Rod Dreher and the Moscow Mojo

Andrew Isker’s book, “The Boniface Option,” received a critical review from Rod Dreher. Dreher’s main issue? Alleged resentment and anger in Isker’s work. I can’t comment on Isker’s book since I haven’t read it, but Dreher seems determined to link this “grumpy muffin” spirit to Moscow. 

Here’s the essence:

Dreher’s subtitle: “If ‘The Ben Op’ Came from a Brawling Calvinist Memelord in Moscow, Idaho…” 

In his article, Dreher asks, “What kind of world will Isker create? What about dissenters, Christian or not? What about women? Is everything destined to become Moscow, Idaho?” 

Dreher’s conclusion: ” When I finished The Boniface Option last night, I could only imagine a future in which Douglas Wilson’s brogue is stamping on a fake, disgusting, corpulent, but all too human face, forever.”

A couple of years ago, I interviewed Rod Dreher on The Sword & The Trowel Podcast. We discussed his book, “Live Not By Lies,” which I thoroughly enjoyed.

Shortly after that, my family and I moved to Moscow. We’ve been here for two years now, deeply ingrained in the community. I’m a minister at Christ Church, dean at New Saint Andrews College, and our kids attend Logos School. We live amidst the well-known Kirkers vs. the children of darkness divide. I share this context so that you can know where I stand and have another perspective by which you can judge Dreher’s critique of Moscow more fairly. 

You don’t have to be a sage to know that my trying to explain how badly Dreher misjudged Wilson won’t do much good. I could tell you that Doug Wilson is a cross between Tom Bombadil and Santa Claus. But those who have done their homework already know that to be the case, and those people who are unfriendly are pretty set in their ways. 

But, there might be readers who, like Rod Dreher, believe that Moscow is a hotbed of conservative Christian resentment over our crumbling civilization. They’d be mistaken, and in a big way. Dreher does pinpoint a real problem but fails to embrace one of the solutions:

The Dilemma

The problem, as Dreher often points out, is that the world has gone mad. We need something like the Benedict Option, but it’s so bad out there that it’s pulling the faithful in two wrong directions.

Direction one: Some think you can be sinfully angry and righteous, clinging to Christianity and sanity while drowning in bitterness and rage, as Dreher warns. You can watch the news, be appalled by paganism’s latest advances, and wring your hands, uncertain about what to do.

Direction two: You can surrender your cares, anger, and bitterness to the unfaithfulness of clown world. Folks taking this second option have had enough of self-righteous, reactionary conservatism, but without genuine community or a game plan, they become desensitized to the corruption around them.

Dreher likely sees both these pitfalls. His review of Isker aims to steer clear of the first one. Whether Isker is guilty of it (again, I haven’t read his book), Dreher is right that many conservatives are growing angrier and more resentful.

However, there’s a path that avoids both extremes, though it’s challenging and rare. It’s the road of faithfulness, renewal, reformation, and revival – a path filled with the spirit of the Narnians:

“Instead of being grave and mysterious like most Calormenes, they walked with a swing and let their arms and shoulders go free, and chatted and laughed. One was whistling. You could see that they were ready to be friends with anyone who was friendly, and didn’t give a fig for anyone who wasn’t.”

If I might speak plainly, that is just the spirit that has, generally speaking, taken over the Kirker community here in Moscow. It’s a rare thing, and worth of emulation. The general thankfulness, festivities, and cheerfulness of the place are no secret. 

Take, for instance:

video of Christ Church singing Christmas Carols downtown amid heckling, responding with cheerful “Merry Christmas” and a simple move across the street.

Clips of block parties (here and here) thrown by Christ Church in downtown Moscow, where everyone, Christian or not, enjoys free food (hundreds of pounds of tri tip at this last one) and the best party in town.

The spirit of cheerfulness tied to a fearless apologetic approach, which has been taught and can be found in various resources (herehere, and here)

Doug’s debates with Christopher Hitchens – a display of winning not only arguments but also hearts – a spirit that resonates well in Moscow.

We need a jolly spirit as we press on, and Dreher seems to overlook that Moscow’s saints have been blessed as a shining example of the spirit we need. Does every place have to be Moscow? Of course not, but I invite Dreher to come and see for himself. The proof is in the pudding; something remarkable is happening here.

Look no farther than our sea shanties:

To the Word Sea Shanty

Sea Shanty – Psalm 136

Doug has already extended an invitation to Rod. We would love for him to come and speak in Moscow. I will go ahead and underscore this offer. As dean of New Saint Andrews, I arrange outside speakers to address our entire faculty and student body at what we call Disputatio. This is an open invitation for Rod to come address New Saint Andrews College. Let’s make it happen, beer, psalms, and tri tip included.

Here’s a snap shot of the spirit around here: