My favorite chapter in The Benedict Option

Let me go back to my prelude for a minute. I’m not a writer by trade; I mean, I write a lot, but it’s mostly in short spurts. I blog a little, but I am prone to the very worst temptation of blogging, which is to dash off a first draft, publish it, and move on. This is my m.o. I have the attention span of a gnat. And while I will read long reads and enjoy well-written books, I lack the discipline, focus and endurance to write anything of length. And if you have for some reason read to this point in my Benedict Option response, you know this painfully well.

So maybe that explains why, having already fussed over my differences with Dreher on so, so many fronts, including just recently on sexuality, I find myself with nothing newly critical to say about his chapter on sexuality. More than that, I actually agree with most of it. If after reading my diatribe you decide on passing on reading Dreher’s book, this may be the chapter you may suffer most from missing.

And I say that not because it is the best explication of the Theology of the Body out there – Christopher West’s Theology of the Body for Beginners is much better, and Greg Popcak’s book Holy Sex not only has a better title but is better written as well. Even so, what I find charming in Dreher’s chapter on Eros and the New Christian Counterculture is that for once, for the most part, he is not focused on bemoaning Christianity’s loss of social and cultural status; he is focused on spelling out the positive vision of how the understanding of sacred sexuality held by the Catholic Church (and, to the extent this chapter applies to others, other little-o orthodox churches) has value worth celebrating.

It is probably the most theologically rooted of Dreher’s chapters. Yes, there is a rant against the Sexual Revolution, and yes, the LGBT and transgender bogeymen re-emerge. But Dreher seems to recognize at the heart of the chapter a truth that would enliven his book overall: that it is woefully insufficient to rail against what is wrong. To have a chance at building a godly counterculture, the BenOps folks need to communicate the beauty and richness of the positive alternative they have to offer.

I could quote heavily from this chapter to make this point, but I’m not going to. It could be, again, because I am too undisciplined and beaten down by this project. But it could be because it isn’t fair to Dreher to lift so much from his work that you, fair reader, aren’t compelled to buy a copy. So you’ll have to see for yourself.

Let me use this chapter, though, to circle back to the topic of gay marriage, because there was one point on the topic that I left out of my previous post. As I argued then, my interpretation of the culture war battle over this was less about the specifics of the issue than what it symbolized vis-a-vis the loss of Christendom’s role as the de facto religion of the dominant culture. So how could this issue have played out differently.

Probably ten years ago, as the debate raged over civil unions, a friend of mine and I (neither of whom was very engaged in the issue) were chatting, and I was surprised to discover that we both had the same solution. It’s one I think a church that recognized its non-dominant status could have accepted at the time, and it might have defused this issue (if that had been the point). Why not get the state out of the business of authorizing marriage altogether? If the point of cultural conservatives was to defend the sacramental, religious nature of marriage, why not push for government to rescind all references to marriage in law and replace them with something like civil unions. The result would put space between secular and sacred family institutions, and it would also reflect the reality that for those married in a religious tradition, it’s the faith community’s blessing of the union, not the court document, that carries value.

But that wasn’t the way religious authorities chose to play their hand, for better or worse.

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