Rod Dreher

Charlotte Allen has a problem with the fashionable cult of simplicity. Excerpt:

Welcome to the simplicity movement, the ethos whose mantras are “cutting back,” “focusing on the essentials,” “reconnecting to the land” – and talking, talking, talking about how fulfilled it all makes you feel. Genuine simple-living people – such as, say, the Amish – are not part of the simplicity movement, because living like the Amish (no iPod apps or granite countertops, plus you have to read the Bible) would be taking the simple thing a bit far. Modern simplicity practitioners like Jesus (although not quite so much as they like Buddhist monks, who dress more colorfully) because he wore sandals and could be said to have practiced alternative medicine, but they mostly shun religious movements founded in his name. Thus, simplicity people are always eager to tell you how great the Amish are, growing their own food (a highly valued trait among simplicity people), espousing pacifism (simplicity people shy away from even just wars), and building those stylishly spare barns (aesthetics rank high in the simplicity movement), but really, who wants to have eight kids and wear those funny-looking hats?


The problem with the simplicity movement is that its proponents mistake simplicity, which is an aesthetic lifestyle choice, for humility, which is a genuine virtue. Humility is an honest acknowledgment of one’s limitations and lowliness in the great scheme of things and a realization that power over other human beings is a dangerous thing, always to be exercised with utmost caution. The Amish, as well as monks, Eastern and Western, cultivate humility because they know they have a duty toward what is larger than themselves. Leo Babauta of the foregone grooming products cultivates simplicity because it makes him feel “happier,” as he writes on his website. For humble people, their own happiness or other personal feelings are secondary.

But Charlotte, don’t you think an iPad would simplify my life?
I kid. Somehow, this reminds of me of something Fr. Schmemann said once about young people who thought they wanted to be monks. If memory serves, he advised them to go rent a cheap apartment in an impoverished part of town, and live like a poor person, and pray a lot. If you don’t want to do that, maybe you really don’t have what it takes to be a monk, he said. That really got to me. Earlier in my life, after I first read “The Seven Storey Mountain,” I fantasized about being a monk. It’s one thing to live one’s life among the professionally impoverished and voluntarily simplified in a monastery. It’s quite another to choose to do so among people who for the most part didn’t choose to live that way.

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