Crunchy Reformational monastics?

The old cover of Rod Dreher's "Crunchy Cons"
The old cover of Rod Dreher’s “Crunchy Cons”

I’ll admit, as cynical as I am about politics, even I was a bit taken aback at this piece from Rod Dreher’s blog today (he has a lot of good things to say lately….)  A bit from that…

My colleague Leah Libresco has been at CPAC, where she observed that the libertarians didn’t really want to have much to do with social conservatives…. Leah goes on to say that the panel left her feeling the truth of Ross Douthat’s observation that on gay marriage, social conservatives are now negotiating the terms of their surrender. I take her to mean that the CPAC panel made clear that the “surrender” is not simply over the resolution of gay marriage, but more broadly — even within the conservative movement.

Oye.  Dreher goes on to give some sound advice – one bit is which to read his 2003 book, Crunchy Cons.  And I noted with real interest how he ends his piece:

If I were a social or religious conservative who had money to donate, I would not give it to political causes. I would use it for strengthening our institutions as places of effective cultural resistance to the times we’re in, and the times that we’re entering. Make them function like the Benedictine monasteries of Western Europe did during the Dark Ages: as institutions and communities that bear and pass on our moral and spiritual vision in a time and place that does not share it, so that one day, far into the future, it will be there for rediscovery, and the rebuilding of society out of the ruins.

All of this put me in mind of a longer piece I wrote about seven years ago called “A child at peace in the presence of his father: a Lutheran monasticism?”  I will admit that to talk about Lutheran monasticism sounds like an oxymoron, but I invite you to check it out – am I on to something?

Here is a clip from that piece:

Bouncing between what seems to be the extreme of attaining material wealth and comfort (often smuggled in to definitions of “quality of life”) for all, and the other extreme of a spiritual liberty (spiritual power and comfort) that degrades the physical (particularly, the human body) men these days religiously strive for a “progress”, often operating in intellectual isolation from any possible consideration of any true progress that may be due to the Christian message (popularized in books like Alvin Schmidt’s “How Christianity Changed the World” or Vishal Mangalwadi’s “Truth and Transformation”).  They do not seek to be found in a renewed creation in Christ, where they may more fully grow into a realization of what it means to be creatures made in God’s image.  Instead, bolstered in part by the liberation the world has experienced because of the Christian Gospel, they fight against the ancient pagan notions of an unchanging natural order and fate in their own way.  The worldly wiser among them do not reject notions of realism, for there is indeed “the world as it is”, even as there is also “the world as it should be”.  Still, whether they atheistically embrace the material, seeing it as the only reality, or whether they seek liberation from the material in a more spiritual sense, they both see the need or imperative, now driven more so by new medicines and technologies, to liberate humanity from what it previously meant to be human. They will not “destroy the old man” in God’s way, through the Law and Gospel found in Christ, but rather via their own means, and to their own ends.

Further: all of this takes place as relationships are becoming increasingly atomized, self-focused.  The Darwinian life that seems to be required of our persons in the ever-more demanding meritocracy which is our world lends itself to all manner of difficulties, leading to temptations to sin….

But the “private sector” (free market) is not the only one which has become increasingly oppressive.  The same can be said for the public realm, the realm of those who govern.  After all, families and churches, working hard where God has placed them, making a difference in “Good Samaritan” moments – especially remembering in Christ’s name the poor among them – being supported in their good deeds by a government set up to encourage such work, are not enough….

Here is how I end:

….The new monastics, especially, would be permitted to, in a very real sense, rest in their redemption in Christ.  They would retreat from both storms external and internal into the shelter of His house.  Like a baby as in a mother’s arms.  Like the child playing at peace in the presence of his father.  All striving for perfection, doing excellent work with the explicit goal of to promote Christ, sharing His Name upon “re-entrance” into the world, the “secular realm”, would necessarily spring from this truth.  And since people, generally, do not know what their real needs are, perhaps this will shake them up enough to start catching a glimpse of just what it is they are lacking – forgiveness, life and salvation in Jesus Christ, the exact representation of God the Father.


3 replies on “Crunchy Reformational monastics?”

  1. Hi Nathan — I’m sure you’ve read Bonhoeffer’s “Cost of Discipleship”. One of the things that he thought was not a good thing was the separation of “classes” between the monastics, who became a kind of upper class of saints, and the common folk, who represented the lower class. How would you reconcile the two here?


  2. John,

    A key question, and one I think about at length in the post. Here is a part of that reflection:

    “….Again, I would hope that there would not be either a two-tiered spirituality, or an earnest but naïve attempt to “live the life of heaven now” – for it will take a new heavens and new earth, purged of the sinful infection, to do that. Rather, I think there needs to be an acknowledgement that the fullness of the Christian faith could be handed on in non-monastic contexts, although the wiles and temptations of the world – now so tricky to even claim to be adopting the Christian faith as its own! (in Constantine’s day, and in ours as well, always eager to hijack the adjective “Christian”) – might very well cause one to think that some are called to an alternate route. After all, regular persons dwelling deeply in the secular world are attempting to raise up young persons in Christ in such an environment where there are often exceptionally large quantities of poison and fire. Although it could be done (for some seem to have the resources they need, and look to be doing a remarkable job) is everyone necessarily called to take this approach?

    Herein would be another distinction of a new monasticism. It would not necessarily just be for single persons, to those who must commit to celibacy and singleness. Although there may be some orders of persons made up exclusively of those who would have this gift, other communities would also be made up of families, which are based on the [monastic] “order” established by God himself (Luther argued that God established the family, the Church, and the governement for our good), marriage. This might alleviate some of the concerns many had with monasticism from its conception, causing Luther to conclude in his day: “”It may be that Anthony and other hermits were saintly men; but you are committing a grave sin if you abandon your calling and follow their example by secluding yourself in a hiding place; for what the Lord has commanded you to do is something else, namely, to obey your parents, the government, and your teachers.” (LW 3:131). One wonders if brother Luther would re-evaluate his statement in light of the situation of today, where doctors may be forced to perform abortions, adoption agencies allow same-sex couples to adopt, pharmacists provide abortifacients, and justices of the peace give marriage licenses to same-sex couples. St. Anthony the Great comes to mind again here: “a time is coming when people will go mad… And when they see someone who is not mad, they will attack him, saying, ‘You are mad, you are not like us.’” In any case, regarding the argument vs. this kind of solitary monasticism (and non-family oriented versions of it), I think it better to emphasize not obedience per se, but rather the duty (which includes, yes, obedience) that one has to care for those God has put in one’s life. For this reason, it seems to me that Chalcedon’s pronouncement that monastic vows must be for life (451) should be thoughtfully re-evaluated….”



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