David Brooks has an essay in The New York Times this week called “The Next Culture War” in which he quotes former Dallas Morning News editorial writer Rod Dreher as saying that, in the wake of the Supreme Court gay marriage decision, now is time for Christians to take what Dreher calls the “Benedict option” and withdraw from America.
The Benedict to whom Dreher refers, it should be noted, is the sixth century Italian saint, Benedict of Nursia, and not Mr. Arnold.
In a June 26 essay in TIME called, “Orthodox Christians Must Now Learn To Live as Exiles in Our Own Country,” Dreher said: “I believe that orthodox Christians today are called to be those new and very different St. Benedict's. How do we take the Benedict Option, and build resilient communities within our condition of internal exile, and under increasingly hostile conditions? I don’t know. But we had better figure this out together, and soon, while there is time.”
Brooks is a big admirer of Dreher and has been for some years. I am a big admirer of Brooks, not Dreher, so I was a little disappointed when Brooks adopted whole cloth Dreher’s description of himself as an “orthodox Christian.” I think I grew up in a pretty orthodox Christian environment, if by orthodox we mean traditional. My dad was an Episcopal minister. I think calling Dreher an orthodox or traditional Christian is like calling Donald Trump a monk. Give me a break.
I don’t even know what “orthodox Christian” means. It sounds like one of those made-up monikers that break-away sects use to lend themselves a false appearance of gravitas. But let me ask you. Whatever they are, would orthodox Christians believe in ghosts? Dreher does.
In an undated essay on Beliefnet titled , “Are Ghosts Real?,” Dreher writes this: “As for ghosts, I believe that in some cases, God allows the spirits of the dead to visit the living, and in other cases those spirits are unhappily bound to the earth in a kind of purgatorial state, from which they need the help of the living to respond to divine grace and be free to move on. But that’s just my theory.”
I especially like the phrase, “a kind of purgatorial state.” It helps me understand Arkansas. But in years of Dreher-watching, I must say that I have never found theology to be his strong suit or even his passion anyway. For that, we have to go to the bigotry.
His most rambunctious unapologetic bigotry has been against Muslims, whom he obviously considers a free target. A sampling can be found in a September 14, 2012, essay in The American Conservative called, “Islam’s Useless Idiots.”
“What is it about the Islamic religion,” Dreher asks, “that brings crowds of idiots out to attack embassies and fried chicken joints because a movie has offended them?”
This week in America if we were all to take Dreher’s lead, we might all write essays called, “Christianity’s Murderous Fiends” and ask, “What is it about the Christianite religion that sends depraved young men into churches with guns blazing?” But let’s not.
The anti-Muslim slanders in Dreher’s writing must compete with his defense of Southern racists, the most notable specimen of which was his passionate exaltation of the great Paula Deen, cooking show host, who lost her cable TVG gig over use of the n-word and other matters.
In an essay on July 5, 2013, in USA Today, Dreher wrote: “Deen has been so nastily scapegoated over race that I've become a reluctant Deen supporter.”
He explained that “an anti-Deen mob” had formed for only two reasons: “Deen's admission that on at least one occasion in the distant past, she used the N-word, and her admission that she fantasized about an Old South plantation wedding in which well-attired black wait staff served the guests.”
Personally I could forgive a single use of the n-word in the distant past, if that’s all it was, sooner than I could get over a blowsy white lady’s fantasies about black wait staff. The latter sort of gives me the willies somehow.
But then Dreher goes into even more detail about old white people: “Every one of us knows elderly whites who, despite their residual racism, have done more good for particular black neighbors than many of us…”
Um… Rod, I am searching my memory.
He says: “I live in a tourist town smack in the middle of Louisiana plantation country. There is a reason Gone With The Wind endures as a pop culture touchstone, and these estate houses fascinate millions.”
OK, that’s one use of the n-word, one fantasy about black wait staff, residual racism, and Gone With The Wind. Starting to sound like an indictment.
But Dreher wraps up: “Those with untroubled consciences who insist that to hate racism requires regarding our family, friends, and neighbors, as moral lepers do not understand what honor and loyalty mean to Southerners.”
OK, use of n-word, black wait staff fantasy, residual racism, Gone with the Wind and what honor and dignity mean to Southerners. And this, I must remind you, is offered as a defense.
But neither the defense of Old Dixie nor the anti-Muslim bile comes close to the issue that inspired Dreher to write the Benedictine piece so admired by Brooks of The New York Times. No, for that we must turn to Dreher’s obsession: sexy same-sex sex stuff.
On Beliefnet on March 24, 2009, Dreher wrote: “as a Christian, I believe that failing to live by Christian sexual morality contributes to the debasement of one's character, and the death of the soul.
“Sex, especially homosexuality, is a big deal because how one comes down on those related questions has a lot to do with how you view the authority of Scripture and Tradition. There's a reason why the churches today are breaking apart over homosexuality, and it has to do with the plain fact that there can be no compromise on this issue, as it goes to the heart of how believers understand ourselves, our relationship to God, and to the nature of truth.
“If homosexuality is legitimized — as distinct from being tolerated, which I generally support — then it represents the culmination of the sexual revolution, the goal of which was to make individual desire the sole legitimate arbiter in defining sexual truth. It is to lock in, and, on a legal front, to codify, a purely contractual, nihilistic view of human sexuality. I believe this would be a profound distortion of what it means to be fully human.”
Please pause on that last phrase, “… what it means to be fully human,” because that really is the heart of dangerous bigotry, the one evil with enough power to bring about the end of all life. I speak of the wicked and twisted belief that some category of human beings – any category – is made up of beings not fully human. That’s the important wound to the soul.
Once you can persuade yourself to apply that discount to the fundamental humanity of others, then you can ship them off to the ovens without a wince.
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And lest you think I’m picking and choosing, loading the dice or rummaging the past, I refer you to a piece he wrote just last February 28 for The American Conservative, called “Queering the GOP.” In it he argues that Jeb Bush is running a fifth column of homosexual infiltrators bent on corrupting the Republican Party:
“When Bush officially launches his presidential bid later this year,” Dreher writes, “he will likely do so with a campaign manager who has urged the Republican Party to adopt a pro-gay agenda; a chief strategist who signed a Supreme Court amicus brief arguing for marriage equality in California; a longtime adviser who once encouraged her minister to stick to his guns in preaching equality for same-sex couples; and a communications director who is openly gay.”
Openly gay! In the year 2015, who uses the phrase, “openly gay” as a pejorative, as if it were an invidious comparison with the better kind, the clandestine gays?
I know I just wrote an essay here not a day ago in which I suggested we all need to express our forgiveness of bigots, homophobes and racists. I swear I’m working on that myself. But since I haven’t gotten there yet – not even close, in fact — I think I am still free to tell Mr. Dreher that on his way to the orthodox Christian monastery I hope he won’t let the door hit him in the ass.