Revoice, The Culture War, and the Friend/Enemy Distinction

The Friend/Enemy Distinction

What does it mean for someone to be an enemy (not merely a personalenemy, but the enemy of my community in a just cause, or the enemy of the truth itself)? It means someone whom I am bound to oppose and resist; someone whose every weakness I must seek to discover, whose every misstep I must be alert for and ready to exploit; someone for whom I cannot afford to entertain fond feelings or show mercy, at least as long as they are an active threat. It is someone whom I must assume is similarly seeking to exploit my weaknesses and those of my friends; someone whose intentions I must always suspect; whose action I cannot afford to give the benefit of the doubt, but must rather, as a precautionary principle, always interpret in a negative light, as an act of aggression; someone toward whom it is actually a virtue to appear paranoid. The appropriateness of these reactions increases in proportion to the level of threat; there may be a place for rules of chivalry and gentlemanly warfare, but when I am under existential threat, facing an enemy who will stop at nothing, I cannot afford to be naïve and trusting.

What does it mean for someone to be my friend? It means someone whom I am determined to support and encourage; someone whose weaknesses I must seek to shore up and compensate for; someone whose missteps I cover for, ready to spring to their aid; someone for whom I actively cultivate an affection and whom I am quick to forgive. It is someone of whom I try to always think the best, assuming their good intentions and applying a hermeneutic of charity when they speak or act questionably; someone for whom it is a virtue to be trusting to the point of appearing naïve.

These radically different strategies of engagement and rules of interpretation are deeply wired into us; even while they may not be necessary for physical survival in a relatively peaceful and civilized age, they are still necessary for social, intellectual, and spiritual survival in a world filled with evil and workers of iniquity. The friend/enemy distinction is a kind of mental mapping, a shorthand by which we make sense of the chaos around us, determining whom we can trust and how best to deploy our limited powers of empathy and of resistance. In the intellectual realm, it enables us to simplify the vast spectrum of ideas and positions that confront us, which are beyond the power of even the brightest amongst us to dispassionately evaluate one-by-one. Without fully knowing where each individual stands on a wide range of issues, and without being able to determine where exactly the truth lies on each of those issues, we fall back on the question, “Is this person a friend or a foe?”—a question often partly answered on pre-rational grounds—to decide our posture toward them.

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John C. Calhoun, Prophet

Yesterday I had the pleasure to read for the first time the American statesman John C. Calhoun’s little magnum opus A Disquisition on Government. Calhoun’s reputation has fallen on hard times of late as part of the general backlash against any leader or thinker associated with the antebellum, slave-owning American South. As is usual in such cases, some of the blame is deserved, some not; but the beautiful thing about ideas is that they maintain their intrinsic value and potential relevance regardless of the prejudices or motives of their propounder. So it is in Calhoun’s extraordinary Disquisition. There is nothing in its arguments that depends on the context and agendas of the antebellum South; just extraordinary insight into the innate tendencies of government, society, and constitutional structures.

This is particularly the case with Calhoun’s insightful and prescient diagnosis of the diseases of partisan politics that will afflict a democracy that seeks to run itself more or less on the principle of decision-making by numerical majorities—as the US has increasingly tilted toward over the past century. His remarks on this score are nothing short of astonishing in light of the sharp polarization of American politics in the last generation and the increasing paralysis of the party system. Read More


Richard Hooker Responds to Jay Adams

While reading through the works of Richard Hooker today, I had the good fortune to come across an obscure and forgotten treatise where he attacks the form of “biblical” approach to psychology and counseling that has in our own era been advocated by Jay Adams and the “nouthetic counseling” movement. He also defends other Christian approaches to psychology and counseling against the false charge of being unbiblical or disdainful of Scripture.

Whether it is necessary that some particular form of Christian counseling be set down in Scripture, since the things belonging to such a form are not necessary for salvation

wenceslaus-hollar-richard-hookerTherefore, since our opponents say that no form of Christian counseling is lawful, or of God, unless God has set it down in Scripture, I cannot help but ask whether they mean set down in Scripture in whole or in part. If they say in whole, I challenge them to show any form of counseling that ever was so set down. They will not dare to claim that their own is indeed comprehensively laid out in Scripture, nor will they deny that even ours, which they so detest, is at least in part taken from Scripture. I must also ask whether, when they speak of a psychology “taken from Scripture,” do they mean explicitly and specifically set down there, or simply that the general principles and rules can be found in Scripture? They cannot pretend the former, since not every part of their own approach is spelled out in Scripture; and as for the latter, if this is all they mean, they can hardly object against other forms of counseling! After all, such general principles do not prescribe any one particular form of counseling, but allow for many different sorts which may all embody these principles in different ways. Read More


The Benedict Mandate and the Need for Faithful Presence

41QY+zZAzfL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_In a refreshingly honest moment on page 142 of The Benedict Option, Rod Dreher quotes Leah Libresco Sargent saying,

“People are like, ‘This Benedict Option thing, it’s just being Christian, right?’ And I’m like, “Yes! You’ve figured out the koan!’ But people won’t do it unless you call it something different. It’s just the church being what the church is supposed to be, but if you give it a name, that makes people care.”

Leaving aside the fact that I’ve never in my life heard the word koan before, this captures my ambivalence about Rod Dreher’s blockbuster new book better than anything. With all the buzz surrounding the book, I opened my review copy with some excitement and trepidation, but the more I kept reading, the more mystified I became what all the fuss was about. Fans and foes alike seemed to been taken in by the publishing event into thinking that something earthshaking was afoot.

But when you look at the forty-seven (or forty-three) concrete proposals that make up Dreher’s blueprint for the Benedict Option, you find instead a primer on thoughtful Christian discipleship. Dreher encourages churches to pay attention to their history, relearn liturgical rhythms, work together with other local congregations, and try to live as real communities. He encourages parents to put God at the center of their families’ lives, enforce moral norms, and think about who their kids are hanging out with. He proclaims the importance of Christian education, of Christian sexual morality, and of a Christian sense of work as vocation. In light of proposals such as these, one is forced to wonder just what is motivating the Christian intellectuals who contemptuously dismissed the book. Not only are most of these proposals simply mere Christianity, but a good number are mere common sense (for instance, “Think about your kids’ peer groups”; “don’t give your kids smartphones”; “don’t use social media in worship”; “fight pornography aggressively”). Now, to be sure, just because something is common sense does not mean it is necessarily common; in a world gone mad, stating the obvious can come across as revolutionary. But I really do think we all need to settle down and realize how ordinary and obvious most of the proposals in The Benedict Option really are.

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The Benedict Option in 43 Propositions

I’m working on a review of Rod Dreher’s The Benedict Option, which seems to be all the rage  right now—whether you love it or hate it. While I have no great beef with most of Dreher’s arguments or suggestions, I also can’t see quite what the big fuss is about. You will probably see what I mean from the following list of 43 (or 47, depending on how you count) concrete proposals that I distilled from the book as an initial note-taking exercise:

Church

  • Learn the riches of your theological tradition, rediscover your past (102-5)
  • Liturgical worship (105-13)
    • Refocuses on God speaking to us, rather than us expressing ourselves
    • Involvement of the body as well as spirit
    • A rhythm that disciplines our desires
  • Recover fasting (114-15)
  • Recover church discipline (116-17)
  • Evangelize with goodness and beauty (117-19)

Community

  • Establish the home as “domestic monastery” (124-26)
    • Daily family worship
    • Mutual love and service
    • Show hospitality
  • Be willing to be nonconformist (126-27)
  • Think about your kids’ peer groups (127-28)
  • Beware of idealizing the family (128-29)
  • Live in geographical proximity to your community (130-34)
  • Establish strong social networks in the church community (134-35)
  • Establish, as far as possible, ecumenical ties with other local churches (136-38)
  • Don’t idolize the community (138-39)
  • Start where you’re at rather than trying to make something perfect (139-42)

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