’t exist or can be satisfied with more earthly supplements? From my perspective perched in the centre of a secularized, globalized urban centre these last 8 years, it appears to me that loads and loads of people don’t even think about it, or they are able to successfully fill whatever void exists through nature, relationships, meditation, reading, adventure, hobbies and the like. 
  • Is the growth of world religions a positive indicator? What if the growth of world religions isn’t good news? Volf briefly cautions against the dangers of faith groups embracing market-driven globalization at their centre, and he makes the proper connection criticizing iterations of the prosperity gospel for doing just that. What Volf doesn’t do is connect the exponential growth of worldwide Christianity to the prosperity gospel. I have a sinking suspicion that Christian growth is of the “health and wealth” variety. If this is true, then the observation switches from, “Look, world religions are growing, faith belongs at the table of this new world.” to “Look, religions are mirroring market driving globalization and are adding to the problem not helping it.”  

Unhealthy Strategies for Religion in a globalized world Globalization is here, it’s a rat race which crushes people. Religions have developed 3 lousy procedures to deal with it. 

  • Retreat from it (Click Here to read my review of the book the Benedict Option which is a strong proponent of this strategy )
  • Destroy it. This is the M.O. of radical elements of Islam. 
  • Be consumed by it — See the paragraph above on the prosperity gospel. 

Religion is too absolutist to fit in a globalized world. — Religion feels like Globalizations enemy because of its rigid dogma. Pluralism is the air globalization breathes, and absolutism poisons the air. Is that true? Can the absolutism of religion play nicely with the pluralization of our globalized world? Volf is quick to admit that statistically, things are not great for this hope. There are a lot of places in this world controlled by inflexible religious dogma which squashes the life out of pluralism. However, he denies any notion that might suggest religion and pluralism can’t work together.  They can and do, says Volf citing Roger Williams the founder of Rhode Island as his primary example. Roger was a religious exclusivist of the first order and yet he created a politically pluralistic state. 

Do religions really believe in religious freedom? — Volf makes pains to influence his readers into thinking that all the religions of the world at least at some level embrace a concept of religious freedom, this is necessary to bolster his claim that religions can and do play nicely in a pluralistic world. However, when he begins by suggesting that most Muslims believe in religious freedom, I start to have doubts. The Muslim countries that allegedly embrace religious freedom have a very different understanding of freedom than westerners do. Muslims might possibly believe in a version of religious freedom but only in so far as Islam’s veracity is never called into question, and no converts are actually made to other religions. “Freedom” to exist as a non-Muslim in a Muslim country could hardly be counted as religious freedom in my estimation. There is still a lot of work to do here among the world religions, probably more than Volf thinks. 

A word about secular humanism — Technology, politics and economics is the hope of the secularist future. It’s a misplaced hope because it doesn’t account for the passion of humanity. We need something more profound to guide us. Also, the pendulum of secularisms tolerance is swinging towards intolerance. Absolutist claims are increasingly forbidden from the public sphere. Saturation of the public sphere from only one particular point of view (Secularism) creates an unhealthy environment for everyone. Relativism becomes a dictator and chaos is the result. 

Religions value needs to be accepted by all, even if only believed by some.  Religions must shape market-driven globalization. World Religions are excellent and creative agents for change, and they make up 3/4 of the world’s population! If religions could join forces for the common good and use globalizations interconnectedness to bring justice hope and help, then religions will serve a vital role in making our globalized world a better place. It is a mistake to push religions to the margins. It is a mistake to live by bread alone, and it is a mistake to place ultimate hope in technology, politics and economics.  The acceptance of religion is the only way to correct these mistakes.