My ‘bad-faith’ ‘review’ of the Benedict option

My ‘bad-faith’ ‘review’ of the Benedict option March 29, 2017

Rod Dreher gave about the response I expected to my column last Friday about the Benedict Option, calling it a bad-faith review.

In fact, my piece was neither a book review, nor written in bad faith. But Dreher is on edge lately, with vocal critics seemingly coming from all sides. I appreciate him taking the time to consider and address some “strange mischaracterizations” from a friendly skeptic.

He quotes my first line:

To hear Rod Dreher tell it, Christians are a moment away from being systematically eliminated from American society.

Then Dreher says to me what he says to many people:

Oh, come on. This is not what the book says at all.

Fortunately, Dreher doesn’t have to say to me, “The Benedict Option is not about politics!” Or, “I’m not saying we’re heading for the hills!” Because I know that’s not what he’s saying. And I don’t mischaracterize him along those lines, as many people evidently do.

Dreher is fixin’ to go on a little tear, but his stream-of-consciousness typing actually gives the best concise encapsulation of his argument I’ve seen yet:

It says that traditionalist Christians face a future of declining political and cultural influence, and increasing marginalization in public life (including existential threats to our institutions), as well as — more importantly — a collapse in belief owing in large part to the inner weakness of the churches.

Hang on to that. That dog’ll hunt.

This is so clear from the book, to any intelligent reader (as Lupfer no doubt is), that I wonder if he read the book at all.

Confession: I have not read the book. In my defense, I never claimed to have read the book. The only reference I made to the book was when I mentioned that it debuted at #7 on The New York Times bestseller list. I want everyone to read the book. Am I qualified to comment on the Benedict option (the concept) without having read the newly-released nonfiction bestseller? I’ll leave that for my readers and editors to judge. I’ve written about it before, and Rod has generously engaged my ideas and perspectives. Dreher himself often points out that he’s been talking about the Benedict option for the better part of a decade. And I have read more posts at Dreher’s lively blog than most actual reviewers. I’ll betcha all the pepper sauce in Avery Island that I have read at least ten times more Dreher posts than other columnists and editors who wrote about the book recently.

But Dreher’s beef is not with me. In fact, he says a lot of nice things about me, which I appreciate.

Still, I want to hold my ground on a couple points.

First, let’s go back to my opening sentence:

To hear Rod Dreher tell it, Christians are a moment away from being systematically eliminated from American society.

Dreher brushes this off, but let’s be frank. If you’ve read his blog even occasionally over the past several years, there is no other way to read him. This is exactly what he is saying!

Sometimes I wonder if he realizes how sharp his tongue is. Consider how he responded to my characterization that Christians must turn inward for catechesis and to “resist a culture co-opted by radical LGBT activists.”

That’s truthy, but it’s a meaningful distortion to say that radical LGBT activists are at fault here.

Why would I think he thinks that? Well, consider this Dreher comment in response to Emma Green’s essay at The Atlantic about the book:

Quite often secular or progressive people want to know why conservative Christians are so concerned about LGBT issues. They ask it as if there is something wrong with us for our concerns. There are several reasons, but the most pertinent one is this: LGBT activism is the tip of the spear at our throats in the culture war [italics in original].

So radical LGBT activists aren’t at fault. They’re just the tip of the spear at our throats.

Next, Dreher gives me credit for being friendly to social conservatives’ religious liberty concerns.

Fantastic! Would that Jacob Lupfer were running public policy, corporate H.R. departments, and in charge of jurisprudence. That’s not happening. I would invite Lupfer to talk to conservative Christian college presidents, deans, and faculty. I would invite him to talk to law professors who study this stuff. I would invite him to talk to ordinary conservative Christians working in mainstream academia or corporate America, and see if they trust that Lupferism is going to carry the day.

I talk to these people all the time. Most do not think Lupferism is going to carry the day. The question is whether the near future is going to be as dark as Dreher foresees.

More Dreher:

Seriously, it is good to know that Jacob Lupfer, who is not a man of the Right, is so broad-minded and tolerant. And he is not faking it, either; he has written before about the need for fairness to traditional Christians. But I gotta ask: where are the other Jacob Lupfers? Where are the liberals and centrists who don’t share the beliefs of conservative religionists who are willing to stand up for our right to be “wrong”. We could use those allies, especially on elite college campuses, where gutless administrators allow berserker progressives to run roughshod over dissenters.

I suspect there are a lot of people like me, people who value civility and pluralism. If you’re like me in this way and do not want to sue socially conservative wedding vendors out of business or legislate evangelical colleges out of existence, please let Rod Dreher know you’re out there. Seriously. Email him. Tweet him. Tell him you’re all-in for Lupferism.

Dreher also comes at me for appearing to literalize a metaphor he made in jest about moderates or progressives turning conservatives over to jack-booted government agents like 1940s European townspeople who sheltered Jews in their basement until the SS showed up.

There is nothing in The Benedict Option to indicate that I believe a laïcité Gestapo is going to come after conservative Christians and those who shelter them. Lupfer is a sophisticated man. Why on earth would he read what was plainly a sarcastic joke as a serious proclamation of an imminent Robespierran Terror? If he meant to honestly evaluate the book and the proposal, I mean.

Fair enough. But with Dreher’s dark prognosis and evident disdain for progressive Christians, he might shouldn’t assume everyone knows when he is being sarcastic. Dreher thinks I’m referring to a comment he made to Rachel Held Evans. But I actually had in mind an episode from last year, when he made the exact same comment to the Reverend Dr. David Gushee.

I ended my column with a line about how maybe Dreher could retreat with the Benedictines from time to time, but that “there’s no need to take the rest of upper-middle class white Christianity with him.”

He did not like that characterization.

Ah, so this is about race and class spitefulness — as if The Benedict Option were a project of well-to-do white Christians. This is a lazy liberal smear that I’m unfortunately becoming used to. If you read The Benedict Option — as I invite reviewer Jacop Lupfer to do — you will meet people who are not the caricature of Lupfer’s last line.

This is anecdotal, but so far, almost all the buzz I’ve seen about Dreher’s new bestseller comes from educated, professional-class politically conservative Christians. I’m happy to be proven wrong. I think I’m right here.

But I thank Dreher for the invitation to read his book. I read his beautiful, touching book about his late sister. I was not planning to read this one, at least not now — I’m so behind on reading and this dissertation is not going to write itself. But who can resist a personal invitation from a New York Times bestselling author!? Not me. I have reached the point of internet fame where I receive review copies of many books I don’t want to read, but not many books that I do. However, I have secured a copy of The Benedict Option and I will have nothing further to say until I read it.

I glanced at the Acknowledgements page for confirmation that the Benedict Option is not a project of well-to-do white Christians. I don’t enjoy being accused of trafficking in lazy liberal smears.

dreher white race male
Acknowledgements page of Rod Dreher’s New York Times bestselling book, The Benedict Option
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