Benedict Option

Rod Dreher at The American Conservative in response to significant losses on cultural issues in the US suggested that social conservatives should adopt what he calls the Benedict Option. More or less it means those who cease trying to make the public sphere what they consider moral and instead create more local and self-contained communities. Last week Hal Boyd at the Deseret News talked of this option for Latter-day Saint communities.

Whether you agree or disagree with Dreher[1] I think Boyd makes a good point by noting that the central grievance of those with no religious affiliation is politics. (Typically conservative politics) I am skeptical this move away from the public sphere to private community would help though. As I’ve argued, I think we’re seeing a broader social shift where people simply don’t trust institutions or experts. This is part and parcel of the general social distrust in schools, government, science and much more. My guess is that we’ll find populist alternatives are far worse for all the very legitimate problems in our institutions. Possibly, somewhat as happened after the turmoil of the late 60’s and early 70’s, we’ll rediscover the value in our institutions.

One might well argue that Mormons have spent most of their time living the Benedict Option in that we largely pulled out of society to make our own. Even though perhaps we’ve not pulled out of politics, especially local politics, enough for truly adopting the Benedict option. Still, I’m not sure our time in the wilderness was all good. I think Pres. Hinkley’s great effort to reach out both to other religions as well as the larger secular society was inspired. It’s something we ought be doing.

The problem is that as soon as you work in the public sphere even to aid the poor and afflicted, you face the problem of politics. People simply don’t all agree upon solutions. As we’re seeing in Salt Lake Cities with efforts to better disperse the burden of caring for the homeless, NIMBY drives slow efforts to help the poor. Politics is unavoidable. Thinking we can avoid it is a fool’s errand.

Politics is the art of making compromise. What we’ve somehow lost in recent years is the recognition of the importance of pluralism. That is an ability to think someone is wrong, disagree with them, yet respect them as people and provide them a place for their ideas. While there are good reasons to distrust politicians, my sense is that the increased hate by all sides to politicians is due to a loss of respect for pluralism. And it’s most definitely not just one side doing it. Fewer and fewer want compromise.

The Benedict Option really arises out of a failure to ‘win’ in the public sphere. It’s a kind of pulling back but one that misses the fundamental problem of pluralism. When many aspects of social conservative ideas were dominant they could have made more space for those who disagreed with those views. For instance insuring that the rights of those in non-standard relationships were held. At the time the eventual triumph of those views seemed unlikely to most, but inevitable to me. It was a time when those in power could easily have protected their view of the sacredness of traditional marriage and relationships while making space for others. They didn’t and then when inevitably power shifted social conservatives didn’t know what to do.[2]

If we pull back from society we will hurt us all. There are very real issues that still remain in society dealing with the weakest in society from the long term unemployed to the unborn. The religious have to have their voice heard. However I fear that America is being presented with a false dichotomy of pulling back too much or supporting populist movements hoping its leaders will protect our space while turning a blind eye to how they flout our very values.

None of this is to say we shouldn’t be focused on the local. We should. It’s there where we can make the greatest change. The government that in many ways arguably affects us the most is the government that most people ignore. Few people know the problems in their community let alone are working for solutions. Local elections can be swayed by a tiny number of activists precisely because so few vote in an informed way let alone work to ensure good candidates. (Often by the time the election rolls around it’s too late to have real change)

It’s true our practices of home teaching, visiting teaching, leaders who worry about the practical problems of members and just helping our neighbors is important. It’s sad that so many people in America lack that sense of community. But perhaps rather than pulling back the solution is to expand what we’re already doing. Become more informed about your state, city and county representatives. Make sure you do good deeds for the non-members around you not because you’re trying to convert them but because they are your brothers and sisters. And most important listen to and respect their choices even if you think them wrong.

[1] For the record while I find him consistently interesting to read, I also find he frequently overstates his case as well as the problem he is seeking to address. Although one might well argue a good pundit’s skill is in making people think often by way of hyperbole. So this isn’t necessarily a critique. Just that one should read him carefully.

[2] Had social conservatives more clearly separated the state and religion in the 90’s I think many of the current issues could have been avoided. Both in terms of how so many look down on religion precisely because of these social issues but also in terms of providing a solution all could agree upon. I favored separating out marriage from state legal issues, but it was a very unpopular view at the time. Now we’re stuck in a place where people seriously pose the Benedict Option.

35 comments for “Benedict Option

  1. February 28, 2017 at 12:07 pm

    I think the main issue is that most people don’t really believe in pluralism. Polarization exists because of increasingly divergent values that are non-negotiable.

    On the conservative side, there were no concessions to non-traditional relationships because conservatives truly believe those things are moral evils for everyone, and not just the in-group. (And this goes across a lot of issues. If you truly think abortion is murder, for example, then this not something that you can just say, “Well, it’s murder for us, but it’s OK for you.” You either HAVE to press for changes in the public sphere to be consistent with those moral values or you have to give up on the public and leave the corrupted secular society to its own devices.)

    But…the progressives aren’t flawless either. For the progressive project against the discrimination of gender and sexual minorities to be successful, progressives can’t allow exceptions for religious organizations and individuals. This to the religious social conservatives will predictably appear as outright hostility to sincerely held religious tenets. (And just as well, this goes across a lot of issues. Progressives also don’t think it’s ok to say, “Well, we’ll accept GSMs and you don’t have to,” because to progressives, the harm is done regardless.)

    So, conservatives talk about how tolerances is intolerant to the intolerant, and argues that’s hypocritical. But I dunno. I think it’s reasonable to point out that you can’t really have a pluralistic society well if there aren’t some ground rules accepted — like, I would not accept a “pluralistic” conversation wherein one side is trying to argue for the inferiority of black people. That’s just not going to fly with me personally, so if that makes me hypocritical, then I don’t want to be ideologically consistent, you know?

  2. Cam Nielsen
    2
    February 28, 2017 at 12:23 pm

    How does this square with the ‘Leaven’ mandate?

  3. February 28, 2017 at 12:28 pm

    The failure wasn’t in foolishly holding to millennia-old traditions regarding marriage, it was in failing to curtail the vicious, mutating propaganda attack that invented these new rights.

    The ability to compromise is itself a compromise. There have to be fundamental, unspoken rules, like, “you may not use smaller compromises to undermine the larger compromises that hold things together.” When you’ve found yourself the victim – and take my word, the social changes of the last fifty years are revolutionary, are innovative – of an enemy who wears the mask of temperance while performing all kinds of subterfuge, you do not find peace by taking them in good faith.

    This is a “war,” in terms of winning and losing and absolutes. Like Andrew said, this is about values that are non-negotiable. I would add that the success of the social revolutionaries in claiming vast new policy tracts as non-negotiable, and the willingness of the old conservatives to accept that, is what has brought us to this perilous situation.

    There is no compromise from here. If, God willing, this is not sorted out violently, it will be sorted out by one side bearing and teaching more children in their ways, and in receiving the spirit of God to buoy up their evangelists.

  4. February 28, 2017 at 1:28 pm

    Clark,

    I’d also bounce off Jesse Lucas’s comment by noting that I do not think Mormons have “have spent most of their time living the Benedict Option” as you suggest in the opening post. However you feel about the change in values in the past several decades, the fact is that many Mormons also have implicitly done this. I think that, for example, the acceptance of same-sex marriage and LGBT rights is inseparable with a more general departure from viewing sexuality as being about procreation, and that ties closely with a general departure from viewing the role of women as being to have and take care of children as the primary homemakers.

    *When* we get this radical idea that women are fully independent people who can choose their own destiny rather than being assigned a destiny by biology, theology, or culture, and *when* we have the technology to allow that (e.g., contraception), and *when* we have cultural and theological shifts that make such technology OK (e.g., the dying down of rhetoric against birth control), then that makes other things possible, and, quite frankly, inevitable. Like, it doesn’t conceptually make sense to limit marriage to heterosexual relationships when we have thoroughly moved to a model about consenting adults (instead of a model about childbearing and childrearing).

    And, quite frankly, Mormons interact enough with the greater society that these radical ideas seep through to Mormons as well.

    This cannot be “rolled back” because we are so thoroughly integrated with society in which there is an expectation that women are autonomous, for example, that it’s harder to reconcile that with religious values that assert difference between genders.

  5. ABM
    5
    February 28, 2017 at 1:40 pm

    Beyond politics and pluralism, I think another key reason for the “Benedict Option”, according to Dreher, is that in order for Christian values and beliefs to live on into the next generations of believers, a semi-retreat is necessary; that popular and secular culture is so invasive that in order to survive it with your religion intact, you have to have build a community apart from society in some way.

  6. Clark Goble
    6
    February 28, 2017 at 1:46 pm

    Andrew (1) I think the main issue is that most people don’t really believe in pluralism.

    Yup. Exactly. And that’s a problem. I’m reading Beyond Toleration: The Religious Origins of American Pluralism (along with a few other books – a chapter here and a chapter there). I’m sure to be getting a few posts out of it as I really think it’s a big issue.

    The problem with the social conservatives seeing homosexuality as an evil and thus evil for everyone is that they see adultery as an evil for everyone. Yet that’s an area where historically there’s far more pluralism in terms of law. As I said, I think in the 90’s it was very apparent where things were going. The justification for pluralism is to offer a place for everyone. The problem is that a certain aspect of social conservatism has for more than a century dominated the public sphere. It didn’t need pluralism.

    I fully agree progressivism has significantly changed of late. Pluralism as an inherent value is pretty much gone. (Admittedly this was one place you always saw a divide between progressivism and liberalism – going back to the heyday of progressivism in the early 20th century) However now you’re seeing in the places where progressivism dominates a kind of neo-puritanism which is quite interesting socially.

    Cam (2) Not sure what you mean. I assume you mean the parable but I’m not sure what you mean in practice. The phrase is used both by Christ and by Paul. (Without checking I assume it was a wide spread idiom of the time) So Paul uses it in Gal 5:9 and 1 Cor 5:6 to deal with a small amount of problematic practice in the Christian communities to which he wrote. That is to not justify them in the Christian community. However of course the Christians in the first century were a small minority in cities with radically different practices and behaviors. So the message of Paul is basically to a group practicing the Benedict option Dreher talks of. But the distinction is between the wider public sphere and the narrow sphere of the Christian community.

    Admittedly when Christ uses the idiom in Matt 13:33 he’s using it in a positive sense of how faith can work within us to raise us up. It’s tied with an idiom of the mustard seed that just precedes it in Matthew.

    But that shows that the idiom alone needs some unpacking since it can be used in radically different ways.

    Jesse (3) I really don’t like the war metaphor and think in a pluralistic society it causes more trouble than it helps. That’s not to say we aren’t warring with sin, but we’re not necessarily warring with our fellow citizens. My big problem with populist movements is that they tend to emphasize this war feature above practical policy thus typically achieving little.

    There definitely are principles we can’t compromise. Yet we should be after the end. Can we reduce the practices we don’t want. I think a big problem is that people are more focused on signaling righteousness rather than actually reducing the problem at hand. I’d talked about that last month by distinguishing between promoting values versus honoring values. You see this for instance in abortion where it’s more important to fight for absolutist prescriptions of abortion regardless of whether one is successful. Further when given a choice of incrementalism (reducing abortion here and now) versus signaling ones commitment to absolute elimination the latter is typically done with the consequence nothing is achieve. So to me this is the very key of pluralism and compromise. It’s the difference between moving to ones goal versus signaling.

  7. Clark Goble
    7
    February 28, 2017 at 1:57 pm

    Andrew (4) I think from the late 80’s onward Mormonism has consciously moved away from the Benedict option although I’d also say that the genesis of this goes back much further. However as I said in the post I see the move away from the Benedict option as primarily an emphasis of Pres. Hinkley who constantly tried to get Mormons more engaged in the broader society.

    Yet when I was young, which really wasn’t that long ago, we were much more tied to our narrow Mormon community. I think that, despite Pres. Hinkley’s efforts, we still are. Especially in heavily Mormon areas where we just don’t socialize enough with our non-Mormon neighbors.

    To the larger issues of gender and sexuality, I think a big problem in the thinking of the idea arises from Thomas Aquinas’ teleology. That is the meaning of sexuality is tied to a goal for it which is procreation. That certainly makes sense for Catholics but not for Mormonism. Theologically while procreation is an important part there’s also the symbolism of atonement in our union as well as our marriages being a training ground for learning the kind of love and selflessness we need to be like our heavenly parents. That is unlike Catholicism there’s a sense in which we’re imitating God and limiting sexuality to procreation misleads us. This in turn I think changes how we think of it in the public sphere even if in practice with united ourselves with Evangelicals and Catholics. The danger is always that these political coalitions can, through the politics of identity, change how we think about things like sexuality or abortion. (Again Mormons primarily see abortion in very different metaphysical terms – for much of the pregnancy we’re taking away someone’s body but theologically the spirit has not necessarily entered into the body and become a living soul)

    I also agree that we’ve adopted many societal practices. Arguably ones in which the broader society was better than what came before it. (Women’s autonomy, certain concerns about the age of adulthood and responsibility, limiting violence, increasing individual autonomy, more shared responsibility in marriage, etc.) But of course we’ve also picked up the bad along with the good. And, I’d argue, that much of these goods were opposed to evils we’d picked up socially (or brought with us) in the 19th century which were the false traditions of men.

  8. February 28, 2017 at 2:37 pm

    Andrew, I agree with you that these social changes are a result of radical individualism. I disagree that individualism is itself inevitable or good. Your timeline can be traced backwards, as well; men also decided that they were capable of, in fact justified in, choosing their own destiny, cut off from tradition, culture, family, biology, and all other roots. Going forward, we have our current situation, where choosing a destiny someone else might have had a hand in shaping is frowned upon, this meaningless concept of “authenticity” has traction from the universities through pop culture, and this crazy situation where kids believe they can do anything if they try and decide that since they aren’t turning into superstars they’re just lazy.

    He is the vine, we are the branches. Humans aren’t isolated, individualistic creatures; the most radical individual is the feral child.

    Clark, I wasn’t using a metaphor.
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Unrestricted_Warfare
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yuri_Bezmenov
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rules_for_Radicals
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Propaganda_%28book%29

  9. February 28, 2017 at 2:45 pm

    Clark (7),

    Hmm, I would think the narrative is a bit more complicated. Like, polygamy was probably the last time Mormons really wanted to be different. At some point after that, Mormons wanted to be the quintessential Americans — and that definitely happened way before Pres. Hinckley…the difference is that through the 50s and the 60s, Mormons were still aligned with what the secular culture’s values were. The wrinkle is that American culture has been shifting, and so there was pushback against that for sure (for example: ERA).

    But my thought would be: is the Mormon drive to be the best, most American Americans something internally developed? I don’t think so — I think there’s a better case to make that church culture has absorbed too much 1950s American culture, which would imply that the church hasn’t really been successfully modeling the Benedict option for at least a half century.

    I agree that there’s a difference between Thomistic thinking on this issue vs other kinds of theological thinking. I still think that Thomistic thinking provides a better “counter narrative” to secular sexual ethics than other theologies. Not saying that I necessarily agree…it just seems more solid as a theoretical foundation. In other words, how can Mormons continue to consistently argue against same-sex relationship when procreation is not fundamental theologically? That is, there’s no problem for most people to see same-sex relationships as capable grounds for “learning the kind of love and selflessness we need to be.”

    I like your final line, but that also kinda is what I would say: if we had been picking up evils socially in the 19th century, then we apparently weren’t doing a great job of modeling the Ben Op even back then.

  10. P.L.
    10
    February 28, 2017 at 2:46 pm

    Andrew S,
    One of the easiest things in the world to rebut is someone ranting about the interiority of black people. There are plenty of black businessmen, scientists, athletes, poets, musicians, and so on. Equally, nothing could be easier to rebut than the halocaust denier. And yet this is also one of those areas people like to think are appropriate for legislation.

    If we can’t accept robust free speech in areas which are virtually self evident, how can we expect to tolerate it where the lines get blurry?

    A religious person who says homosexuality is immoral is not “worse” to many people than someone saying a certain racial class is inferior. And to others, meat is murder.

    We don’t have to agree with these statements, but we should support the rights of various idiots to have their say, because it’s not unlikely you or someone you know will one day be that “idiot” who is told your speech is illegal.

    Now, I’m not arguing against decorum. I wouldn’t just suggest a bishop should sit there and grin uncomfortably if a racist came to testimony meeting ready to talk about black inferiority.

  11. Brother Sky
    11
    February 28, 2017 at 3:09 pm

    Good post. One thing that resonates is your statement about people not trusting institutions. I think you’re correct; we don’t. Nor should we. Institutions, by and large, have become more opaque and less transparent and they’ve demonstrably lied, fudged the truth, created false narratives, promulgated alternative facts, etc. The LDS Church is no different in this regard. Our history is messy, just like any other people’s history is and the church has clearly been behind the curve, not ahead of it on embarrassing events, beliefs, policies and doctrines from our past. I say all this because I’m genuinely curious about why you think there is an inherent value in our institutions when they’ve been shown consistently to be at least amoral, if not immoral. Can I ask what values you believe institutions provide that outstrip the scandals, lies, fear-mongering and money-grubbing that are so obviously an integral part of most large institutions? What does cleaving (or seeking to cleave) to flawed institutions gain us?

    I’m with you that I don’t think populism is the answer, either, but I do think a move away from imbuing institutions with any sort of mythic power could be helpful. I’ve often thought that a completely secular government, for example, would be much more likely to ensure the rights of all, treat everyone fairly, etc. In my experience, many people of a religious bent (and, to be fair, of conservative, areligious and liberal bents, too) are often too myopic to be effective legislators and brokers for peace, justice, etc. Once you’ve aligned yourself with a particular worldview (or institution), unless that worldview/institution is dedicated to plurality, equanimity, respect for each end every individual etc, you’re not going to be able to effectively help those who are different from you. To put it another way, if all you have is a hammer, you’re going to see every problem as a nail, and it’s simply never the case that every problem is a nail, though insular communities often think that way.

  12. February 28, 2017 at 3:12 pm

    re 10

    P.L.

    I’ve written about this extensively in recent Facebook discussions, but I’ll summarize:

    You can’t rebut racism, holocaust denial, etc., because those positions aren’t sincerely coming from a place of shared intellectual foundations. Entertaining these things enough to attempt to refute them legitimizes them as legitimate potential claims to make.

    If we say, “Well, black people aren’t inferior because of x, y, and z” then we entertain the idea that, if it weren’t for x, y, and z, then maybe it would be reasonable to say black people *are* inferior. And then people can then decide for themselves about whether they agree that x, y, and z are sufficiently proven (where the racists already think that x, y, and z are not true, and they have marshalled competing interpretations a, b, and c.)

    But here’s the impact of this.

    A religious person who says homosexuality is immoral is not “worse” to many people than someone saying a certain racial class is inferior. And to others, meat is murder.

    A religious person who says that homosexuality is immoral lobbies for the right to be able to discriminate against homosexuals, in the same way that those who said that racial classes were inferior argued for the right to be able to discriminate against them. These produce tangible, lived experience differences that someone who just treats this as a theoretical topic of conversation or “free speech” doesn’t have to live through.

  13. February 28, 2017 at 3:15 pm

    re 8,

    Jesse Lucas,

    Regardless of if you think individualism is good or bad, I think it’s inevitable precisely because of how compelling it is. In other words, when you argue against individualism, you have to argue that people’s own intuitions about what is right or what is wrong are bad and that they should subject their own thinking to an institution’s thinking (e.g., the things you mentioned: tradition, family, culture, biology, and other roots.) Individualism is so alluring precisely because people *chafe* against all the other things. Individualism — whether you think this to be good or bad — is so alluring because it doesn’t chafe in the same ways.

  14. February 28, 2017 at 3:30 pm

    Andrew, the problem is individualism isn’t individually sustainable for most people, which is why sans tradition they build their identities from heavy metal or NASCAR or reading HuffPo, choosing to accept a certain narrative as truth because it’s so much simpler – and this is not a bad thing – than making all decisions for themselves. The philosophy of individualism and authenticity has led them to believe that adhering to some kinds of traditions is bad and adhering to other kinds is an expression of individuality. More than that, this has been the topic of immense amounts of study over the last hundred years, and with a certain amount of resources convincing people what chafes is trivial.

    Arguing that people’s own intuition about right and wrong is bad is incredibly easy and the foundation of religion.

  15. February 28, 2017 at 3:40 pm

    Jesse,

    I don’t think that showing that people build their identities from heavy metal or NASCAR or whatever shows that individualism isn’t sustainable, because people are still individually choosing their prepackaged identities.

    However,

    Arguing that people’s own intuition about right and wrong is bad is incredibly easy and the foundation of religion.

    I agree it’s the foundation of religion. I disagree it’s easy, hence why there’s so much disaffection. Because it’s not self-evident that religion is correct in making this assertion.

  16. Clark Goble
    16
    February 28, 2017 at 4:31 pm

    Andrew (9) I think the roots go back to the end of polygamy and the early beginnings especially under Heber J. Grant of the correlation phase of the church. So I agree it’s more complicated. I’m just not sure those complications ultimately matter that much. My point is more that the move accelerates significantly under Pres. Hinkley and we really loose our quaint provincialism then and become more seriously a part of the large society in a way we weren’t before. Despite having senators and even Pres. Benson a cabinet member under Eisenhower.

    The question of whether the Church has absorbed too much American culture or not enough is a difficult question. The fact it isn’t obvious makes me think that perhaps it’s not the right question – which is an argument against the Benedict option IMO. Those railing of our adopting too much secular culture tend to pick and choose rather than giving a more balanced analysis of our engagement.

    Brother Sky (11) I fully agree all institutions including the Church are fallible. Whether that means we simply distrust them instinctively seems a different matter. That’s the problem I don’t think populism engages well in. After all just because everything is flawed and limited doesn’t mean it isn’t valuable or deserving of the benefit of doubt. It just means we should be careful to inquire and not blindly trust. It’s that distinction between informed trust and blind trust that I think gets lost in populism. Usually resulting in institutions worse than they were when the populists were railing against them.

    Andrew (12) I agree that persuading others is difficult. Especially when an individual has associated their identity with a group. Signifying ones commitment to the group often becomes more important psychologically than inquiring and engaging with ideas. However I think that is often a very different issue from pluralism. We engage with society not just to convince them but to shape the discourse. Also even if there are many we many be unable to persuade it doesn’t follow that all are.

  17. February 28, 2017 at 4:35 pm

    Helaman 5:1-4
    1 And it came to pass that in this same year, behold, Nephi delivered up the judgment-seat to a man whose name was Cezoram. 2 For as their laws and their governments were established by the voice of the people, and they who chose evil were more numerous than they who chose good, therefore they were ripening for destruction, for the laws had become corrupted. 3 Yea, and this was not all; they were a stiffnecked people, insomuch that they could not be governed by the law nor justice, save it were to their destruction. 4 And it came to pass that Nephi had become weary because of their iniquity; and he yielded up the judgment-seat, and took it upon him to preach the word of God all the remainder of his days, and his brother Lehi also, all the remainder of his days;

    There are many differences and similarities between today and this vignette from the Book of Mormon (not the least of which was a completely different relationship between church and state where those lines were often missing or incredibly blurred). But one thing is certain, when civilization started towards dissolution, the people of god tended not to cloister in their hovels, but engaged with the world. They preached repentance, at often great cost to self and to their community.

    In an agrarian state the Benedict Option is an option. In a globally networked digital age where markets control most aspects of living, you are either forced to engage with the world or to literally build a self-sustaining monastery out of the world, an option that simply will not work for most people.

    I agree with the notion that you must build a community that preserves the values you cherish regardless of what the world is doing around you, but even by traditions Enoch built his city while preaching to the world.

    I believe it was Salinger who said, It’s the Kali Yuga buddy, if you don’t have an ulcer you’re a go***mn spy.” Trouble is coming no matter what we do. It’s okay to have an ulcer, it means you are engaged.

  18. JKC
    18
    February 28, 2017 at 5:28 pm

    “I think a big problem is that people are more focused on signaling righteousness rather than actually reducing the problem at hand. I’d talked about that last month by distinguishing between promoting values versus honoring values. You see this for instance in abortion where it’s more important to fight for absolutist prescriptions of abortion regardless of whether one is successful. Further when given a choice of incrementalism (reducing abortion here and now) versus signaling ones commitment to absolute elimination the latter is typically done with the consequence nothing is achieve. So to me this is the very key of pluralism and compromise. It’s the difference between moving to ones goal versus signaling.”

    I realize that this is a minor point, but I just wanted to say that I totally agree with this, Clark. What’s more important: being against abortion in some abstract sense, or actually reducing abortions? But it applies beyond abortion. And really, this insight is at the heart of polarization. It’s a shift from caring about doing good to caring about being seen as good.

  19. The Other Clark
    19
    February 28, 2017 at 5:52 pm

    Because Mormonism is a lifestyle, rather than a one-hour-on-Sunday religion, it already is quite insular. (e.g. I’ll bet most Mormon’s closest friends are fellow ward members.) But I believe strongly that it will become more so.

    First, a sizeable chunk to the top Church leadership favors withdrawing more from the world (For instance, Elder Packer’s talk “Enemy Territory.”)

    Second, to paraphrase AoF#10 “We believe in the literal gathering of Israel.” Not spiritual, not figurative, literal.
    I’m not advocating restoring the Council of Fifty, or violent sorting as in comment #3 above. However, the scriptures are clear (e.g. D&C 45:68-70) that the more righteous (LDS and others) will voluntarily gather together in communities and physically separate themselves from the immoral culture and lifestyle of the world.

  20. Q
    20
    February 28, 2017 at 7:22 pm

    “If we pull back from society we will hurt us all. There are very real issues that still remain in society dealing with the weakest in society from the long term unemployed to the unborn. The religious have to have their voice heard”

    Pfff. Conservative Christian groups have played and continue to play an extremely influential role in US politics. What I hear is the crying of wolf and the playing of victim over same-sex marriage and abortion (neither of which issues directly affect the freedoms of Christian groups who are not forced to perform same-sex marriages or perform abortions). Plus, the cries of Muslim groups in the US for freedom (such as the freedom to build a mosque near Ground Zero) fall on deaf ears among Christian groups. Conservative Christian groups, Mormons included, are clamoring simply for the freedom to impose their values and worldviews on others. This is much ado about nothing.

  21. Brother Sky
    21
    February 28, 2017 at 8:42 pm

    I second Q’s comment. Everything from the “War on Christmas” paranoia to the imposing of so-called Christian values on other people (e.g. gay people who want to get married) smacks more of hysteria and oppression than a genuine concern that Christianity will somehow be marginalized.

  22. chris g
    22
    February 28, 2017 at 11:39 pm

    The social cohesion of US society is broken, perhaps fundamentally so. Devolution to smaller sized groups (temporarily or permanently) seems inevitable. There just isn’t enough social asabiyah for large group directed altruism to have any fitness advantage.

    So, for me, your question boils down to what sizes and types of groups can we expect?

    State rights enables lots more options here than federalism. I suspect this is really the only option left to keep the country together. For “moral safe spaces”, the smallest stable unit I can imagine is the city, county and university. These have just enough enforcement control to bias self-selected residency. As many simulations from the 70’s on show, it doesn’t take much bias nor much time to produce extreme temporal polarization.

    Thus, I’d expect these units to determine how far larger state & federal law can intrude. As per San Francisco’s likely pilot, we’ll probably see to what extent federal purse strings can stem the tide of (localized) popular morality. My guess here is that many purse strings will be cut and larger scales government will increasingly be perceived of and function as old tribute collectors: “protection money” will seem a worthwhile price to pay to keep localized sacred values.

    These communities may be somewhat homogenous by general religion type, but my guess is practice will be much more significant than theology.

    A “tribute” dynamic is probably stable in the short to mid term. In the long term, it almost guarantees that someone will push too hard. Conflict is inevitable. But it does give a chance for things to settle down and for the inevitable confrontation to be solved by one or two high-profile cases.

  23. Clark Goble
    23
    March 1, 2017 at 12:19 pm

    Chris (22) You’ve more or less convinced me on this point via Turchin. If we are at a social turning point with a break down of cohesion similar to 1968-74 then presumably there will be something similar to what happened then. In this model the supreme court decisions and the election of Trump and popularity of Bernie are more symptoms than causes. However there are some big differences from the late 60’s – particularly the geographic sorting that just wasn’t present in the same degree then.

    I suspect Federalism is one solution but there are some inherent problems there due to the limits on state governments especially with regards to deficit spending. This makes for instance subsidized health care very difficult to do in a state during a recession since it’s counter-cyclic spending. Ditto for man welfare programs which is the main reason why I think liberals haven’t embraced Federalism. Likewise many of the policies they seek they seek because they find them inherently moral issues. Thus it’s immoral (from their perspective) to not have the whole country follow them. (At least that’s been my experience with many liberals who honestly can’t fathom federalism as a value — although maybe Trump will come to change that)

    Q (20) There’s no doubt that social conservatives have exaggerated many problems. They’re of course not alone in that. That earlier distinction I made between honoring vs. promoting values/rules is helpful. Those who think honoring values is most important tend to focus on violations of the honor and put them into very black and white terms. You see this on the left as well where pretty minor issues become seen as key violations. A good example where both sides do this is the recent battle over transgender respect and bathrooms.

    That said I also think one has to recognize a lot of diversity within movements as well as the traditional problem of just having bad information due to the media consumed. (I think the so-called ground zero mosque is a good example of that)

    But I fully agree with you that if the majority had focused on pluralism more when they had the choice there wouldn’t have been quite the degree of conflict. Of course that goes both ways. It’s just that the other side isn’t (yet) a majority or even a plurality. The former majority is now at best a plurality and is struggling to deal with it. But when you move from the national view to say smaller views such as say college campuses often the majority are from the other side and you see them making pretty similar structural mistakes to what the religious did prior to the 21st century.

    Other Clark (19) I think this is important to keep in mind. Even if we are reaching out much more, just our time commitments at Church makes us more insular. After you’ve done your callings, gone to Church, and done your required home duties there’s not a lot of time left. I used to swear up and down I’d not be one of those people who disappeared after getting married. Yet the reality is I lost nearly all my free time. The occasional blog comment is the best I can manage.

  24. chris g
    24
    March 1, 2017 at 11:55 pm

    The late 60’s moral destabilization had a lot of good-will capital at its disposal. It also had the fairly large existential threat of communism as well. Just those two factors make a world of difference for how things went then compared to how they will go today. Plus the 60’s wasn’t really a cosmopolitanism vs nationalism fight. Because that’s what we have today, the group level tensions are much more severe (the wells of the two strange attractors – cosmopolitanism and nationalism are much deeper than the 60’s fight over norm enforcement strength). Today’s battle really does pull in a deeper level of genetic forces.

    Groups will be much more decided based on who will fight for you rather than whose views match up with you. Because of this I’d expect interaction and service to be the major factors at play. This produces all sorts of odd alliances. Just take a look at some of the weird political alliances that are now emerging – gays for Trump? Gay libertarians against the Oregon cake ruling? Neo-cons for Hillary?

  25. Clark
    25
    March 2, 2017 at 12:04 pm

    Yes although one might argue that a big part of the turmoil in the late 60’s was due to the draft. (Admittedly only in America – the causes in Europe were more complex) It’s interesting that in the United States once the draft ended the level of turmoil decreased significantly. That’s despite the fact that the other aspects of the turmoil (drug use, increasing violence) kept getting worse until peaking in the early 90’s then starting a period of decline until recently.

    In Europe the battles were much more complex and were related much more to ideological battles over marxism and capitalism. Capitalism eventually one but one could argue that it took until the 1980’s and was largely due to the failure of marxist policies across Europe. The result was a weird mixing of social welfare programs (a large safety net) with more neo-liberal economic policies. The level varied of course. France kept a much more constrained economic system whereas the Scandanavian countries and England moved to a much more open system.

    Today, as you note, the battles are over nationalism or a kind of homogeneity and cultural traditionalism. I’m not sure that makes it worse though for a variety of reasons. But there definitely is a reshifting of political boundaries. When this happened last in the late 60’s the changes really took until the late 90’s to complete in the US. It is true though that there really wasn’t the type of polarization as today. (The parties were quite diverse) Likewise today there’s not only polarization but worse the polarization is highly correlated to location. And not just state location. It tends to be the cities versus the rural and suburban areas. That could make it worse simply because there’s no shared experiences or even common ground. The needs of the city and the needs of low density areas are simply radically different.

  26. chris g
    26
    March 2, 2017 at 5:54 pm

    Yes – you’re right about the Vietnam war and protestor concern about deadly internationalism.

    The urban rural divide an excellent point. We need more interaction across these lines. I think centralized religions have some potential here. You have people interacting at higher organizational levels which span urban – rural divides. Mormonism is pretty good here.

    In this light, groups that are able to span the urban-rural divide (for whatever reason) are likely to be the most fit. Many of the left’s protest movements seem able to do this. The synergy of social justice quasi-religion makes it able to do this (for the moment at least..). I’m not sure what significant interaction structures the political right has in this regard. The NRA might be one, but it doesn’t have too much of a community building focus. Trumpism enables some rural-urban interaction, but only if it turns into a “protest-like” community movement. The military, which is predominately politically right, is probably the best coherer. However, I’m not sure how many veteran-based community groups are going right now. I’d doubt not too many that span urban-rural lines. Thus it mainly functions for active duty personnel.

    University is another major coherer. Its structural biases and increasingly polarizing function, however, doesn’t bode well for its role as a major societal coherer. Plus, it only hits about 20-30% of the population max. But its loss could prove to be a tipping point….

  27. Clark
    27
    March 2, 2017 at 6:24 pm

    I’m still reading those Turchin books. But if the claim is that all these turmoils in practice reflect deeper structural problems related to an oversupply of ‘elites’ then isn’t the real issue to either reduce the supply or provide more opportunities for them? It seems the conflict both in Europe and the US (and apparently starting in Canada) is between the traditional elite class and then those who don’t have as big a voice in policy. So Trump for instance always on the outside looking in. Most of those he is appointing aren’t even traditional conservative elites. While this happens to have a rural/urban divide it doesn’t always as we see with Trump being on the outside in the Manhattan elite circles.

    I’d image that the so-called social justice puritanism on campuses and to a lesser extent among elites at certain businesses (like Silicon Valley) is again a group of elites typically on the outside fighting to get in. That’s why those elites focus on glass ceilings and the like against established elites but less often on advancing the place of non-elites. While they are the polar opposite of Trump in most ways, one can see them as functioning in a similar fashion.

    An obvious way to solve this is to break government a bit more away from current state boundaries so that cities and rural areas are more independent. There are of course lots of problems with that. Not the least of which that in the United States it’s basically a non-starter constitutionally. But beyond that you have the traditional problem that money tends to flow out of cities to heavily subsidize rural regions (even if those non-urbanites like to ignore this).

    Regarding the military, there was a study that there was a bit of a rural divide over the military. For instance 35% of casualties were from rural towns while only 25% of the country was. Full urban areas (as opposed to suburban) are the most underrepresented group. More interestingly for our discussion both poor and rich are underrepresented as well. The military draws disproportionately from the middle class. Significantly so.

    The best hope for breaking the rural divide was a new population boom moving to rural areas as telecommuting allowed. Yet the hope of telecommuting never really materialized for a slew of reasons (lack of good internet being only one problem among many).

  28. zjg
    28
    March 3, 2017 at 12:13 am

    Dreher’s benedict option is of course a reference to the last few pages of Macintyre’s “After Virtue,” although I’m not sure that Macintyre is suggesting what Dreher thinks he is suggesting there. Also, the foil for Macintyre is Charles Taylor, who is clearly some sort of liberal but one with strong communitarian tendencies emphasizing the preeminence of local knowledge, and so sometimes Taylor sounds pretty conservative (although obviously without the Republican Party’s obsession with the changes wrought by the sexual revolution). Taylor has famously argued that Latin Christendom (something that Macintyre, and I assume Dreher by extension, seems to long for) actually made it harder, not easier, for the gospel ethic to take hold in light of the in-group dynamics and tribalism that abounded in a Christian-dominant state and that the universal benevolence at the heart of Christianity’s ethical message needed pluralism in a sense to flourish. In other words, Macintyre seems to be arguing that a Christian cannot develop the Christian virtues in a post-Christian nation. Taylor, by contrast, argues that it’s not all that easy to develop them in a Christian one. Whether one agrees with Taylor or Macintyre in part seems to depend on how you define the Christian virtues and what you think is at the heart of Christianity’s ethical message.

  29. Clark Goble
    29
    March 3, 2017 at 10:33 am

    Thanks zjg, I’ve not read After Virtue so I didn’t know that.

  30. el oso
    30
    March 3, 2017 at 10:06 pm

    Some of the Benedict Option is not well represented in many comments above. For Mormons, the types of actions would be things that are already discussed in General Conference and church manuals in broad strokes, but they will get implemented very specifically and overwhelmingly as needed.
    For example, GAs teach to watch what you watch on TV, internet, etc. Benedict option would be strict internet and other content filters and entertainment with minimal or no TV shows, certainly not Disney, MTV, or other shows that corrupt the youth. Kids are taught to love their neighbors, but to be selective in their friendships when it comes to reinforcing moral values. In suburban and urban areas, schooling would be private or home school with much stricter selectivity over the variety of friends that kids hang out with. There would still be lots of engagement with the community at the local level, hopefully with lots of ward members doing some of it with you.

    There is also the more subtle self-selection going on as described above. In my area, the two locales where the church is growing fast and wards are being divided also happen to have the largest early-morning seminary classes and nearby “good” high schools. These areas even get frequent move-ins of families that will be in town 2-5 years and do not have any kids older than young elementary school. Some wards have a Mormon population density that is triple or more the state average (this is not an area close to Utah). In other areas, I have seen ward boundary gerrymandering in order to match strong-member neighborhoods with poor areas because of the tremendous self sorting by area.

  31. Clark Goble
    31
    March 4, 2017 at 2:25 pm

    While not related to the current political situation, I think one thing the church struggles with is capabilities & special limits/needs which are geographically distributed. This is less of an issue in areas where the Church isn’t strong which already cover reasonably diverse geographical areas. But in Utah for instance a stake might all be middle class or upper middle class while poorer or more struggling areas tend to struggle. They can assign people to these stakes/wards but that’s a limited solution. This geographic effect just has a not at all healthy situation of stratifying wards by income.

  32. March 4, 2017 at 5:05 pm

    One thing I notice in church discussions around disaster preparedness is allowing idea of working with other organizations. Thinking that local city, police, fire, search and rescue, will do anything for us is sacrilege. It’s going to be us ward members looking out for each other, and that’s it. Nobody else could possibly assist us when a disaster strikes the whole community.
    I find it to be a very unhealthy attitude.

  33. March 4, 2017 at 5:14 pm

    @Andrew S.

    A religious person who says that homosexuality is immoral lobbies for the right to be able to discriminate against homosexuals

    I absolutely disagree. I believe that homosexuality is immoral and I will lobby for their right to not be discriminated against. I am not going to discriminate against someone, just because they are straying from God’s example in a different way than I am.

  34. Clark Goble
    34
    March 4, 2017 at 5:20 pm

    I think part of the problem is that what counts as discrimination isn’t agreed upon. I think many people think stores should have to sell to gay people but that catering an event or going to do photographs at an event in opposition to their religion shouldn’t count if there are other businesses easily available who are willing to do it.. That’s ultimately the question to the degree I dare say I understand the controversy.

  35. Chet
    35
    March 5, 2017 at 6:23 pm

    FWIW we had a combined meeting today about the Just Serve website.

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