sententiarum collectio

Month: February 2018 (Page 1 of 2)

Beyond Benedict? To Change the World

I have not run across anyone who was deeply satisfied with Rod Dreher’s Benedict Option. Reasons for dissatisfaction have varied, but I’ll offer some that I have observed:

  • Dreher’s tone is alarmist, to an irritating extent.
  • He paints with broad strokes.
  • There is no comprehensible theological framework (have a little bit of Eastern Orthodoxy, add in a helping of Roman Catholicism, and throw an Evangelical cherry on top).
  • His proposed Benedict Option communities sound quaint and compelling; but his conclusion left readers with more questions than answers.

With those slim [and admittedly undeveloped] critiques, I will admit that much of what Dreher offered as observations rings true. Society is turning, and Christians are increasingly exiles – I sense it both within my academic surroundings and in my new profession. His general areas of practical focus are worthy, especially education and the trades. His book is timely, readable, and well worth reading.

In the last week or two a friend posted a New City Commons podcast of James Davison Hunter. I found the author compelling, and though I wasn’t immediately familiar with his name, I have enjoyed The Hedgehog Review, published by the institute which he leads. On a whim (and because it is a personal weakness), I ordered his new book, To Change the World, thinking it would sit on the “post-J.D. shelf.” However, I’ve already benefited from the content and scholarly nature of the book as I research for my J.D. writing requirement.

I’m suggesting Hunter’s book as an appropriate follow-up to the Benedict Option. B.O. offers what is essentially a missional shift, which everyone realized. The “from” was clearly the posture of the Religious Right, but the “to” was amorphous and unknown.

Hunter provided some of the missing framework for my own analysis of Dreher’s shift. He identifies three distinct Christian ideologies pertaining to political engagement: (1) the Religious Right, (2) the Christian Left, and (3) the neo-Anabaptists. Using this construct, I think it is fair to describe Dreher as advocating a shift away from the Religious Right toward neo-Anabaptists (or perhaps simply Anabaptists, which coincides with his Hutterite shout-out).

Both theologically and culturally, I come from Anabaptist and Free Church roots, with some concessions made for those in the Religious Right. I am able to empathize with the Christian Left in only a limited fashion. According to Hunter, neo-Anabaptists would tend to make accommodations for the Left (he notes a lot of cross-over), offering limited empathy for those on the right. Where I personally find a gap is the “neo” prefix, but at this point I am working off a cursory read and am admittedly doing Hunter a disservice by oversimplifying.

For now, I’ll commend the book and look forward to an opportunity to digest it in fellowship with better minds.


Disaster is really the best thing to prove a man wrong; and that happens to be the one pressing and vital necessity for the sublime modern intellect. It has got to be proved wrong. For that purpose we want great disasters. And we seem to be getting what we want.

G.K. Chesterton

The Prudence and Energy of the People

It is not by the intermeddling of an omniscient and omnipotent State, but by the prudence and energy of the people, that England has hitherto been carried forward in civilization; and it is to the same prudence and the same energy that we now look with comfort and good hope. Our rulers will best promote the improvement of the nation by strictly confining themselves to their own legitimate duties, by leaving capital to find its most lucrative course, commodities their fair price, industry and intelligence their natural reward, idleness and folly their natural punishment, by maintaining peace, by defending property, by diminishing the price of law, and by observing strict economy in every department of the state. Let the Government do this: the People will assuredly do the rest.

Thomas Babington Macaulay

Work or Robbery

There are two fundamentally opposed means whereby man, requiring sustenance, is impelled to obtain the necessary means for satisfying his desires. There are work or robbery, one’s own labor and the forcible appropriation of the labor of others.

I propose in the following discussion to call one’s own labor and the equivalent exchange of one’s own labor for the labor of others, the “economic means” for the satisfaction of needs, while the unrequited appropriation of the labor of others will be called the “political means” . . .

Franz Oppenheimer, The State

Time and Reality

Sooner or later Time brings the empty phrase and the false conclusion up against what is; the empty imaginary looks reality in the face and the truth at once conquers. In war a nation learns whether it is strong or no, and how it is strong and how weak; it learns it as well in defeat as in victory. In the long processes of human lives, in the succession of generations, the real necessities and nature of a human society destroy any false formula upon which it was attempted to conduct it. Time must always ultimately teach.

Hilaire Belloc, Reality


If you can keep your head when all about you   
    Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,   
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
    But make allowance for their doubting too;   
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
    Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
    And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:

If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;   
    If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;   
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
    And treat those two impostors just the same;   
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
    Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
    And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
    And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
    And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
    To serve your turn long after they are gone,   
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
    Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,   
    Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
    If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
    With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,   
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,   
    And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!

Rudyard Kipling, A Choice of Kipling’s Verse (1943)

Hoover on Individualism

Our individualism is no middle ground between autocracy — whether of birth, economic or class origin — and socialism. Socialism of different varieties may have something to recommend it as an intellectual stop-look-and-listen sign, more especially for Old World societies. But it contains only destruction to the forces that make progress in our social system. Nor does salvation come by any device for concentration of power, whether political or economic, for both are equally reversions to Old World autocracy in new garments. “Salvation will not come to us out of the wreckage of individualism. What we need today is steady devotion to a better, brighter, broader individualism — an individualism that carries increasing responsibility and service to our fellows. Our need is not for a way out but for a way forward. We found our way out three centuries ago when our forefathers left Europe for these shores, to set up here a commonwealth conceived in liberty and dedicated to the development of individuality.

Herbert Hoover, American Individualism

As Kingfishers Catch Fire

As kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies draw flame;
As tumbled over rim in roundy wells
Stones ring; like each tucked string tells, each hung bell’s
Bow swung finds tongue to fling out broad its name;
Each mortal thing does one thing and the same:
Deals out that being indoors each one dwells;
Selves — goes itself; myself it speaks and spells,
Crying What I do is me: for that I came.

I say more: the just man justices;
Keeps grace: that keeps all his goings graces;
Acts in God’s eye what in God’s eye he is —
Christ — for Christ plays in ten thousand places,
Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his
To the Father through the features of men’s faces.

Gerard Manley Hopkins: Poems and Prose (Penguin Classics, 1985)

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