On the Benedict Option

Note: This is an edited and expanded version of a comment I left on Ed Brayton’s Dispatches from the Culture Wars blog.

If you’ve read Rod Dreher for any length of time, you’ll know that he’s been harping on the idea of a “Benedict Option,” conservative Christians withdrawing from society and building their own communities where they can teach their children that homosexuality is a sin and Adam and Eve rode dinosaurs in the Garden of Eden. Damon Linker has written a long idea on the concept in “This Week”:


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A Tale of Two Encyclopedias

One thing you hear a lot of in the Catholic blogosphere is how the church is an antidote to the moral relativism that is supposedly rampant in our society. Unlike those quisling mainline churches with their female pastors and gay marriages, the Catholic church doesn’t change its doctrines just to be popular; it takes a stance and sticks with it. Or not. The Catholic church has changed its mind on any number of issues from slavery to liberal democracy to usury. You can find apologists who take great pains to show that the church’s position on these issues and other issues hasn’t changed, but one gets the feeling that they’re really trying to convince themselves more than anything. Case in point is the New Advent Catholic Encyclopedia.

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“Religious Liberty” Comes to Indiana

Another “religious liberty” bill was signed into law this week, not in the South, but in Indiana:


The governor of the Hoosier state, Mike Pence, made the rounds today on the Sunday morning talk shows, but was unable to provide a simple “yes” or “no” answer to the question of whether it should be legal to discriminate against LGBT people:


What’s interesting about the Indiana situation is that Pence’s Twitter feed contains this curious picture of him signing the afore mentioned “religious liberty” bill into law being flanked by a phalanx of “professional religious people,” mostly friars and sisters in full habit accompanied by what appears to be a diocesan priest, some generic white Protestant minister types, and a token Orthodox Jew. Based on the habits alone, it seems like the friars and sisters are from the religious orders associated with Mother Angelica: the Poor Clares of Perpetual Adoration and the Franciscan Missionaries of the Eternal Word. Since Mother Angelica is a fully fledged culture warrior, it makes sense that the religious orders associated with EWTN would want to be part of such a momentous “win” for their side. But why is the Catholic presence so overwhelming in this photo-op?

While the Catholic church is the largest religious denomination in Indiana (and the United States as a whole), the state is still overwhelmingly Protestant in nature. Even forty years ago, many white evangelicals still believed that the Catholic church was the “whore of Babylon,” or at the very least, so full of theological errors that it wasn’t the sort of organization that a self-respecting Protestant should be associated with. The culture wars over sex, racism, and LGBT rights provided the fodder that brought white Protestants and Catholics together, their dislike for feminists and civil rights leaders being stronger than their dislike of each other. Since Protestant ministers generally don’t wear interesting garb to denote their clerical status, I think that Pence self-consciously wanted to photograph himself surrounded by Catholic religious to send a message that, “Self-consciously religious people support me signing this bill and I have a pic that proves it.” Since many Americans still retain the childish belief that anyone in a habit or robe is holier than the hoi polloi, I think the presence of Catholic religious for the signing of this bill will have the desired effect of providing an imprimatur of sorts. The token ultra Orthodox Jew is a bit odd, since Orthodox Jews generally don’t partner up with Christians out of principle (unless they’re extremist settlers in Israel, but that’s another story), but the clothing indicates that he’s a Lubavitch Hasid, and they tend to be more open to engage in these kind of interfaith culture war posturings than, say, the Satmar.

With questionable photo-ops like this, I don’t see how the Catholic church can continue to claim that it really has the best interests of LGBT at heart. I feel like the church operates sort of like the late Palestinian leader Yasir Arafat, who used to say one thing in English to Western journalists and then say the exact opposite to Middle Eastern audiences in Arabic. In the West, the Catholic church might say that LGBT people are to be respected, at least in terms of not being subjected to physical violence, but then in the developing world, it advocates for jailing and even killing LGBT people:


While the Catholic church in the United States isn’t advocating for the death penalty for LGBT people, it is supportive of “religious liberty” bills that make it difficult for them to lead ordinary lives. Forcing LGBT people back into the closet is the real point of these “religious liberty” bills; if many businesses refuse to serve LGBT couples, then many gay people will remain closeted about their sexuality even if gay marriage became available in all fifty states. It’s sort of like how Jim Crow legislation reduced many black people back to a servile status after Reconstruction, despite the passage of the Fourteenth Amendment. Given how much the first iteration of Jim Crow ruined this country, you’d think that Jim Crow 2.0 would be completely rejected, but never underestimate the desire of the American public to beat up on a minority group.

I think in the end that these religious liberty bills are going to bite the religious right and the Catholic church in the end. Support for same-sex marriage is growing, and a majority of Catholics are in favor of it. These “religious liberty” bills seem quite unpopular outside of the religious right, which is further alienating potential voters from their cause. White religious conservatives can’t even count on their co-religionists of color because of their chronic tone deafness on racial issues. The number of white religious conservatives is steadily declining, so this push for “religious liberty” may be the final death throes of the religious right. While the Catholic church has an uncanny ability to recover from scandals of all types, being so closely associated with the “religious liberty” movement may be what pushes many wavering Catholics away from the church for good.

The Dictatorship of Relativism and “Sincerely Held Beliefs”

One of the major themes in the pontificate of Benedict XVI was the notion of “the dictatorship of relativism” in which society recognizes no objective moral truths and each person is free to define his or her own truth. The dictatorship of relativism is supposedly the result of the secularization of formerly Christian societies that exalt human reason and passing intellectual fads over timeless religious truths. Supposedly the only thing that is taboo in the dictatorship of relativism is proclaiming that objective morality exists. This line of thinking was once quite attractive to me, but I became disillusioned with it once I realized that for conservotrad Catholics, the only things that are always wrong in all times and all places are abortion, contraception, homosexuality, and pre-marital sex (slavery, racism, and the odd genocide are okay, as long as your group isn’t affected). However, after the Hobby Lobby decision, I now realize that the real dictatorship of relativity is found in the demand for so-called “religious liberty.”

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I Just Called to Say I Love You. Or Hate You. Same Difference

Daniel Patrick Moynihan famously said (or is supposed to have said) that, “Everyone is entitled to his own opinions, but not his own facts.” Regardless of who actually made this statement, it’s a good rule of thumb to live by. Unfortunately, it seems that Americans are increasingly demanding the right to have their own facts, even if they fly in the face of reality.

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