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Sunday Night Journal, March 26, 2017

Some time ago, a year or maybe two, before I cut our cable TV service back to the minimum, a 1965 movie called The Loved One caught my eye in the Turner Classic Movies schedule. Was it Evelyn Waugh's Loved One? I wasn't aware that a movie had ever been made from it. I checked, and it was, so I recorded it, but I didn't expect it to be very good. Months went by and it remained unwatched. I was seriously considering deleting it but decided to give it a chance. So my wife and I watched it. When it was over, we said "Well, that was strange." It was funny, but...I wasn't quite sure what I thought of it, and whether I wanted to recommend it to anyone else. I thought I might watch it again, so instead of deleting it I left it there. Another six months or so went by, and a couple of weeks ago I watched it again.  

This time I said again, "Well, that was strange." But it's also very funny, in a monstrous kind of way. And yes, it is good, quite good on the whole, and so I do recommend it to anyone who likes Waugh.

I didn't remember the book well enough to know whether the movie was at all faithful to it, so before this second viewing I read the book again (the last time having been decades ago). It's quite short, hardly more than a novelette. And the film is quite faithful to it, as far as the book goes. But the film goes further. While faithful to the basic plot, even down to using a fair amount of Waugh's dialog, it adds a whole new plot element, and, amazingly, does so quite successfully.The book is a satire of the American funeral business, especially as it is most lavishly and weirdly seen in Hollywood. The story involves a young Englishman, Dennis Barlow, a poet, who gets involved in a love triangle with two employees of Whispering Glades. He and Mr. Joyboy, who is the chief mortician, are both in love with Aimee Thanatogenous (rhymes with "heterogeneous", at least if you pronounce it in the usual American way). She is one of the cosmeticians who spruce up the dead (the Loved Ones) for viewing by their mourners (the Waiting Ones). I think her name means something like "death-born." 

To this basic structure the movie adds a major extension of the plot involving the impresario of Whispering Glades, the Reverend Wilbur Glenworthy (Dr. Kenworthy in the book), and his less successful brother Henry (invented for the film, I think), who runs the Reverend's side business, a pet cemetery called The Happier Hunting Grounds. The movie also expands the roles of several minor characters, and introduces some new ones, such as some top brass of the U.S. military. Whispering Glades itself gets more attention, with Waugh's relative lack of description leaving the way open for the director to go in for a great deal of visual indulgence. And it all ties together: Glenworthy's machinations are not an extraneous subplot but are directly connected to the triangle. 

It's an English film, and I probably wouldn't have had such low expectations of it if I'd seen the names of the people involved: the director is Tony Richardson; the writers are Terry Southern and Christopher Isherwood; and the list of actors includes a number of well-known names--John Gielgud, Robert Morse, Robert Morley, James Coburn, Liberace(!), Jonathan Winters, Rod Steiger, Milton Berle, Roddy McDowall, Tab Hunter. Steiger's performance as Mr. Joyboy is especially striking: I think of him as playing tough guys, but he is utterly and creepily convincing as the effete and neurotic mortician. Liberace has a brief but very funny appearance as a coffin salesman. Jonathan Winters plays both Glenworthys, brilliantly. Robert Morse is Barlow, who may or may not be a decent poet but certainly has a gift for low cunning; Morse is capable of looking both lupine and simian. Miss Thanatogenos is played by an actress of whom I had never heard, Anjanette Comer, and she is not only beautiful but has the "rich hint of lunacy" which Waugh specifies for her.

My only serious reservation is with the treatment of Joyboy's home life, and his mother. She's barely present in the book, and seems at worst to do a lot of complaining. The filmmakers chose to make her something of a monster, an enormously fat woman with repulsive habits, and to give the relationship between her and her son a pathological twist. Those scenes are off-putting to say the least, and almost enough to make me dis-recommend the film. So be warned about that, but if you like Waugh and have a taste for black humor in general, have a go at The Loved One. My copy of the book has a quote from Orville Prescott's New York Times review, presumably on its initial publication: "A thoroughly horrible and fiendishly entertaining book." The movie is more so. It was truthfully advertised as having "something to offend everyone." 


(By Source, Fair Use, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=20353293)

Here's the not-all-that-informative trailer:

Oh, and something else worth mentioning about the book: it was Waugh's next novel after Brideshead Revisited. The two could hardly be more different. It would be fair to say that The Loved One is the anti-Brideshead. I found myself wondering if he wrote it mainly to voice his disdain for the United States. 


In the context of the Benedict Option discussion last week, we were discussing when it's justifiable to dismiss a book without reading it. I don't mean not reading it because one is simply not interested in the subject, but because one feels safe in concluding that it does a bad job of whatever it has set out to do, or that its stated thesis is obviously false or absurd. Someone pointed out that The Benedict Option is high on the New York Times best-seller list, which caused me to look at the list. It surprised me that several conservative and/or right-wing books are in the top 10, including one by Michael Savage at #1. 

Currently at #12 is a book called Homo Deus by Yuval Noah Harari. It meets my criteria for dismissability. It seems to be another manifesto of the "transhumanist" school of thought, which believes that humanity as we know us is about to be transformed by the power of technology into "gods." 

Having raised humanity above the beastly level of survival struggles, we will now aim to upgrade humans into gods, and turn Homo sapiens into Homo deus.

This is going to happen through technology of various kinds, of course. When I hear this kind of thing, and consider that one of the tools at the disposal of the would-be transformers of humanity is genetic manipulation, I wonder if we might be approaching not utopia (impossible) or the end times (maybe, but don't plan on it), but some sort of Tower of Babel moment, when God intervenes to cast down the mighty from their thrones, to knock the props out from under the perennial human effort to become as gods and thereby prevent us from becoming demons. 

...let us go down, and there confound their language. (Genesis 11:7, KJV)


Speaking of The Benedict Option, the BookTV interview with Dreher is available online here. I've only watched half an hour of it, and may or may not watch more. It's almost two hours long, though I expect a big part of that is some kind of Q&A. I don't mean to be dismissive, but I guess I am: there doesn't seem to be much here that I haven't heard before. Dreher is a decent speaker so maybe this is a good way to get the gist of the book if you don't want to read it.


One of the very mild Lenten disciplines I've been attempting is to pray the morning and evening prayers in Magnificat. I've been moderately successful--that is, I've done it maybe two-thirds of the mornings and evenings. Well, half, at least...I keep forgetting...I should set a reminder on my phone. 

Anyway, the evening prayers always end with a Marian antiphon. These vary from month to month, and are usually--this will sound negative, though I don't mean it that way--fairly ordinary. But I love this month's:

The Savior of the world shall arise like the sun, and shall descend into the womb of the Virgin, like rain upon the meadow.

I can't think of a better verbal picture to go along with the Solemnity of the Annunciation, which of course was yesterday.


This picture is out of focus but it's the closest I came to capturing one of my favorite things about spring: the shades of green in new cypress needles. 


That's actually a little cypress tree. It was growing next to the fence around our yard, a "volunteer" where it wasn't wanted. I forced myself to pull it up, though I always hate to do that, because eventually either it or the fence would have to go. Then I didn't want to throw it away, so I took it over to the edge of the woods and planted it. It may be too damaged to survive. I'll keep it watered and see if it can survive the summer.


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That Marian antiphon is a favourite of mine too. I used to have a reproduction of an illuminated musical manuscript hanging on my wall, and that was the text. In fact, I still have the picture; I just haven't got around to hanging it (or anything else) since we moved three years ago (!).

Thanks for the recommendation of the film. It's one of my favourite of Waugh's novels, but I didn't know that a film version had been made.

Pointless detail: The last time I read The Loved One I was sitting on the grass at an outdoor concert, waiting for Van Morrison to take the stage. A good memory!

"It surprised me that several conservative and/or right-wing books are in the top 10"

I've noticed that a lot over the years. It seems the mainstream right does buy books and read, so they're not illiterate like the left often paints them. On the other hand, by and large they read stuff that is inflammatory, confirms (in spades) their own prejudices, or both.

I think this is probably true of the mainstream left as well, but their bookbuying habits do not seem to affect the bestseller lists as much.

Those of us on the left only need Rush Limbaugh is a Big Fat Idiot and Other Observations by Al Franken on our bookshelves in order to support our already formed judgments of the nasty Republicans. :)

Independent of his politics, there's something about Al Franken that kind of makes you want to punch him. And I'm not the kind of guy who thinks that very often. He just seems like a guy who would have been a real jerk in high school. Maybe he reminds me of somebody I've forgotten, but apparently I'm not the only one who feels that way. Some time back he challenged Rich Lowry, the editor of National Review, to a fist fight, and in the online discussion of it a number of people were eager to accept on Lowry's behalf.

I find it kind of hard to imagine a book by Michael Savage being very good, or not being inflammatory.

Craig, three years is not very long for a picture to remain unhung when you're raising children. I've had a couple sitting on a bookshelf here for at least two and I have no excuse. If you ever see the film of The Loved One I'll be interested in hearing what you think of it.

I don't listen to much talk radio at all, but I'm sure that Michael Savage is the talk show host I dislike the most. I was kind of horrified when I saw that at #1, and wonder what that says about Dreher being #7. He's in quite a bit of uncomfortable company.

When I moved in this house--well, and I guess the same when I moved in my last house--I just hung stuff up on the nails that were there with few exceptions. Then since the tree fell on the house and we got new sheetrock in the main rooms, I haven't been able to bring myself to drive many nails. I have a box full of pictures that's been sitting in my bedroom for almost 4 years.


On the other hand, J.D. Vance's Hillbilly Legacy is #2, and my impression is that it's pretty good.

I meant to include a link to the list. Here:


"Elegy", not "Legacy"

I have been meaning to ask if anyone had an opinion about that book

Since nobody seems to, I'll just repeat that I've heard good things about it.

I don't want to start a round of Dreher-bashing, but: I've sometimes been puzzled as to why some people despise him with such intensity (Art Deco is far from the only one). I think this blog post may be an instance of what they dislike. First it's a very intimate family story. Very. Personally I would never write something like this for public consumption, never put other people's hearts on public display this way. Partly that's just me--I understand that this kind of confessional writing is not unusual and is often found in memoirs.

But then at the end he puts in a plug for one of his books. That really kind of jarred.

The comments on the post seem to be all very positive (I just skimmed). Obviously everybody does not react as I did. It certainly is a touching story, and there's a lot of truth in it.

Sorry, missed the previous comment. I read Hillbilly Elegy back when it first came out and thought it was very good. It doesn't totally explain the Trump phenomenon (it doesn't try to, as it came out long before the election), but it does provide a fair amount of insight as to why many rural and rust-belt whites ended up supporting him.

It's also an interesting memoir in and of itself, without the political takeaways.

"But then at the end he puts in a plug for one of his books. That really kind of jarred."

I found that rather jarring myself -- I wish he would have phrased the plug differently. In the comments someone brought that plug up and he responded:

"There is almost no way that the Dante book will become a bestseller now. Absent some kind of miracle, I’ve made the money I’m going to make out of the book. At this point, I see it as a kind of missionary outreach to people who are suffering. Lent is a time in which we who are part of liturgical Christian traditions typically search our own hearts for sin, and repent of it. That is the core of the Dante book. If people are thinking about this kind of thing now, my book may help them."

So are you going to read his Dante book, Mac?

Perhaps this is the problem with non-fiction. While fiction does display to some extent the personality of the author, unless it is very academic non-fiction it REALLY gives you their personality and it usually seems sort of fluffy and annoying to me unless I like the author a great deal.

Just from the very little bit I read of that Dante/father dying post I could tell that if I read the entire thing I would probably end up feeling about Dreher the way Art does. Ugh.

But then (re Dreher) this post says some interesting things about the book I dismissed above, Homo Deus.

I think the only negative commentary I've read about Hillbilly Elegy was from Kevin Williamson, who comes from a similar background and is less sympathetic to it.

Some cross-posting going on. No, Stu, I don't plan to read the book. That's not necessarily a negative judgment, but there's an awful lot I want to read that for my purposes and interests is more important.

The book pitch can be forgiven as kind of an instance of Dreher's somewhat hasty way. He could have said what you quote in the comment, Rob, in the post itself, rather than the way he did, which just sounded like marketing.

I agree. Or he simply could have said something along the lines of "you may find the Dante book helpful."

The Dante book is not the kind of book that everyone would find appealing. It's basically a spiritual memoir in which Rod describes how reading and internalizing The Divine Comedy helped him through a crisis-period in his life. I liked it, but it requires an interest in that sort of writing, or Dante, or both.

I have both, so I might read it someday.

I see This is Spinal Tap is streaming on Netflix. I might have to find a time to watch it.


Back to the Benedict Option: I'm hearing so much criticism of it that seems to me, based on what Dreher says on his blog, so unfair that it's inclining me to defend it. Of course I'd have to read it to do that, so I won't, but still...I just read a discussion on Facebook that really trashed it and implicitly Dreher himself, and I'm pretty sure a lot of it was quite unfair. The lowest was the suggestion that Dreher is advocating gated communities for white Christians. The discussers were mostly Catholic academics and pundits, including a couple of names you'd probably recognize. Most unedifying.

Here's Dreher defending himself from similar charges:


Didn't see your comment earlier, Janet. Yeah, you should watch it. Then tell me your reaction and I'll tell you if I predicted it correctly. :-)

How will I know you are telling the truth?

I have to wait until Bill isn't here or he is asleep because he won't want to watch it. That means I have to wait until a week from Friday or stay up to eleven or later.


You won't know, but I will.

"The discussers were mostly Catholic academics and pundits, including a couple of names you'd probably recognize. Most unedifying."

I heard a while back through the (Catholic) grapevine, quite a few months before the book came out, that there was a sort of cadre of Catholic writers who wanted to "get the Benedict Option away from Rod Dreher." Wonder if it's the same crew -- since they couldn't do that, they're doing the next best thing -- either trashing it or ignoring it altogether.

I didn't notice any suggestion of that, just disdain, but fairly passionate disdain. Definitely not ignoring it. I doubt I could find the conversation again. The way Facebook works, if a "friend" (someone you have officially "friended") "likes" (a definite action) or comments on something, it appears in your "feed"--an endless list of stuff your friends have posted, or commented on, or liked. I think this was one of those things--not posted by one of my friends but appearing because one of them liked it or something--a friend of a friend in other words. So it would be very difficult to track down again.

To be fair to the person who made the gated community snark, he was only saying that he'd gotten that impression from what he'd read about it.

In my group of friends, which includes several "connected" Catholics whose names you'd probably know, the subject hasn't once come up. What's odd about that is that there was considerable discussion about the BenOp, much of it negative, before the book came out.

It's almost as if the book's success has shut them up, or at least made them not want to talk about it. I've been waiting for an opportunity to bring it up just to stir the pot a little bit.

Heh. You should do that.

It's crossed my mind to wonder if there isn't a touch of envy in some of the criticism.

I've sometimes been puzzled as to why some people despise him with such intensity (Art Deco is far from the only one).

I have flashes of disgust at the man for a half-dozen different reasons. At my age, intensity is no longer in stock. (Your chum Daniel Nichols on Dreher is a different story).

I think I've offered an inventory of what I consider his problems in other venues. (The exhibitionism is just one).

And I can see the complaints, I'm just surprised at the intensity--if that's not the right term for you, it certainly is for a lot of other people. If I remember correctly there was (is?) a blog devoted to denouncing him, maybe around the time Crunchy Cons came out.

Btw a lot of DN's views have changed over the past few years but I don't think his view of Dreher has.

And RD never became Buddhist.


Heh. Or something.

I meant to say in my previous comment: I still find Dreher an interesting blogger, at least. I don't read him regularly but maybe every two or three weeks on average. That is, the fact that I can somewhat understand the criticisms doesn't make me dismiss or dislike him altogether.

If I remember correctly there was (is?) a blog devoted to denouncing him, maybe around the time Crunchy Cons came out

They closed up shop after a while. Some of the same people founded a new one when the Ruthie book appeared. A man with the handle 'Pauli' participated in both. One of the original bloggers I'd call not 'intense' but 'derisive'. The latter set I would describe more as 'persistent' and 'faultfinding'. I wouldn't describe either as 'intense'. Jonathan Carpenter's pursuit of Dreher a decade ago might be described as 'intense'.

Your friend Daniel was infuriated with RD because RD does not loathe the State of Israel and issue anathemas against it. There might be some superordinate principle at work there with multiple applications, but if so I've certainly forgotten what it was. He also thought the Ruthie book was a crass exercise.

That statement about DN's reason for disliking RD is false and even slanderous, because of the suggestion of anti-semitism. I can't allow you to repeat it or anything close to it. You can email me if you want to discuss it further. If I have time later I can probably find you chapter and verse.

About that blog, oh yeah, I remember Pauli. He has or had an entertaining blog of his own. Jonathan Carpenter's name I can't place though it sounds vaguely familiar. Anyway, whether "intense" is the precise word or not, I just found it odd that they went to that much contra Dreher trouble.

That statement about DN's reason for disliking RD is false and even slanderous, because of the suggestion of anti-semitism. I can't allow you to repeat it or anything close to it. You can email me if you want to discuss it further. If I have time later I can probably find you chapter and verse.

That statement is derived from remarks made in cold print on the blog you two maintained. What's more, you know bloody well I'm defaming no one. Your remarks are false and dishonorable.

Sigh. Somehow conversations with you usually end up nasty. This may be the last one.

As to Daniel Nichols vs. Rod Dreher, let the reader decide if "Daniel was infuriated with RD because RD does not loathe the State of Israel and issue anathemas against it":


Not to change the subject, but this is where I mentioned This is Spinal Tap.

I watched maybe 15 minutes--okay, I see it's 13.5 minutes. It was so extremely clever--hilarious. I thought the one song I heard was almost as brilliant as it was vulgar. However, I think it is a much too guilty pleasure for me, and so I'm not going to finish it.


So to the extent that 13.5 minutes tell the story, I'm wrong about your reaction. I didn't think you'd much like it. Truth is, last time I saw it, which was a pretty long time ago now, probably 15 years or more, I didn't find it nearly as funny as I expected overall, though some bits are.

I might not like it if I had watched 20 minutes, in fact like might not be the right word. I just didn't expect to find it funny at all.


" I don't mean to be dismissive, but I guess I am"

I can understand that. I can't say it interests me at all, but I have nothing against Dreher, given that I don't read him much.

One thing irritates me about the concept of the "Benedict Option" is that there is an assumption that any of us really has much of a choice about our future. To me it just looks very bleak, bloody, dangerous etc unless Our Lady intervenes, for which I pray daily.

Obviously, I haven't read the book, but another thing is that Benedictines were religious, not lay people with families.

I don't think Dreher is advocating actual Benedictine monastic-like communities for lay people.

There are certainly threats to the Church now, serious ones. I certainly wouldn't minimized them. But I like to remind myself that John Paul II started his pontificate with "Be not afraid."

"I don't think Dreher is advocating actual Benedictine monastic-like communities for lay people."

No, he's not. His main point is the necessity of shoring up families and parishes in the form of what he calls a "parallel polis," a term he gets from the Czech Catholic dissident Vaclav Benda.

'One thing irritates me about the concept of the "Benedict Option" is that there is an assumption that any of us really has much of a choice about our future.'

This is one of his points, actually. As our influence on the broader culture is doubtful at best and waning, we can only exercise influence in our immediate spheres -- families, parishes, local government. So we need to hop to it!

This is Esolen's take in his new book as well, although his specific interests/details are a little different. The books are very complementary.

Here's a critique of the book that may be interesting. I haven't read it yet, just the first few paragraphs, where he describes his background in just the sort of milieu I've mentioned as having been around for 30 years or more. It may end up "tl;dr" for me, given that I don't plan to read the book.


It does seem as though Dreher's views are being mischaracterized by a lot of people. I don't *think* the above is an instance.

It's over twenty years since I saw This is Spinal Tap, which I also thought was brilliant and hilarious. After Easter I ought to see if I can find it again somewhere (it's not on our version of Netflix)..

I'm curious now, too. "These go to 11" is immortal (well, you know what I mean), but how much of it is that good?

Rocha's review makes some good points but is a little odd, in that he seems to be unwarrantedly applying academic-level standards to a popular book.

In short, any academic of Rocha's persuasion could critically review in this way almost any popular level book on this subject -- Chaput's, Esolen's, R.R. Reno's, etc. I guess I don't see the point.

There was a reference to "These go to 11" in the latest X-Men movie.

I thought my reference to it above was clever, but apparently not. ;-)


Sorry, I missed it. I see it now.

Maybe I'll read Rocha's piece this afternoon. I've seen similar criticisms from others: that he should have read this or that theologian or philosopher. But it's not a primarily theological or philosophical problem.

Yeah, I printed it out and am going to read it again more closely. On first reading it struck me as being simultaneously nit-picky and like a blunderbuss.

Well, I read Rocha's piece. Not having read the book, I can't really evaluate it. But some of his broader criticisms made me think of my similar reservations about Crunchy Cons. For instance, I realized that I've all along been bugged by the idea that Benedict did what he did in response to the decline of Rome. It's one thing to note the association of the two events, another to suggest that Benedict was basically reacting to it. And there was something confused and confusing about CC, so I'm not surprised to hear the same criticism of TBO.

Right, that part I get. I'm not objecting to some of those criticisms as such (although I believe that most if not all of them can be answered), but to the general tone of the piece, which makes me wonder about its intent. The mix of ostensibly serious analysis with a barely-veiled condescension just seems weird to me.

One of the earlier reviewers somewhere, I think in America, said that the book should be viewed as a conversation starter, not an ender, which I think is correct. Some of the negative reviewers are missing this.

The condescension is annoying, I agree.

Not having read the book or planning to do so, but having read a certain number of Dreher's blog posts on the subject, the criticism that has seemed most telling to me was voiced by someone on Facebook: does this really add up to anything more than a counsel for us to live like Christians? That, and maybe a useful sort of wake-up about the anti-Christian way the culture is going. Useful to some people, anyway. Personally I didn't need it.

Now Dreher has replied to Rocha, in a nasty way that does him little credit:


But trying to ignore the nastiness, I think he does have a legitimate complaint that some of Rocha's complaints are unjustified.

And Rocha, afterwards, gives in to the temptation to holler "racism!".

Unedifying all around.

Yeah, saw that. I think if Rod could've responded just as humorously but without the spleen it would have been more effective.


This is funny:

"Of BenOp he is not a fan,
He likes it not, this Sam-I-am!"


I've just seen another Facebook conversation like the one I was describing a few days ago. And now I'm back to wondering why some people seem to despise Dreher so much.

Maybe because he is talked so much about in blogs? I'm starting to despise him too! :)


The controversy is definitely taking up a lot of the oxygen, as they say.

It's beginning to seem like Jets vs Sharks or Crips vs Bloods or something.

I think Dreher and Rocha should go on the Jerry Springer show.

I very much admired Sam Rocha's review. One line from it in particular gets at the heart of Dreher's shtick: Rocha calls it an "emotivist critique of emotivism." This is exactly right. The problem is not that The Benedict Option isn't an academic book: it's that Dreher has always avoided contact with any mental discipline that a scholarly approach would require, any occasion to slow down for a moment and work through the logical steps in his argument. His method is all anecdote, broad narrative, or assertion, in a tone of panic.

Also, does no one think it at least a little odd that Dreher refers throughout to "Professor Doctor Rocha," though Rocha never once called himself anything like that? Both here and in his response to Anthony Bradley, a black professor at King's College, you'd have to be blind not to see that Dreher has a special animus toward non-white members of the academy.

"you'd have to be blind not to see that Dreher has a special animus toward non-white members of the academy."

Sorry, but that's nonsense. Dreher co-wrote a book with liberal black actor Wendell Pierce, for gosh sakes. Pierce is not an academic, but if one has racist inclinations they do not tend to be limited to certain professional demographics.

The problem with Rocha's review is not that he doesn't hit the mark occasionally, but that the combination of condescension with a largely scattershot approach makes one wonder about his overall point.

If he thinks it's an idiotic book, fine, but then why say in the last sentence that maybe it will reach some hearts in a way that it couldn't reach his? Given everything that preceded it, that's either disingenuous or incoherent.

I'm pretty much at a plague-on-both-their-houses point. As I said earlier, I thought a lot of Rocha's points were valid. On the other hand, his review itself struck me as somewhat confused on the whole. Also on the pompous side. And Dreher's complaint that Rocha is taking him to task for not having written an academic book has some validity. I considered reading Rocha's review again but I find reading anything on Patheos unpleasant, and rarely do it, so I'll skip it.

"His method is all anecdote, broad narrative, or assertion, in a tone of panic."

I think that's fairly accurate, unfortunately. That's a pretty good one-line summary of what bothered me about Crunchy Cons. The tone of panic is part of the reason that I quit reading his blog on a regular basis some years ago (similarly Mark Shea's).

But as for the racial angle...[eye roll]. Given Dreher's general tendency to slam those who slam him, I can't see any reason whatever to think that race has anything to do with it. I don't know if you, Nathan, are an academic or not, but that charge strikes me as itself something most likely to be a product of the overheated racial atmosphere of the contemporary academy.

It never once even crossed my mind to think of Rocha as "non-white." It registered on me that he appeared to be of some sort of Latin ancestry, but that alone does not in my mind make one "non-white," which has a cultural component when applied to Hispanics--that is, a Spaniard or an Argentinian is not necessarily "non-white" in my book--actually I guess it suggests an Indian/ Native American component.

Anywat, I don't recall anything in Dreher's nasty response that indicated any consciousness of Rocha's ethnicity. The "Professor Doctor" stuff is obnoxious, but I can't see anything racial in it. Obviously he's making fun of Rocha's academic status and implying that he's a pompous know-it-all. Perhaps if Dreher had called him "Senor Professor" or something you'd have a case.

Señor, señor
Can you tell me where we're headin'?
Lincoln County Road or Armageddon?
Seems like I been down this way before
Is there any truth in that, señor?

I understand that Dreher's tone of panic can be off-putting (I have Catholic friends that say the same thing about Esolen). But usually (not always) there is something of substance that they're rightly concerned about under the alarmism, and that tends to be where my interest lies. I just take the "panic" in stride. But I get why some folks would prefer to avoid the stuff altogether.

I can see that complaint about Esolen, too. It's a different vibe from Dreher but he can be heavy-handed and maybe overly gloom-n-doom-ish (of which I can also be accused). But in general I see him as more substantial than Dreher. Most certainly there is something of substance in the concerns, more than a little. I don't avoid Dreher altogether, I just don't read him regularly (although I've read his blog a good deal over the past couple of weeks because of the TBO buzz).

I read an interview with Archbishop Chaput about his book. He sounds quite sensible and seems to have the right balance of concern, realism, and be-not-afraid-ism.

Stu: heh. Yes, I think there is some truth in that.

I should have been more specific, and said something like, "This recent post is one instance of a fairly consistent pattern, in which Dreher makes fun of black (or other non-white) scholars for their advanced credentials, implying that they are somehow unearned." I hope this way of putting it is fairly objective, and avoids the all-too-fraught talk of racism that you do admittedly hear in the academy.

But besides the incidents with Bradley and Rocha, this pattern is evident in the many, many posts about the "SJWs"in higher education. I'd find a few and link to them, but I find The American Conservative's website visually unpleasant and hard to use in the same way as Patheos.

I agree about Esolen vis-a-vis Dreher.

Well, I'm skeptical. I'd have to see some definite evidence. As it happens one of the fairly few blog posts of Dreher's that I'd seen over the past year or two until this TBO talk got going was one in which he described his conversations with Wendell Pierce, and it indicated a very heartfelt desire to reach across the racial divide. And that one--the black-white one--is the big one.

In a circumstance like Dreher's slams against Rocha (and thinking of Rocha as "non-white"), I ask myself "Would this be any different if the person being attacked were white?" I don't see any reason to think so.

AmCon's web site seems ok to me, btw. Patheos for a long time would frequently come near to locking up my browser with its busy ads. At least it doesn't seem to do that anymore.

Cross-posted with you, Rob. I was replying to Nathan.

I didn't know Dreher and Pierce had written a book btw. That one I might like to read. It's a subject close to my heart.

Being a parish secretary, I am way to busy to comment, but I have to thank you all for keeping me so entertained.


Because of Holy Week I'm busy.


If I can actually get Dreher and Rocha on Jerry Springer you can be really entertained.

You'd have to record it for me.


Can we get Art on that Jerry Springer episode too?

Sometimes when commenting here I miss the ability to choose from a set of emoticons expressing subtle gradations of amusement, annoyance, etc. Like now.


I only need this. :-D


Well, I think we can agree that (a) this sort of reply to the book's critics is at best highly unseemly, and that (b) the hope for an alternative Christian politics should not be so closely wrapped around this one annoying guy's personality. What makes so many of us balk is Dreher's seeming insistence that we accept the whole "package deal," as it were.

(a) definitely. It really made him look bad. (b) true, but is that even what the book is about?

Whether or not the book does insist that we accept the package, it's the sense of it packaging in the first place that kind of rubs me wrong. That may be unfair, but fair or not, it's an impression I get. Like I might see "The Benedict Option (tm)".

"but is that even what the book is about?"


"What makes so many of us balk is Dreher's seeming insistence that we accept the whole 'package deal,' as it were."

I think you're confusing the insistence of the alarm (which are supposed to be insistent) with the advice of the "option." Have you actually read the book?

"it's the sense of it packaging in the first place that kind of rubs me wrong."

I guess because I've followed the thing all along I don't really see it. It seems to me that the 'packaging' aspect has sort of attached itself to the project in its later stages. I don't think Rod intended it that way (although maybe the publisher did).

That's entirely possible, about my perception of the packaging. It didn't really come to my attention till fairly recently, although I think I first saw Dreher mention that famous MacIntyre bit some time ago.

Here's an interesting response, from Rebecca Bratten Weiss--unfortunately also at Patheos. I think it's interesting for what it says, but I suspect it may also be interesting as another instance of an argument against something Dreher doesn't say. At least I saw that objection made by someone on Facebook.


The relevance to Dreher aside, it confirms what I always suspected would be the case, that "intentional communities" for the most part don't work very well for very long.

Not sure if Bratten Weiss read the book either, as Dreher does not push for "intentional communities" therein, at least not of the sort she's describing.

I suspect she hasn't.

Possibly the single most useful comment I've seen on the book is from the guy I linked to somewhere who calculated the difference between the amount of attention Dreher gives to a topic and the amount his critics give to what he says about it.

The author of this piece thinks a big part of the problem is Dreher's using the term "Benedict Option":

Dreher has written that he is not suggesting any utopian community or a retreat from the world. It’s true, he doesn’t outright call for it. This only heightens the dissonance in the mind of the reader, because his qualifications come amid the explicitly monastic titular metaphor and his repeated cherry-picked glowing descriptions of such communities, which are in practice quasi utopian and retreatist. ...

The problem is not that Dreher recommends Christians live faithful, sacramental lives. There are inherent anti-cultural elements to such living, but those elements are not problematic in the ways these intentional communities of like-minded Christians are. I am all for, and our family indeed practices, faithful sacramental behaviors. We think through the decisions we make for our family, for the education of our children, and for our spiritual maturity. These are not the issue; but these are not the Benedict Option. If that is all Dreher means, then he should not have used a phrase that presupposes certain things.

That's an excellent piece, by someone who has read and understood the book, sympathizes with it, and has some experience to offer. Her experience is a good instance of what I was griping about when I first posted about TBO: that people have been doing what he seems to be advocating for a generation now. And there's something irksome about him talking as if it's something new.

I do suspect that there is a certain amount of confusion at the heart of the book. Is it just being Christian? If so what's the big deal (about the book I mean)? Is it something more? The answer seems to be yes and no.

Maybe he'd be getting less opposition if he'd just sort of surveyed the landscape, the situation facing Christians and what people are doing in response, without packaging it as if it were a program (but not a program!).

A good comment I saw on Facebook: the communities Dreher is talking about already exist--they're called parishes. The reaction of many (including me) to that is to gripe about the parish, the indifferentism, etc. But that's just the way life is.

On the other hand, I think the simultaneously dumbest and most hostile comment I've seen was also on Facebook, maybe from the same conversation: it's the Benedict Arnold Option, calling for a retreat into an Ayn Rand fortress. I think that deserves to be called mindless.

I think the Ayn Rand fortress would be great. You could get all the people who think Ayn Rand's ideas are good into the fortress and lock them up in there.

I agree that that was a really good piece. In the mid-70s when Bill and I were first really interested in Christian community, we read Living Together in a World Falling Apart. Because I was going to comment about this book, I looked it up online and found that in 2012 the authors, Dave and Neta Jackson, published a revised edition of the book. There's a $2.99 Kindle version so I may have to read it.

Anyway, what I was going to say about it was this. The book was about the authors' search for Christian community. They visited ten--I think it was ten--different communities and wrote about them. One of the communities was in Memphis, so I was really excited; however, just a few years after the book was published, I was unable to find any trace of it or the people who were in it. I think that may have been true about some of the others, too.

The Reba Place Fellowship, which the Jackson's joined is still there, but they left a good while ago, I think. They also wrote about the Bruderhof, which was the most appealing to me at the time, which, of course, is still going strong.

One of the biggest problems I see in intentional communities of families is that the God-given authority of parents over their children is swallowed up by the authority of the leaders of the group. It violates the principal of subsidiarity.

I'm not really talking about Dreher's book here, except in the sense that as others have said, this is hardly something new.


That's true about the parish, but how many of us are really involved in what goes on in the parish. When I was growing up, our parish was the center of our lives. We went to school there, our friends--both our parents' friends and ours--were in the parish.

Now, we just live too far away from our parish to be able to do much there. We don't have any close friends there. If we go back to our parish in Mississippi, which is almost half an hour away, we will have friends, but probably leave Mass annoyed every week. Ugh. Anyway, there's nothing that's going to get my husband back there.


I took the comment about parishes to mean not that they are actually working that way but that they are the structures we have to work with, that are there to provide exactly the things that the Benedict Option talks about.

I think the guy who made the Ayn Rand comment may be an academic. I guess I shouldn't be shocked.

I remember when we were toying with the idea of some kind of community thing (early '80s) thinking that there was some kind of intrinsic incompatibility between it and the family. I mean, if the basic model is the monastic community, that's just fundamentally mistaken. There's a huge difference between a voluntary association of individuals and of families. A family simply can't and shouldn't submerge itself in the community the way a religious does.

Here's a good review of the three books (Dreher, Esolen, Chaput) at First Things by Patrick Deneen.


He doesn't really pass judgment on the books, just discusses the issues. I have to point out that I said the same thing here some time ago about Jerry Falwell's basic mistake.

This in that Deneen piece jumped out at me:

[Dreher's] advice is directed especially toward families seeking to protect children from the anti-Christian culture. Dreher recognizes the difficulty of this project, and parents who read his book should be especially attentive to the warnings he gives about how putting up too impervious a barrier around one’s monastic home will not infrequently induce children to rebel. What happens to families when children refuse to be governed by the norms of the monastic community is only hinted at in passing, but one suspects that a child’s rejection of an intentional counterculture will be potentially ruinous for the family.
That rejection and its potential to ruin a family made me think of this comment you made, Mac, about Dreher's book at Front Porch Republic:
All these things have actually been going on in places like Steubenville, Ohio. The children of those talkers and experimenters are grown now, and the results have been mixed. Those having this conversation with such fervor now seem to be younger, and I wonder whether most of you can quite grasp how bitterly sad it is to see a young man named John Paul or a young woman named Kateri denouncing Christian “homophobia” and “transphobia” on Facebook, and applauding the punishment of bakers and florists for their “discrimination.”

It's good that although RB Weiss is cynical about the intentional community thing she stayed Catholic. Someone said it's just as bad to see them become Trump zealots. That strikes me as a different thing though. Misguided but not the same as rejecting the faith altogether.

Today I had an appointment with my CPAP doctor because I am having a problem with my machine. I think the setting is too low. He told me he was going to try to get the insurance company to give me a new machine. The one I have is permanently set at 7, but this one as a feedback system so it is set in a range. He said it starts at 6 and goes up to 11. I almost choked. He said it at least three times and each time I found it harder to keep from bursting out laughing.


I guess it would be too much to hope that his name would be Nigel.

I am running a study group this summer that reads Chaput, Esolen, and Draher. I'll let you know how it goes.

Please do.


Yes, I'll be interested in hearing about that, too.

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