Far more catechized by popular culture than by the church

Saturday, October 13th, 2018

Rod Dreher addresses Handle’s critique of his Benedict Option:

I have had an open tab on my browser for almost three weeks now, trying to figure out how to engage with this massive, massive post about The Benedict Option from a blogger named Handle. It might be the longest single post anyone has ever written about the book. He likes parts of it, and he doesn’t like parts of it. Most of his commentary is really interesting, and I’ve been struggling with how to engage it without giving myself over to a 7,000-word reply that few people will read.


To be clear: my Ben Op argument has always been that conservative Christians already are in very bad shape. Political power is holding up a façade that won’t remain much longer, precisely because politics is a lagging indicator of culture. Christians in America today — even those who identify as conservative — are far more catechized by popular culture than by the church. It’s not even close. The statistics are clear (I present them in my book.)


  1. Handle says:

    Dreher really didn’t engage very much with it, but hopefully that post isn’t the end of the discussion.

  2. Isegoria says:

    I was being overly generous when I said that he addressed your critique, Handle, but it was good to see that he acknowledged it.

  3. Harry Jones says:

    I’m no expert on how to blog. I openly admit I haven’t figured all that out. But as a blog reader, I say that piece is just too long.

    I have concluded that the authentic church of Jesus Christ died with the Apostles. Christendom has been running on fumes — spiritually speaking — ever since. It’s as if the Holy Spirit’s presence in this world has a half life and has been decaying for millennia.

    But that’s just my opinion. I’ve given up on organized religion, so I may be biased — depending on which way the causation runs.

    At least I don’t get caught up in endless arguments over what is correct Christian doctrine.

    I haven’t read the book.

  4. Kirk says:

    It’s worth a read. Maybe several re-readings, and I’m going to have to take a look at the book he’s discussing.

    Some of the points I’ve got agreement with is that there’s a definite problem at the root of most of the issues in modern society, and my take on that problem is that there’s a general lack of consensus on what amounts to the “moral underpinnings of things”, and that much of that issue stems from an essential inability to adapt by modern religion.

    Religion and belief are apparently human needs, at least as much as they necessities like food, shelter, and social companionship. Have a void in your belief systems, and pretty soon you’ll start buying healing crystals and worrying about the feng shui of your office spaces…

    Modern Christianity has signally failed to adapt to changing times–You insist on teaching a world view that is reliant on playing biblical trivial pursuit, and that the Revealed Word that God offered up to a bunch of primitive shepherds wandering the hills of the Middle East was the last word on Everything(TM), well… Modern life is going to offer your kids an awful lot of contradictions. Contradictions that are going to lead to them rejecting what they see as BS, and then subsequently throwing the spiritual baby out with the ideological bath water. Which is why things like Marxism take such hold–Kid goes to college, encounters things that make them question their certainties, and Marxism is a handy substitute, there to be pushed down their throats by the staff.

    There are a lot of things that religion does, but when religion doesn’t keep up with the times, well… Then it gets replaced, and I think you can make a really good case that the things it is getting replaced by are inimical to our civilization.

    The core of Christianity is, in my view, not the majority of the religions teach it as. The core consists of the worldview that’s developed since the late Middle Ages, and is the one which has made European civilization as adaptable and widespread as it is. That set of core beliefs, values, and mores is what we’re in danger of losing as the religions falter in their mission of addressing the spiritual needs of today.

    I’m a deist more than I’m a de riguer Christian; I think there’s a lot of value in the Judeo-Christian outlook and belief system, but the details of it are both extremely hokey, and not of great value. The fact that God sent bears to maul the people mocking one of his prophets is gratifying, but not something I can really bring myself to “believe”, if you catch my drift. There’s an awful lot of that in what passes for mainstream Christianity of any flavor, and it’s the same stuff that catches in the throats of a lot of other people. What’s been the problem is that the hokey valueless stuff is what’s preventing all too many from embracing the things that are worthwhile and necessary to civilization’s continuance.

    Religion, in short, needs to start addressing the inherent contradictions–OK, tell the stories in the bible as allegories, fables, and some accurate history, but quit treating it as the actual unchangeable “WORD OF GOD”. Let us remember that God was speaking to a bunch of what we’d consider to be a bunch of fairly unsophisticated (in a sense of “understanding the world”) people in ancient times, and that even if the bible represents the actual voice of an omnipotent deity, well… How the hell would you explain evolution to some guy herding sheep on a hillside in ancient Israel? I think that He would be forced to do a rather massive hand-wave, and just gloss over the details, no?

    So, here we are with a lot more knowledge of the world, and the spiritual framework we have been working with simply hasn’t kept up with the facts as we know them. Creationists are some of the worst offenders at this, trying to shoehorn the dinosaurs into a 6,000 year timeline. Look, guys… Either go the solipsist route, and postulate that God made the world with evidence in it for a few billion years of existence built into it, as a head game for us, or just stop with the BS about Noah riding dinosaurs before the Flood. Said flood being another thing that just turns the whole thing on its head–We live on a globe. If you flooded it to drown the mountains, where the hell did the water go when it receded? Giant space vacuum?

    Little things like that are what kills people’s belief in Christianity, and the lack of adaptation to modern knowledge is at the root of a lot of problems. Were the churches to take the tack that “Hey, here are a lot of things that our forefathers discovered through practical experience actually worked, like monogamy and fidelity…”, we’d be a lot better off. The spiritual component needs to be separated from the myth component, and then just teach the myth as allegory and parable.

    I think we’re in danger of losing a large and very important part of our culture, thanks to this issue. Keep the baby, retain the bathwater for alternate use, and quit trying to make the modern world adapt to ancient wisdom, some of which isn’t exactly applicable these days.

  5. Harry Jones says:

    This talk of changing with the times misses the whole point of religion. It’s supposed to be an attempt to connect with a God who transcends all our human moral fads, along with the enduring human failings that hide beneath all those fads.

    A worthwhile religion doesn’t change with the times. It changes the times by changing humanity. There’s something almost posthuman about the idea of religious salvation. If only it could deliver on the promises, it would be worthwhile.

    But humans stay the same. Only the culture changes. In the investment world, they call it churn. It’s the froth on the surface of a deep and dark ocean that cannot reach the heavens.

    Why change with the times when the times are just going to change on you again? This is vanity, a vexation of spirit.

    Ancient Israel could make a comeback. Stranger things have happened.

  6. Dave says:

    Ancient Israel, and other classical civilizational models, will make a comeback if we keep tearing apart the foundations of the civilization we’ve inherited. The Left has no idea what kind of primal forces it’s playing with.

    To paraphrase a quote I heard somewhere once: “Hard men create safe societies, safe societies create soft men, soft men create hard times, and hard times create strong men.”

    Hysterical women and effete men will eventually create so much chaos and dysfunction, on so wide a scale, that warlike patriarchs will step up to restore some sort of balance, inevitably overreaching and unleashing a kind of dark age.

    We’ll go from gynocracy to being ruled by Ramzan Kadyrov.

  7. Adar says:

    Sports and materialism. That is the modern world.

  8. CVLR says:

    “I think we’re in danger of losing a large and very important part of our culture, thanks to this issue.”

    I don’t think we’re in any danger; it’s gone.

    But because everything is who, whom?, it’s important to keep in mind just what forces have precipitated the loss of the “practical” (as opposed to “religio-ideological”) values, like chastity, marriage, manliness, work ethic, high social trust, can-do attitude, democratic spirit, etc. etc. etc. All of these things that have been, for lack of a better word, dissolved, are things dangerous to the unrivaled omnipotence of the state, especially the unrivaled omnipotence of a so-called “deep state”, i.e. the intelligence apparati.

    As ever: means, motive, opportunity.

    The masses, and by masses I mean the top 98 percentiles of personality trait conformism, will believe whatever retarded bullshit they’re told to believe. Economically defused, reconstituted, deep-fried, UN-perpetuated egalitarianist so-called “cultural Marxism” is no more objectively sane than young earth hypotheses and other vapid protuberances of Neotenized Protestantism’s memetic death throes. If that’s what suffuses the profess-orial atmosphere of the monasteries colleges, that’s what they’ll imbibe.

  9. CVLR says:

    “This talk of changing with the times misses the whole point of religion.”

    The point of “religion” from whose point of view? From the point of view of the church, it’s to perpetuate its hegemony— self-aggrandizing churches don’t survive and multiply upon the Earth (thanks, Darwin).

    From the point of view of the state (assuming a division), it’s more or less to inculcate civilizing virtues into the youth.

    There are other points of view, some of them transcendental. But transcendental + uproarious tends to be an illegal combo. See: the Neo-American Church.

    “Ancient Israel could make a comeback. Stranger things have happened.”

    If Ancient Israel makes a comeback, it’s because a Rothschild secured a Declaration from His Majesty’s Government amidst the utter chaos then bringing about the end of European nobility. Hardly “strange”. Geopolitical horse-trading happens all the time.

    “But humans stay the same. Only the culture changes.”

    Is it not a fact that the skull thickness of the Britons has measurably decreased since the advent of the Industrial Revolution? Don’t be a Luddite! do your civic duty: have thin-skulled daughters.

  10. Lu An Li says:

    “Ancient Israel, and other classical civilizational models, will make a comeback if we keep tearing apart the foundations of the civilization we’ve inherited.”

    In Israel right now the Hasidic Jew within several generations will comprise more than 50 % of the populace.

    In 200 years if indeed the United States lasts that long Amish will be the predominant white population of the country.

  11. Jacob G. says:

    Kirk, yet what we see happening is the precise opposite. Churches who maintain a hard line such as on ‘the Word of God’ are the ones that are treading water or sometimes even expanding.

    The ones who did what you say are vanishing. They seem to have no defense against creeping ‘suicide of the west’.

  12. Harry Jones says:

    A religion must justify its existence as such to the point of view of the worshiper. He who pays the tithes calls the tune.

    And worshipers are human. They’re all part of human society with its faddishness and odd parochial attitudes. But to be religious is to want to connect to something more than this.

    So ultimately, a religion must justify its existence to man by connecting to God. That’s what religion is for. Anyone who has a spiritual bent understands this. Anyone who hasn’t got a spiritual bent hasn’t got any business messing with religion or the religious.

    The trouble with organized religion is it’s flawed humans who organize it. Cut the priesthood out of the loop.

  13. CVLR says:

    I wasn’t asking for you to edit my comment for me, but thanks for the warm and fuzzies.

  14. Kirk says:


    What I am getting at isn’t that the various branches of the faith should adopt the latest pop-cultural BS, which is the source of the problem that you are acknowledging, but that they need to deal with the fact that a bunch of their hallowed beliefs are basically untenable in a world where objective science and study makes those beliefs ridiculous on their faces. You want to keep insisting that creation literally took seven days, and happened 6,000 years ago, you are going to create a bunch of problems with reconciling your religion with a modern understanding of the world around us. The Catholics aren’t terrible at this, but some of the other faiths…? Hooh-boy… Some of the Mormon missionaries I have met? It isn’t funny, really, but I’ve accidentally caused a couple of crises of faith, simply by asking them questions after they have insisted on discussing things with me. Wouldn’t have happened, had their religion equipped them with explanations for things past “And, then, a miracle happened…!”.

  15. Jacob G. says:

    It’s funny you should mention the missionaries. I also am a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.

    Our church is pretty ambiguous about ToE and the mechanics of creation. The church university, BYU, teaches it, but the church itself like the catholic church has no official statement or Sunday School lesson on it. Per wikipedia 25% of the members think its true compared to 50% of seculars. And I would venture to say, of those who think it is true, a majority do not understand it. But they manage to lead productive fulfilling lives whether or not visions of saddled dinosaurs dance in their heads. It is irrelevant. Except to a few specialists who are going to get a much better treatment of it at school than they ever could at church.

    Let me ask you a question? Why is ToE so relevant for the religious to have the correct view, but not say, the standard model? Why do you think churches are going to fail if they don’t embrace and explain ToE, but are fine not getting involved in particle physics?

  16. Kirk says:


    It’s funny that you immediately go to evolution, when I never mentioned it at all. From that, I would presume that you’ve run into that particular issue in the past. Which isn’t surprising, when you can demonstrate the principles of evolution with an abundance of things like antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

    The problem with the failure to account isn’t with the subject area–Particle physics is so far removed from the worlds of the prophets that you can’t find a correspondence with their words. However, you sure as hell start to set up cognitive dissonance when you start out insisting that creation was a seven-day affair, and someone who grew up on a farm starts noting the way selective breeding works and how much more credible evolution becomes when placed up against Sunday school, looking at how diseases evolve under our very own eyes.

    Note that I am emphatically not questioning or arguing against religion or spirituality itself; what I am pointing out is that modern religion has generally done a really bad job at reconciling itself with the state of modern knowledge of the world around us. You keep insisting on cleaving unto the fantastic and erroneous under observation, well… Don’t be real surprised when you start losing your smarter adherents, who will hare off after spiritual answers.

  17. Jacob G. says:

    Yes, that would indeed cause a lot of cognitive dissonance which is probably one of the reasons why the church does not teach that evolution is incorrect nor that the world was created, poof, in 168 hours. I myself feel no dissonance between my faith and enjoying Razib or Dr. Cochrane’s blogs.

    Look. The bottom line is thanks for the advice, but the scenario you are presenting does not ring true with my experience as a missionary, or as a member. I’ve seen people leave the church, almost leave it, people join it, people almost join it. I’ve known members who are creationists, members who were not, members who were PhDs in Agriculture (I live in an ag school town). I’m just not seeing smarter adherents being particularly prone to leave. Geology and Biology have been around since long before I was born – don’t you think any such thing would be well along and obvious by now?

  18. Graham says:

    I suspect the Christian denomination that masters realizing there is nothing in its teachings that really requires a young earth or unchanging nature but still cleaves hardcore to [whichever version of] a clear and fairly robust moral teaching and communal ethic will be the one that cleans up.

    As it happens, I used to think Hinduism had all its markets locked up. So integrated into its culture as to be functionally ineradicable, operating at innumerable degrees of belief and ritual practice with places for many levels of devotion, containing within itself multiple versions of polytheism and monotheism and pantheism, and in a culture so large and varied that it will not demographically extinguish itself, AND with a cosmology that encompasses time and space so large that one almost could map its concepts onto modern physics, astronomy and geology. Alas, it more or less assumes an eternal universe, so one strike. Still impressive though.

    They even have a non-base 10 formula for how long a divine year is compared to a human one. So seven days would never have to be interpreted as seven days.

  19. Jacob G. says:


    It’s been done. A lot. No cleaning up resulted:


    Since ToE presupposes you’ve already accepted an old earth, it goes for that too. You liked the Hindu system but did not become a Hindu. So it goes.

  20. Jacob G. says:

    I would like to change my comment to:

    It was done. A lot of cleaning up did result. Then, after that, World War 1 broke out.

    Now, per that article, 11% of churches are creationist, and those tend to be on the smaller side.

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