Another interesting book for Lenten reading, sobering but spiritual, The Benedict Option by Rod Dreher was published this week. A book in the genre of Archbishop Chaput's book, written from a slightly different perspective but arriving at the same conclusions: we (Christian believers) are in trouble around the world and here in America.
Dreher's thesis is that we have lost the culture war against religion. Just as the barbarians sacked Rome and then St. Augustine's city of Hippo, they have done so again in our age of "liquid modernity, a time when social change occurs so rapidly that no social institutions have time to solidify." Dreher complains we have become a society of strangers, each pursuing our own interests under minimal constraints. Barbarians abandon objective moral standards, refuse to accept any religious or culturally binding narratives except those they choose, repudiate memory of the past and reject history as irrelevant and distance themselves from community and any unchosen or unwanted social obligations.
Remember the Capital One credit card commercials with hordes of rapacious tribesmen rampaging through cities heedlessly destroying the structures of civilization? "Barbarians are governed only by their will to power, and neither know nor care a thing about what they are annihilating. By that standard, despite our wealth and technological sophistication, we in the modern West are living under barbarism, though we do not recognize it. Our scientists, our judges, our princes, our scholars, and our scribes—they are at work demolishing the faith, the family, gender, even what it means to be human. Our barbarians have exchanged the animal pelts and spears of the past for designer suits and smartphones." The barbarians are not at the gates, they are on the Supreme Court, in our national and state legislatures and our national security agencies in elected and non-elected positions of power.
Don't think so? Consider how that in less than one generation, "Christian beliefs about the sexual complementarity of marriage are considered to be abominable prejudice—and in a growing number of cases, punishable."
He traces the roots of these losses from the Renaissance, the Protestant Reformation and two World Wars. The most dramatic post-war losses here in America were the Supreme Court decisions legalizing abortion and then only decades later the right to same-sex marriage. The gleeful, vindictive pursuit by same-sex marriage activists of a few Christian bakers and wedding planners who won't cater same-sex weddings should warn us, that Christian believers are the real targets, not a shortage of bakers and caterers for same-sex weddings.
Dreher laments that the West has "lost the golden thread that binds us to God, Creation, and each other. Unless we find it again, there is no hope of halting our dissolution. Indeed, it is unlikely that the West will see this lifeline for a very long time. It is not looking for it and may no longer have the capability of seeing it. We have been loosed, but we do not know how to bind."
The only thing to do is to become like St. Benedict of old, who preserved ancient wisdom, fostered communities of belief and nurtured the flame of faith until the time was right for the faith to rekindle the world with the love of God.
Guess what? During Lent that looks like pray, fast, give alms. Grandparents and wise elders need to educate their adult children and their grandchildren in the riches of the Faith. Stations of the Cross, Palm Processions, the Veneration of the Cross and the solemn celebrations of the most Holy Days of the Christian year, Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter Vigil give us the strength to "keep the flame of faith alive in our hearts until the Lord comes," as our parents and godparents were charged during our baptisms. This is as urgent now as it was in the days of the Roman persecution.