In the 1981 hit song by The Clash, “Should I Stay Or Should I Go?”, the singer weighs the pros and cons of remaining in a turbulent romantic relationship. He recognizes that both scenarios will certainly lead to trouble, although he never answers the question of which ‘trouble’ is preferable. But it’s surely a catchy refrain. And, recently, I find myself asking the same question: should my family stay in our deep blue, religion-hating, Antifa-infested state, or should we pack it in and head for ‘redder’ pastures?
We are hardly alone in facing this dilemma. In a recent article at The Hill, Merrill Matthews broke down the numbers on those who are leaving which states the fastest and where they’re going. Unsurprisingly, our neighbor to the south, California, tops the list of states losing population, and it appears that most folks are heading for Texas. The reasons citied are as much economic as cultural, but those two factors are often related, as the ‘redder’ states tend to have lower taxes, more affordable housing and generally lower costs of living. What jumps out to me about Matthews’ piece is the date: January 10, 2020 B.C. (Before Covid).
So, prior to the pandemic, the BLM/Antifa riots and the vicious campaigns against Trump supporters, blue states were already suffering significant population loss. I suspect that trend has been ramped up to a gushing hemorrhage lately, and anecdotal evidence from interstate moving companies would support this.
So when mere hours after the 2020 presidential election, a dear family friend called and asked if my husband and I were interested in looking at property in Idaho with her extended family, we were certainly open to exploring the idea. To be honest, we’ve toyed with this prospect over the years, even before our beautiful state became so openly degraded, mismanaged, and obviously in the grip of malevolent forces. (If you think allegations of malevolent supernatural forces being at work are an exaggeration, ask our Archbishop why he felt called to perform a public exorcism in the heart of our biggest city.)
And yet, while there are plenty of compelling reasons to move, there are also some big reasons to stay; that my husband’s high-tech career is based in the Silicon Forest, and our kids appear to be headed for similar professions, has always been a heavy variable on the ‘stay’ side of the scales. But one of the unexpected outcomes of the pandemic is the huge shift to a work-from-home model that makes geographical location for some careers far less important than previously—and so down tips the ‘leave’ side of the scales. On the other hand, we are also blessed to be members of a faithful Catholic parish that is unique in the region for its commitment to both reverent liturgy and dynamic preaching. Needless to say, this forms a very important part of our family’s life, and it is not something we could lightly give up. So for now, the scales balance.
But those choosing to leave have some compelling arguments. Aside from the pressing issues of negative culture and rising crime, refugees from the Golden State have driven the value of homes in our area so high it can make economic sense for some families to sell and relocate to a larger house located in a smaller, friendlier town, with lower taxes. And in America, Catholics have always been strangers in a strange (Protestant) land, with a long history of migrating and congregating together to build new communities.
To reject chaos and choose something approximating Tolkien’s Rivendell or beloved Shire is a tempting response to our current crisis. After all, our nation was founded by those fleeing persecution and seeking to find a haven where they could live their lives as they felt God required of them. This instinct manifests itself as a longing to live out what author Rod Dreher calls the Benedict Option. The sixth-century St. Benedict’s choice to leave the corruption of the city and seek God in a disciplined, virtuous life in the wilderness was quite attractive, so he didn’t remain alone for long. As others abandoned the corrupt, dangerous and dying urban areas, communities clustered around the monasteries and—ironically—over time grew into cities.
Dreher’s contemporary version of this model does not call for a literal exodus from the dystopian metropolis to the empty prairies. Rather, he suggests like-minded Christians should connect—and rebuild culture—through digital, not necessarily physical, communities. In the modern era, even this idea is hardly ground-breaking. In the 1970s, Ivan Illich’s arguments for ‘de-schooling’ society and its insidious education complex, and the homeschooling movement that emerged in that decade, definitely led to many parallel, counter-cultural societies, not all of them Bible-based.
New technologies now make the creating and sustaining of parallel tribes or societies more attainable, almost to the point where the digital sphere seems as influential and legitimate as the material. Nor is the “stay or go” dilemma unknown to the virtual realm, as seen in the recent debate over whether users should remain on social media platforms in order to maintain a front in the cultural wars, or to retreat entirely to the perceived freedom of the upstart alternatives. But even aside from technological resources, the lure of an actual community, neighborhood, town, or state that is more safe, rational and wholesome is a powerful draw. Enclaves—some organic, some planned—of traditional/faithful Catholics have been steadily growing in friendly states such as Idaho and Florida, and recently plans have been revealed for a Catholic community in Texas, named Veritatis Splendor.
Whether or not these Catholic versions of Ayn Rand’s Galt’s Gulch will endure over time and make genuine contributions to restoring Christendom is much too early to tell. Human nature being what it is, they will certainly face many challenges and hopefully the Holy Spirit will be with them every step of the way. But the devil is in the details and it’s hard to imagine how truly alternate societies can thrive without sustainable and hardened alternate economies; those same engineers or freelancers working online may be just as easily cancelled by woke employers and clients in the heartland as on the West Coast. And a trade-off for affordable housing and low living costs in the small towns can be reduced availability of local, ‘bricks-and-mortar’ jobs.
For those brave souls contemplating bidding goodbye to friends and heading elsewhere to forge new connections, it’s worthwhile to seriously compare the Benedictine idea of forsaking the cities with the example of St. Dominic. The 12th-century Spanish priest known for going into the (metaphorical) lion’s den of heresy to preach the light of truth to the ignorant is an example of how to listen for, recognize, and follow God’s promptings. Since we are living in admittedly post-Christian times, we are surrounded by fellow citizens who are basically pagans and likely don’t even understand much of the morality and philosophy they ignore, ridicule, and reject. Blue cities are in many ways mission territory, and, yes, missionaries here can face hurt feelings, spittle, slashed tires, and Molotov cocktails.
But being hated for Christ’s sake is one of the non-negotiables of Christianity. Is it not incumbent upon some of us who have the temperament and calling to remain behind and continue to model Christ and the Gospel to those who most need to hear it? Something as simple as praying the rosary for one’s neighbors while taking a daily walk can have a huge spiritual impact—as long as those prayers are offered as sincerely for those with LGBTQ flags or BLM posters in their windows as for those sporting Jesus-fish car ornaments. In our family, our kids are becoming adults, and life in this city allows them opportunities to join their friends to pray outside Planned Parenthood facilities. They regularly minister to the homeless—giving them food and drink, but most importantly, genuine compassionate human interaction.
They would not have as many of these opportunities if they lived in a small, historically ‘normal’ community. Grace flourishes right alongside evil, but many times it needs to be channeled through the actions of average people trying to live their faith in order to reach its target.
Furthermore, there’s no guarantee that terrible conditions of the blue states won’t eventually emerge in more conservative states. To return to The Hill article I mentioned earlier, the author speculates whether traditional red states will become bluer as residents flee the highly-taxed hellholes they helped create—and bring their liberal voting habits with them. Or will red states become redder and more densely populated with citizens who have learned their lessons and are determined to preserve the cities and states from the creeping Progressive agenda?
In the books of the Lord of the Rings, even the sheltered, bucolic Shire did not escape unscathed from the wizard Saruman’s evil. But at least the returning hobbits had been battle-seasoned and knew how to fight back. But what if Frodo had failed, and Sauron himself was encroaching on that last refuge? When the baleful eye of authority turns again to our nation’s religious communities, it won’t be to ‘mask shame’ or mandate correct pew sanitation protocols. Even if the currently proposed Equality Act ultimately fails, some form of legislation representing a world view hostile to traditional families and religious belief will doubtless arise, and will likely have the full force of the federal government behind it.
For much of its existence, the Shire was protected by the resolute self-sacrifice of the men of Gondor, who willingly, if imperfectly, formed the last desperate bulwark against totalitarian evil. But the diverse gifts and varied, scattered actions of hobbits and warriors alike all play important parts. There is not always one correct answer in the face of these questions, and sometimes the best answers contain elements of many solutions. Whether a family is clearly called to exit and rebuild elsewhere, or remain and rebuild against dire odds, the responsibility lies in being open to God’s will, and doing what He asks of us on a day to day basis, no matter where we find ourselves, and in who our neighbors happen to be.
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