Education and the Benedict Option

Rod Dreher’s The Benedict Option has received a good deal of commentary recently.   Certainly we are living in post-Christian times.  This review makes me more interested in reading it.

In Fearing Dreher: Why the Benedict Option Scares Christians, Thomas Ascik writes:

But it is most interesting that Mr. Dreher barely talks about the curriculum of public elementary and secondary schools. He emphasizes, instead, the peer culture of the school environment. Christian parents may try very hard, but everything can be undone by “the toxic peer culture” of public schools. In addition, the parents themselves may neither understand nor be capable of resisting. The effects are pervasive. Mr. Dreher quotes communications to him from parents of children in public schools who describe the startling number of public-school students who have come to believe that that they are transgender or bisexual. In the bluntest statement of his whole book, and one aimed directly at Christian parents, Mr. Dreher asserts that “two or three hours of religious education weekly is unlikely to counteract the forty or more hours spent in school or school-related programming.” The conclusion: Christian parents should remove their children from public schools.

A senior in a large public high school located in a major western city recently told this reviewer that he did not know any Christians at his school. Now, since there are obviously students there who are Christians, that means that the Christian students never identify themselves as Christians nor say or do anything identifiably Christian. Plainly, those students think that a public school is not an environment where it is appropriate or even permissible to be an open Christian. So, we may ask, if you never express who you really are, aren’t you inevitably changing who you really are?

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In order to combine Christian education with an education in the liberal learning of Western civilization, Mr. Dreher endorses the classical Christian school movement and gives both Catholic and Evangelical examples. If such schools are too expensive or not available, the alternative is to homeschool.

I couldn’t agree more that the public schools in our country are a disaster and the best thing you could do for your kids is to keep them out.  Here are a couple recent examples of the sort of negative influences in school he’s talking about.

A Florida teacher demanded her 9th grade student remove a cross necklace that she was wearing.  The teacher’s room is full of LGBT posters and rainbows.  She’s allowed to proselytize the kids, but the kids can’t even wear a symbol of their faith?  Although the girl obeyed the teacher’s demand at the time, she and her parents aren’t taking this without a fight:

Together with her attorneys, this brave ninth grader is asking for the right to express her faith, which is already guaranteed to her by the Constitution. Students should never have to check their beliefs at the school house door — or anywhere else for that matter.

Emily Zinos writes “A ‘transgender’ kindergartner registered at my kids’ school. That’s when the madness began.”  She goes on to describe what happened in her school district: the school’s attempts at accommodation, the “trans” kid’s parents suing anyway, school sponsored meetings telling the rest of the parents they had to comply and when these parents funded a meeting to counterpoint the school’s presentation, “Well over a hundred local pro-LGBTQ protesters came to the presentation, prompting the local police to send a sergeant and two patrolling squads as protection.”  Because tolerance, folks!

The rest of Ms. Zinos’ article is interesting, especially that a group of feminists has joined the fight against transgender activism because of common ground of ensuring the rights of biological women.  Here is her conclusion about what’s happening in the schools:

institutionalizing gender ideology will require that schools ignore the evidence that it causes real harm to children. You can’t extol the virtues of gender ideology and question its soundness at the same time. By celebrating transgenderism as a valid identity, schools are promoting a body-mind disconnect that may very well bring on the gender dysphoric state they were attempting to prevent. And when the widely accepted “affirmative” medical treatments of gender dysphoria in children are both poorly studied and glaringly injurious, we have nothing to celebrate.

We’re building a school-to-gender-clinic pipeline that will feed this new pediatric specialty with young patients. There are now more than thirty gender clinics specializing in youth across the United States, and the young patients who are under their care are often given bone-destroying puberty blockers at eleven, potentially sterilized with cross-sex hormones at sixteen, and permanently mutilated by plastic surgery soon after that.

Make no mistake, schools that endorse and celebrate transgenderism as valid are endorsing child abuse.

Given examples like those (and those are only two, only the tip of the ice berg where trans-issues are but one problem among many), I’d say Dreher isn’t wrong about the state of education in America.  He also opines that most of the American colleges may be beyond saving – unless they are replaced by truer places of secondary learning.  What about his other ideas?

Mr. Dreher, who visited the Benedictine monastery at Nursia, Italy, in preparing his book, holds that the Rule is a “manual of practices, and its precepts simple and “plain enough to be adapted by lay Christians for their own use.” He derives eight main principles from the Rule and states why each would literally be a godsend for Christians in the modern, secular world. Against the disorder and loss of tradition of the modern world, the first principle is that it is order—ordered daily life, rather than today’s randomness—that sets the stage for “internal order.”

The second is prayer. “Prayer is the life of the soul,” Mr. Dreher quotes a Benedictine monk, and time must be set aside for it. The monastic emphasis on regular, daily prayer is the precisely needed antidote to the maniacal busyness of the contemporary world. Echoing the standard understanding of the role of prayer in Christian life, Mr. Dreher suggests that “if we spend all our time in activity, even when that activity serves Christ, and neglect prayer and contemplation, we put our faith in danger.”

Third, against the intellectualizing of everything today, Benedict’s Rule understands that the involvement of the body in manual labor is an essential part of human work. Again, Christians today, having been forced out of some of the professions, may have to resort to more labor by hand, Mr. Dreher concludes.

Fourth, contrary to the supreme modern principle of satisfying one’s own desires, “relearning asceticism—that is, how to suffer for the faith—is critical training for Christians living in the world today and the world of the near future.”

Fifth, even that most monastic principle of stability—that is, staying in one place—has some relevance to lay Christians, for what is the overall benefit of our constant mobility?

Sixth is community, the human architecture of a monastery, but also of a family, a neighborhood, a city, a society, and a polity. We readers might add to Mr. Dreher’s analysis the observation that we now increasingly live without a sense of shared life, without a “collective consciousness,” as Emile Durkheim put it. We are “free, equal, and independent,” but, pace John Locke, we are alone.

Seventh, contrary to Mr. Dreher’s critics and to a true understanding of the Rule, hospitality is a daily duty not only of monastic life but also of lay Christian life. Pilgrims and visitors are to “be received like Christ.” But hospitality, like all the virtues, must be practiced with prudence and according to the other principles of the Rule. A visitor cannot disturb or disrupt the community.

Mr. Dreher adds an eighth principle—balance, partly derived from the Benedictines but also from his own reflection and observation. By being too strict, some Christian communities have fallen apart or become “cultlike.” On the other hand, since abandonment to the will of God is the goal, Christian communities cannot be based on “spiritual mediocrity.”

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The World is Confused About the Nature of Love and Suffering

One might argue that the zeitgeist is confusion, especially confusion about what it means to love and how to handle suffering — both one’s own and that of others.  No one seems to understand what is true or even that there is such a thing as truth.  To illustrate this confusion, people embrace relativism and “personal truth,” but then turn around and decry what they perceive as politicians telling untruths (with great shock and outrage it might be added, as though they’ve missed all the jokes about lying politicians).  In How TIME murdered truth, and framed Trump, Jonathon Van Maren, points out the irony (which no one seems to notice) that TIME Magazine’s recent cover, “Is Truth Dead?” (apparently referencing Trump’s “lying,” so-called “fake-news,” etc.), follows on the heels of this cover: “Beyond He or She: How a new generation is redefining the meaning of gender.”

Of course truth is dead. Our culture killed it, long before Donald Trump showed up…

We now reject every constraint on our own so-called right to radical self-determination, even if those constraints are biology and reality. That is why a full-grown man can decide to leave his family and live as a six-year-old girl, and the media coverage of this is largely subdued and respectful. That is why there is a new group of human beings who identify as non-human beings—rather, they are “Otherkin,” people who identify as certain animals. This is treated with long-faced solemnity by our cultural elites, because truth is dead and people can be whatever they want, even if they are obviously not what or who they say they are.

For those who are baffled by each new absurdity, there is an extensive arsenal of labels awaiting them. Homophobe. Transphobe…Otherkinphobe? And so it goes.

Our culture is no longer self-aware enough to recognize humans who claim they are not human as fundamentally disturbed, and men who claim to be women and women who claim to be men as suffering from some delusion deserving of treatment rather than celebratory front page stories in iconic news magazines. TIME Magazine can mourn the loss of truth merely a week after they have championed its departure, and almost nobody will notice.

In these times of confusion about even the nature of biological sex/gender, people are understandably confused about the nature of marriage as well, even among Catholics who should know better. According to John-Henry Westen, Pope Francis is playing with fire and adding to the confusion:

But as we’ve laid out above, there is massive confusion in the Church about where exactly the Pope stands on the matter. Even though a thorough assessment clearly shows the Pope backing communion for divorced and remarried Catholics, there are cardinals and bishops who suggest the Pope means the opposite.

For those who knew Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio prior to his election to the pontificate, this is nothing new. I spoke to a few priests from Buenos Aires who worked with Cardinal Bergoglio in different capacities and from them learned that confusion is emblematic of his ministry…

Shortly after the publication of Amoris Laetitia, a forward-thinking critic warned that it would become unworkable for the Church if the bishops in Germany would wink at divorce and remarriage while across the border in Poland it would be mortally sinful. Yet who could have envisioned that we’d see bishops and cardinals voicing opposing opinions on what the Pope himself believes and teaches?

The dichotomy is clear evidence that the Pope himself, in refusing to clarify despite the formal and public request of the four Cardinals and associated pleas by countless other Catholic clergy and laity, is guilty of betraying the entire Church. By letting this charade continue he has sown confusion into the hearts of the faithful. This confusion could lead to mortal sin and thus eternal damnation.

Pope Francis is indeed playing with fire. Hell fire.

It is sad that Pope Francis, whether deliberately or not, seems not to understand or be able to clearly articulate consistent Church teaching as well as some laity can.  Leila Miller, author of the soon-to-be released book Primal Loss: The Now-Adult Children of Divorce Speak, has an article on Catholic Answers summarizing: Eight Things You Have To Know About The Church’s Teaching On Divorce.

As Catholics, we are called to a higher standard than the secular culture, and we must rejoice in and embrace Jesus’ insistence on the indissolubility of Christian marriage. The Church’s unbroken teaching reveres and protects the spouses, the children, extended families, society, and the order of creation itself. Our response to marriages, and families, crumbling around us should be a commitment to live, teach, and defend these little known and often rejected truths about the immorality and effects of divorce. As St. John Paul II said in a homily, “The person who does not decide to love forever will find it very difficult to really love for even one day” (The Love Within Families).

The Church teachings that she summarizes are not as well known as they should be.  One response commended her article for being “straight out of the Catechism… founded in Scripture” and had this to say:

The fact is, life is about the cross. Take everything TV and movies say about marriage and throw it out the window. Marriage is a great source of joy. But real joy and peace comes from the cross… Some marriages will be exceptionally difficult. So what? There’s a million things that can befall a person that would make life difficult. We are still bound by moral rules… The points in this article need to be preached over and over and over. They used to be well understood. They need to be made that way again.

A Catholic friend of mine recently announced that she is getting divorced.  This has been a long time coming and was no surprise.  Hers is one of the hard cases.  Her suffering and that of her children has been great (and probably will continue to be so). Changing Church rules would not alleviate their suffering.  Unfortunately, only a miracle and the much needed change of heart and healing of her husband would do that.  She’s hoped and prayed and worked for that for years without any results.  A hard and sad case indeed.

Likewise another example of hard cases are those of infertility and reproductive technologies.  This mother deeply regrets not having fully understood or been told firmly the truth about Catholic teaching.  Because she ignored teaching about IVF, she is now in a difficult moral situation involving frozen embryos.  Her response to the blogger who wrote about the truth of Catholic teaching: “I truly wish I had read your posts about IVF four years ago… that one stung, but it was so necessary. You’re right, of course, but the truth hurts.”

It has been said that hard cases make poor law.  So too do hard cases make poor Church policy. It is a mistake to attempt to turn the Church into yet another in institution solely bent on eliminating human suffering on Earth, at the expense of speaking the Truth, and would make the Church just another failed institution of “social justice.”  Trying to alleviate suffering by telling people to go and do whatever they want and patting them on the back for all their dysfunctional and self-destructive choices as though that were showing love — because we wouldn’t want to make anyone feel bad about the way they are living their lives — will only lead those suffering people to greater suffering and ruin in the long run.  Sometimes a mother must tell her children hard things for their own long-term good, though it may seem unkind in the moment.  Good mothers tell their children “No” as often as necessary.

Jesus said we must pick up our crosses to follow Him.  Following Jesus sounds nice, but no one really wants to pick up his cross because crosses equal suffering and who would want to embrace suffering?  Sometimes living the way we should can be extremely painful.  The world is uncomfortable with suffering: people try to escape suffering for themselves and think the best way to help others is to try to remove their suffering in any way they can.  Yes, some human suffering can and should be eased if at all possible, but sometimes the way to help isn’t to try to snatch away your neighbor’s cross and fling it as far as possible or pretend it isn’t there; sometimes the best way is to come alongside and offer to help carry his cross, like Simon of Cyrene did for our Lord.

When everyone is a racist, then no one will be

Gotta start with those kids early!  A writer over at the Carlos Slim’s blog wonders: Are We Raising Racists?

The consequences are serious. When we don’t talk honestly with white children about racism, they become more likely to disbelieve or discount their peers when they report experiencing racism. “But we’re all equal” becomes a rote response that actually blocks white children from recognizing or taking seriously racism when they see it or hear about it. This is at best.

I note that only white children need to be spoken to about racism.  Minorities are never racist, children, remember that.

At worst, the consequences are akin to what happens when you breathe in polluted air. Not realizing the pollution is there doesn’t mean it doesn’t affect you. White children are exposed to racism daily. If we parents don’t point it out, show how it works and teach why it is false, over time our children are more likely to accept racist messages at face value. When they see racial inequality — when the only doctors or teachers they see are white, or fewer kids in accelerated classes are black, for example — they won’t blame racism. Instead, they’ll blame people of color for somehow falling short.

Minorities also never fall short–which is why we’ve had to scrap literacy tests for teachers in order to get more minority teachers.

We have better models. Parents of black and Latino children have long made thoughtful choices about when and how to engage in difficult and nuanced discussions about difference. Studies show that such parents are two to five times more likely than whites to teach their children explicitly about race from very young ages to counter negative social messages and build a strong sense of identity.

Which group is more like to have a chip on their shoulder about race?  Might it possibly be because yo mama told you that pinky’s out to get you and pointed at every possible instance and example of this?

After telling her daughter that George Washington was a horrible person, the writer concludes:

It’s always risky to tell other people how to raise their children, and I don’t want to imply that I’m some kind of perfect parent. On top of that, our children and families are all different and there are many distinct ways to have conversations about race with our children. But however we talk about it, we need to talk about racism now more than ever.

Liberals have this bizarre black and white sort of thinking.  We can’t say that George Washington as a good person because he owned slaves and therefore was a bad person. We can’t tell our children that “we’re all equal” because if we’re equal then we must be equal in every way possible thus nothing bad happens to other people that doesn’t happen to us.  Sorry, but George Washington, just like every person ever, had good and bad qualities.  Also he freed all his slaves.  (I  know, I know, it was after his death so he didn’t tear his new nation apart and start the Civil War early.  What a jerk.)  I can be equal to you, and I can also have problems that you don’t have.  Are you ignoring my Nixon-only problem, you vile bigot?

My parents raised me to be a not-racist.  They failed because the culture around me kept saying over and over “you’re a white person; white people are racist; why aren’t you noticing how racist you are, you racist?”  When you try to shove something down someone’s throat, the gag reflex kicks in.  The only thing that’s creating more racists, is YOU who won’t shut up about racism.