I heard about the Benedict Option for the first time today, and it’s only 7:15 am, which means I heard about it very recently indeed. So why am I writing about it when I hardly know what it is?
I suppose I’m writing about it because it gives me a strong sense of Déjà vu, the feeling that I’ve been here before.
A friend, Irving Hexham, posted a link on Facebook with this comment, “This article is a critique of the latest American evangelical fad, or should I say madness”: Serious, Non-Sarcastic Questions About the Benedict Option | The American Conservative:
I have great respect and affection for my colleague, Rod Dreher. But I have to admit, I am very frustrated by his latest obsession, because I don’t understand what it means.
I’m talking about the so-called “Benedict Option.” I know where the phrase comes from. It’s a reference to Alasdair MacIntyre’s book, After Virtue, which I read with interest several years ago. I don’t remember the book well enough to give a fully accurate summary, but the heart of it was a critique of the modern condition from an Aristotelian (filtered a bit through Hegelian historicism) perspective.
I’d never heard of MacIntyre or his book, but it seemed to me that this was very similar to what the hippie comune movement was about in the 1960s, and the Catholic Worker movement long before that. And in the 1960s some of us had dreams of establishing communities (that are today called by some Evangelicals “neomonastic”) in which we would teach theology, politics and agriculture. We spoke of such things as “Christian kibbutzim” because “commune” had not yet become part of everyday speech. Much of it was inspired by Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s book “Life together”. Some of what MacIntyre was said to be saying about modernity also seemed to strike a chord with me.
Noah Millman, in his article Serious, Non-Sarcastic Questions About the Benedict Option, goes on to say:
…most of what I’ve seen is discussion of how corrupt and threatening to Christianity the surrounding culture is becoming, and how small-o orthodox Christians need to recognize that fact and prepare for it, combined with repeated assurance that the Benedict Option does not mean withdrawing from the world or compromising the Christian obligation to witness, spread the gospel, be in the world while not of it, etc.
And in that there are echoes of the 1970s and 1980s in South Africa, when Christians who refused to burn incense on the altar of the ideology of apartheid and were not totally subservient to the Nationalist government were regarded as part of the Total Onslaught and many of us thought that we needed to prepare for more and more persecution as the Total Strategy was refined and applied.
So we were, and were probably regarded by our contemporaries, as the “Religious Left”. I was therefore somewhat surprised to discover that this new movement, in spite of its apparent similarities, was regarded as a movement of the “Religious Right” in the USA: The Benedict Option: Why the religious right is considering an all-out withdrawal from politics:
Have you heard of the Benedict Option? If not, you will soon.
It’s the name of a deeply pessimistic cultural project that’s capturing the imaginations of social conservatives as they come to terms with the realization that the hopes and assumptions that animated the religious right over the past 35-odd years have been dashed by the sweeping triumph of the movement for same-sex marriage.
The problem is that all this seems to point back to Rod Dreher, who is not, as far as I know, an Evangelical (in the American sense), but an Orthodox Christian. I had not paid much attention to the writings of Rod Dreher, though I’ve followed a number of Orthodox bloggers, some of whom referred to him. I suppose that was mostly prejudice on my part, as he described himself in his blog as “Crunchy Con”, an epithet that was quite opaque to me. It made me think of celery and people who make their living from scams. No doubt there was an in-group who knew the connotations of the term “Crunchy Con” and I got the impression that he was speaking primarily to that in-group, people who who knew what “crunchy con” meant and didn’t need to ask. Rightly or wrongly, I thought that if one needed to ask, one wouldn’t be welcome. There are quite a number of bloggers, and others, who use this kind of language, suggesting a shared set of assumptions. If you don’t share the assumptions and don’t grasp the allusions and have to ask what they mean, then you are ipso facto a member of the out-group.
Now that all may be a bunch of presumptuous assumptions on my part, and perhaps I should have been paying more attention to what Rod Dreher is saying, especially if we are going to be hearing a lot more about the Benedict Option in future.
So it will be very interesting to see how American Evangelicals of the Religious Right are led by an Orthodox Christian into a life of hippie communes. The mind, as they say, boggles.
There seems to be a growing tendency among academics to define racism in terms so abstract and obscure that it is difficult to know what they are talking about. The most recent example I have enountered takes the cake: You must be in deep denial Max du Preez – Sunday Independent:
There is a new non-racist discourse that contains implicit racism though its purveyors seem not to recognise it. This is a depoliticised liberal discourse that has enabled some to convince themselves they are not racist whilst they spew racist discourse on social platforms and into their columns at an alarming rate.
So cleverly disguised is it in a seemingly benign veneer that there is often not even an outcry from the public. The modus operandi of this contemporary discursive trend appears to be to downplay the race element in the master narrative and hoodwink all into believing that racism is no longer a problem.
Rather, it is now about race denialism and it is very clear how the discourses of power, social discourses and media discourses seek to mollify, circumvent, disguise and even ignore the issue of racism in contemporary societal narratives.
This is the trick of the new depoliticised liberal double-speak. It allows racists to be racist without any accountability.
Four paragraphs into the article and I still don’t have a clue about what Max du Preez is supposed to be denying. All it is is a lot of very abstract nebulous jargon, which is as easy to grasp as morning mist.
And that’s the point where I stopped reading. I don’t know what Max du Preez said, and I don’t particularly care what he is alleged to be or what he is actually denying or actually affirming. What I do care about is this kind of diseased language that seems to be a mammoth con trick to persuade readers that since they cannot understand it without an English Honours Degree in the right school of literary criticism it must therefore be profound and important, and leave it to the academics who are fluent in this kind of cant to define what racism means for the rest of us.
One of the better comments on this kind of language was made by Stanislav Andreski, himself an academic, aimed at colleagues in his own discipline, Social Science.
The attraction of jargon and obfuscating convolutions can be fully explained by the normal striving of humans for emoluments and prestige at the least cost to themselves, the cost in question consisting of the mental effort and danger of ‘sticking one’s neck out’ or ‘putting one’s foot in it’. In addition to eliminating such risks, as well as the need to learn much, nebulous verbosity opens a road to the most prestigious academic posts to people of small intelligence whose limitations would stand naked if they had to state what they have to say clearly and succinctly (Andreski, Social sciences as sorcery, p 82).
If we can only talk about racism in such complicated and abstract terms, it disempowers most of the people who have historically been victims of racism in South Africa, since for most of them English is a second or third language.
Even as a native English speaker, I find it almost impossible to understand phrases like “modus operandi of this contemporary discursive trend”, so how easy must it be for those for whom English is a second or third language? In my understanding of English, “discursive” discourse means discourse that is rambling and digressive, wandering around all over the place without ever really coming to the point. I have a vague idea that in postmodern literary criticism it has some kind of specialist meaning, but I’m not sure what it is. But I do think that if people want to use such language, they should be writing in academic journals rather than Sunday newspapers.
If we can’t talk about racism without using such elitist academic language, then we can’t talk about racism at all.
Though apartheid, the insitutionalised legalised form of racism, ended 21 years ago, racism has not gone away, and can be seen all around us, so we do need to talk about it. And we all need to talk about it; the discussiojn should not be confined only to those who can follow the convoluted abstractions that some academics are so fond of.
Here are some useful links:
- Jargon, convoluted obfuscation profundicates honcho
- Jargon and obfuscation in academia
- Jargon in Writing
For an example of writing about racism that is clear and easy to understand, try this article White Racism Matters! | CounterPunch:
…the wave of recent anti-police brutality protests has provoked a backlash in certain quarters, revealing the oozing sludge of bigotry that in more quiescent times simmers just beneath the surface of some segments of “civilized” white society.
Social media is one barometer of this entrenched prejudice. Consider the YouTube video circulating in recent months claiming to show Ferguson, Missouri teenager Michael Brown engaged in an assault on another man. One link to this video (since removed) showed millions of viewers, titled “Michael Brown Criminally Assaults and Robs an Older Man,” and begins by describing what follows as “What Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson Don’t Want You to See.”
The video shows a stocky young Black man physically assaulting an older man outside an apartment complex. It’s ugly to watch, as the older man can’t do much to defend himself. Too bad the video is from 2012, was filmed in Woodland, Texas, and the real Michael Brown is nowhere to be seen, as the Christian Science Monitor reports. This is only one of many slanders against Michael Brown that has gone viral in social media.
You don’t need a postgrad degree in postmodern litcrit to understand that. OK, it’s not in South Africa and it doesn’t try to give a definition of racism, postmod or otherwise, but it operates on the “you know it when you see it” principle. And social media are everywhere, and don’t tell me no one in South Africa has ever retweeted or shared those things about Michael Brown being guilty, which of course is not just racism, but also prejudice.
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Four years ago…
I was a bit reluctant to start reading this book, because the last book I read by Sebastian Faulks, Human traces I hadn’t enjoyed very much. So though my wife had bought this one three years ago (in 2008), and it has sat on the shelf since then, I had not read it. But then looking for something I hadn’t read for bed-time reading I picked it up and started it, and it seemed quite different from Human traces and I was rather enjoying it and finding it interesting, and beginning to think it was the best thing I had read by Sebastian Faulks.
So I had reached page 280 and hoped to finish it tonight. But unfortunately page 280 was followed by page 25, and it seems that the book has been misbound. After three years it is probably far too late to take it back to the bookshop and ask for another copy that has been properly bound — they probably won’t even have one in stock anyway. And though one might be able to order another copy from the publishers, it seems a bit of a waste to pay the full price of a book for the last 60 pages or so, and anyway by the time it arrived I’d probably have forgotten most of the story anyway and would have to start again from the beginning. I just wish printers would be more careful in checking their stuff. I see it was printed and bound in Greeat Britain by Clay Ltd, St Ives plc. If by any remote chance anyone from there happens to read this, perhaps they’ll take pity on me and send an intact copy.
Four years later
I found a copy in the library, and so at last was able to finish it, and, as I thought, I had forgotten most of the plot, and so had to start again from the beginning.
And that in itself was remarkable. There were no spoilers, Even after having read three=-quarters of the book only four years ago, the unexpected twists and turns of the plot were still unexpected. And re-reading one of them did not call to mind the memory of the next one or any of the others. I simply could not foresee what was going to happen. It was like reading the book for the first time.
That in itself is interesting, because a lot of the plot turns on time and memory, and the inability to remember certain things. If I can’t remember what happened in the story, it makes the story itself more plausible.
But if I could not remember the plot itself, and the events in the story, there was still a feeling of having been here before, and perhaps appreciating, even more than the first time around, some of the observations of the protagonist on life in the 1970s and 1980s, and even on life in general.
I give one quote of many, take it how youo will:
And it’s true that you can’t bend with each fashionable wind — you can’t be like the Church of England, constantly updating its eternal verities. Either Christ was God, in which case He knew what He was doing when He chose male apostles only; or, he was a hapless Galilean sexist now ripe for a rethink. Not both.
Continued from UK trip 14 May 2005: cathedral & monastery | Khanya
I woke up about 4:30 am in the guest room at the Monastery of St John the Baptist at Tolleshunt Knights in Essex, and began drafting a report on Orthodox Theological Education by Extension as a result of my conversations with Fr Michael Harper yesterday (some of the ideas in that document may be found here). The Hours and Divine Liturgy followed at 7:00 am — it was mostly in English. We had thought of going to the later one at 10:15, but on hearing that it was mainly in Greek, opted for the earlier one.
There was breakfast in the small refectory afterwards, and then Sister Seraphima showed us round the monastery, and we gave her one of the fridge magnet ikons that our daughter Bridget had painted of St Seraphim of Sarov. It comprised both male and female monasteries.
On one of the buildings of the monastery there was a mosaic of Noah’s Ark with all the animals, and Sister Seraphima pointed out a seagull that had been worked on by a member of our parish of St Nicholas of Japan in Brixton, Johannesburg, Ellie Mullinos, who had stayed at the monastery a few years before (Ellie Mullinos is the oldest member of St Nicholas, and celebrated her 100th birthday a couple of years ago).
We left about 12:00 and drove to Colchester, where we had lunch at a pub, and looked round some of the shops, and then began looking for “Ye Olde Swan” hotel where we were booked to stay, but could not find it in the High Street, so we phoned it, and found that it was in Brightlingsea, and not in Colchester, and was about 9 miles out of town. We drove out there, booked in, and then went back to Colchester and found St Botolph’s Church, where August Decker and Mary Morton had been married, and took some photos of the church and the old priory there, though the church itself had been built only about 20 years before they had been married in it.
Mary Morton was Val’s great great grandmother, an Essex girl, and was married at the age of 13. Two of her sisters were married in the same church on the same day, and all three of them were married to German soldiers. You can read more of that story here. It seems that Essex girls were going cheap that day, and still are, according to this shop window in Colchester High Street…
Though actually these three Essex girls had quite a tough life in the Eastern Cape in the 1860s.
We went into the church, where they were preparing for a “united service”, and were setting up an enormous sound system. It only started at 8:00 pm, however, so we thought we would not stay for it.
We drove back to Brightlingsea and walked round the harbour, and then back to Ye Olde Swan, but they did not serve supper, so we went to the Raj Indian Restaurant nearby, which served very good breyani.
We went to sleep in our Tudor room, with low doors and creaking floors and original Tudor beams. Like most of the places we have stayed in, except the first, they did not provide a table to write on.
Index to all posts on our UK trip here UK Holiday May 2005
We spent the night with Father Michael and Jeanne Harper at Harston, near Cambridge. Over breakfast we talked to Fr Michael about theological education, and he told us about the Institute for Orthodox Studies affiliated to Cambridge University. I mentioned my long-held vision of a cooperative English-speaking distance education institute, which could draw on people from all over the world, and produce lectures on DVD or videotape, and he seemed to think it was a good idea.
Michael Harper had been an Anglican priest and was Director of the Fountain Trust, a group set up to promote charismatic renewal in the Church of England. When I was an Anglican in Zululand one of the other clergy lent me one of Michael Harper’s books, Let my people grow. In the book he advocated the abolition of the diaconate in the church, and I took issue with him on that and wrote to him about it. At the time (December 1977) I had just been appointed Director of Training for Ministries in the Anglican Diocese of Zululand, and had inherited six newly-ordained self-supporting deacons who had been trained by my predecessor. I soon discovered that none of these deacons had any idea of what a deacon was supposed to do, and neither did the priests in the parishes where they were serving. In fact the Anglican Church generally had no idea about what do do with deacons, and Michael Harper was simply reflectingt this when he wrote in his book that he thought the diaconate should be abolished. On the contrary, I thought the diaconate needed to be restored, and this led to some correspondence back and forth.
A few months later we had a burglary at our house, and Michael Harper sent us a cheque for £25, which seemed remarkably generous. I met him face to face in 1983, when he came to speak at a Spring School run by the Anglican Diocese of Pretoria, and and we continued to correspond after we had both joined the Orthodox Church. Jeanne Harper had a music pupil after breakfast, and so we left, as they were very busy. We went to Ely, and had a look at the cathedral there, and changed some money.
We then went to see my cousin Michael Hayes at Manea, a little village out in the fens. The countryside was dead flat round about, and looked like parts of Holland — all that was missing was the windmills, and again there were many fields of yellow rape seed. I did not recall seeing that particular crop when I had been in the UK before but now it seemed to be all over the south of England.
Michael Hayes and his wife Karen were living in a house they were doing up, and their two children were Julia aged 3, and Jonathan, aged 10 months. Michael was the first of the relations we had met who spoke with a real Bristol accent, or indeed any local accent accent at all. It seemed strange that we had spent some time in and around Bristol, but had to come to Cambridgeshire to hear a Bristol accent. We had lunch with them — ham and tomato rolls — and then went on our way again, heading south to the monastery of St John the Baptist at Tolleshunt Knights near Tiptree in Essex.
At first the monastery seemed deserted, and we could find no one around the place, but then one of the sisters came out, and showed us where we could get tea, and Brother Basil, a young monk, showed me where my room was. I just had time to put my bags in the room before we went to Vespers, or rather the vigil, in the church, and they got me to read the Six Psalms at the beginning of Matins. Then we went for supper at the refectory, which was a converted chicken shed, and had won an architectural award for the most imaginative conversion of a building to a different use.
One of the priests who had served at Vespers was sitting next to me, and asked if the great English dish of baked beans was also to be found in South Africa. I think he was French.
To be continued
Index to all posts on our UK trip here UK Holiday May 2005
We spent the night with Val’s cousins John and Maxine Wincott at Fairmilehead, Edinburgh. John went to work at 7:15 am, and Maxine, who had the day off, took us on a tour to Arthur’s Seat, where there was a view over the town.
We drove back through a different part of town, and left Edinburgh about 10:00 am.
Stopped at Eyemouth, near the English border, to change money to English money, and bought some more postcards to send to the kids.
Our next stop was Holy Island, where we explored the ruins of the abbey at Lindisfarne. It was a remarkably peaceful place, and we were lucky to arrive when the tide was out and it was safe to cross the causeway.
The Holy Island, Lindisfarne, was one of the first mission stations in England. St Aidan came from a monastery at Iona, also an island, on the west coast, and made his base at Lindisfarne because it was strategically close to the royal palace at Yeavering and even closer to the royal fortress at Bamburgh.
St Aidan then began his task of evangelising the Kingdom of Northumbia. He travelled everywhere on foot, so as to meet people on equal terms. He set up churches in royal townships and established monasteries for men and women.
Soon the church in Northumbria was strong enough to branch out into evangelising the neighbouring English kingdoms. As a missiologist I had studied this as part of Christian mission history, but it was interesting to see the place with my own eyes. We wandered round the ruins of the abbey, and looked in the museum, and got some ice creams to lick as we walked back to the car park a little way out of the village. The car park was quite enormous, and was only about a quarter full.
Continuing south we passed the outskirts of Morpeth, where Ted and Margaret Worsley lived, or had lived. Margaret was sister to Norah Pearson’s husband John, and aunt to Maxine Wincott. When Norah had first begun writing to us, about 30 years ago, she had said that their daughter Caroline was a silver waitress at a hotel in Morpeth. I’d pictured something dark and romantic and mountainous and Wuthering Heightsish, with brown stone back-to-back houses and wild moors all around, but instead it was remarkably flat and unremarkably ordinary. We did not stop or try to look for the Worsleys, as we did not have an address for them. Their daughter Caroline, who must now be well into her 40s and single, was somewhere in Scotland.
We went on to Durham, where we parked in a new parking garage near the bypass bridge, and went first to Barclays Bank where I enquired about my account, but found that it had been closed, though they hadn’t seen fit to tell me that.
We went up to the cathedral, and venerated the relics of the Venerable Bede in the Galilee Chapel, and went to the museum of St Cuthbert’s treasures. It did not seem appropriate to venerate St Cuthbert’s relics, as they were in far too much of an exhibition, and not as I remembered them, when they had been on a more human scale rather than in special cabinets. I remembered seeing his pectoral cross and an old coffin in which they’d found it, but now the cross was stuck in the middle of a blob of transparent plastic, with spotlights on it. I wondered what would happen if the plastic got discoloured or something — it would probably damage it horribly if they had to chip it out.
We went out into College Green, where the chapter houses were, and that seemed unchanged from nearly 40 years ago.
We went through the gates into the Bailey, and walked down to St Chad’s College, where I had been a student 1966-68. We went to pay our respects to the principal, Fr Joseph Cassidy, who took us on a tour of the college. They were still using the old wooden chapel, where a new altar of light wood had been installed, in place of the old wedding-cake one. That was a bit surprising, as 40 years before there had been plans to take over the nearby Church of St Mary-le-Bow, and to use that as the college chapel. They had built new places in the courtyards, and the college now had women in it, but much was little changed. We went up to see my old room on Cape Horne, but probably no one called it that any more, or if they did, no one would know why it was called that. It had been named after another South African student, Bryan Horne, who had preceded me at the college, so I had never met him. His room had been in that part of the college. Bow Cottage, where I had lived in my first year at St Chad’s, was still at the end of Bow Lane, though looking somewhat posher than when I had lived in it, and apparently no longer belonged to St Chad’s.
We walked across Kingsgate Bridge, taking photos up and down the river. Dunelm House, the people’s gin palace, looked much the same, except that the concrete had gained some dark streaks.
We walked back down New Elvet, and over Elvet Bridge, now pedestrianised since the by-pass had been built.When I had been a student, it was a busy main road, taking not merely town traffic, but much of the north-south passing traffic as well. The traffic was controlled from a police box in the Market Square, allowing it to pass from each of the bridges on to the peninsula one at a time.
There were still boats for hire under the bridge, but it seemed that the punts had gone. We bought a couple of sandwiches to eat on our way, down to Stockton-on-Tees to see Chris and Nina Gwilliam, arriving there about 5:30. Chris had been a fellow student with me at St Chad’s College in 1966-67, and Nina had been a student at one of the other Durham colleges.
We had a magnificent supper of chicken Madras cooked by Chris, and chatted until 11:30, mainly about the new house they had bought in France, and were planning to move to. They said there was too much crime in Britain. They said their present house was one they did not feel at home in, and I was rather surprised at that — I thought it was a rather nice one. On my first visit to Britain nearly 40 years ago, I had been horrified by the terrace houses, now I did not mind them at all, and thought I would be quite happy to live in their house.
Both Chris and Nina had become Quakers, and Nina had done it first. I would not have recognised Chris if I had passed him in the street, as he had changed a great deal. He was still in his business of painting model railway carriages, which seemed to bring him in some income, but was planning to retire from that when he moved to France.
Index to all posts on our UK trip here UK Holiday May 2005
It’s been a busy day. It was our son Jethro’s birthday.
We got a phone call in the morning saying that there would be no one at the children’s home in Atteridgeville, where we were planning to go for a service. It was too late to go anywhere else, except perhaps St Sergius in Midrand, where we thought the Divine Liturgy started a but later, so we went along to it. It’s been a long time since we were there, and i9n fact it was the first time we had been during the time of the present priest, Fr Daniel.
They also had a special Requiem afterwards it was the 70th anniversary of the end of the Great Patriotic War (World War II in Europe). It was held at a chapel outside the main church, dedicated to |St Vladimir. We had not seen it before, and we found out that it was erected in memory of the Russians who had been killed in the Anglo-Boer War (1899-1902).
When we got home we went out for lunch to celebrate Jethro’s birthday, and then we went to get a new puppy. One of our dogs, Squiffylugs, has cancer, and doesn’t have logn to live. Our other dog, Samwaisw, will need some canine company when she is gone, and we thought, since she had never had any puppies of her own, and adopted puppy might giver her a sort of surrogate motherhood.
The new puppy is a Border Collie, and we are thinking of calling him Pimen, which means shepherd or pastor.
Squiffylugs immediately got all maternal, and inspected him for fleas, nibbling him all over (and slobbering over him at the same time). Samwise brought his ball, perhaps worried that with the new arrival no one would be interested in throwing his ball for him.
If this blog post seems a little incoherent, that’s because it’s difficult to write with a puppy demanding attention.