A Short Book Review of Rod Dreher’s – The Benedict Option – Part 2

A Short Review of Rod Dreher’s Book, “The Benedict Option” – Part 1

Today I finished “The Benedict Option.”  Regardless of whether you are a Christian or just someone who adheres to the traditional cultural norms of western civilization this book gives you a great deal to think about.  And for someone trying to live as a Christian in this post-Christian world and even more importantly someone raising Christian children this book is extremely relevant.

Dreher presents his thesis as bad news/good news, in that order.  The bad news is we’ve lost the culture wars and the younger generations have rejected the Christian precepts on sexuality and hedonism.  He declares that to pretend that we can win back the culture is delusional and counter-productive.

The good news is now Christians can prove that they are Christians.  His thesis is that because we thought we could depend on the Christian nature of America we didn’t have to do the hard work of living the Christian lifestyle and making sure our children were brought up in the faith.  We assumed our kids would pick up faith through osmosis, even if we ourselves didn’t really reflect this lifestyle.  America stopped being Christian because Americans weren’t living as Christians.  Basically, the communists who were running our schools and Hollywood made an end run around religion by replacing God with fairness and used the highly materialistic consumer culture that is present day America to convince our children that this culture is really all there is to America.  And they bought it.

His logic is that in order to survive in this anti-Christian society we’ll have to return to the mindset and behaviors that the Christians adopted when they lived in a non-Christian society.

After this Dreher compares the present-day situation to late 5th century Italy when Saint Benedict was starting his monastic system to allow Christians to survive the Dark Ages after the fall of Rome.  There is a good deal of description of the components of the Benedictine Rules and how these would apply to lay Christians.  This is followed by chapters that describe the ways that Christians can circumvent the dangers of present day educational and work-life anti-Christian realities.  These sections are full of examples of individuals and groups building organizations and support systems that are referenced in the Notes section at the end of the book.  I was surprised at how much already exists to allow parents to locate traditional Christian schooling or resources for home schooling.  But most important is the need for parents to heavily involve themselves in teaching their children what Christianity means.  One thing that I found interesting was his insistence that in order to inoculate children against the sexual hedonism of the modern world parents were going to have to learn how to talk about sex with their children.

And finally, the book stresses the fact that it wasn’t really an enemy from without that destroyed the Christian West.  It was the logical conclusion of the Enlightenment philosophy that puts man at the center of the universe.  Basically, there was no longer a place for God.

For those interested in practical solutions to the problem of living a traditional Christian life in these godless times I highly recommend this book.  Even if you disagree with some of the suggestions you will find yourself thinking of the world and your place in it in a totally different way.

OCF Classic Movie Reviews – The Sting

Can a movie made in 1973 be a classic?  Hell yeah!  The Sting, to my mind, is one of the last identifiable big studio system type movies.  Everything about it exudes quality.  The cinematography, music, actors, sets, sound and script show attention to detail and professionalism.  The only thing that sets it apart from earlier productions is a little profanity that wouldn’t have gotten past the Hayes Code censors of twenty years earlier.

The plot is grifters versus mobsters in 1930s Chicago.  Revenge for a murdered grifter has the two stars Paul Newman and Robert Redford partnering to orchestrate a “big con” against a vicious mobster played by Robert Shaw.  Supporting cast includes Charles Durning, Ray Walston, Eileen Brennan and a host of familiar faces.  George Roy Hill directed it and the ragtime music of Scott Joplin suffuses it from beginning to end and reinforces the feeling that you are immersed in an earlier era.  I cannot think of a false note in the whole movie.  Newman is at his best.  Redford is very good and Shaw chews up the scenery with his best Irish gangster characterization.  His mannerisms are fantastic.  One of his best bits has one of his henchmen asking if it’s worthwhile hunting down the grifters who stole such a small amount of his money.  Shaw’s on a golf course and he points to another golfer and says to the hitman, “Ya see that fella?  He and I went to fifth grade together.  If he finds out that a two-bit grifter got away with stealing from me I’m gonna have to have you kill him and every other small timer from here to Atlantic City.  Yafalla (which means do you follow)?

The plot is intricate involving Newman’s crew of con-men, Shaw’s gang, hired hitmen from out of town, local police and even FBI agents after Newman.  There are twists, turns and surprises.  The movie combines comedy, action and some drama in a fast-paced and highly entertaining way.  It’s an homage to the gangster movies of the 1930s that feels like it could have been written by O’Henry or Ring Lardner.  But there’s a modern feel to the pessimistic tone of the ending.  When Newman asks Redford what he’ll do with his cut, he says he doesn’t want it.  “I’d only lose it anyway.”

Give it a try if you’ve never seen it.  Highly recommended.

OCF Classic Movie Reviews: W. C. Fields Double Feature

A long time ago I had a friend who was a prison guard at Riker’s Island and he was a movie buff.  And he introduced me to the films of W. C. Fields.  Most people my age recognize Fields’ trademark nasal tone, whiskey flask, bulbous nose and endless wisecracks.  But I guess not many have seen many of his films.  I never had before that time and I was immediately hooked on the absurdity of this comic everyman battling the endless affronts he suffers at the hands of wives, children, neighbors, bosses, policemen and any other authority figure who darkened his path.  Deep down he just wants to live life his own way.  And you can see that he still retains a child-like hope that he will somehow triumph.  By the final reel of these films, a catastrophe has engulfed him and he appears to hit rock bottom.  But then the magical reversal at the finale creates a deus ex machina that rights all wrongs and he lives happily ever afterward.

The two movies my friend introduced me to were early and both had Fields as a long suffering husband.  And in both movies his wife was played to perfection by an actress named Kathleen Howard who was a large overbearing woman with a shrewish temperament, an acid tongue and the lungs of a Wagnerian opera singer who continually browbeat him over every imaginable fault she could summon.  She is his perfect foil.

These early movies are a sort of halfway point between a string of vaudeville skits and an actual scripted movie.  Some of the routines involve sight gags that often are carried too far.  And the plot is usually ridiculously thin.  Some folks who enjoy Fields’ movies prefer the more polished movies like the “The Bank Dick” and “Never Give a Sucker an Even Break.”  But for me in these earlier movies the comic delivery is hilarious and the happily ever after endings absurdly wonderful.

So, the plot of “It’s a Gift” (1934) has Harold Bissonette as the owner of a grocery store in New Jersey who dreams of being an orange farmer in California.  Naturally he throws away his whole settled existence and drags his family across depression era America to follow his dream.  And naturally the result is disaster.

In “The Man on the Flying Trapeze,” (1935) Ambrose Woolfinger is a memory expert working for the Malloy Textile firm.  But what he’d like to be is a professional wrestler.  So, when he takes the afternoon off to go watch the wrestling match under the pretext of his mother-in-law’s funeral all hell breaks loose.

As I said the plots are ludicrously thin, the acting is pure ham and the sight gags painfully long.  My family runs for the exits whenever I pop one of these in the DVD player.  But I believe that any married man whose heart doesn’t sing with joy when Harold Bisonette or Ambrose Woolfinger finally gets the upper hand is a lost soul who cannot be redeemed and deserves to be fed feet first into the matriarchy.

As you can tell from my description, these movies are not for everyone.  If they sound intriguing maybe you’ll give them a try.

Independence Day – A Few Thoughts

So I’m an American. Great grandson of immigrants. Close enough to the boat to know what it is like to be one of the newbies but around long enough to feel a pride in belonging to something exceptional.

I was brought up on the notion that living here was as close to being in heaven as you could get without having to die. And in a lot of ways it lived up to the hype. The streets weren’t paved with gold. But they were paved. No one starved. And that even went for the “poor.” Even the marginally working class had enough to feed a family. Everyone could read and write and if you weren’t a hopeless sociopath chances were you could hold down some kind of job and support yourself. Most folks attended a church and dragged the kids along to help “steer them in the right direction.”

The general notion was that America was a machine that took well-intentioned people who followed the rules and worked hard and from them generated wealth and happiness for everyone.

But sometimes the machine ran off the rails. The two big hiccups that I grew up with were the 1930’s and the late 1970’s. Each of these events damaged the morale of the nation and brought into question the stability of our way of life. No one knows how the world would have turned out if the Second World War hadn’t “saved” us from the Depression but what is important is that by the twentieth century Americans believed that not only could the US government avoid recessions but if it didn’t it would be held responsible. Herbert Hoover was vilified as the epitome of a callous plutocrat. And Jimmy Carter was cast out as a loser who had allowed the American industrial engine to stall out into stagflation.

Coming up to the present, George W. Bush was blamed for the Crash of 2008. In an eight year period that in many ways resembled the ’30s, Obama seemed to mostly get a pass for not reviving the American economy. This is reminiscent of the treatment FDR received. Apparently if you can vilify your predecessor successfully enough you can avoid blame (if you’re a democrat).

So what have we learned? Americans expect results. Especially from republicans. Apparently people don’t expect democrats to make the economy work. They will settle for handouts. But republicans have to deliver. The logic must be, “you people are always talking about free enterprise, well, put up or shut up.”

So here’s the whole thing in a nutshell. If you want to be a republican president coming in under a bad economy and you want to be re-elected, you not only have to revive the economy but you also have to do it in your first two years. Otherwise you’ll lose the Congress and be hamstrung by the democrats.

Unless of course you can buy off the people with free stuff (a la the democrats) and/or distract them with some bigger problem. Trump is betting that immigration is that bigger problem. And he may be right. If he actually accomplishes a good chunk of his deportation idea, he may get some extra time to revive the economy.

All right, this whole convoluted essay is basically trying to confirm something that is becoming harder for even the purest free trade advocate to ignore. The American People are fine with business making lots of money, as long as they are part of that equation. If American companies move all their plants and their jobs offshore then they’re not American companies. And they should not be treated as such. And if a foreign company builds a plant in the US and employs Americans then they should be rewarded any way we can. It’s not all that complicated. Americans with jobs don’t turn into a mob. So get them jobs, now!

Whoever gets into office next better get results and fast. Or else there are gonna be fireworks.

President Trump’s United Nation’s Address

Look, I’m not wearing any headphones, it’ll mess up my hair.  Besides if these mooks don’t speak American then they’re losers and I don’t need to hear what they’re saying.  And take some bleach to that dais, I don’t think all of these guys understand soap.  And I’m using my own microphone.

Hello UN.  This is your landlord, President Trump.  Looking out across this audience I can see why the world is going to hell in a handbasket.  I don’t see how most of you got past the TSA at Kennedy Airport.  Anyway, let me get right to the point.

THE GRAVYTRAIN IS OVER.

I’m closing this place down.  I’m sick of paying for you bums so go home.  Now!

There’s an airline ticket for each of you and cab fare to Kennedy.  Don’t bother packing.  I’ll have your crap shipped back to the useless countries you’re from.  Once you’re gone I’m gonna demo this dump and disinfect it for a couple of years and then Trump Corp is going to put up a 400 story building here.  It’ll be huge.  Once you freeloaders are gone and no longer clogging up the streets, I’ll be able to get a cab without resorting to Uber. From now on don’t call us we’ll call you.