Of Morality And Marshmallows

The Atlantic reports on a new study suggesting that the famous “marshmallow test” is unreliable as a predictor of future economic instability. Excerpt:

In the case of this new study, specifically, the failure to confirm old assumptions pointed to an important truth: that circumstances matter more in shaping children’s lives than Mischel and his colleagues seemed to appreciate.

This new paper found that among kids whose mothers had a college degree, those who waited for a second marshmallow did no better in the long run—in terms of standardized test scores and mothers’ reports of their children’s behavior—than those who dug right in. Similarly, among kids whose mothers did not have college degrees, those who waited did no better than those who gave in to temptation, once other factors like household income and the child’s home environment at age 3 (evaluated according to a standard research measure that notes, for instance, the number of books that researchers observed in the home and how responsive mothers were to their children in the researchers’ presence) were taken into account. For those kids, self-control alone couldn’t overcome economic and social disadvantages.

The failed replication of the marshmallow test does more than just debunk the earlier notion; it suggests other possible explanations for why poorer kids would be less motivated to wait for that second marshmallow. For them, daily life holds fewer guarantees: There might be food in the pantry today, but there might not be tomorrow, so there is a risk that comes with waiting. And even if their parents promise to buy more of a certain food, sometimes that promise gets broken out of financial necessity.

Maybe so. But might it also be the case that children raised in more affluent homes will have been taught the value of resisting their impulses? I say this because one of my own children has had a very demanding sweet tooth from earliest childhood. He is also impulsive by nature. It has taken years of effort on the part of his mother and me to train him to say no to his impulses — not only for sugar, but, as he has gotten older and started earning spending money, his enthusiasms for buying things that strike his fancy. Many times I have pondered the difficulty he is going to have managing his money if he doesn’t get this impulsiveness under control. He’s a very good kid, highly moral and responsible, but impulsiveness is his Achilles’ heel.

He’s not being raised in poverty. We are middle class people, but culturally I guess that puts us with more in common with the affluent than not. Our impulsive child has been raised in a stable household — materially and emotionally — so there are no environmental factors that nurture his impulsiveness. From an Orthodox Christian point of view, this is simply one of his passions, something he has to struggle against. I have my own particular passions (anger and gluttony). Orthodoxy teaches that life itself is a struggle to crucify the passions and order ones desires towards the will of God. There is nothing wrong in principle with wanting to eat a marshmallow, but if your reason and your will are overcome by that desire to eat a marshmallow, you are weak, and can fall into sin. The regular fasting that Orthodox Christians do is designed to train the will to desire what God desires for us, not what we desire for ourselves.

Anyway, all of that is prelude to what I want to tell you. Last night, I was at a dinner party with some friends. One of them, N., told a long story about a local carpenter she and her husband had hired to do some renovations on their house. I won’t tell the story in depth, because the story is hers to tell, and she’s a writer. The gist of the story is that N. and her husband have been working with this guy for a long time — it’s a big project — and have gotten to know him well. He’s working class, and economically quite precarious. N. said the man has become a friend, and that she and her husband have been working hard to help him stabilize his life.

N. said — again, I’m summing up, but the details are sort of breathtaking — that the carpenter’s personal life is a study in chaos. He cannot grasp that he has the power to determine future events by the choices he makes today. A sense of moral agency totally escapes him. He sees N.’s ordinary family — they have kids — and thinks that they are simply one of fate’s winners. N. talked about the extraordinary lengths she and her husband have gone to befriend and to help this man, but how ultimately it has been futile. No matter what they say to him, no matter what they do for him, he cannot get it together. And he is leaving all kinds of chaos in his wake (several wives, kids, etc.).

I told N. that my wife and I have been in the very same situation, trying to help someone just like that who had become a friend … and in the end, concluding that it was futile. I wrote about it in the past on this blog: how I had gone to my lawyer, offering to pay him to represent this impoverished friend in a particular case. Lawyer said he would take my money and meet with the friend, but that in his lengthy experience with these cases, he could tell me that I’d be wasting my money and his time, because my friend would not follow through. It’s in the nature of people who get themselves into these kinds of situations, he said, to keep doing what got them into that situation in the first place. I told him I would be willing to take that chance to help her.

Next time I saw this friend, I told her to make an appointment with Lawyer X., that he would be willing to advise her, and that I would pay the bill. She thanked me profusely, but said that wouldn’t be necessary that she had decided to … well, that she had decided to keep doing the same stupid thing that got her into this bind in the first place. The country lawyer’s practical experience in dealing with the poor was wiser than my heart-on-the-sleeve idealism. Not for the first time did I feel like a character in a Flannery O’Connor story. (My future epitaph: “Call me Azzberry”.)

At dinner last night, my friend and I dwelled on the intractability of human nature in cases like this. She said that she had to conclude that a stable family life in childhood provides psychological goods that cannot be given through any other way. There aren’t enough government programs, personal charitable efforts, or anything else to compensate adequately for a chaotic childhood. My friend was certainly not saying that we can wash our hands of the responsibility for our neighbor’s welfare, but she was concluding — accurately — that we have to recognize the limits of our ability to change the lives of others. She was also saying that her experience with the carpenter made her more fully aware of how important it is to do everything she can to give her own children a stable home life.

Notice that I’m not saying — nor did I hear her to say — “affluent” home life. My folks never had a lot of money. We were an ordinary working-class to lower-middle-class family. But the gift my mother and father gave me of an orderly, stable childhood was priceless, I now see. How did they do it? They were both imperfect people who endured their share of difficulties in marriage, caused by their own flaws, as well as a period of economic stress. My father is no longer with us to discuss the matter, but the truth is, neither one of them would have been given over to much self-reflection on the question. They were the kind of people who would have simply said, “We made a vow,” and left it at that. For them, that was reason enough to stay together — that, and they always made it clear that the needs of us kids came before their own. That was just how my folks went through life. Not to get too philosophical about it, but for them, that was the Tao.

That wouldn’t have guaranteed stability in my family’s or my late sister’s, but they gave us such a good model of how family was supposed to work. Again, I don’t want to hold my mom and dad out to have been perfect. I don’t think there are any perfect families, and certainly mine had its particular flaws, some of which had unfortunate long-term consequences. That said, I am so very grateful to my parents for holding things together, and showing my sister and me that it is possible to build that kind of life, even when you don’t have much money.

My father was the chief breadwinner in our household, and, because they were a traditional 1950s-era couple, he was the one who dictated how our financial resources would be handled. I find this interesting with relation to the Atlantic article because having grown up very poor in the Great Depression, he ought to have been shaped by the experience of inconstancy in a particular way. Remember, the Atlantic writer said:

There might be food in the pantry today, but there might not be tomorrow, so there is a risk that comes with waiting. And even if their parents promise to buy more of a certain food, sometimes that promise gets broken out of financial necessity.

That’s how my father grew up, but that same experience made him far more likely to do what he could to hedge against chaos. He talked to Ruthie and me a lot about these things, relating him to his childhood. His own father was away from home for most of my dad’s early childhood, entirely because he had to work and send money back to support his wife, children, and elderly mother, who lived in the household. That sense of vulnerability made a profound impression on my dad, who was determined that his children would not feel it, if he could help it.

Daddy wasn’t unique in that. What I can’t quite understand today is why his response to childhood poverty and insecurity was so very different from what is normal today. That is, Daddy’s response was to live as an adult in such a way that he was less vulnerable to that chaos, and in which his own children were made less vulnerable to the chaos that would have come had outside pressures broken the family apart. I’ve written many times in this space about how he had deep compassion for people who were poor and suffering victims of circumstance, but also something bordering on contempt for people who were poor and suffering, but who always blamed others, or fate, for their suffering. He would say, “You can’t do nothin’ for people like that.” This was the opinion of a man who had once been poor, and who had lived his entire life in the same community as poor people, and working with them. Kind of like that country lawyer I mentioned above.

It seems to me that aside from his personal qualities, my father was the beneficiary of a local culture that, for better or for worse, had a strong bias against people living morally disordered lives. I should add that my dad had much more hostility towards middle class and wealthy people who lived that way. “They know better,” he would say. “They don’t have an excuse.” In his case, it wasn’t so much a matter of religion — my dad wasn’t particularly observant — as it was a matter of shame and honor. The culture that shaped my father’s code said it was dishonorable for men and women to live in ways that violated its core moral code. I heard my dad say on a number of occasions, “There’s no shame in being poor,” but he also spoke with stern judgment against men who abandoned their families, people who wouldn’t work, and so forth.

That code could be harsh, but it was more realistic about life than a lot of what passes for wisdom today. I think that has a lot to do with why Jordan Peterson is so popular. He gives to young men a sense of moral agency. Peterson is not Moses coming down from the summit of Sinai, but he talks common sense to a culture that has forgotten it. There has never been a society, and never will be a society, in which somebody can live like a fool and not pay the consequences — and for that matter, inflict consequences on others. You can’t not show up for work and expect to keep your job forever. You can’t ignore your kids and expect that they will grow up to be responsible people. You can’t get loaded every weekend and wonder why your roof is falling in, and won’t fix itself. You can’t allow television and social media to raise your children, and expect that they will be good.  And so forth.

“The world doesn’t owe you a living,” my father would lecture me, usually when I hadn’t done my homework, or failed to do something I was supposed to have done. I suppose this attitude is what made my dad a natural conservative. He couldn’t stand people who were ungrateful and lazy. His basic attitude towards us kids was: I bust my ass to provide for y’all, and I’ll be damned if I’m going to let you waste the opportunities you’ve been given. There was a time in my life when I thought he was so square, but the older I get, the more I see that there really isn’t any other way to live. My dad was keen to help people who were down on their luck, and I see now that he allowed himself to be taken advantage of by some folks with hard-luck stories. Mostly, though, what he was eager to do was to teach people how to help themselves, and to encourage them to do so. For him, this was a matter of natural justice. A society in which people were rewarded even though they did the wrong thing, or failed to do the right thing, was not a just or good society. And doing the right thing always meant subjugating your own desires to the greater good, especially the greater good of your family.

Here’s a funny thing: a few years back, when I was working with the African-American actor Wendell Pierce on his memoir of growing up in south Louisiana, I spent some time speaking with his Uncle L.C. Edwards, the last surviving member of Wendell’s parents’ generation. Uncle L.C. was the same age as my father, and like him, had grown up in rural poverty. I loved the stories of L.C.’s parents (that is, Wendell’s grandparents): poor black farmers who weren’t educated, but who had a very strong religious ethic, and who placed enormous value on education and self-discipline as the only reliable means of self-advancement. Poverty was the enemy of both L.C. and my father, but Lloyd and his siblings also had to deal with Jim Crow. If memory serves, every one of the children of Wendell’s grandparents got educated, and escaped poverty. I’m telling you, the chapter on Papo and Mamo (the grandchildren’s name for L.C.’s parents) is worth the price of the book. Here’s a characteristic excerpt:

One Christmas evening after supper, the Edwardses went to call on their College Point neighbors, to wish them a happy holiday. The kids were startled to go into one house and to see that all that family had eaten for their Christmas meal was potatoes and grits. When they returned home, Papo told the children, “This is what I mean when I tell you it’s important to save for a rainy day. If you put your money aside now, you will have enough to eat well on Christmas.”

Given the man Papo was, if the Edwardses had any food left, he probably took it to that poor family and didn’t tell his own children for the sake of preserving their neighbors’ dignity.

His children remembered Papo as a slow talker but a deep thinker. He never made a quick decision, but acted only after prayer, deliberation, and sleeping on it. Whatever the answer was, he arrived at it through careful reason, not passion. Acting on impulse was the sure way to lose your money, in Papo’s view.

Papo worked for a time in a sugar factory and received his weekly wages in a brown packet. He had a firm rule with himself: Wait twenty-four hours before spending a penny of it. Uncle L.C. said that as a young working man, he thought his father’s rule was silly. You have the money, he figured, so why not enjoy it?

But when he got married and started a family of his own, he understood Papo’s good sense and followed the rule himself. Uncle L.C., who worked at the DuPont chemical plant, has done well through saving and investing over the years. To this day, he credits Papo for teaching him by word and example the importance of being careful with your money and not letting your passions guide your decisions.

Talking with L.C. was like speaking with a black version of my own father. Though he had long been in retirement when I met him, L.C. was always thinking of ways he could make a little money. He told me about how he would take fatherless black boys from a nearby trailer park, and try to teach them something about working to make money and to plan for the future. He told me how sorry he felt for those young men, who had no father in the home to offer them direction, or a sense of responsible manhood.

But his pity had strict limits. Like my own father, L.C. was death on those who wouldn’t work or practice self-discipline. He told me about how his own wife, a retired public schoolteacher, quit her job the very day the last of their adult children no longer needed their help paying for college. She was of a generation for whom education was the most precious thing, their ticket out of poverty and oppression. Today, though, she was worn down by students who wouldn’t work, wouldn’t behave themselves, and parents who blamed the schools and the teachers for their kids’ failures.

American culture is far less friendly to the worldview of those Depression babies like L.C. and my father. Politics and economics are complicated things. You can’t simply apply a moral code to every situation, and expect it to solve the problem. But let’s recognize this: very few Americans in 2018 are as materially poor as my dad and L.C. Edwards were when they came into this world in the 1930s. Is there anybody in America today who is poorer than a black child born to uneducated farmers living in the Deep South under American apartheid? And yet, look what they did with what they had been given! There never will be a society in which family won’t matter, and in which moral self-discipline won’t matter. 

The wealthy, and those with social connections, can absorb a lot more disorder than the less well off can, but money won’t last forever.

The world we have today is wealthier, and in some ways is better able to defray the cost of that disorder. We have more of a social safety net today than we did back then. But this world is much poorer in social capital, which is not something you can raise from Chinese bankers.

There’s a lot of brokenness in this country, and no clear way to fix it. The people my dinner companion and I were talking about last night are white. They live in Charles Murray’s fictional Fishtown. They diverge greatly from the core values and practices of stable middle-class and well-off Americans, in ways that were not true a couple of generations ago. Society has grown far more individualistic and tolerant of non-conformity. This is not entirely a bad thing! But the cost to people who don’t have a lot of social and material capital to begin with has been immense. People love to imagine that if only we brought good jobs back to America, or voted in this or that political party, then these problems would solve themselves. I don’t believe that’s true. That’s no reason not to try to improve opportunities for people, but there are no government programs or private charitable initiatives that can meaningfully compensate for the loss of a sense of moral order and purpose.

Finally, I phrase occurred to me while writing this post, a fragment from something I’d read ages ago. I googled it, and the source turned up here. Here is the excerpt I was thinking about. The writer is talking about the 1950s:

It was a more human world in that it was a sexier world, because sex was still a story. Each high school senior class had exactly one girl who got pregnant and one guy who was the father, and it was the town’s annual scandal. Either she went somewhere and had the baby and put it up for adoption, or she brought it home as a new baby sister, or the couple got married and the town topic changed. It was a stricter, tougher society, but its bruising sanctions came from ancient wisdom.

We have all had a moment when all of a sudden we looked around and thought: The world is changing, I am seeing it change. This is for me the moment when the new America began: I was at a graduation ceremony at a public high school in New Jersey. It was 1971 or 1972. One by one a stream of black-robed students walked across the stage and received their diplomas. And a pretty young girl with red hair, big under her graduation gown, walked up to receive hers. The auditorium stood up and applauded. I looked at my sister: “She’s going to have a baby.”

The girl was eight months pregnant and had had the courage to go through with her pregnancy and take her finals and finish school despite society’s disapproval.

But: Society wasn’t disapproving. It was applauding. Applause is a right and generous response for a young girl with grit and heart. And yet, in the sound of that applause I heard a wall falling, a thousand-year wall, a wall of sanctions that said: We as a society do not approve of teenaged unwed motherhood because it is not good for the child, not good for the mother and not good for us.

The old America had a delicate sense of the difference between the general (“We disapprove”) and the particular (Let’s go help her”). We had the moral self-confidence to sustain the paradox, to sustain the distance between “official” disapproval and “unofficial” succor. The old America would not have applauded the girl in the big graduation gown, but some of its individuals would have helped her not only materially but with some measure of emotional support. We don’t so much anymore. For all our tolerance and talk we don’t show much love to what used to be called girls in trouble. As we’ve gotten more open-minded we’ve gotten more closed-hearted.

Message to society: What you applaud, you encourage. And: Watch out what you celebrate.

The author of those words is Peggy Noonan. She published them in, get this, 1992. Some things have gotten better over the last 26 years. For example, when she published this, David Dinkins was mayor of her town, New York City, and the city would record just over 2,000 homicides. Know how many the city recorded last year, 25 years after the column was published? Only 290.  Progress is real!

On the other hand, I can’t get out of my head the words spoken to me by a professor at an Evangelical Christian college. Speaking about the student body, which is predominantly white, he told me that he didn’t think most of them would ever be able to form stable families. I was shocked by this.These were not kids from the blighted projects or wretched rural trailer parks. Why not? I asked.

He said, “Because they have never seen it done.”

We live in a society in which the moral code that we applaud and the people we celebrate all say: Take the marshmallow now, and don’t worry about the future. This is going to cost us.

Read more from The American Conservative…

Senate GOP hopeful says MS-13 gangs imperil Virginia’s largest county; Fairfax leaders call it fear-mongering

Nick Freitas of Culpeper and evangelical pastor E.W. Jackson. The winner will challenge Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine in November. In robocalls and campaign stops through some of Fairfax’s wealthiest neighborhoods, Stewart promised to “Make Fairfax Safe …

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Senate GOP hopeful Corey Stewart ties gang to safety threat in Virginia

Nick Freitas (Culpeper) and evangelical pastor E.W. Jackson. The winner will challenge Sen. Tim Kaine (D) in November. In robo-calls and campaign stops through some of Fairfax’s wealthiest neighborhoods, Stewart promised to “Make Fairfax Safe Again …

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Is it Possible to Know Goodness without European History?

It’s an often repeated and battled about question for young people, and those young of mind. “Is it possible to be good without God?” And its various iterations.

Here Judeo-Boomer Dennis Prager demonstrates his 115 IQ with an infographic worthy of a Jordan Peterson debate. By the way, if you intend to start a YouTube channel, I suggest you watch as much PragerU as you can. His audience is mostly boomers, the content is easy to parrot, and if you are young, female, and remotely good looking you’ll get both the beta bucks and the boomertards who publicly claim they wish their daughters had role models like you, while watching for the YouTube alert to hope they can add something new to the yank bank.

And If you want to seem edgy forget Patreon and go MakerSupport (which is a good site, by the way, without sarcasm). For a conservative, MakerSupport it will make you seem too edgy for Patreon. If you want to be more mainstream, Patreon is safe as is pretty much everything else deplatforming the real right these days. Hell even Candace “I found Reagan on the road to Damascus” Owens got a public apology from Jack Dorsey for calling her “far-right”.

Here is the answer from a non-militant nearly life-long atheist: Yes. Yes, you can be good without God; yes, even if God does not exist, murder is (still) wrong.

I was an atheist for 37ish years and I was, for the most part, a pretty good person. This is typically a Prager-tier question to atheists in a futile display of boomer-autism to convince young people who have rejected by stench if not logic and history the contemporary religious scene that passes for “Judeo-Christianity.”

Most of my former fellow atheists were atheists because they didn’t like Christianity. I don’t blame them. I don’t like it either. I grew up around Evangelicals who genuinely believed things (frequent but not universal among them) such as:

  1. Scientists are lying about the age of the Earth, the Great Flood, the discovery of certain archaeological sites whose existence would conclusively prove not only the Bible but the Evangelical version. Some Evangelicals believe that dinosaurs were put there by the devil to confuse man.
  2. Scientists lie about stuff all the time, I trained in Geophysics as an undergrad and once had a professor tell me to pretend a mountain didn’t exist so my gravity data would match up with the model we were using. Think about that the next time Bill Nye talks about “climate change models”.
  3. Jews are God’s chosen people and the reason they keep getting kicked out of — well, everywhere they’ve ever been — is because of anti-semitism. I’ve heard Evangelicucks say “Jews are God’s barometer for evil. If someone like Hitler hates God’s chosen people, he hates, God and therefore goodness.” That’s some Hagee-tier rationalization going on there guys. Even if you believe Jews are God’s chosenites, does it follow that it’s always the other guys fault you get kicked out? If a woman goes on 109 dates with 109 guys and no one calls her back, the common denominator is her.
  4. Complex eschatology such as dispensationalism, millennialism, pre-millennial/post-millennial dispensationalism, the two witnesses being stuck down in Jerusalem, and “Biblical prophecy” coming to fulfillment in our lifetimes because Izrul, as John Hagee pronounces it.

Have some of Pastor Hagee at his absolute most Judeo-Boomer:

They really believe this stuff. He is not a fringe nut among American Christians.

In reality the primary cause of the rise of secularism among the west isn’t any goofy belief though, or iron clad paradox seen on Reddit or a logical presentation of science YouTube Skeptic.™ It’s the fact that the churches don’t actually mean anything anymore. Churches are not a home for strength and men you respect. They are the home of the concessionist. They are the place you go for warm feelings of childhood.

In their desire to shield their children (and let’s just be honest here, many of these Christian men, raised in the church and on the internet, are rather uncomfortable with physical sex as well) from “the world” they have constructed a sterile cultural bubble where Christians cannot survive.

When gay marriage was legalized in the US several years ago, one of my best friends, a devout memeer of his Baptist Church, and a layman who often helped out with things needing to be done, turned to me — the secular, single man, who enjoys amusing my married friends with disturbing stories of debauchery — turned to me and said, “I told pastor, that if he wanted to marry a gay couple in our church, I’d stand by him. I’d be proud to have a gay family member.”

Christians today lead nothing, they follow Caesar. They follow, and have followed for a very long time, because they are afraid of “the world” which does not belong to God. In fact, many of my Christian friends like to blame Hollywood, or the MSM, or celebrities, or politicians, academia, really anything they can, for the problems facing the country and the west.

They’ll blame everyone but the one group responsible: themselves.

In the 1970s Christian boomers retreated from the culture and left it to young Marxist culture-makers to bastardize and darken everything good about American and European culture. The fruits of those seeds were reaped in the 90s when The Ellen Show aired TV’s first lesbian kiss, when women began appearing in combat roles in action films, when the zeitgeist turned to feminism as cool. I remember watching MTV play women artists back to back to back to back all weekend one time to prove to radio programmers you could make money off female artists.

As if women had never sung before. But in the 90s my generation witnessed as our classmates: historical illiteracy and professional oppression were the parents of a little mulatto baby named Social “historical oppression” Justice. She has an even more temperamental brother coming of age called “Corporate Social Responsibility” watch out for that ingrate. He’s what happens when HR gets a Six-Sigma black belt.

Back to the question of goodness. We today debate goodness and morality not as if they were subjective. But as if they were a figment of the imagination of Descartes’ demon. Pascal’s Wager once made sense because the worldview of the people to whom he was speaking knew the difference between love and happiness. Today, we seem to have two categories of words related to morality: words that make GoodFeels and words that make BadFeels.

Ask an atheist if it’s possible to be “Good without God” and you’ll usually get snark, or if the atheist is out of college, an eye-roll and an “of course it is: is am good.”

But rather than ask the basic question “Good without God” why not ask a question that rebukes Descartes’ demonic scenario which can only be answered by the very Enlightened cogito ergo sum (I think therefore I am). And do not apply Pascal’s Wager to people who would rather take ten dollars today than twenty tomorrow. Just watch this regular blonde woman say she would change her opinion on weather preference for $55 US!

Religion today is fungible. It means little because it is a social club one joins to get ahead in life or to have people like yourself with whom to associate. It has no moral foundation.

But it once did.

So rather than address the tired question, “Can you be good without God,” ask, “Is it possible to know if another person is good without a socially agreed upon set of values?”

In more elegant terms: If one claims, “Man can be good without God” simply reply, “But how would you know if he is good without the reality of asking such a question in the shadow of more than a thousand years of European Civilization?”

Read more from Amerika…

A Ben Op Blast From Germany

Here’s a short piece published in the German Catholic newspaper Die Tagespost. Its author is an FSSP priest. Google has done the translating, with a little clean-up help from me:

Recently I heard on the radio a documentary about the growth of evangelical Free Churches in France. The critic was a French professor of theology. He warned against these free churches: they could develop into parallel societies, which represented a greater danger than Islamism! After all the Islamist terrorist attacks that have shaken France lately, one wonders what danger he means. But the only points of criticism he mentioned were the “arch-conservative views” of these Free Churches in matters of family and sexuality: they considered divorce and homosexual acts sinful.

Actually, I am offended that this critic has ignored the Catholic Church. If such views suffice to warn of a dangerous parallel society, then the Catholic Church deserves such criticism. And she should be proud of that! Full of self-confidence, she should embody a counterculture that is based on the commandments of God, and not only does not deny the contrast to the permissive mainstream culture, or only painfully tolerates it, but actually enjoys it and prides itself on the example of the early Christians, who understood themselves as “God’s children without flaws in the middle of a warped and crooked generation, under which you shine like stars in the universe “(Phil. 2, 15).

Precisely this program of developing a conscious counterculture is the path proposed as a survival strategy of the Christian faith in a book that has caused great excitement in America and is now available in German translation. Rod Dreher, the author, calls this strategy the “Benedict Option”. His example is the St. Benedict, who has shown us how to live creative ways to live the Christian faith confidently and counterculturally.

Of course, this book has been criticized, especially by theologians; no wonder, since it is precisely theologians who have been pleasing us for five decades with the opposite strategy of the greatest possible adaptation to the world. We can see the result today: a church that, because it no longer takes its teaching seriously, is no longer taken seriously by the world, not even as a dangerous parallel society.

German original here. 

Strong, strong stuff! Thank you, Father Recktenwald. And thanks to Tobias Klein, the translator of the German edition of my book.

Read more from The American Conservative…

Prominent Southern Baptist leader removed as seminary president following controversial remarks about abused women

Albert Mohler Jr., president of the denomination’s largest seminary, the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, released a blistering essay Wednesday evening comparing the Patterson’ saga and other recent evangelical scandals with the Catholic Church …

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An International Christian Confederation

The best news in ages came this afternoon, thanks to reader Bonifatius, who sent news of a new, Munich-based lay Catholic organization: the Bund Sankt-Michael (Confederation of St. Michael). It’s a Catholic organization — but one that reaches out to all Christians — dedicated to shoring up the Christian faith in post-Christian Germany. Its strategy page says that The Benedict Option is a “major inspiration,” but not the only one. If your browser is Google Chrome, you can have everything on the site translated easily, on the page. Otherwise, use translate.google.com.

I’m going to post some of the Bund’s strategy page in English below. The English translation is via Google’s bot. If it sounds inelegant, that’s because it wasn’t done by a human being. I welcome any corrections from German speakers:

2.2 Strategic assumptions

The Bund’s strategic draft is based on the following strategic assumptions about the future development of the environment in which Christianity moves in Europe, as well as the associated requirements for its own actions.

  • Christians will become a minority in Europe. Due to demographic trends, migration and diminishing strength of religious ties among Christians, they will become a minority in the coming decades which will initially shrink steadily.
  • The environment for Christianity will become more difficult in Europe: as a religious minority, Christians will live alongside other religious and philosophical groups who are not always friendly to Christians and the heritage of Christianity. In the perception of a growing number of Christianity, Christianity will appear alien, incomprehensible or backward. This perception will be marked by misrepresentations about Christianity as well as aberrant developments within Christianity.
  • The general crisis potential in Europe is increasing : Increasing decay and dissolution phenomena in all areas of social life will lead to a steady increase in the general instability and the crisis potential in Europe. The remaining cultural substance in Europe has become too weak to avert such developments. Even political actors and political action can no longer avert this development, which has cultural causes at its core, but at best delay it. In the medium term, this will be linked to a series of converging crises that will further worsen the environment for Christians in Europe, and possibly over a very long period of time.
  • Above all, it will depend on the creation of freedom for Christian life: under future conditions, a major political task will be the creation and maintenance of open spaces that enable Christians to lead a Christian life. Moreover, in largely Christianized societies, Christian elements in the state order will become increasingly difficult to sustain, and such attempts will increasingly be negatively answered by non-Christians and will be fruitless.
  • Non-binding forms of Christianity will not be able to survive in the future environment: in an environment that is increasingly difficult for Christianity, non-binding forms of Christianity will be unable to resist social pressure and dissolve, assimilate, or, at most, seemingly Christian-looking extensions of secular ideologies transform. The remaining Christians will increasingly be those who can withstand the pressure of the increasingly difficult environment, because they can practice more binding forms, have strong religious ties and can rely on robust solidarity structures.
  • Europe needs the ministry of Christianity: Under the conditions of imminent upheaval, more and more people in Europe will be ready to acknowledge that the cause of Europe’s crisis is the separation from its Christian roots, and that overcoming this crisis requires reconnecting to those roots. Under these conditions, the Church will need to be able to provide the necessary service to Europe, offering more convincing explanations of what’s going on, as well as better solutions and approaches to tackle the challenges that its decay-and-dissolution environment may be.
  • Long-term thinking is needed: both the assurance of the continuity of Christianity in Europe and the renewal of Europe in the spirit of Christianity are long-term oriented tasks that must be carried out over many generations. To fulfill them presupposes to think in long periods of time and to be prepared to no longer see the effects of one’s own actions.
  • Elites are the bearers of cultural development: cultural change always starts with elites. Because addressing the challenges to Christianity’s continuity in Europe in the long term requires above all a change in the cultural environment, Christians must be part of the cultural and other elites to work and win over these elites. In this context, positive change can also be achieved by small, but highly capable and service-ready groups.

2.3 Risks

  • Exclusive thinking:  projects based on strong religious ties tend to be exclusive, unnecessarily excluding potential supporters and allies. In communication, for example, such projects tend to use a language that is only understood by their own members. In addition, there is a tendency in such projects to isolate themselves from the environment rather than following the Christian mission and acting in it.

  • Internal divisions: In such projects, there is an increased risk of internal divisions, for example, when different currents accuse each other of lack of faithfulness.

  • External Conspiracy Theories: Strategically oriented religious intentions are reported to be met with great distrust by parts of their environment that often form the basis for irrational conspiracy theories. A transparent presentation of one’s own goals and one’s own actions can counteract this.

  • Intolerance and hostility: Actors who fundamentally reject Christianity will also reject attempts to facilitate Christian life in a post-Christian Europe. As in the past, in the past, for example, in the realm of totalitarian ideologies, they are generally practiced and will react with attempts at reputational damage, social isolation and attacks on professional existence.

More:

5.1 Creating spaces of Christian life
The physical and cultural spaces of Christian life enable Christians in Europe’s culturally increasingly heterogeneous societies to cultivate their culture and pass it on to future generations. The creation and consolidation of such spaces is the prerequisite for Christians to act as creative minorities in these societies and thus to serve them.

The greater the balance between Christian life and the surrounding society, the greater will be the pressure on Christians to assimilate into non-Christian culture. Spaces of Christian life can reduce this pressure and thereby support Christians in their Christian way of life and strengthen their ministry. These spaces should be designed so that they could perform this task even under the most difficult conditions.

These spaces should not be places of retreat, but nuclei of renewal radiating to their environment.

Creating physical spaces of Christian life

In spaces of Christian life, this life can grow in such a way that it can affect the world. This requires certain conditions, such as an intact environment in which uncertainty or other signs of disintegration and deterioration are minimized.

Such spaces require physical infrastructure, such as churches and schools. Around this infrastructure Christian families can settle, who support each other in their lives as Christians.

Creation of Christian solidarity structures

Solidarity structures help Christian families lead a Christian life in the midst of the surrounding society and raise their children in the spirit of Christianity. Such structures are based on reciprocity and trust. Because of their independence from government infrastructure, they are also reliably available if it is temporary or permanent or people are excluded from their claim for political reasons.

Creating cultural spaces of Christian life

It is in the nature of Christianity not to consider a difficult environment as an adversary, but to work for its well-being and renewal. However, in order to do this, Christians need to be kept away from the corrupt cultural trends that shape this environment, that is, they must live in the world but not be molded by their minds (Jn 17, 11-19).

This requires the creation of cultural spaces that are delimited from the world around them, and within whose protective borders Christian life can grow.

Cultural spaces of Christian life include their own educational system as well as media and communication platforms as well as arts and cultural studies.

Care and mediation of the Christian heritage

Many present-day Christians are poorly acquainted with their heritage, or feel it out of ignorance as a burden. Christians, however, must be convinced that their inheritance is of the highest value before they can convince other people credibly.

This heritage also includes practical solutions for a successful life.

The care of the inheritance involves its development, its mediation and its further development in the sense of the demand to examine everything and to keep the good (1 Thess 5:21).

For this purpose, compendia should be created and maintained, which open up this legacy in all its aspects in such a way that people can reapply individually and in community. This practice has been successfully used in building nations, such as the US, where the “McGuffey Readers” helped to assimilate the country’s cultural identity.

5.2 Strengthening interdenominational and interreligious cooperation

Conservative actors in the various Christian denominations, but also in Judaism, who are committed to the preservation of the respective teaching and tradition, face the same challenges in Western societies and usually have similar positions in the field of social teaching. In the face of increasing challenges, this leads to increased cooperation between these denominations and religions.

Pope Francis spoke of an “ecumenism of the blood” and the convergence of denominations in the face of increasing persecution of Christians in many regions of the world.

The Russian Orthodox Bishop Tikhon is, among other things, head of the Council for Cultural Affairs of the Patriarch of Moscow and is considered a close confidant of Russian President Vladimir Putin. He said in 2018 that there was close contact with the Vatican Cultural Council . The common main task is to preserve the Christian identity of Europe. The Russian Orthodox Metropolitan Hilarion, who is currently head of the Foreign Office of the Moscow Patriarchate, advocates a strategic alliance between the Catholic Church and Orthodoxy and calls the Catholic Church an “ally”. The increasing challenges facing Christianity in Western Europe would require such cooperation .

The World Evangelical Alliance (WEA), the most important association of evangelical Christians, has been holding talks with the Catholic Church for some time , during which the participants confirmed that there is more in common than separation between them.

In 2017, several organizations of Jewish Orthodox rabbis in a letter addressed to Pope Francis called for a strategic partnership between Judaism and the Catholic Church in countering the threat of political Islam and radical secular ideologies. The Jewish Orthodox rabbi Jonathan Sacks had described corresponding common challenges and interests .

In the case of rapprochement between the Catholic Church and Orthodox Judaism, it is crucial that the common interests clearly outweigh the effects of the existing contradictions. In contrast to most Islamic actors, however, the conflicts predominate, which is why there is no relevant cooperation and will probably not exist in the long term. The recent ongoing dialogue between the Catholic Church and the Islamic World League is not a collaboration to achieve common goals, but an attempt to use diplomatic means to deal with the conflicts that are coming from Islamic actors.

In principle, however, it would be possible to cooperate with liberal minority currents in Islam, which, unlike the majority currents, forego confrontational positions in relation to Christianity. There are common interests here, such as the defense against radical currents in Islam, which pose a threat to both Christians and non-Muslim Muslims.

Read the whole thing.

Y’all, this thing is happening. And European Christians are leading the way. Americans, pay attention!

I would like to propose a big conference sometime in 2019 of Christians eager to talk seriously about this initiative, and to pioneer concrete ways to collaborate across international borders. We should hold it in Europe — perhaps at a large Benedictine monastery — because that’s where the Benedict Option is taking root now. We should include clergy and laity from Catholic, Protestant (Evangelical and otherwise), and Orthodox traditions. It should include North Americans and Russians, and perhaps even Middle Eastern Christians.

We do not need to include Christians who don’t see a need for a Benedict Option strategy. We will only waste time trying to convince those who don’t want to see what’s right in front of them. We need instead to be working hard on building these structures and networks, and getting to know each other.

I’ve not been in touch with anybody from the Bund, incidentally. I am no kind of organizer. But if any one reading this blog is in a position to organize this kind of international conference, and is eager to meet others interested in planning and funding it, please know that you can count on me to help in any way possible.

It seems like almost every day I see evidence that European Christians get the Benedict Option concept much better than we American believers do. This is surely because they have been living in a post-Christian civilization for generations now. They know what’s at stake. And they know what’s coming to us Americans. Meanwhile, we are wasting the headstart we have been given by history. How much are we traditional American Christians prepared to lose before we wake up one day and realize that the traditional European Christians were right all along?

 

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