From the introduction to The Benedict Option:
These confused and homeless evacuees could be forgiven their lack of preparation. Few had thought to buy flood insurance, but why would they? The Great Flood was a thousand-year weather event, and nobody in recorded history had ever seen this land underwater. The last time something like this happened in Louisiana, Western civilization had not yet reached American shores.
We Christians in the West are facing our own thousand-year flood—or if you believe Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, a fifteen-hundred-year flood: in 2012, the then-pontiff said that the spiritual crisis overtaking the West is the most serious since the fall of the Roman Empire near the end of the fifth century. The light of Christianity is flickering out all over the West. There are people alive today who may live to see the effective death of Christianity within our civilization. By God’s mercy, the faith may continue to flourish in the Global South and China, but barring a dramatic reversal of current trends, it will all but disappear entirely from Europe and North America. This may not be the end of the world, but it is the end of a world, and only the willfully blind would deny it.
For a long time we have downplayed or ignored the signs. Now the floodwaters are upon us—and we are not prepared. The storm clouds have been gathering for decades, but most of us believers have operated under the illusion that they would blow over. The breakdown of the natural family, the loss of traditional moral values, and the fragmenting of communities—we were troubled by these developments but believed they were reversible and didn’t reflect anything fundamentally wrong with our approach to faith. …
I use the “Great Flood” metaphor as a reference to the Biblical flood in Genesis 6. In the dramatic embellishment I was taught in Sunday school, the people of Noah’s day mocked him for trusting God and building an ark. I want readers of my book to grasp the historic magnitude of what’s happening to Christianity in the Western world.
As I’ve spent most of the past year detailing on this blog, quite a few critics have dismissed the Benedict Option thesis not because they have weighed the evidence and found it wanting, but because, it seems to me, they can’t bear the thought that it might be true — because then, they would have to make radical changes in their lives. This is human nature. I was reminded of this today when I read this sad, but not shocking, NPR story about how the state of Louisiana is at long last confronting the fact that it cannot save the homes of all its citizens from rising Gulf waters — and it can’t afford to buy them out, either. Excerpts:
Louisiana is losing land faster than just about anywhere else in the world. Since the 1930s, nearly 2,000 square miles — a land mass about the size of Delaware — have washed away into the Gulf of Mexico. The reasons include sinking land, rising sea levels, damage from the dredging of canals by oil companies and the brutal impact of storm surges and hurricanes. Coastal marshes act as a buffer for storms, so the less land there is, the bigger the threat to residents.
For a decade, the state has been working to build up its coast, re-creating barrier islands and planting new marshes. It created a coastal agency and a Coastal Master Plan, updated every five years. But in its latest plan, the 2017 Coastal Master Plan, officials admit they can’t save all the land. They say people will have to move.
“I think it’s important to note that this is really the first time we’ve had this level of discussion about this sensitive of a topic,” says Bren Haase, a planner with the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority.
When the last plan simply mentioned the possibility of buyouts, the agency head at the time, now-Rep. Garret Graves, R-La., says there were some “very upset people literally threatening us with our lives.”
I find that easy to believe. People understandably don’t want to hear that kind of news. But that doesn’t make it untrue.
The Great Flood I’m talking about has been brought about by “liquid modernity,” to use Zygmunt Bauman’s useful concept. From a definition:
In later years, Bauman felt that the term “postmodern” was problematic and started using the term liquid modernity to better describe the condition of constant mobility and change he sees in relationships, identities, and global economics within contemporary society. Instead of referring to modernity and postmodernity, Bauman writes of a transition from solid modernity to a more liquid form of social life.
For Bauman, the consequences of this move to a liquid modernity can most easily be seen in contemporary approaches to self-identity. In liquid modernity, constructing a durable identity that coheres over time and space becomes increasingly impossible, according to Bauman. We have moved from a period where we understood ourselves as “pilgrims” in search of deeper meaning to one where we act as “tourists” in search of multiple but fleeting social experiences.
As the crisis of liquid modernity worsens, people will be grabbing onto whatever floats by. Read Justin Lee’s sobering essay on the rise of white nationalism in our time. Excerpt:
In a recent essay, R.R. Reno argues:
“Our political struggles over nations and nationalisms are best understood as referenda on the West’s meta-politics over the last three generations, which has been one of disenchantment. The rising populism we’re seeing throughout the West reflects a desire for a return of the strong gods to public life.”Reno has in mind Max Weber’s understanding of disenchantment as the state in which “there are no mysterious incalculable forces that come into play, but rather that one can, in principle, master all things by calculation.” To the disenchanted mind, reason becomes fully instrumentalized. Rather than a faculty allowing us to desire the true, the good and the beautiful, reason is merely a tool the will uses to impress itself upon raw material.
For Weber, disenchantment has been unfolding in the West for millennia but became our default most thoroughly after the Industrial Revolution, when the mechanistic worldview established itself in the material conditions of the average man.
Charles Taylor, our most exhaustive recent chronicler of disenchantment, contrasts our nominalist expressivism with the way the world was experienced by pre-moderns: “in the enchanted world, the meaning is already there in the object/agent, it is there quite independently of us; it would be there even if we didn’t exist.” The world is quite literally bursting with meaning, each object pointing beyond its own contingency to a grounding transcendence. To the disenchanted mind, however, meaning is not discovered, it is merely expressed, a product of the individual’s will.
For Weber, Reno and Taylor, as for many others, fascism is best understood as a reaction to disenchantment. It is a species of romanticism, a rebellion against Enlightenment desacralization. “Fascism,” argues Taylor, “gives us the paradigm of a counter-ideal of the modern order, one which extolled command, leadership, dedication, obedience, over individualism, rights and democracy, but which did so out of a cult for greatness, will, action, life.” True to its Nietzschean roots, fascism left no place “for the morality of Christianity, and certainly not of liberalism; the ultimate goal was to make something great out of one’s life.”
The horrors of the Second World War provoked a global retrenchment of disenchantment. “Ideological commitment and passion lead to brutality and moral blindness,” explains Reno. “Here again many [post-war] political and cultural leaders assumed that restoration of a more humane way of life in the West would require softening and weakening.” Thus the disenchanting and desacralizing project of the European Coal and Steel Community and, subsequently, the European Union.
The politics of disenchantment cannot satisfy the deep yearning for transcendent purpose. This is by design. The assumption behind this “weakening of being” is that, as Reno puts it, “If nothing is worth fighting for, nobody will fight.” But this is manifestly naive. The weakening of being provokes a desire for its strengthening. “Populism rebels against the fluidity and weightlessness of life. This impulse, however disruptive it becomes for our political institutions, reflects a sane desire for metaphysical density.”
Ideally, such desire would be channelled into a collective striving for the human good. But this presumes a coherent metaphysical ground. There can be no action on behalf of the good without a vision of what the good is. In former times this was provided by Christian universalism, which sees every person as made in the image of God and thus bearing intrinsic, divine dignity.
But without Christianity? We are left in the West with nothing but will to power. Read the whole thing. It’s very important.
White nationalists — and black nationalists, and most other fervent practitioners of identity politics — are responding to the washing away of the ground — common ground, and metaphysical ground — by the Great Flood of liquid modernity. As I argue in The Benedict Option, we small-o orthodox Christians had better get busy building our flotilla of arks. Nobody is coming to save us. There is nobody to buy us out, and no safe ground to retreat to even if there were. Spiting the messenger won’t keep your feet dry.