Joy in the Mourning
One man's prescription for a post-Christian culture.
By ANDREW T. WALKER
According to Rod Dreher, Western culture is irretrievably lost. No amount of politicking or resistance-as-usual can turn back the tide of intellectual currents that began with the death of metaphysical realism in the 14th century, the idea that “the essence of a thing is built into its existence by God, and its ultimate meaning is guaranteed by this connection to the transcendent order. This implies that Creation is comprehensible because it is rationally ordered by God and a revelation of Him." In short, the sacramental world ordered by God was dethroned. And it has all been downhill from there.
Where it was once understood that God ordered the world, a pernicious individualism displaced this view of the cosmos, making man's will the manufacturer of reality. This results in what Dreher calls "fragmentation"—the shattering of universals and common culture. The humanist turn, which resulted in many advances such as scientific progress, also splintered humankind's understanding of authority and knowledge. This gave birth to the social order we now have, and the one Dreher believes is diametrically opposed to orthodox Christianity: moral therapeutic deism, untrammeled belief in the inherent goodness and progress of man, and, most pressing today, the sexual revolution.
To complicate matters, Dreher also offers an indictment of the Western church's false sense of security—a security that has bred a lethargic church accustomed to social privilege and now immune to the intellectual resources Christianity possesses to resist cultural decadence. Hollowed-out religion simply will not last. And as he recounts his plan for resistance, Dreher describes the contours of his proposal:
The idea is that serious Christian conservatives could no longer live business-as-usual lives in America, that we have to develop creative, communal solutions to help us hold on to our faith and our values in a world growing ever more hostile to them. We would have to choose to make a decisive leap into a truly countercultural way of living Christianity, or we would doom our children and our children's children to assimilation.The model Dreher holds up is Saint Benedict, the 6th-century father of Western monasticism, who renounced the secular life amidst the fall of Rome to devote himself to prayer and the disciplines necessary to survive the coming Dark Age. Making a pilgrimage to modern-day Norcia, Dreher visits contemporary Benedictines and investigates those practices that have sustained them throughout the centuries—and that the modern church might emulate. In monasticism, Dreher sees the seeds for resistance and rebirth—attentiveness to one's community through the disciplines of liturgy, prayer, community, work, asceticism, and stability. Only a church responsive to its own disciplined identity will survive the times. In short, for the church to have a chance at external witness, the church must first remedy itself internally.
Dreher looks fondly on the tactics of Cold War anti-Communists who, driven nearly underground, were forced to engage in "antipolitical" politics: "Every act that contradicts the official ideology," he writes, "is a denial of the system." Christians must "create and support 'parallel structures' in which the truth can be lived in community." He is also practical in offering practices that contradict the reigning zeitgeist—among them, attentiveness to the role of technology in children's lives and an emphasis on the importance of Christian education for Christian cultural renaissance.