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Christian Thinkers Gather to Denounce Benedict Option

In my very first week of college, I was assigned to describe the best form of government. As a recent high school graduate, my only previous exposure to political philosophy was an AP Government revelation that the Founding Fathers’ famous phrase in the Declaration of Independence was borrowed from some guy named John Locke. So needless to say, I wasn’t particularly prepared to tackle the question mulled by philosophers for millennia. I did, however, know a few things: America was a democracy. And I liked America.

Indeed, my patriotism is the sort that’s sincerely stirred by the seemingly cliché crooning of Lee Greenwood [1], Aaron Tippin [2], and Brooks & Dunn [3]. It’s no surprise, then, that this debut college paper turned out as a robust defense of democracy. Like most Americans, I simply figured that democracy and patriotism go hand in hand. To suggest a civic retreat from our democratic institutions, let alone entertain the merits of a non-American system of government, is completely foreign to the American experience.

My eighteen-year-old self’s commitment to the American political experiment came to mind during a recent discussion on The Benedict Option [4] hosted by the Institute on Religion & Democracy. Rod Dreher’s book, as readers of his blog in this space know, has elicited strong reactions from the American Christian community—both supportive [5] and critical [6]. The latter category was on display Wednesday evening in a lengthy conversation featuring adherents of diverse Christian traditions: Anglican Cherie Harder of the Trinity Forum, evangelical Alison Howard of the Alliance Defending Freedom, Joseph Capizzi of the Catholic University of America, Joseph Hartman of Georgetown University, and Bruce Ashford of the Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. Despite the panel’s ecumenical nature, its members were more or less unified in their reluctance to endorse a Christian “retreat” from the public square.

Whether or not “retreat” is an appropriate description of The Benedict Option has been the topic of much debate [7], which I won’t rehash here. What the conversation revealed, though, is the extent to which American Christianity—both Protestant and Catholic—has become intertwined with political engagement. There are the obvious examples, such as Jerry Falwell Jr.’s full-throated endorsement of “dream president” Trump [8], and Robert Jeffress’ recent worship of the stars and stripes [9]. But the visceral reaction to the mere suggestion of stepping back from the public square from many in the Christian ranks reveals the much more subtle ways in which our small-L liberal politics has effectively Americanized Christianity.

Of course, Christians have an obligation to engage in the political sphere, a point made convincingly by Alison Howard from the Alliance Defending Freedom. Howard argued that, were all Christians to take the Benedict Option, the bakers, florists, photographers, and the like who are served by ADF would have no defense against a rapidly secularizing culture.

But this contention, compelling as it is, reveals the difficulty Americans have with grappling with the heart of Dreher’s thesis. Howard’s objection presumes that there will continue to be a sizable number of bakers, florists, and photographers who will raise Christian objections to secularism throughout future generations. This implies, more broadly, that current American political culture is hospitable, or at the very least neutral, to the cultivation of orthodox Christian practice. Under this pretense, robust political engagement among Christians can make sense.  The data, however, paint a foreboding forecast for Howard’s core presumption.

The work of Christian Smith reveals rapidly declining adherence to traditional morality among younger Christians. From The Benedict Option:

Smith and his colleagues found that only 40 percent of young Christians sampled said that their personal moral beliefs were grounded in the Bible or some other religious sensibility. […]An astonishing 61 percent of the emerging adults had no problem at all with materialism and consumerism. An added 30 percent expressed some qualms but figured it was not worth worrying about. In this view, say Smith and his team, “all that society is, apparently, is a collection of autonomous individuals out to enjoy life.” (emphasis added)

As the data show, a type of Moralistic Therapeutic Deism [10], in Smith’s words, has supplanted orthodox Christianity as the preferred faith within the ranks of the Church.

It’s the anti-BenOp response to these alarming statistics that gets to the heart of the matter.  Many panelists were largely unalarmed by the apparent retreat from Christian mores among believers. Capizzi equated Smith’s findings with historically cyclical levels of religiosity and religious literacy. Hartman was “far more concerned about moralism [than] relativism,” charging that “we don’t need virtue, but grace, [since] the goal of Christian life isn’t virtue.” Harder decried Dreher’s “overemphasis on sexual ethics,” while Ashford connected political engagement to religious witness: “Declaring Jesus as Lord implies that Caesar is not.” To Christian BenOp critics, it seems, orthodoxy precedes orthopraxy; so long as we assert our individual, personal relationship with Jesus Christ, we’re largely protected from anti-religious aspects of culture.

Herein lies the incredible Amercanizing power of our small-L liberal political order. The individualism and de-emphasis of virtue on display in much of contemporary Christianity has deep roots in Western political thought and, in some important ways, informed the American founding [11].  While individual salvation is far from foreign to historical Christianity, individualism—the promulgation of self over the bonds that tie communities together—is. Thus, both the Religious left and Religious right adhere to an American brand of Christianity underscored by the same prior commitments to “individual liberty” defined as freedom from restraint, rather than a traditional Christian understanding of liberty as freedom to do as one ought [12].

In this light, what’s offered in The Benedict Option is far from a neglect of civic responsibility. It’s a recognition that the powerful forces at the very heart of our political culture are capable of de-Christianizing the Church; it’s a roadmap for the fulfillment of civic responsibility in an authentically Christian way. If we are to fulfill this civic responsibility as Christians, we must first preserve Christianity from our political culture. Whether or not the Benedict Option is the best response to the challenges of our political culture is a legitimate debate. But to have this debate, it’s crucial that we understand the fundamental ways in which our politics affect the Church—rather than simply reaffirming American democracy out of a misplaced, albeit sincere, patriotism.

Emile Doak is director of events & outreach at The American Conservative.

39 Comments (Open | Close)

39 Comments To "Christian Thinkers Gather to Denounce Benedict Option"

#1 Comment By ForxaBarca On July 17, 2017 @ 6:32 am

I am not fond of Dreher’s alarmism; I dislike his worldview, but it is clear that these panelists do not comprehend the magnitude of de-Christianization of the USA. Shadi Hamid of Brookings does.Vox does. Or John Greim at Vox does, but not these panelists.

#2 Comment By John Turner On July 17, 2017 @ 8:08 am

You nailed them. They are under the illusion that they have influence that matters, and they see the Benedict Option as telling them that they don’t have influence that matters, or that they should give up whatever influence they have. “Who would they be then?” they wonder.

Rod is telling them that building alternative culture is a more effective agent of cultural change than trying to negotiate with the MTD powers that be. He is not necessarily telling them that they shouldn’t negotiate, but only that the Christian cause will not prevail in the MTD arena, and that their energies might be better used in creating genuine Christian alternatives. This, of course, would require that they recognize and repent of their own perhaps unacknowledged MTD tendencies. That’s a tough sell.

#3 Comment By JLF On July 17, 2017 @ 8:37 am

Unstated is the big change to American demographics in the last two generations. Ethnic and religious diversity, the absolute numbers holding these differing religious beliefs, and, most importantly, the hedonism of contemporary culture all combine to create a milieu never before seen here or elsewhere. The established church may be doomed, but Christ’s church will, as he promised, endure, Benedict Option or no.

#4 Comment By brians On July 17, 2017 @ 9:10 am

“We doesn’t need virtue….The goal of Christian life isn’t virtue.”

Yes, everyone knows Christianity is only about where your soul goes once it is finally free of the body, and has nothing to do with the here and now.

#5 Comment By Janet Baker On July 17, 2017 @ 9:30 am

If the idea of the panelists to not worry about the decline of Faith and morality but to carry on is wrong, equally wrong is the Benedict option. The Church that the Benedict option would preserve in enclaves is the modern Church, and that is the source of the problem. It isn’t secularism that is subverting the community, the Church gave that permission at Vatican II, and has retreated on all the important fronts from there forward. Just consider, for example, how Benedict XVI as Cardinal Ratzinger affected the issue of homosexuality–he opened the front door with the policies he established and that are still online at the Vatican and still drive the Church’s withdrawal from that struggle, for he insisted on the recognition of homosexual ‘dignity,’ he insisted that they be granted ‘rights’ and that simply in practice precludes the message that homosexuality is a sin and forbidden to us.

The solution to the problem is neither to ignore nor to withdraw, but to purge the liberalism (which is a heresy) from the Church and re-enter the struggle to build a Catholic society from top to bottom. To rebuild Christendom.

It may be impossible yet no other solution works. Those enclaves will have to go to the hospital, have to borrow money, have to go to university. When institutions are root and branch antithetical to Christian living, the enclave will compromise to exactly the same degree as the ‘let’s ignore the situation’ evangelicals.

We have to go back to the beginning, to the times of the American Revolution, when our Founding Fathers also chose to ignore the question of what theology shall govern society and opted instead to follow the almighty buck.

I have written a sci fi novel in which a group of space colonists do exactly that. It explores the question, but of course is fantasy and the conditions not applicable, yet followers of this topic might find it interesting and it’s well reviewed in terms of theology and writing, too. The site is [13]

#6 Comment By Dave On July 17, 2017 @ 9:41 am

Just a thought on the ‘grace vs. virtue’ thing. Grace seems to present as an individualistic commodity; virtue on the other hand is more communal or ‘other’ oriented. Grace is received (inward oriented). Virtue is a condition of character that infuses community with expressions of morality, ethics and just plain kindness.

Another thing about ‘Benedict option’; it is only a model. There will be fifty million variations as individuals (may) try to practice it’s precepts. But truth be told, who could possibly argue against the profound community and fellowship which it promotes?

#7 Comment By Adriana I Pena On July 17, 2017 @ 9:46 am

What do you mean that the young do not approve of Biblical sexual morality?

You mean that they are against polygamy? Or the right of the father to sell his daughters as concubines? Or his right to butcher his “errant” daughter like a sheep?

Be careful what you advocate.

#8 Comment By Adriana I Pena On July 17, 2017 @ 9:50 am

As to materialism and consumerism, a lot has to do with the availability of goods reasonably priced.

The attitude “but we are more spiritual” said about those who have abundance is too often a psychic coping mechanism of those who have little.

Let them become prosperous and see how their tune changes.

Yes, there are dangers in consumerism, and need to be addressed. But the attitude that “poor is virtuous” is not the way to do it.

#9 Comment By Dan Green On July 17, 2017 @ 10:00 am

Any country, right or wrong, that is as liberal as ours is pursuing further liberal doctrine, stands a good chance of some major re-alignment. We have only been starring at our nave,l since our last Presidential election. Prior to that, for the past eight years, a very effective intellect in one Barack Obama, was a master at speaking from the pulpit.

#10 Comment By Sandra Embry On July 17, 2017 @ 10:59 am

The writer of this article shows a level of understanding seldom found. We are a nation based on individualism and liberalism. You individual Christians should be happy with your one hour of worship per week. Other than that, just keep your Bible reading behind closed doors and your prayers inside your own head. Then all the individuals can do what makes them most happy. And the society can keep putting “commerce” first.

#11 Comment By Mike On July 17, 2017 @ 11:50 am

I can’t even read the article, the webpage keeps jumping up and down, apparently to play the ad. I can barely even comment. Am i the only one experiencing this?

#12 Comment By Neguy On July 17, 2017 @ 12:08 pm

I have some problems with Dreher and the Benedict Option. Dreher himself has no intention of retreating from the public square in any way. In fact, he can’t. His entire career and life is built on public square as a foundation and venue. His own personal unwillingness to start retreating from politics and the public square dramatically undermine his message. He could, for example, limit himself to evangelizing the Benedict Option. Yet he spends more time gratuitously complaining about Trump.

But the negative reactions to the Benedict Option demonstrates that Dreher is right about the core of the matter. He put his finger on a sore spot in Christianity that the church is loathe to acknowledge. This article hits part of the point of it. Namely that, like Dreher himself, the church’s entire existence has become intertwined with politics and public square. Certainly the careers of many of these ministers have been.

What’s more, to admit Dreher is right these churches would have to admit that they are failing to transmit the faith to the next generation – and implicitly by extension that they’ve already lost it themselves, at least in part. This is something they are clearly unwilling to do. Nothing makes the case for the Benedict Option more than this.

#13 Comment By Jon S On July 17, 2017 @ 12:12 pm

charging that “we don’t need virtue, but grace, [since] the goal of Christian life isn’t virtue.”

There, right there, is why Christianity is lost in America.

“rather than a traditional Christian understanding of liberty as freedom to do as one ought.”

And why there is still hope…

#14 Comment By Dan A. Davis On July 17, 2017 @ 12:15 pm

“Individualism”, ie Libertarianism, is antithetical to Christianity? Or only the Ayn Rand brand of anarcho-libertarianism? But the Dorothy Day version is OK?

Someone, quick, inform Speaker Ryan that his political Messiah is the anti-Christ, and that he’s on the dark side. (Or, does he care?)

How, to be less sarcastic, can a conservative NOT be also a communitarian? Frank Meyer was an ideologue as a communist, and no less obsessed with abstract theories as a “conservative”, and his Fusion of libertarian and traditionalist brought us to this sorry state on the Right. The Left has its own troubles, substituting “identity politics” for economic concerns.

#15 Comment By Kevin E Kelly On July 17, 2017 @ 12:56 pm

The Roman Catholic Church is at the heart of the sex issue from top to bottom.
The 1975 affirmation of life from Pope Paul VI.
The most difficult part of this for the Church is the Apostolate and homosexuality.
It has been there for centuries and is still an internal political battle within the Church. How does the Church rectify this without creating a worldwide upheaval in how the Church is structured? Tolerating gay priests must have something to do with the Church’s desire to expand as far as possible throughout the world; it raised the headcount of priests thereby enabling the establishment of more parishes.
This is the distance between the priest and his parishioners. No birth control and homosexuality is wrong unless of course we do it. Hardly anyone disagrees with the Church on abortion or the death penalty. Straightening out their own house while possibly letting people gain control of their own lives’ course as far as children are concerned will over time correct this entire situation.

#16 Comment By EliteCommInc On July 17, 2017 @ 2:37 pm

I try to stay out of these frays. Frankly, I am not sure Christ cares one way of the other. Either one is following Christ or they are not. Either they have a relationship with him or they don’t. For people pf the is country, the believer has every right and ought to be encouraged to influence the society that they have been bequeathed.

Nothing that Christ says or does says one cannot be a tax collector, a politician or a soldier. He openly admonishes that being rich makes it tougher to enter the Kingdom of heaven, but he does not condemn riches. No believer must participate. Many believers think its outright worldly regardless of motives or faith. However, nothing in scripture (in context) suggests that is the case.

As for the Benedictine issue. The Benedictines, while separating themselves serve their communities and did so as service. The walked among and dealt with worst and the best of humanity. The difference between now and then is light years. But what every fundamentalist knows is that the end will eventually come. And that Christians are going to persecuted. So Christ is very clear that Christians are to watch and wait and be prepared for that time, for it will be so severe that they will cry out to the hills to fall on them. That’s a fairly dark earthly picture. So whether it is Mr. Dreher’s articles and admonitions or others, Christ is way ahead on this matter as are people familiar with scripture.

In these US the form of government and practices of our system are heavily influenced by christian ethos, that is in my view without question. And it is influenced in such a manner as to never demanded that any officially violate their leanings concerning God. The fact fewer and fewer people are people of faith does not change that Christians have every right and responsibility as they see fit to participate in all aspects of US life social, economic and political expression and practices. There;s no reason for them not to do so, if they so desire.

The suggestion that my participation in politics or anyone else’s is a sign of some manner political stranglehold just does not make sense to me. In my case when millions and millions of christians were clamoring for war in Iraq and Afghanistan, I stood on the evidence for war and in my view in nether case was the evidence sufficient. I would contend that millions of christians thought as I did. I would say a contention that politics has some mystical hold over faith for those that participate in the shaping of the country just does not hold water. Whether or not ones faith is shaped by politics is a very tough slog. It may for some. But for the fundamentalist, scripture comes first. Seek ye fist the kingdom . . . christ says. I don’t think there’s much intellectual hoola hooping required to grasp what that means.

I am unclear how believers could separate themselves without making it easier for the government to target them in an age in which targeting christians has been sport. Because the liberal mind that wants to run christians out of the public square is not going to let that separation get in their way. They are already hammering out the case against parents and how they raise their children regarding relational mores. They attack the belief systems and everything connected with it: Husband and wife, the families purpose and value, the ability to exercise one’s faith in public spaces, tey have utterly turned the founders stipulation against government establishing religion into some manner of ban that religious expression cannot be part and parcel to any government activity, despite the historical dynamic and total relatedness to government establishing a faith in any manner.

Sure the recent changes have come faster this almost open antagonism for faith and its virtually a requirement in many of our learning institutions. But until that document is amended to persecute people of faith, I think christians would do well to participate in the construction of the society that influences them and to which they continue to be heavy contributors.

As Paul when arrested, laid claim to his Roman citizenship, christians should lay claim to their rights as citizens. And that is why the issue of immigration is vital. Christians should probably stop making a mockery of the immigration laws in the name of christ when nothing in the name of that law prevents from practicing their faith. It’s rather tiresome to hear the demand for law and order as they completely out of line with scripture seek exemption. There is nothing in scripture that endorses hiring illegal immigrants in the name of charity — nothing. It is exceptionally hypocritical when so many citizens could use the same. Nothing in US law prohibits any christian from heading to Mexico or anywhere else to help others. The law is Caesars and that law is very clear when it comes to the Constitution.

Might also be wise to stop empowering the government against people christians don’t like. I won’t mince words, white christians should cease laying claim to law and order when the record is pretty clear that law and order has been a tool to marginalize others. And there is the selfish reason, one day those tactics are employed will have been concreted to use against christian. The weapons of surveillance on citizens, Benedict option o not, that is going to come home to roost. On the civil liberty protections christian and conservative should have been the first in line to define what that means and defend it. It clenches in the hands of the emotional offended is going to a very tough hammer to take back so that it becomes a cycle once again.

____________

“Then all the individuals can do what makes them most happy. And the society can keep putting “commerce” first.”

You apparently have no idea what the commission of christ was to christians nor what it means to be of that faith and practice. While you note the shadows, the meat is something quite different. And it entails personal risk.
_______________

Christians have always lived among reprobates, antagonists, hedonists, murderers, same sex practitioners, prostitution, etc. There’s nothing new in that, our presence is to win them over for their saving. I won’t claim any great prices here. But what is astonishing is that so many leaders who claim to be of faith have crumbled on so many of these issues when it came to represent christian point of view. And they seem incapable of extrapolating a defense that doesn’t require invoking God. And yet in my view God has made the case for such living christian or not, whether one believes or not.
_______________

“This, of course, would require that they recognize and repent of their own perhaps unacknowledged MTD tendencies. That’s a tough sell.”

I am unclear what this means. But I am unfamiliar with this as some manner of demand. I have been a myriad of secular environments, and have never heard a demand that their emotional needs serve as policy. But there is just no call from the Apostles or Christ to engage in some manner of separate life. It’s not a sin, or anything to do so. But neither is an expectation. The separateness is to lifestyle, having a renewed mind and being that christians not engage in things which they have engaged in before.

#17 Comment By grumpy realist On July 17, 2017 @ 3:05 pm

“We doesn’t need virtue….The goal of Christian life isn’t virtue.”

If the goal of Christian life isn’t virtue, how do you expect to convince non-Christian people that Christianity should have any cultural power? Or are you planning to raise an army of crusaders again to bludgeon anyone who doesn’t believe the way you want into professing Christianity?

If American Christianity really has dwindled into nothing more than a group of identity cults smugly convinced they have a perfect relationship with God, I don’t see how they can proselytize to anyone with any integrity whatsoever. At least belonging to the local Rotary club usually results in some charity work for the poor.

#18 Comment By bt On July 17, 2017 @ 3:22 pm

There’s no one correct answer to the engagement / withdrawl debate.

Each position has it’s own logic and is reasonable on it’s own terms. There’s no strong argument that leads to a point that one answer should prevail against the other. They both have good points and bad points, which don’t need to be re-hashed (again and again).

The fundamental problem is that Christians have gone from majority status to minority status. When in the majority, Christians seemed to have few complaints about our grossly individualistic, greedy, consumerist society. For that reason, all this bleating and moaning about our corrosive and immoral values in these Modern Days rings so hollow. It’s essentially a situation where Christians want to have the same control over Society that the had when they WERE a majority, so let’s not get caught up in all the details of this.

My own opinion is that separation is more logical. A Christian minority is not going to have tremendous success trying to force the majority to follow overly Christian teachings – In the long run, failure and frustration are nearly assured. In separation, there’s freedom to follow you own way, more or less.

Look at the Jews as an example: they follow their beliefs, they seem happy about it and if the larger society has other norms, so what? That’s how it works when you are a minority. In this arrangement, assimilation becomes the enemy, I should add; American Jews will attest to what hard work that is.

#19 Comment By Janet Baker On July 17, 2017 @ 3:45 pm

I do not see what the general public finds to fascinating about the Benedict Option. It is what SSPX has been doing, how they have been living, for fifty years. And their kids do not all become traditional Catholics. Their kids fall away, too, I don’t know to what proportion, but they do. And in so very many ways, all Catholics have been living a version or other of the Benedict Option since they came to this god-forsaken land. They were numerous enough at first, fertile enough to sustain their population, and had Catholic social institutions to satisfy Catholic culture. They had Catholic hospitals that honored Catholic morality, they had a whole system of Catholic schools to transmit the Faith forward, they had Catholic charities and lending institutions. Do you think the participants in the Benedict Option will have those things today, with our contracepting faithful? The only way we have a ghost of a chance is to rebuild the Catholic population and commitment through fertility and evangelization in the larger culture, not withdrawing from it. It’s just a fantasy, or a sham. I recently read a blog post by Mr. Dreher about his visit to the mothership community in Italy. They went out to a local restaurant and he was especially fulsome about the wines. Do you think that kind of income is generated by people withdrawn from a toxic culture? Of course not, they are working in the system, and if anyone is now working in the system, they are kidding themselves that they can live a Catholic, that is, an compromised, life. There is not a workplace that does not fund all kinds of perversion, there is not a school that will be excused from forcing first graders to view transgender options. Their teacher may be transgender. They will have to take tests on the new pronouns. It’s fight or die time, friends.

#20 Comment By Pamela On July 17, 2017 @ 5:03 pm

@John Turner,
What is “MTD”?

#21 Comment By TR On July 17, 2017 @ 5:33 pm

Bravo to EliteComminc for Paragraph 8 of his long, long contribution. Talk about hitting the nail on the head . . . .

#22 Comment By Gerald Arcuri On July 17, 2017 @ 6:08 pm

The biggest single problem with the contemporary American church is what I call “insider’s myopia”. It may as well be called blindness, because the view of the Church that those inside it largely have is akin to blindness. It’s a playing out of the tale of The Emperor’s New Clothes. Once outside the confines of the institutional church, it is far easier to see the problems. I am reminded of the three Christians written about in Diogenes Allen’s excellent book “The Three Outsiders”.

I am still wading through Rod Dreher’s “Benedict Option”. I agree with his diagnosis, but I am having a difficult time figuring out how his prescription can be implemented in practice. I have no confidence that many leaders in the institutional church grasp either the diagnosis or the prescription.

I think it will be ( isn’t it always? ) the prerogative of the Holy Spirit to guide the Church through the current valley of fhe shadow of death. His ways are mysterious.

#23 Comment By Billy On July 17, 2017 @ 6:11 pm

In addition to the concerns sketched out in this article over what might be called the dilution or even erasure of core Christian values, is the hollowing out of what we can still call an identifiable Western culture.
Together with secularism, the relativization of Christianity is contributing working toward a widespread vacuum of faith. As such, we need to ask, if Christianity withdraws from the public sphere, if Christianity itself succumbs to a kind of moral relativism, what will step in to the vacuum. Is what is happening now creating the conditions for the rise of a faith that is strong? A faith whose adherents are committed? When we look around the world, what might be such a faith?

#24 Comment By Aaron Traas On July 17, 2017 @ 7:11 pm

Hartman was “far more concerned about moralism [than] relativism,” charging that “we don’t need virtue, but grace, [since] the goal of Christian life isn’t virtue.”

Really? A Christian man ought not seek virtue? Is faith not, perhaps one of the three highest virtues, along with hope and charity? Did Christ not call us to love God with all our might and soul, and our neighbors as ourselves? I have no time for sophists.

Ashford connected political engagement to religious witness: “Declaring Jesus as Lord implies that Caesar is not.”

Not in the slightest. Christ is the King of kings, the Lord of lords. God demanded that we have no idols, but he provided the Isrealites with kings. To call Christ King or Lord is to acknowledge hierarchy on heaven and earth.

This is nowhere near the best group of thinkers among Christianity today. These are intellectual lightweights.

#25 Comment By Colorado Jack On July 17, 2017 @ 9:31 pm

“both the Religious left and Religious right adhere to an American brand of Christianity underscored by the same prior commitments to “individual liberty” …”

I think this is wrong, at least with respect to many left-wing Catholics. I know lots of left-wing Catholics who are quite clear about the clash between Catholic teaching and the American individualistic ideal. The Catholic doctrine is utterly clear. For example, Pope Benedict said:

“We are moving toward a dictatorship of relativism which does not recognize anything as for certain and which has as its highest goal one’s own ego and one’s own desires. The church must defend itself against threats such as “radical individualism” and “vague religious mysticism”.”

Certainly, American ideals hold holy (sic) the individual pursuit of happiness. Me, I think any happiness that can be pursued for its own sake is not worth having.

#26 Comment By EliteCommInc. On July 18, 2017 @ 4:46 am

“They will have to take tests on the new pronouns. It’s fight or die time, friends.”

The time to fight was in 1973. I would be curious what these authors have to say about how the religious leadership never swayed Pres. like Ronald Reagan to take their issues seriously. Ever since Roe v Wade the republican leadership has treated christians as reliable ballots as opposed to serious advocates for their positions.

#27 Comment By Mack On July 18, 2017 @ 8:43 am

I do wish I could afford to travel to Italy to drink wine and write thinky-stuff about religion.

#28 Comment By polistra On July 18, 2017 @ 11:29 am

The picture is sufficient. These people have tremendous wealth and tremendous power. Anything that might threaten their wealth and power is a problem.

Buy more stocks! Dow 30,000,000,000! Everything is perfect in this most perfect of perfect worlds! What? You can’t afford to buy stocks? I don’t understand. Perhaps you mean that your broker is on lunch break. Yes, that’s it. Just wait a few minutes and then you can do the right thing and buy more AMZN.

#29 Comment By EngineerScotty On July 18, 2017 @ 12:24 pm

It seems like the argument here is between those who think that Christendom (meaning a polity and culture dominated by nominal Christians, which promotes Christian value and morality as the dominant ethos, and punishes contrary values) can be rebuilt, and those who can’t.

Rod believes the battle has been lost–and that the election of Trump, even if one assumes that the Donald is indeed a friend of Christians, is only a temporary holding action. (Rod appears to instead believe, and I think he’s right, that Trump will do significant damage to any and all of his allies; he’s certainly no Constantine, and he lacks the competence to be Caligula), and that Christians need to prepare for life as a religious minority.

The problem with Rod’s argument, as noted above, is that he very much still engages in politics himself. As much as he dislikes Trump, he still views the Democrats as a mortal threat (it’s not mainstream Dems he needs to worry about, but the hyper-left that generally has little use for the Democratic Party either), and still frequently defends aggressive cultural tactics. While he now writes much about “religious liberty”, he tends to view civil rights laws not as a bulwark defending it, but as an infringement thereof–which is the position one would take if one assumes one’s allies will dominate politics, commerce, and culture, and one wants maximum freedom of action. (Real religious minorities, who have never had the whip hand, know far better). And all too frequently, Rod seems unconcerned with the religious rights of believers of other faiths, Muslims in particular.

In some ways, the Benedict Option seems more about hunkering down until the tide of battle turns, at which time Christianity will emerge victorious once again and dominate the land, then it is about practicing one’s faith in peace and quiet, and passing it down to one’s children while living in a broader culture that may be indifferent or even somewhat suspicious.

#30 Comment By Charles Cosimano On July 18, 2017 @ 3:56 pm

Considering the track record of Christian thinkers and their capacity to be wrong about just about everything, this would seem a ringing endorsement for the Benedict Option. If they don’t like it, it has to be good.

#31 Comment By andreas On July 18, 2017 @ 4:41 pm

Excellent article and analysis. Thank you for a balanced and nuanced read.

#32 Comment By EliteCommInc. On July 19, 2017 @ 12:36 am

“Christian thinkers and their capacity to be wrong about just about everything . . .”

Laughing. Everything is hardly accurate. I am not even sure most things. Though I guess it matters what things one is talking about.
__________________

As for the interpretation of hunkering down, neither the florist, the baker not the photographer were about looking for a fight. This fight was brought to their door.

In light of RoevWade, and the wave of rulings concerning same sex relations and marriage, it i unlikely that hunkering down is going to resolve anything. The suggestion tat people of faith just lay low and be quiet is rebutted by the those rulings. In which despite multiple choices of other providers more than willing to provide service, the idea that someone might find their lifestyle choice objectionable was just so horrifying that the offenders were dragged off too court.

In my view those venders were already hunkered down minding their business.

#33 Comment By Cedric Hannon On July 19, 2017 @ 7:33 am

The criticism towards the “Benedict option” comes essentialy from misunderstanding it.
I am not a theologian but involved in the Church.
I tried to expesse a view inspired from the “Benedict option” to a group of young christians, I have been corrected by an Orthodox Archbishop who was present and who rightfully reminded the assembly that Christians are open to others and have a role in the City.
I humbly confess that his reaction meant that I did not understand the full ideas of Rod Dreher. I hope that I will be able to get the french edition of his book because I am not very fluent in English.

#34 Comment By Howard On July 19, 2017 @ 10:30 am

Once again we see the fashion of “relationship with Christ” instead of “faith in Christ.” When did this start?

#35 Comment By Howard On July 19, 2017 @ 10:33 am

Before the Sixties, instead of MTD, there was MSD (Moralistic Stoic Deism) that was the de facto state church. It was no better in God’s eyes, though it might have been a nicer society.

#36 Comment By John Blade Wiederspan On July 19, 2017 @ 11:17 am

Tune In. Turn On. Drop Out. With Christianity instead of LSD. A few will, most won’t. The reason I read TAC and Mr. Dreher is the continuing thought about the dissonance in American society. Individual v.s Community, Involvement vs. Separation, Freedom of Religion vs. Freedom from Religion, self-expression vs. security, Liberal vs. Conservative, amoral capitalism vs. cultural standards, etc. As a 69 year old atheist (in both religion and politics), I have come to a position that holds one factor above all others, balance. When any philosophy, religion, cultural, social, political way of thought morphs into the ideological pure radical extreme, include me out. Note the word: any. No way of thinking is beyond reproach, beyond doubt. The fiery eyes of certainty have lead to so much of humanities suffering, self-imposed. There is hardship enough in every life, why humankind, throughout history, has formally produced even more is a mystery. How much misery has been produced by individuals as opposed to misery produced by official organizations?

#37 Comment By Adriana I Pena On July 19, 2017 @ 11:53 am

I might be more sympathetic to the complains of florists, bakers, and photographers forced to aid gay weddings, if the people supporting them were not cheefully joining those who want to deprive this child of saving healthcare.

[14]

Are the rights of florists, bakers, and photographers, worth the lives of children?

#38 Comment By Judith Sylvester On July 19, 2017 @ 6:31 pm

Janet Baker:
“I do not see what the general public finds to fascinating about the Benedict Option.”

Its appeal is to the almost universal desire among those living in the industrial world to simplify one’s life, reduce clutter and achieve focus and calm. The impulse is secular, not religious. The market for book is the MTD population, so trashed by the author. The most well thought through, and carefully worded criticisms are coming from the religious.

#39 Comment By Janet Baker On July 24, 2017 @ 10:32 am

Judith Sylvester. Yes, you have captured it, it is a secular impulse, although that seems to be all that is making it through this post-Vatican II church, secular words, secular solutions, for a secular population. The Benedict Option would perhaps permit the appearance of a Catholic community, in which certain features are retained, but there is no way for us to live as real Catholics now and at the same time have a job working for others, go to school, or get medical care. It has all been ruined. We must fight it politically, or die. Rob Dreher is making his living as a writer, this is all about that, it’s click bait he’s milking for all it’s worth. It is no solution at all, he has no concept of the real crisis in the Church itself. Answer the dubia, reject Vatican II, and fight for the Faith of Ages. That has to be our way forward.