The Dreher Option: Misunderstanding the Ambitions of Our Enemy

The Dreher Option - Misunderstanding the Ambitions of Our EnemyThe first installment analyzing the Dreher option identified a weakness in the character of the author looking to spark a Christian cultural revival, which is his distinct inability to practice what he preaches. In the article I highlighted, Dreher says that he “lost his Catholic faith” and that this event was one of the most painful of his life. The language employed by Dreher attempting to justify his schismatic action is meant to invoke a sense of sorrow from the reader, that we should feel bad that Dreher lost his Catholic faith because of poor doctrinal articulation during his tenure as a practicing Catholic.

Dreher’s story is a rhetorical ruse. The sad tale being spun is couched upon the flimsiest of emotional pretenses, and is as unjustified as a husband looking to divorce his wife because, you know, “he just fell out of love with her.” Dreher didn’t lose anything. He chose to leave the Catholic faith because he wasn’t getting what he wanted, and decided to do some ‘Church hopping’ as if the trials facing the “pillar and bulwark of truth” were an adequate reason to seek a divorce from the Bridegroom.

While this is a fatal flaw for the Dreher option, there are many more weaknesses that must be exposed because numerous people, including many in the Catholic faith, are unfortunately under the impression that this proposal is a groundbreaking solution to our cultural ills.[1]

A major weakness of the Dreher option is its inability to comprehend the ambitions of the enemy. Before examining the confused advice in the book, let’s go back to an important instance that sheds light on Dreher’s intellectual and spiritual surrender to the cultural left.

Following the Obergefell decision, Kim Davis, a county clerk located in Rowan County, Kentucky, refused to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Davis was taking a stand against unjust judicial activism, putting herself at personal risk of being crushed by the cultural left in the name of her faith. As the left usually does, they began with character assassination by pointing out that Davis’s past life of divorce and remarriage is a less than exemplary model of the Christian faith she is attempting to live. In addition to this, she was labeled a bigot, a homophobe, a religious fanatic etc.

How did Rod Dreher respond to those attacks against Kim Davis? Did he defend her against these ravenous leftist activists pretending to be journalists? Did he use his media platform to defend her against the abuse she was taking from the cultural revolutionaries? Did he use his influence to rally support for Kim Davis’s principled stance against the left? No. He did not.

Here is what he had to say about the situation: 

“I have said these past couple of days that as gay rights and the ideology at its heart continues to conquer our culture, I expect us small-o orthodox Christians to have to take a hard, sacrificial stand against the state and society, for the sake of religious liberty. Kim Davis’s situation, I’ve said, is not the hill to die on.”

Stand and fight is not the rally call. Dreher calls for surrender. According to Dreher, the sacrament of marriage is not the hill to die on, even if its redefinition is the battle the left has been looking to secure from the very beginning of their ideological rebirth in the 70s. The Obergefell case will be the legal means used to undermine and eradicate traditional values in our society; and it will be done in the name of egalitarian sexual nihilism.

Dreher attempts to justify his surrender with these explanatory remarks,

  1. Kim Davis’s position is unwinnable. Nobody seriously expects her to get gay marriage overturned, or even to succeed in carving out a special zone of protection for public officials who, for reasons of conscience, refuse to carry out lawful decisions of the courts. Even if we believe that the Obergefell decision lacks moral legitimacy, there can be no doubt that as a matter of legal procedure, the Supreme Court’s decision is the law. Our side lost that battle decisively. Kim Davis’s stance, while it may be personally courageous, is going to result in another defeat, because it cannot be otherwise in our system. The only point of backing it is to flip the bird to the state and to the broader culture — something I have great sympathy for, but it’s a pointless gesture that can only hurt us in the battles to come.
  2. This is because the cause of religious liberty will become synonymous in the public’s mind with a government official refusing to obey the law because it conflicts with her Christian beliefs. It matters a great deal that Kim Davis is an official of the state. By definition, her role is to execute the laws of the state. Many people, even many conservatives who may well opposeObergefell,and who care about religious liberty, hold it to be unreasonable to expect state officials to reserve the right to decide which of those laws they will enforce. The political danger here is that when the public hears “religious liberty,” they will think about Kim Davis and her special pleading for a right that, if it existed, would mean anarchy. Angry Christians should consider how they would feel if “religious liberty” meant that a sharia-observant Muslim elected official refused to grant a building permit to a congregation for a new church because it conflicted with his religious beliefs. This is how many people in this post-Christian country — and it is that — see us re: Kim Davis.
  3. The day is fast coming when we will have to fight big and important battles that have not yet been decided. When that happens, we will need the support of fair-minded Americans who may disagree with us on gay marriage, but who still, in some way, hold to the unfashionable belief that religious liberty really does matter. If we have wasted our already-diminishing political capital on vain protest gestures like Kim Davis’s stance, we are going to find it much harder to win the legal and political contests to come.

The pathetic naiveté and intellectual cowardice in these paragraphs is transparent. Dreher doesn’t want to defeat the left, he wants to wait out the storm to try and curry favor with those who might disagree with his perspective, but are willing to act politically reasonable despite whatever cultural disagreements may arise, all in the name of a secular religious liberty. For Dreher and those who think like him, it is always the next battle worth fighting for. And while everyone waits for Dreher’s approval of the appropriate battle to fight, the left has secured more cultural territory.

Following this despicable surrender to the left, Dreher informs us of the hill that we should be willing to die on (emphasis his),

“So, if Kim Davis isn’t a hill to die on, what is? It’s a fair question. Broadly speaking, my answer is this: when they start trying to tell us how to run our own religious institutions — churches, schools, hospitals, and the like — and trying to close them or otherwise destroy them for refusing to accept LGBT ideology. This is a bright red line — and it’s a fight in which we might yet win meaningful victories, given the strong precedents in constitutional jurisprudence.”

I am not sure what planet Dreher is on, but elements of this are already taking place. Christian business owners have had their lives destroyed for refusing to accept LGBT ideology. Catholic charities have been forced out of providing adoption services due to laws being passed forcing them to service homosexual couples. These instances took place before Obergefell, and it is absurd to believe for even an instant that this Supreme Court decision will not be weaponized by the left to further dominate the culture.

Dreher’s ‘bright red line’ has already been crossed.

The confusion doesn’t stop there. In his book Dreher argues that Christians should practice localism in their political ambitions because influence at the national level is sparse. However, he says that Christians cannot entirely vacate the national scene because protecting religious liberty is vitally important for the Dreher option.[2] He says,

“Without a robust and successful defense of the First Amendment protections, Christians will not be able to build the communal institutions that are vital to maintaining our identity and values. What’s more, Christians who don’t act decisively within the embattled zone of freedom we have now are wasting precious time – time that may run out faster than we think.”[3]

So which is it? Should Christians focus on building local communities and strengthening those bonds through activist localism because our national influence is non-existent, or should Christians engage the national debate in order to protect the waning religious liberties that are under vicious assault?

This is where Dreher is the most indecisive and confusing. He wants to spark a cultural Christian renewal by saying that national political activism has failed, therefore focusing on the local is imperative for the preservation of traditional values…but we also need to focus on national politics, especially for the sake of electing officials who appropriately recognize the importance of religious liberty protected by the First Amendment because local politics is largely influenced by laws passed at the federal level.

So basically, the Dreher option retains the status quo ante of political activism. But this doesn’t tell us anything important, nor does it offer guidance regarding the battles that we should fight or the principles we ought to utilize when discerning the political hill to die on.

And this is ultimately why Dreher doesn’t understand the leftist enemy looking to erase Christian influence in the culture at large.

For the political revolutionary every hill is the hill to die on. No matter how slight the infraction or the legislative set back, the left takes to the streets. They protest, riot, destroy property, commit acts of violence, and shout their opponents into the shadows of “respectability.” Does this mean that Christians need to act like a bunch of unhinged maniacs taking to the streets with pitchforks and torches? No. What it does mean, however, is that if Christian communities are going to be built on the strength of local communal bonds, we don’t throw our own under the bus in order to look respectable to people whose single aim is to destroy us.


– Lucas G. Westman

[1] It must be remembered that the last sentence of Dreher’s article celebrating his schism states that those problems the Catholic Church is facing are no longer his to be concerned with. And yet, we are to believe that Dreher is up to the task of facing the problems of Christianity in the entire nation.

[2] Pg. 84.

[3] Ibid.

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