We use “option” to mean “alternative” today, especially inversions of the established order, and yet by the disappearance of any established order the word is returning to its earlier use. There have always been different ways to live, and different routes to Hell, as well as ways “home.” Rod Dreher’s latest instalment, The Benedict Option: A Strategy for Christians in a Post-Christian Nation, formally published yesterday, again sounds the horn. I haven’t read it, and probably won’t, for while I have a high opinion of Dreher, he is still just a journalist like me, not to be taken too seriously. His book must sell in the very market for “trends” he condemns, and that involves forms of discretion I happen to despise. He is alarmed; it must make a point. Current books are much narrower than casual essays in that regard. They have become homoeopathic expansions of single aphorisms. They dare not range off-message. The point must be hammered in the manner of “direct mail”: lots of words but the same “unique selling point,” over and over. By now we all understand that he isn’t recommending we take to the hills, that it is sufficient to disengage on location. And whatever one’s circumstances, the “option” of a consciously Christian life is always there. Okay, okay, I’ll buy.
To my mind, we need a better understanding of the “options” that led us astray, to conduct our resistance. Too, I should like to defeat the enemy, wherever possible, by creative engagement. It must be assymetrical warfare, however, because we don’t have the weapons for a more conventional Armageddon, and shouldn’t play to the enemy’s strength. The enemy wants excitement, we must defeat him with stifling calm. For the world he has delivered, through the twentieth century and in preparation through centuries before, is hepped up on amphetamines. I think Benzedrine makes a nice symbol, for the inhaler of the ’thirties proved useful in war, to keep soldiers awake and alert in their land, air, and sea trenches. The general destruction of contemporary youth by more powerful substances reflects the evolution in Western society to the condition of permanent psychic warfare. Euphorias kill. Pain-killers, ditto.
It takes only three days away from the sources of anxiety to free one from their iron grip, though much longer to quench the fire they leave burning. I was reminded of this over the weekend, in Ottawa to attend the obsequies for my remarkable friend, Mary Scheer. This took me away from my computer, in which I find the daily news, and upon return to the High Doganate, Monday night, I discovered in myself a decided indifference towards catching up. When I did get around to checking, I saw that there was nothing new in the news: only more “dog shit,” if I may lift a term from a recent Joseph Epstein essay. Why do we waste our consciousness on it? More precisely: why do I?
Yet there are dangers even in the withdrawal from worldly interests, because the mind has become so accustomed to the false adrenaline drive. We return to religion, or take it up, in the same spirit we think we have abandoned. We also find in the Church, today, a substitute for the politics we mean to leave behind, because she has become so worldly. Father Rutler of New York quotes Pope Benedict to advantage on this matter:
“Today, having a clear faith based on the Creed of the Church is often labelled as fundamentalism. Whereas relativism, that is, letting oneself be ‘tossed here and there, carried about by every wind of doctrine,’ seems the only attitude that can cope with modern times. We are building a dictatorship of relativism that does not recognize anything as definitive and whose ultimate goal consists solely of one’s own ego and desires.”
Gradually, calmly, must one learn to identify and flush one’s amphetamine options.