Wednesday, November 9, 2016

The Real Crisis In America Is Not Political And Neither Is The Answer

On Tuesday nights at the BU Catholic Center we host a dinner for all of our students and then have some sort of formational talk and discussion on some Catholic topic. Topics range from Catholic Social Teaching, Mental Health Issues and how they relate to Faith, Marriage, Religious Life, etc.  Last night, because it was election night, we didn't want to avoid the election discussion, but we didn't want to get bogged down in the usual political quagmire. We wanted to propose something positive.

Since the Enlightenment, society and culture have become detached from their Christian roots.  This detachment leaves us unhinged and basically living a whimsical type of existence.  We bounce from one thing to the next, our morality is fluid, and nothing grounds us. When this happens, we become slaves of the ephemeral. Before long, we place all of our hope in a political figure; a political figure who himself (or herself) is detached from the roots of Christian culture.  If I could provide an image that might be helpful: It would be as though we were swept away in a riptide.  What we should really do to help ourselves is to find away to reattach ourselves to the land. If there were someone standing on shore with a rope and they threw it to us, then we should grab hold of that line.  Instead, we find ourselves in the riptide along with others.  One of the others has a rope and so we enthusiastically grab hold, but unfortunately, we are only attached to that person who is also being swept away.

Is it possible that politics has become increasingly divisive not because people have more deeply held beliefs, but because they no longer have any roots? We are like a drowning person flailing in the water, willing to grab hold of anything. The problem, however, is that what we are holding on to is also being swept away. And so, every two years or four years, we place all of our hope in some drowning candidate who is farther from shore than the previous candidate. Along the way, we might have moments of calm seas or moments of rough seas, but the reality is that we are all drifting further into the abyss.

That's the bad news.  So what can we do?  It's true that the people we elect do have an effect on society and that they have an important job. But, who we elect shouldn't define our whole life. What should define our whole life is who elected us: Jesus Christ. We were chosen by Him and the more we live our lives attached to Him, the more we have something positive to offer to the world and to the culture.  No political candidate, party, or system can save us because they too are drifting out to sea. We need to attach ourselves to the foundation of Christ.

One proposal in recent decades that has been made is called the "Benedict Option."  Without getting into too much detail here, it basically says that instead of investing so much of our time and energy and all of our hopes in the political realm with its ever changing landscape, we should focus on building small, intentional Catholic communities where we can grow in virtue and attach ourselves more firmly to Christ.  The idea is named after St. Benedict who, when the Roman Empire was collapsing, withdrew from it and founded monasteries where monks lived a Christian life together and became the people who preserved western culture.

The Benedict Option is not to say that we should give up on the world, to isolate ourselves in Catholic ghettos, or to stop bearing witness. But, what I think it proposes is that we need to stop thinking that a system that is totally detached from its Christian foundations is ever going to save us.  It is too whimsical and subject to radical change.  Instead, we focus on growing in Christian life.  The Benedict Option (and similar proposals) is about living a more intentional discipleship. It is not about escaping from the culture. It is, in my view, about influencing the culture by first living a Catholic life with others.

Rod Dreher, who coined the idea, proposes various aspects of this option.  Among them are living with the end in mind (the end being loving and serving God), seeing our work as sanctifying, having time for prayer and silence, being hospitable and open to others, having stability (i.e. keeping close to one another and following the same thing together), and being focused on living our community life in Christ and growing in virtue together. I think there is no one model for this. It is something that allows for creativity. It may be a parish in some instances or small Christian communities or one of the new movements in the Church.  It is in these small Catholic communities that we discover friendship, truth, beauty, and goodness, and it is where we learn to become virtuous.

From my experience, the BU Catholic Center is like this for many of us.  The students don't come here in order to hide from the "great big world out there."  They are involved in various clubs, sports, and activities. But, at the Catholic Center, they are anchored to Christ. They learn how to live in the culture as people who are different and free. They are not enslaved by a system that is drifting out to sea. Instead, they are able to immerse themselves in any environment because they are tethered to Christ. They are free.  

Some feel as though Western Civilization is already extinct. Others feel that it is still salvageable.  Either way, the situation is grim. One thing of which I am confident is that neither Hillary Clinton nor Donald Trump are going to be the lifeboat that saves our culture. So much time, money, and energy has been spent on choosing between grasping onto one of two individuals--both of whom are caught up in the same riptide as the rest of the culture.  They are not going to save us. Maybe they will make things more or less bad, but they are not going to save us.  The answer may well be found in the Benedict Option (or in similar proposals). 

It's tempting to think that the empire can save us if only we get the right emperor, but the empire is being pulled into the abyss because it is detached from its roots. It is appealing to think that all we need to do is to get the right emperor and everything will be fixed.  But, the cure is not going to be found in a political election. The cure is found in reattaching the culture to the root of life, Jesus Christ.  In order to do this, we need to start with ourselves and, as one drifting soul after another sees us holding onto the lifeline from the shore, they too will grab hold.  When we are all holding on together to Christian culture, we can elect good leaders. But, we'll do so with the very calm realization that we are electing a leader, not a savior.  Because we don't elect a savior. He elects and chooses us and that is our foundation.

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