Thursday, May 26, 2016

Shoot to get hot, shoot to stay hot

So Donald Trump clinched the GOP nomination today.  This startling reality--because let's face it, who foresaw this back in December 2015?--reminded me of an article earlier this month wherein Peter Wolfgang took a stab at reading the "Why did Trump win?" tea leaves.  Wolfgang first address some clear points:

The first theory is that Donald Trump is popular among religious voters because other things have replaced religious belief as a motivating factor for how people vote, even for religious people. And the dwindling number of Republican voters who do still oppose Donald Trump out of religious conviction can expect the right to turn on them with a vengeance.
The second theory is that Donald Trump’s popularity among religious voters is confirmation of Ross Douthat’s thesis that we have become “a nation of heretics,” not in the classic Protestant vs. Catholic sense, but in the sense that much of what we call Christianity in America—whether Protestant or Catholic, liberal or conservative—has ceased to be Christianity in even a bare bones C. S. Lewis/Mere Christianity way. By this reading, the New Age-y or Prosperity Gospel ideologies in our churches have diminished our powers of discernment and softened us up for Donald Trump.
I am sympathetic to this view, but there are some important signs that contradict it. Douthat has a whole chapter against Glenn Beck, for instance, and Beck is actually the last man standing against Donald Trump in Conservative Big Media. And I am not aware of a single Catholic equivalent to, say, Trump supporter Jerry Falwell, Jr. Many Catholics do support Trump but I cannot name a single prominent Catholic leader who supported Trump prior to his becoming the presumptive nominee.

Read it all here.

Then Wolfgang drops the bomb:  The Benedict Option gave us Trump.

By “Benedict Option” I don’t necessarily mean the Benedict Option as defined by Rod Dreher, a definition that is much in dispute. I mean the Benedict Option as it has been understood and received by many in the Christian community.
And it is not just the Benedict Option. I mean “Seeker Friendly” churches. I mean a false but very popular view of Pope Francis that misreads him as saying that we should quit fighting abortion and the LGBT agenda. I mean anything that says—or is received as saying—that Christians should withdraw from public life.
Wolfgang, who worked with northeastern churches over a decade ago in protest of legalizing same-sex marriage, recognizes the ground isn't always level.  He helped amass thousands of signatures against redefining marriage...and a panel of judges did it anyway.  So Wolfgang understands the "what's it really gonna matter?" ennui.  Still, he concludes:
Regardless of whatever the Benedict Option actually is, it and other things are heard as a call for disengagement from politics. Many small-“o” orthodox Christians are actually doing it. This is especially true here in the Northeast, where Trump scored his biggest margins of victory.
Perhaps this is what you get when orthodox Christians withdraw from public life. You get Donald Trump.
Since this blog has a noticeable lag between good posts read and good posts written, you may read Dreher's responses here.  Just one little Dreher snippet:
For Wolfgang to be right, there has to be a “silent majority,” or something like it, of orthodox Catholics and conservative Evangelicals, who could turn this thing around if they just committed themselves more completely to partisan political activism. For one, that’s especially untrue in the Northeast, which is one of the most liberal, secular regions of the country (see here). Plus, we are living in a time ofdeclining religious belief across the board in America. Finally, the Indiana RFRA debacle last year was the political Waterloo for religious conservatives. It showed that when Big Business takes sides against us in the culture war, the Republican Party will cave.
This is political reality. The Benedict Option is meant to be an alternative strategy to coping with this reality, and more broadly, with the fact that we now live in a post-Christian culture.
I don’t say that conservative Christians should get out of political life, stop voting, stop running for office, and so forth. I expect that we will keep doing that, and that’s fine, that’s even necessary. But we should abandon political hope, by which I mean that we should understand that politics can at best be a defensive action at this point, not a means by which conservative Christians can transform the commons, except at the local level.
For my part, Wolfgang overplays the argument. Thus there's at least...

 and maybe
 and possibly even...
A couple basketball-playing buddies of mine remark "Shoot to get hot, shoot to stay hot" when the level of their play does not measure up to expected standards.  In other words, my guys say "keep trying, something will (eventually) stick."  It's also a reference to a player finding (or rediscovering) his playing rhythm, that sweet spot of individual excellence and teamwork that moves everybody (on your team, at least) forward.
Wolfgang is shooting in hopes that he finds his critical rhythm, but the problem is that in the process he's taking a lot of bad shots.  That being said, we now face a political reality--one that surely Wolfgang, Dreher, and so many others--including this blog--must comment on, because the 2016 election is shaping up to present Christian voters, and especially Roman Catholic ones, with some quite volatile questions.  Will Catholic voters wind up facing, like Karl Barth did in 1934, the need to restate principles of non-involvment with an ascendant regime?  Wolfgang notes that no prominent Catholic leader has supported Trump, but he knows darn well many rank-and-file Catholics themselves already do. Case in point:  the first Trump sticker I saw in the Albany area was in my parish parking lot...on Easter Sunday morning.  

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