Rod Dreher lives in fear. It comes out in his life and certainly in much if not most of his writing.
Just this week he was writing about (what else?) the coronavirus, commenting on his blog at The American Conservative, “This thing is going to be with us a very, very long time. It will change everything. Whatever plans you and I had for our lives, they’re all up in the air now.”
A few weeks ago, the headline on his blog was, “No Way Out of New Depression.” Its message was that, ”Poor, sick, dead, or some version of all three: there is no escaping our fate.”
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Without a doubt, however, the direst article Mr. Dreher has written about coronavirus was published on March 27 with the title, “Of Poverty and Crooked Hearts.” It’s so dire it’s hard to read. It will give you nightmares. Mr. Dreher seems to wallow in his vision that the end is near, very near. We are about to be living out of our cars, if we are lucky.
“I’m not trying to troll people,” he writes;
I’m just trying to make sure we’re honest with ourselves…. None of us can count on our jobs being here through this. I don’t have any marketable skills that don’t involve writing. I have a mortgage, and kids. Poverty, and all the insecurity that comes with it, frightens me too. I’m old enough to remember my father’s stories about his rural Depression childhood. I’m not that far removed from poverty, historically.
He continues, “I think I could live bravely and with stability through the death of my wife from cancer. But the catastrophic reduction of my family into poverty, and the radical instability that comes with it, because of this virus? I don’t know.”
He posted a crazy and frightening dream his friend, noted Orthodox writer Frederica Matthews-Green, where she saw literally everyone dying from a cloud that was enveloping the world and sending little spiked nodules into people’s lungs. She had this dream a year ago, before any of this happened. She dreamt she was with her children and her husband and it was night, and she expected to die in the morning. Why on earth would Mr. Dreher publish such a dream for his readers—and the wider public—is unknown. All we can say is that Mr. Dreher seems to long for the end of the world.
The coronavirus seems to fulfill Mr. Dreher’s eschatological fantasies. Eight years ago, he explained himself in a blog post (also at TAC) called “Why we Love Apocalypse.” He says that, after the 9/11 attacks, “The world was clear and crisp and full, in a way that it hadn’t been before.” He says it was “kind of like a high.” Mr. Dreher finished it this way, “It is deeply ironic that for many of us, the only thing worse than apocalypse is the thought that we are condemned to muddle through.” Apparently, those are the two possible fates he sees before him: mass extinction or simply “muddling through.” It’s a choice between dire and direr.
The coronavirus is not the first or only time Mr. Dreher has carried his “The End is Nigh” sign through the public square. It’s a staple of his writing going back more than a decade. For Mr. Dreher, the end has always been nigh.
Writing at Splice Today, trenchant Dreher critic John Harris claims that Mr. Dreher had succumbed to the Y2K hysteria, that the world was going to end when our computers ticked over into oblivion at midnight 1999. While I cannot confirm this, it fits perfectly with Mr. Dreher’s many existential fears.
For a long time, Mr. Dreher’s apocalypse de jure was “peak oil,” a crisis I missed entirely. The pitch was that oil production had hit the limit at the same time global oil consumption was spiking with the inevitable result that the world would shut down. In a 2007 blog post, he said, “Post-peak-oil conditions would reverse globalization… Culturally, all Americans would have to undergo a Great Relearning of skills and social habits that our ancestors developed to survive in community.” When the price of a barrel of oil hit zero a few weeks ago, Mr. Dreher admitted he might have been wrong about peak oil.
Then came the Supreme Court’s Obergefell v. Hodges decision and the ne plus ultra of Mr. Dreher’s endism. He (rightly) pointed out that the sexual left is coming for payback against all those they think wronged them prior to their ascendancy. Mr. Dreher called it “soft totalitarianism.” Make no mistake, I don’t think he’s wrong on that count. I’ve been writing about this for many years. Where I think he goes wrong is allowing his fear to rule him, which he seems to have done for a good long while.
Mr. Dreher left the Catholic Church for many reasons but among those was fear for his children over the priest sex scandals. “At the time, as the father of a young boy, I couldn’t shake the thought What if this had happened to my family? Would we be treated this way by the Archdiocese?” he wrote in a 2010 article for Journey to Orthodoxy.
When Supreme Court imposed homosexual marriage on the United States, his fear boiled over. He wrote in Time Magazine that orthodox Christians would be “exiles in our own country.” A few years later he published the Benedict Option, a book urging Christians to make a tactical retreat from the Culture Wars, which (Mr. Dreher argues) we have lost, and there is no hope except to hunker down and create a parallel culture.
Mr. Dreher’s next book is an even more dire warning about the apocalypse facing orthodox Christians. Entitled Live Not by Lies, it will detail what he calls the “pink police state” and the “soft totalitarianism” that Christian traditionalists will increasingly experience at the hands of the “Homintern” of the gender-bending Left. He compares the Left’s iron grip—led by the vanguard of angry homosexuals—to living under the communist regimes during the Cold War.“My politics are driven entirely by fear of the left,” he admits, “specifically on matters of religious liberty and social policy.” And what if you’re not living in fear of the Left? Then “you are living in delusion,” says Mr. Dreher.
I have been wrong about Mr. Dreher before. We were friends until we got crosswise about the priest sex scandal. He was obsessed and I thought he had overplayed it. I later admitted he was right, and I was wrong. And while I agree with him about the threat from the Left—particularly on matters of sex and “gender”—I don’t agree that we have lost.
It’s not that Mr. Dreher has given up: he writes about this stuff constantly. It’s that he preaches fear and defeat in all that he writes. This is hardly good for his readers.
That’s the essential problem with letting fear rule your life: you become defeated when, really, you should be joyful. Think about it. Yes, the world is going straight to Hell in a hand basket. But what did God do? He sent the likes of us! You, and me, and Rod Dreher. I don’t know about you, but I’m hardly the first string. Most of us didn’t go to Harvard or Yale. We don’t get invited to Davos; neither do we occupy any seats in the heights of power. Yet, still, He sent us—right here, right now—to defend His creation. And you can bet that God knows what He’s about.
Consider what St. John Chrysostom wrote about the early Christians: “They ignored the danger of death… they forgot how few they were, they never noticed how many were against them, or the power or strength or wisdom of their enemies. Their power was greater than all of that; theirs was the power of Him who had died on the cross and risen again.”
I often joke that He sent the likes of us to ensure that He gets all the credit. I mean, how can we possibly win against all the powers arrayed against us? Sure, we may see the devastation around us. We may see they are coming for payback, and they’re likely to get it. But that shouldn’t stop us, or even give us pause. We are called upon to have a joyful, fighting spirit. And the fight is intrinsically good for each of us. We were not made for a time of ease. In fighting, our own souls are saved. As my daughter’s Joan of Arc t-shirt says, “I am not afraid, I was born for this.” And so was Mr. Dreher.
Photo credit: Rod Dreher/Twitter