I recently canceled my subscription to Runner’s World and replaced it with a subscription to The Atlantic Monthly. For one thing that makes me feel smarter, but more importantly, I wanted to enhance my intellectual curiosity and the broad offerings of The Atlantic promised a more balanced diet.
The first issue in 2020 did not disappoint.
Specifically, I was intrigued by Emma Green’s article, “Retreat, Christian Soldiers.” The article introduces the town of St. Marys, Kansas, and in so doing, the Society of St. Pius X that has come to define the town. The online version of the article (located HERE) uses the headline, “The Christian Withdrawal Experiment,” and describes it this way: “Feeling out of step with the mores of contemporary life, members of a conservative-Catholic group have built a thriving community in rural Kansas. Could their flight from mainstream society be a harbinger for the nation?”
Green draws attention to Rod Dreher’s 2017 bestseller, The Benedict Option, which advocates that particular posture—withdraw and circle the wagons. Both the article and book highlight the flight of those with conservative values, but the monastic approach has been used irrespective of political preference. All types of groups have been escaping the world in search of utopian community for time immemorial.
I surely understand the motivation. Hopeful to instill specific values in our children and attracted to surrounding ourselves with said values, it is logical to gather with like-minded people in community. I get it. I even desire it from time to time.
But it isn’t my cup of tea.
I love where I grew up, so don’t here this as criticism of my beloved hometown, but when I read about St. Marys, Kansas, in certain ways I thought of Paragould, Arkansas. I grew up in a peaceful homogeneous world where values were consistent at home, church, school, and town, and I felt safe and well. Who could argue with such a thing? On the other hand, I raised my children in non-insular environments, which is risky by nature. Diversity creates friction, and friction is, well, combustible.
So I do not write today to make judgments. I went to law school and can therefore make valid arguments for—and against—both.
But I do write from my particular experience. I understand the attraction to insularity, and I understand the attraction toward diversity. For some unexplained reason, I am drawn more to the latter.