Thursday, December 12, 2013

Give Me Medieval Christianity -- But Not Yet

Rod Dreher continues to amuse me.  Apparently he longs for the serious Christianity of the distant past, but as St. Augustine prayed for chastity, not just yet.

Today he has a long post about Christian community, focused on the Rule of Saint Benedict, of whose founder he says:
Around the year 500, a generation after barbarians deposed the last Roman emperor, a young Umbrian man known to history only as Benedict was sent to Rome by his wealthy parents to complete his education. Disgusted by the city’s decadence, Benedict fled to the forest to pray as a hermit.
Dreher goes on to describe a couple of American Benedictine communities, representative of a "New Monasticism, which typically involves single adults—and sometimes families—living in an intentional community, usually among the urban poor. Yet most people, especially those with spouses and children, will not be able to live so radically. Are there any models for them to follow?"  This is odd, since after all radicalism is precisely what Dreher is recommending, against the spiritual emptiness of modern life.  (But then, it appears that the code word in that quotation was "urban."  It's all very well to live in the city, but then you'll be living too close to non-whites.  Better to move to Alaska.)  The models he depicts would hardly seem less radical to most people than the New Monasticism, for example:
Now in its second decade, Clear Creek is home to more than 40 white-robed monks and to a growing community of laymen like the Pudewas, who—inspired by the writings of Hilaire Belloc, G.K. Chesterton, and Wendell Berry—moved to the countryside to be near the monastery and embrace a more agrarian lifestyle. The lay Catholic community centered on the abbey now has about 100 people in it.
Though the Benedict Option is about creating a community of shared values, the Clear Creekers are not separatists. These Catholics get along well with their Baptist neighbors. What’s more, says Pudewa, the community’s lack of formal structure is a secret to its success.

“Everybody’s on their own,” he says. “If you find property around here, that’s great, but nobody’s organizing this for you. If you love the monks and want to go to mass every day, you can, but if not, nobody’s critical. There’s very much a live-and-let-live attitude around here” ...

Clear Creek’s mothers and fathers bring up their children largely disconnected from mainstream American popular culture. Yet, though homeschooled, the community’s children are not being raised in, well, a monastery. They go to Tulsa for swing dancing twice a week, for example.
 "Nobody's critical"!  "A live-and-let-live attitude"!  That's the wishy-washy "feel-good relativism that sociologists have called 'moralistic therapeutic deism,' which is dissolving historic Christian moral and theological orthodoxy", which Dreher has made clear he doesn't approve.  (But what's the "moralistic" doing in there?  Is Dreher tendentiously distorting the sociologists' classification?  I wouldn't be surprised.  While the Culture of Therapy may not suit a sexist, antigay bigot like Dreher, it is certainly moralistic even when it pretends not to judge.  Rather like the official non-judgmentalism of Christianity)

And "swing dancing"!  "Twice a week"!  I can imagine what St. Benedict would have had to say about that.  I presume that this "swing dancing," probably to the pulsating jungle beat of jass music, involves mixed couples, and is not far from copulation in an upright position.  It's ironic how the shameless animalistic cavorting of a previous generation -- like the waltz, say -- can become the wholesome, respectable entertainment of a later one. 

It's an intriguing article all the same.  I confess to an attraction to "intentional communities" (i.e., communes) myself.  I've often thought that a secular, non-theistic community of that kind, devoted to reflection, study, and self-sustaining work, has some appeal, at least in principle, and single-sex monastic communities, like ex-gay ministries, are historically a great place to meet guys.  Obviously they're not for everyone, and probably not really for me.  My own life is congruent in important ways with the ideal enunciated by one of Dreher's sources: “How to live life as a whole. Not a life of worldly success so much as one of human success.”  You don't have to be a Christian, or a religious believer, or a monastic, to agree with that emphasis.

What I find interesting is Dreher's approach-avoidance attitude to this kind of life.  He's attracted by its radicalism, but endorses and justifies its compromises with the World.   I think it's fair to ask: At what point does that kind of compromise run afoul of the Exalted Lord's stricture: "Because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spew you out of my mouth"?  Whatever that point may be, I think Dreher has crossed it.