Rod Dreher let a combination of ego and Twitter get the better of him in Rome a few days ago. Dreher met the Pope in the Vatican, one of those longish meet-and-greets where you briefly shake the Pope’s hand, maybe say a few words, get a picture snapped. Dreher took this moment to tell Francis, “I wrote The Benedict Option.”
Dreher expected the Pope to know him. After all, The Benedict Option. Instead, Dreher said in a now-deleted tweet, “He took my name tag in his hand, looked at it, then gave me a blank expression.” As Rod might say while slurping oysters on the banks of the Seine, “Quel dommage.”
How could the Pope not know Dreher and his book? After all, his book was among the most influential religious books of 2018, according to The New Yorker, and David Brooks. The. New. Yorker. David. Brooks. The book has more than 1,000 ratings at Amazon! I do know it sold a boatload of copies.
Dreher said, the Pope’s “team trashed the book when it came out in Italy in 2018.” Moreover, the book was “widely denounced” by papal collaborator Antonio Spadaro, SJ, and it was reviewed in Civiltà Cattolica, “which Francis reads and has to approve before publication.” What’s more, “Francis’s people called around Italy before my book tour.” In short, it is not possible the Pope does not know Rod and his book.
Dreher’s view of the papacy is like that of a lot of non-Catholics, where the Pope sees all, knows all, controls all. Dreher’s view of the papacy is like that SNL sketch, “President Reagan; Mastermind.” Reagan is the genial know-nothing with a reporter but seconds later swings into action, snapping out highly specific military orders to his staff. “I’m only going to go through this once so it’s essential that you pay attention. Casey, you’ll spearhead our new operation to fund the Contras. The C-5As with the tow missiles and grenade launchers will leave for South Africa at 0800 hours. I want you to supervise the loading.”
Maybe Rod envisions Pope Francis with his men gathered around. “We must get Dreher and his book. Spadaro, you make a speech at Notre Dame. I want phone calls to every diocese. I want a blistering piece for Civiltà Cattolica on my desk in an hour. Go go go, gentlemen, we have a Church to save from that Bayou Bad Boy.”
Would that the papacy worked that way, well, in the day of JPII and Benedict XVI anyway.
A few weeks ago, I wrote here about how it’s likely that Francis does not know of the specific homosexual perfidy of Fr. James Martin, SJ. Francis would have to rely on his aides, like Spadaro and others, to tell him the truth about Martin’s heretical views, which they would never do because they agree with them and don’t see them as heresies at all. Either that, or Francis would have to spend his days online following the Twitter debate, or reading Crisis Magazine, Church Militant, and LifeSite, practically the only places telling the truth about Fr. Martin. Neither scenario is remotely possible.
All kidding aside, The Benedict Option was an important book. It grabbed the attention of many American Catholics and the non-Catholic intelligentsia. It proposed a plan that many Catholics—in Steubenville, Front Royal, Star of the Sea Village, People of Hope, People of Praise, and perhaps dozens of other places—had adopted years before it became a gleam in Rod’s eye. Hats off; Rod is a master marketer, and he possesses the remarkable ability to find a parade and run around to lead it. Still, it was an important story to tell, and Rod told it well.
The proposition is that Catholics leave politics and public square—after all, the Culture Wars are over and we lost—if only for a while, to gird our loins, catechize our young, create competing institutions, and wait for the day to fight back against the New Dark Age that is coming for us all.
As I wrote in Under Siege: No Finer Time to be a Faithful Catholic, the end is always nigh for Rod. Y2K would see us subsistence farming. Peak Oil would see us subsistence farming. Wuhan would see us subsistence farming. Do you see a pattern here? Rod even brags about being an end-of-the-worlder. He told David Brooks it is the only sane way to live, especially with the rise of “soft totalitarianism,” another idea he borrowed from someone else and applied to great effect in his new book Live Not by Lies.
It very well could be that the Pope knows Rod Dreher and The Benedict Option. Heck, the Pope might even know about Crunchy Cons. Maybe he was dissing Rod because he did not like the book. I would not put it past Francis, in his own clumsy way, to have been goofing on Rod. On the other hand, he really might not have any idea who Rod is or his book.
What is obvious is that Rod Dreher is church-haunted. I have not thought for a single moment about the Methodism I left behind when I joined the Catholic Church. Rod, on the other hand, cannot let go of the Catholic Church. He is obsessed with her. And this recent kerfuffle with the Pope, which exists exclusively in his own mind, demonstrates this abundantly.