Thursday, January 14, 2016

Persecution complex and the Benedict Option (1)

Columnist Rod Dreher is a convert to Eastern Orthodoxy who is particularly known for his call for conservative Christians to explore "The Benedict Option":  essentially cutting themselves off from the mainstream culture as much as possible into  intentional, inward looking religious communities embedded within modern life.   This is a reaction to cultural changes he disapproves of, like gays marrying.

He's not alone amongst conservative Christians, who feel threatened by changes, and frightened by the thought that they are no longer the "moral majority" but rather, a minority.  Just when we thought that having won marriage equality might mean we could move past LGBT issues, it appears that the right wingers are even more deeply entrenched in their reaction against us.  Teh Gayz are the final straw.

We see the reaction in the demands of the right that they be allowed to discriminate against LGBT people, in ways that we would never countenance for any other demographic, or any other sinner.

And no question, this is a persecution complex. The very fact of same sex people being allowed to marry is seen as some sort of cultural Armageddon. A gay couple marching down the aisle is viewed as shock troops destroying Christianity.  David Sessions writes, 
Persecution is historically and politically imagined; what is conceived in 2015 to be an intolerable violation of conscience may not have been considered such 20 years ago and may not in another 20 years. Even in the unlikely event non-discrimination were mandated for every bakery in America, conservative Christianity will be just fine; maybe people will discover making a wedding cake for a gay couple is not really that big a deal, not actually a violation of conscience after all. .... 
Perhaps the more interesting question is why the rhetoric from conservative Christians has become so overheated and apocalyptic, so fixated on anecdotes and worst-case scenarios, when there are plenty of alternate ways of reading the situation.  
He predicts,

Conservative Christians have very recently made sexual morality the index of the vitality of religion, and equated challenges to it with challenges to Christianity itself. As that challenge becomes legal and political, they will feel persecuted and violated for a while, and then many of them will probably get on with their lives much as before. It seems to me that certain people in their ranks greeting gay rights as apocalyptic persecution is really a measure of their own turn toward a robustly metaphysical Christianity that has never had much purchase in the United States. Religion has and will continue to persist in America precisely on account of its pragmatic adaptability, but it is this progressive character that conservative intellectuals have begun to reject. The erosion of the Puritan cultural residue has pushed them to think bigger and longer, back to a kind of religion that came before the Enlightenment and the French Revolution, the kind that French liberals were still struggling with in the nineteenth century. It’s hard to call it conservatism when what it ostensibly wants to conserve in fact never existed, at least in our cultural context. It is rather, a purification movement, a return to imagined roots, that is perhaps better described by a French word: intégrisme.
We can see this purity cult in the proposals for the Benedict Option.  We see it in the wagon-circling of the Evangelicals, where Wheaton College now wants to fire a tenured professor for saying there is one God worshipped by Jew, Christian, and Muslim.  We see it in the Mormon Church, which has now doubled down on the gays, saying that gays are apostates,  the children of gays are unworthy of baptism and now claims that this is actually a revelation from God. We see it in the denial of anti-gay activists, who insist that polls are mistaken and a majority of Americans still opposes marriage equality.

Damon Linker considers this reaction and puts it in perspective,
[T]his may be the first time in American history that devout Christians have been forced by events to accept without doubt that they are a minority in a majority secular nation. 
We have entered uncharted territory.
More tomorrow.  

Click here for the whole series. (once it's published)


Kevin K said...

The Benedict option has been around and been used for a long time. The "Shakers" and presently the Mennonites and Amish communities are more extreme examples. Persons dissatisfied with secular society have always had the option to largely withdraw from that society and live within and for their faith communities.

I used to attend a Vineyard prayer meeting weekly some 25-30 years ago. The persons there seem to me to fit neatly into the idea of communities focused on their church, its doctrines and their fellow members and their chief interaction with secular society was to proseltize (along with good works such as feeding the poor). I recall reading analysis of the rise of the religious right in the 1970s as people who had previously adopted the Benedict option. They were persons who simply did not care about or for secular society. These people (and their churches) became engaged in secular politics after Roe v. Wade which they saw as legalizing something akin to human sacrifice.

JCF said...

"These people (and their churches) became engaged in secular politics after Roe v. Wade which they saw as legalizing something akin to human sacrifice."

...a "something" which was fine (ignorable) as long as it was done w/ coat-hangers in back alleys, and the woman perpetrating the "sacrifice" frequently had to pay for it w/ her own life. Feh.