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Do We Need The Benedict Option? Yes, Says Bishop

Well, hello. You didn’t hear from me on Monday because I was busy gallivanting around New Orleans with J.D. Vance, Ken Bickford, and others. J.D. really, really wanted to eat at Toups Meatery, but it was closed on Monday. We ended up at Lüke, where they didn’t have the charcuterie board (either it wasn’t on the lunch menu, or they took it off the menu, period, since I was last there), but we did eat the chicken liver and rabbit pate, which was crazy good. I spent the day fighting off the flu, which has all three of my kids down with fever. We had a good turnout for the event at UNO, and a delicious dinner afterward at Ralph’s On The Park. J.D. is as nice as you expect that he would be, and New Orleans is … New Orleans. I don’t get down there often enough.

On Tuesday, I slept most of the day, fighting what at this point appears to be a losing battle against the flu. Who the heck gets the flu in April?! My kids do, and I’m thisclose to joining them. So, I apologize for the light posting. Let’s hope for a better day today.

I did see that the great Bishop Robert Barron of Los Angeles has written an endorsement, of sorts [1], of The Benedict Option [2], which he calls “the most talked-about religious book of 2017.” He concludes by saying:

So do we need the Benedict Option now? Yes, I would say. But we should also be deft enough in reading the signs of the times, and spiritually nimble enough to shift, when necessary, to a more open and engaging attitude.

This remark reminds me of this passage from G.K. Chesterton’s biography of St. Francis:

[I]t is true to say that what St. Benedict had stored St. Francis scattered; but in the world of spiritual things what had been stored into the barns like grain was scattered over the world as seed. The servants of God who had been a besieged garrison became a marching army; the ways of the world were filled as with thunder with the trampling of their feet and far ahead of that ever swelling host went a man singing; as simply he had sung that morning in the winter woods, where he walked alone.

Similarly, this passage from The Benedict Option, in which Marco Sermarini, standing in his olive grove, reflected:

“I know from the olive trees that some years we will have a big harvest, and other years we will take few,” he said. “The monks, when they brought agriculture to this place a thousand years ago, they taught our ancestors that there are times when we have to save seed. That’s why I think we have to walk on this road of Saint Benedict, in this Benedict Option. This is a season for saving the seed. If we don’t save the seed now, we won’t have a harvest in the years to come.”

The point, obviously, is that we are in a period of storing-up. As I keep saying, We cannot give what we do not have. Robert Wilken, the historian of the early church, says:  [3]

Nothing is more needful today than the survival of Christian culture, because in recent generations this culture has become dangerously thin. At this moment in the Church’s history in this country (and in the West more generally) it is less urgent to convince the alternative culture in which we live of the truth of Christ than it is for the Church to tell itself its own story and to nurture its own life, the culture of the city of God, the Christian republic. This is not going to happen without a rebirth of moral and spiritual discipline and a resolute effort on the part of Christians to comprehend and to defend the remnants of Christian culture.

My sense is that a failure — willful or otherwise — on the part of conservative Christians to comprehend the depths of the current crisis has a lot to do with their knee-jerk rejection of The Benedict Option [2], especially if they haven’t read it. It sounds like it even affected Alasdair MacIntyre, if this account is correct [4]. Excerpt:

MacIntyre heartily criticized this movement during the Q&A after his lecture on “Common Goods, Frequent Evils” on March 27. The central point, MacIntyre emphasized, was that St. Benedict “inadvertently created a new set” of ways of life, when all he intended to do was found a monastic order. The monastery symbiotically supported the “education and liturgy” of the local villagers who provided them with postulants, over decades and centuries “build[ing] up a local community [largely] independent of the feudal order.”

Hence, despite the youthful St. Benedict’s flee from Rome to become a hermit, his mature work was “not a withdrawal from society into isolation,” but rather a “creation of a new set of social institutions which evolved.” The new St. Benedict whom we await must offer a “new kind of engagement with the social order now, not any kind of withdrawal from it.”

The Benedict Option [2]as people who have actually read it know, makes it clear that St. Benedict’s historic work had sociological effects secondary to his seeking the face of God as a monk. St. Benedict did not go to the forest to Make Rome Great Again; he only went out there to pray and to seek God, and to figure out how to serve Him under the post-imperial conditions in which he found himself. This is how it will have to be with us too.

As I’ve said over and over — but apparently cannot say often enough — we in the laity are not called to total withdrawal from the world, but only withdrawal sufficient to make possible Wilken’s “rebirth of moral and spiritual discipline and a resolute effort on the part of Christians to comprehend and to defend the remnants of Christian culture.” As Bishop Barron writes in his piece, the danger we face is that we seek to be so “relevant” to the culture outside the church that we lose what makes us distinct. If the church (by which I mean the people of God, broadly) is to produce the kind of men and women who will be able to go out into the world and convert it, and work for its redemption under God, then it will have to do what Prof. Wilken says it must do.

So, when George Weigel writes, critically:

Yet proponents of the Benedict Option would do well to rethink several things. To begin with, this so-called “Ben-Op,” at least as imagined by some, misreads the history of the second half of the first millennium. Yes, the monasteries along the Atlantic littoral helped preserve the civilizational patrimony of the West when public order in Western Europe broke down and the Norsemen wrought havoc along the Atlantic seaboard and beyond. But Monte Cassino, the great motherhouse of St. Benedict’s reforming spiritual movement, was never completely cut off from the life around it, and over the centuries it helped educate thinkers of the civilization-forming caliber of Thomas Aquinas.

… he’s revealing that he hasn’t actually read the book, because in the book, I write about the kind of life that lay Christians are called to lead now requires strategic withdrawal for the sake of culturing ourselves in Christianity, so when we go out into the world — where most of us are called to live — we can represent Christ authentically in a world where the pressures to abandon the faith are very strong. As Prof. Wilken says, this culture is no longer neutral about Christianity; it is positively opposed to it. A Christian who lives as if these are normal times is going to get steamrolled.

The Catholic blogger Dr. Jared Staudt does a real service in this piece of his titled, “Stop Misunderstanding The Benedict Option”. [5] Excerpt:

I’ve heard so many people characterize the Benedict Option as: “We can’t just retreat, give up, or bury our heads in the sand.” Many people have equated the Benedict Option with disengagement and withdraw.

Here is the real basis of the Benedict Option:

  • Given the profound crisis of culture (which has affected the Church as well), we cannot look to mainstream institutions for our future.
  • Rather, we need to form intentional communities that more fully embody our Christian faith and in which we are willing to face the consequences of going against the stream.
  • It is from such institutions that real cultural change will occur.

Thus, the Benedict Option is all about being active and engaging the problems of society. It recognizes, however, that solutions will begin locally, in the relationships that we can influence. Rebuilding will begin there. Do we really think that our political, educational, and economic institutions will provide a secure future for the practice of our Christian faith?

Dr. Staudt goes on to explain why the particular model given to us by St. Benedict is well-suited to our time and place. He concludes:

I recommend actually reading Rod Dreher’s book, The Benedict Option [2], before forming opinions about it. The strength of the book comes from its description of the Benedictine ideal, primarily through the lens of the monks of Norcia, and from providing other concrete examples such as the Tipi Loschi lay community, also of Italy. The book certainly has its limits. It is a reflection, which should begin a conversation, and—even more that—a process of discernment. We all need to find our own particular way to respond to the crisis of our time. St. Benedict certainly provides an important, and we might even say crucial, witness on how to build a Christian culture, centered on what Pope Benedict described as quaerere Deum, the search for God.

Not everyone may be called to follow the [Benedict] Option, but at least don’t misunderstand it.

Read the whole thing. [6]It’s a concise summary of the main thrust of the book. For Catholics who think everything is going pretty well with the next generation of the Catholic Church, allow the (Catholic) sociologist Christian Smith to disabuse you of that notion [7]. Except for Mormons, and to some extent Evangelicals (but far fewer than you might imagine), no church in the broad Christian tradition is doing a good job of forming its youth into disciples.

At the J.D. Vance event the other night, someone said to me that he had read The Benedict Option [2]twice, and though he doesn’t want to accept its conclusions (“I’m an optimist by temperament,” he said), he can’t find where my diagnosis is wrong. I’ve been thinking about that since I was in New Orleans. It is certainly true that some critics of the book dissent from it in good faith, but of course many do not. I am convinced that they refuse to see what’s in the book because if I’m right, then they will have to change their lives in ways that they don’t want to. Understand me clearly: I concede that I might be wrong! But if I am wrong, then show me where I am wrong; don’t satisfy yourself with endless griping about the book you think I have written, or by creating straw men that are easy to knock down.

UPDATE: Another good, explanatory piece by the Protestant scholar Scot McKnight.  [8] One thing he says, though:

When I heard of this book and when I opened it I expected to read about Ave Maria University in Ave Maria FL, a community Kris and I wandered around one day. Not a word. Nor does it seem to me Dreher sees Ave Maria as what he’s on about. From my reading he imagines Christians remaining where they are but forming tighter fellowship with other like-minded Christians in their community. Unlike the Essenes of Qumran they are like the Pharisees of Galilee. (I know many see the word “Pharisee” and think “negative.” Forgive me, but I don’t. The Pharisees remained where they were and lived in their community according to their own rule of life, the Torah interpreted.)

I would have liked to have written about Ave Maria, and a number of other communities, but I simply didn’t have the time. I had hoped to have a couple of years to work on the book, but that’s not how the deadline worked. Rest assured that I am aware that there are plenty of communities I could have written about.

About the Pharisees, I appreciate McKnight’s point. The main problem with the Pharisees (from the perspective of the Gospels) is that they observed the outward form of the Law, but were inwardly corrupt. This is a problem that all of us, Christians and otherwise, can easily develop. The answer for Christians is not to say that we are to have no rule of life, but rather to make sure that our rule of life does not become an idol, but rather serves as a means of deepening our transformative relationship to Jesus Christ. Similarly, the Church is necessary to draw us to Christ, but if it becomes a destination (as opposed to a way), it turns into an idol.

41 Comments (Open | Close)

41 Comments To "Do We Need The Benedict Option? Yes, Says Bishop"

#1 Comment By TR On April 19, 2017 @ 9:53 am

1. It seems to me the BenOp is needed if enough people think it is needed and are willing to implement it. (I know, I know, that’s Enlightenment Individualism, but look what you get otherwise.)

2. A very bright and ambitious senior professor in graduate school years ago used to say that the secret to academic success was being able to act as if you had read all kinds of things you really hadn’t. Your clueless critics are trying their best to appear knowledgeable. Who knows, except for this blog it may be working.

#2 Comment By Surly On April 19, 2017 @ 9:54 am

I think what bothers people about the book is that you are not wrong. But nobody, especially Christians, is ready to hear what you are saying. The end of Christian culture is too large to see, and the glimpses of what is to come looks fairly unpleasant–the reduction of human life into a commodity to be tinkered with, manipulated, bought and sold.

From my perspective, I wish you had not drawn such a bright line between “orthodox” and other types of Christians. We need solidarity–and surely you can find common cause with mainline protestants who are just as concerned about the market uber alles mindset being just as much of a problem as sexual matters.

#3 Comment By Eric Mader On April 19, 2017 @ 10:18 am

Bravo Jared Staudt! In the three bullet points Rod quotes, he’s condensed the Ben Op dynamics better than almost any of the other “positive” reviewers.

1) Given the profound crisis of culture (which has affected the Church as well), we cannot look to mainstream institutions for our future.

2) Rather, we need to form intentional communities that more fully embody our Christian faith and in which we are willing to face the consequences of going against the stream.

3) It is from such institutions that real cultural change will occur.

I haven’t read all the reviews out there, but I’ve now read enough of them to be flummoxed by the number of reviewers who just can’t put 2 and 2 together. It’s not like the structure of the book’s basic thesis is that hard to grasp.

Bishop Barron’s point–“the danger we face is that we seek to be so ‘relevant’ to the culture outside the church that we lose what makes us distinct”–might in some ways the Ben Op Gospel in a Nutshell. It certainly indicates precisely why Christianity is being bled dry by the secular culture it keeps trying frantically to address. The problem is right there in that “frantically”: we can’t be authentic Christians if we are always in marketing mode. Marketing is different from furthering the Kingdom, which must grow as the mustard seed grows, i.e. when one isn’t looking at it. Imagine, as a metaphor for many American churches, the farmer who keeps prodding and over-watering and uprooting and relocating that just-sprouted mustard plant. He’ll kill it of course. He should have just LET IT GROW.

In the same way, any community that would serve Christ must first ensure that it is living in Christ, letting the light of the Gospel shine upon it and letting the Kingdom take root right there, in that community. Marketing gurus and seekers after relevance might be vital for political campaigns or product launches, but the Church is not running for votes, nor is the Gospel “a cool new app you kids need to check out!”

(My own Ben Op review: [9])

#4 Comment By Oss Ickle On April 19, 2017 @ 10:25 am

I haven’t thought about this in years, but back when you published CCs I still read The Corner, and throughout all the (sometimes pretty harsh) criticism you received from your colleagues I kept thinking about them exactly what you wrote toward the end of this post:

“I am convinced that they refuse to see what’s in the book because if I’m right, then they will have to change their lives in ways that they don’t want to.”

#5 Comment By Colonel Blimp On April 19, 2017 @ 10:35 am

And have you ever thought that people are bemused because you use the language of withdrawal but then say you don’t want withdrawal at all? Well, what do you want? Also, do you seriously think people in the real, messy actual world can be persuaded to follow just the rightly calibrated type of withdrawal, the one you can’t quite put your finger on but know is out there? If you don’t know, then I certainly don’t know and neither do Mr and Mrs Hicks from Hicksville who have four jobs on the go just to pay their medical insurance and keep the bailiffs away.

As I said yesterday, what is an ‘intentional community of faith’ if it doesn’t involve actual physical separation from the world, as with a monastery, as with the Bruderhof? You say are not advocating this, but then you draw on the language and concepts of these places and extrapolate them into ordinary parish life where they CANNOT work. A parish is not and never possibly can be a monastery.

There are unique difficulties that face Christians who live out their faith in an apostate society, to give ‘post-Christian’ its true name. Working out how to hold the faith together will not be easy. But it will be possible using concepts that do not apply to day-to-day life in the world the overwhelming majority of human beings inhabit, i.e. outside the monastery walls. It’s like trying to use a sieve to transport water. How about you find a review of your book that is fair but critical and then addressing those criticisms? I cannot believe there are none.

#6 Comment By Ken On April 19, 2017 @ 10:36 am

I read Bishop Barron’s column on your book yesterday. I was fascinated by his comments on identity/relevance. I wonder if many of the criticism’s that have been made about your book are really a reflection of the tension between these two things, even if the reviewed doesn’t clearly express that. I also wonder if that’s why people feel so free to criticize the book, an the Benedict Option in general, without having read the book (at least the ones who do not have malicious intent). I would be interested in yours and others insight on this, especially the identity/relevance issue.

#7 Comment By Colonel Blimp On April 19, 2017 @ 10:36 am

Correction in last sentence “But it will not be possible using concepts”

#8 Comment By Austin On April 19, 2017 @ 11:01 am

Surly: “orthodox” Christians would, I imagine, very much like to have solidarity with the mainline Protestants. Such a Venn diagram of common interests existed several decades ago. But the mainline Protestants have spent the intervening decades decrying, persecuting, and excluding those members who held fast to their traditional beliefs. After decades of such treatment, most of us believe that the mainline is part of the problem of deconstructing Christian culture, rather than the part of the solution.

I speak as a jaded former Anglican/Episcopalian, but I imagine that the experience was similar in other mainline churches. The overt revolution began with liturgical reform and the liberalization of marriage discipline; decades of theological deconstruction had preceded these changes.

A succession of innovations followed: ordination, then consecration of women; homosexual practice, then unions/marriage; and — less celebrated — a whole set of core theological issues about Trinitarianism, the hypostatic union, and soteriology.

There was a standard playbook each time. The innovation was first tolerated, then normalized, then officially sanctioned. Those who objected were first offered a “place of honour” despite their having been out-voted. Then, quite quickly, the innovation became compulsory. And then those who would not conform were excluded from official positions, personally vilified, refused a path to ordination, etc. Traditional parishes were targeted and undermined. Those who tried to leave with any property were sued to defeat or bankruptcy.

The exiled survivors of these purges have formed bodies that have something of the “Benedict Option” about them — firmly reasserting core belief and practice. But there is no trust of the churches out of which they came, nor willingness to co-operate with them.

#9 Comment By Rick67 On April 19, 2017 @ 11:08 am

I appreciate also what McKnight and you say about the Pharisees. I’ve been with this church for 18 years, and have raised eyebrows a few times by saying the Pharisees are not the bad guys (or at least not as bad as the stereotypes we throw around). They believed all Jewish people (not just the priests) should live lives of holiness and obedience to Torah in every area of life. Sounds pretty good to me. Naturally people would listen politely then ask, “So why did they have such a problem with Jesus?!?” My honest answer is usually “uh, I don’t really know”.

Way back in graduate school (Near Eastern Studies, which includes Jewish Studies) we had a scholar give a talk on just why Jewish people have a problem “believing in Jesus”. To my shame I don’t recall clearly what was his central point. I think it was “God in the flesh??? No way”. I recall clearly when this church about 15-16 years ago had dialogues with one of the synagogues here (great experience) and the rabbi’s answer was “look out the window” = If Jesus was Messiah (let alone son of God incarnate) then where’s the messianic age?!? I think the apostle Paul would nod, say “great question”, and go into the whole “now but not yet” semi-realized eschatology thing.

And as our understanding of Judaism*s* around time of Jesus deepens, we know Jesus was much closer, theologically, to the Pharisees. So why did they have such a…??? Which leads, somewhat, to the amusing story in Acts, when Paul says “oh man, Pharisees and Sadducees double teaming me? Watch *this* …” and plays his Pharisee/resurrection card. Brilliant.

#10 Comment By Seraphim On April 19, 2017 @ 11:18 am

OK Rod, I have ordered the book from Amazon and will read with great interest, no doubt. Christ is Risen!

#11 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On April 19, 2017 @ 11:51 am

And have you ever thought that people are bemused because you use the language of withdrawal but then say you don’t want withdrawal at all?

Over on this side of the Atlantic, we have a concept called “Freedom of Association.” It is premised on the notion that people can live together as citizens of one policy, particularly if that polity is a constitutional republic, not a monarchy, while various subsets of citizens sharing various interests in common, can group together to further those interests, concerns, even hobbies, without being a threat to everyone else who isn’t in quite the same mode.

I think at its best, Rod’s vision rests on and partakes of that concept, whether his skepticism of the Enlightenment allows him to fully recognize it or not. (I’m really not sure if he does or doesn’t).

#12 Comment By Will Harrington On April 19, 2017 @ 12:28 pm

Colonel Blimp

I suspect the problem is not Rod’s writing, but a western tendency toward dualistic thinking, in this case we can condense it thusly; There are two kinds of Christian models in the world, complete withdrawal and open minded engagement (slight exageration for effect). This is, of course, nonsence, but this kind of either or thinking runs through the history of Western religious thought at least as far back as Augustine’s argument that we are saved by faith and our own efforts have nothing to do with it. He was reacting to Pelagius and it was an over-reaction. This kind of thinking can cause some pretty serious problems, witness our own two party system. Most people couldn’t even think about other choices, but those choices are there. Likewise there is a world of difference between total withdrawal and open ended engagement. Rod’s proposal is somewhere in the middle. The language of both withdrawal and engagement are necessary for a people who are called to think of themselves as sojourners.

#13 Comment By Bowl of Petunias On April 19, 2017 @ 12:33 pm

“Who the heck gets the flu in April?! My kids do, and I’m thisclose to joining them.”

My oldest was home with the flu yesterday, and she doesn’t normally get sick. I’m praying I don’t come down with it and have to miss the home school convention that starts tomorrow. Praying for all of you as well, Rod.

#14 Comment By Fran Macadam On April 19, 2017 @ 12:43 pm

“But nobody, especially Christians, is ready to hear what you are saying.”

NYT #1 Bestseller status means quite a number, Christian or not, are willing to pay to read it. If they agreed with the naysaying reviewers, they’d have to disbelieve their own lying eyes.

#15 Comment By Fran Macadam On April 19, 2017 @ 12:46 pm

I like the analogy of Benedict making sure Francis could spread the seed after. I’ve always been partial to the one for whom I was originally named.

#16 Comment By Anne On April 19, 2017 @ 1:15 pm

I’d say critics keep missing Rod’s point with regard to the Benedict Option because the concept itself is so loose and even contradictory that it functions as a kind of Rorschach test: People see what their history and personal predilections lead them to fasten on…Rod no less than the rest.

Now, I have read the book, and it helped clarify for me that Rod isn’t personally focused on some general Amish-style retreat. Instead, he seems most interested in strategies for “storing up” or shoring up the faith, as mentioned in this post. The problem is, both on this blog and in the book, he’s spent so much time condemning modern Western “culture” and its debilitating effect on the traditional faith of Christians, as well as on ways for “small-o orthodox” Christians to live “counter-culturally” even to the point of withdrawing en masse from public education that it’s difficult for Americans not to begin imagining isolated Amish-style communities springing up in the hinterlands. That’s where such ideas have normally led here. One glance at the book’s cover and a moment’s reflection on monasticism, and that image morphs into Duggar-like families moving to mountaintop monastic retreats and gets stuck in the brain. Is there any wonder critics have been going on about isolationism, quietism and political retreat? When Rod points to a community such as Clear Creek, or even an actual monastery such as the one in Nursia, he just reinforces all of the above.

But of course, all of the above ARE part and parcel of the Benedict Option, and that’s the problem. Shoring up the faith in the suburbs and/or retreating to isolated mountaintop retreats are BOTH options covered somewhere along the line. Saying what exactly the Benedict Option consists of seems to be a matter of predilection or taste, its only consistent component being its “countercultural” nature…and that it’s being done in the name of building up a more traditional form of the Christian faith.

#17 Comment By Antonia On April 19, 2017 @ 1:53 pm

An ‘intentional community of faith’ does not need to involve physical separation. But it does need to be a true community, that is, its members need to be bound to one another outside the actual doors of the church. They need to be each other’s primary social support, in close friendships of both individuals and families, helping each other in hardship, praying together, having group gatherings, doing common charitable work, etc.
I know from experience and observation that one of the things that most effectively eats away at faith is belonging to a social circle whose approach to life is at odds with one’s faith.
It is terribly unfashionable to recall the importance placed in Scripture and tradition on choosing one’s friends wisely, but we need to do this.
And given comments on the Ben Op, I will say clearly that this does not mean refusing to have anything to do with anyone outside that circle. But be watchful about who has what kind of influence over you.

#18 Comment By Sam M On April 19, 2017 @ 2:23 pm

Colonel Blimp:

“As I said yesterday, what is an ‘intentional community of faith’ if it doesn’t involve actual physical separation from the world, as with a monastery, as with the Bruderhof?”

Read the book. There are examples.

#19 Comment By joseph On April 19, 2017 @ 3:20 pm

Finished your book. IMO you’ve written a very personal book as if it were a general treatise, and thus your points often get muddied up.

What bumped me was when you would cite a scholar or author that I’ve read deeply, but substituted your understanding of their work for their understanding of their work. Now that’s fine if it’s clear that what I’m reading is how you understand their words, but they were presented as how the scholar/author understood his work, and I get how that would drive actual scholars to distraction. Me, I just kept thinking “not quite it…”

And the unfortunate thing is that if you had developed a deeper understanding of their work you could have done them justice in as few if not fewer words. My guess is that the result would have been a better book for you and your readers in terms of having a clearer (if somewhat different) understanding what’s really going on, and that the better diagnosis would lead you to a clearer treatment plan and prognosis.

My largest criticism of The Benedict Option is that it’s actual plan is essentially: “Be Better Christians.” Now that’s laudable if non-specific, and I know that you’re promising a website to explore how people can actually live this out, but it seems to me you could have come to a more specific Option or set of Options had you started with as deep and understanding of our current condition as the scholars and experts whose citations appear throughout your work.

OBTW: Haven’t seen you respond to Adam DeVille’s review. He appears to take you up on your invitation “But if I am wrong, then show me where I am wrong…”

#20 Comment By SJB On April 19, 2017 @ 6:12 pm

Rod, I very much like Mary Eberstadt’s recent article. Mainly she addresses Archbishop Chaput’s book, but she also includes Dreher, Esolen, and others work in her warm words of hope and encouragement for the times we are facing (see below). I think she Is right. When I turned on the TV in my hotel room, it was set to an evangelical Christian station where the program’s hosts were humbly discussing the trials we face in our culture and praying for God’s mercy and guidance. I didn’t continue to watch it but certainly noticed that more and more Christians are humbly paying attention to our times, and resolved to live faithfully during the difficult days ahead in the new culture that surrounds us. Now I wish I had watched to see if they were aware of the BO. Nevertheless, it was good to get a glimpse of those sober humble brothers.

Mary Eberstadt Excerpt:

It is truly shocking, but shockingly true: the overbearing, secularist culture increasingly averse to Christianity is itself sowing the seeds of a religious revival.

Consider today’s outpouring of new, and newly urgent, scholarship by writers both emerging and established: in addition to those already named: Ryan Anderson, Erika Bachiochi, Gerard Bradley, Patrick Deneen, J.D. Flynn, Sherif Gergis, Robert George, Aurora Griffin, Michael Hanby, Francis Russell Hittinger, Ashley McGuire, Catherine Pakaluk, Chad C. Pecknold, Rusty Reno, Robert Royal (and the rest of TCT‘s roster), George Weigel, Christopher White, and Stephen P. White – again, among others. Such is one measure of a burgeoning intellectual counterculture.

So is the proliferation of new associations, like the Catholic Women’s Forum in Washington D.C. and the Siena Symposium at St. Thomas University in Minnesota and more. Washington, D.C. is home to the Leonine Forum, founded by Fr. Arne Panula at the Catholic Information Center – a rich, yearlong intellectual seminar, which last year garnered over 130 applications for 40 spots. Then there’s the planting by Dominicans of Thomistic Institute circles on campuses around the country – including almost all those in the Ivy League. There’s the explosive growth of FOCUS, the Fellowship of Catholic University Students; and the Love and Fidelity network, headquartered at Princeton; and other recently blazed byways of religious counterculture.

These are just a few of the newly minted, organic forms of fellowship that will transform the American Babylon during the next fifty or one hundred years, in ways unimaginable as yet.

So as befits the moment just after Lent’s end, it feels like winter and spring in America at the same time. Yes, as the archbishop and others note, the idea of an earlier generation of believers – that Christianity would find salvation through politics – lies cold in the ground, done in by decades of the so-called culture wars. Yet as is barely understood as yet, that same interment is sending forth prodigious shoots, undreamed of in earlier times that took the Christian foundation of America for granted.

In retrospect, Strangers in a Strange Land and its fellow literary travelers may read not so much as epitaphs, but as birth announcements for an emerging moral and cultural renaissance.

The Phoenix in the Ashes of the Culture Wars – The Catholic Thing
[10]

#21 Comment By Mia On April 19, 2017 @ 7:14 pm

“I think what bothers people about the book is that you are not wrong. But nobody, especially Christians, is ready to hear what you are saying. The end of Christian culture is too large to see, and the glimpses of what is to come looks fairly unpleasant–the reduction of human life into a commodity to be tinkered with, manipulated, bought and sold.”

This starts to hit at the real issue I think, but there’s far more to it. Part of it is a normalcy bias, and let’s face it, in the mainstream US culture there is a strong conditioning to not see problems and certainly not talk about problems, all the while talking as if you actually did talk about problems and solved them! So there’s a certain amount of self-deception about it in studiously avoiding the real situation as it is.

But then, I also have noticed that there are a lot of people, even on our side of the aisle, who are buying into this whole golden age of human rights that the new revolution has brought, even if they don’t like all of the side issues it brings. But they can’t really say that because of Rod’s bright line, as another reader mentioned.

The people who do like the revolution certainly don’t want the orthodox to leave their fold, because they want us around to evangelize, not go sit in a corner and reinforce our commitment to our “wrong-headedness”. You can’t evangelize people who aren’t there, and there is a certain amount of social one-upmanship that will no longer be possible if we cut out. You can’t be demonstrably socially virtuous without a foil. There have to be “those people” close at hand to use as an example to other doubters. So maybe a little bit of recasting the Ben Op argument as a threat to the social fabric as a result.

Then again, one other review of the Ben Op that Rod hasn’t mentioned, and I’m not naming names because I loathe the columnist who wrote it and really doubt her motives because I’ve seen how she’s so dishonestly handled other issues, went even further and insinuated that the Ben Op is going to end up being a failed intentional community like all of the other crazy, whacked out religious communities with nutso leaders who led them astray. That column strengthens my idea that they are just trolling, not that they are ignorant and trying to look erudite by pretending to have read it.

#22 Comment By Mia On April 19, 2017 @ 7:38 pm

“Shoring up the faith in the suburbs and/or retreating to isolated mountaintop retreats are BOTH options covered somewhere along the line.”

I keep forgetting to ask, is it really possible in the modern world to go form some isolated community anywhere? I mean, doesn’t somebody own nearly all of the land now, isn’t it all regulated? Certainly nothing is beyond Google maps and satellite imagery down to very small details. It will be worse once drones become more commonplace. Maybe a family here or there could retreat like that, but we’re talking a relatively large population.

#23 Comment By Heidi On April 19, 2017 @ 9:52 pm

Caution is advised with an April flu. My last bout was caught in April nine years ago and it turned into a six week fight with pneumonia. The fever was epic. Rest and drink and rest some more.

#24 Comment By Brendan from Oz On April 19, 2017 @ 11:30 pm

“OBTW: Haven’t seen you respond to Adam DeVille’s review. He appears to take you up on your invitation “But if I am wrong, then show me where I am wrong…””

May I ask where this review is? A search online shows nothing at all for 2017 re Adam DeVille and Dreher/Ben Op. There is a piece from 2015, but that cannot refer to the book.

#25 Comment By Mary On April 20, 2017 @ 12:33 am

Ave Maria and the “community” built up around the school, are not examples of what you’d like to emulate in the BO. The place is a cesspool. I have been a big proponent of TBO since you started writing about it, but I would would walk away without a glance back if I thought that the Ave Maria community was part of TBO.

#26 Comment By a commenter On April 20, 2017 @ 12:44 am

Love, love the idea of saving the seed.

#27 Comment By joseph On April 20, 2017 @ 2:14 am

“May I ask where this review is? A search online shows nothing at all for 2017 re Adam DeVille and Dreher/Ben Op. There is a piece from 2015, but that cannot refer to the book.”

[11]

#28 Comment By Colonel Blimp On April 20, 2017 @ 7:01 am

Brendan from Oz: The Deville review is here

[12]

@Siarlys
I know what freedom of association is, but you have no cause to be smug from your side of the pond. The America you are describing has gone, replaced by one of managerial control where any kind of civic association can increasingly only occur on Washington’s terms and resisting it, even successfully, is immensely costly in terms of time, effort and mental strength. Just ask the Little Sisters of the Power. The direction of travel is only likely to get harder. But then again, I can’t see why are so concerned about freedom of association if you favour “all power to the Soviets”, to borrow your happy phrase. Surely independent civic associations are a bourgeois plot to subvert the absolute rule of the proletariat?

In any case, Rod’s book is not about techniques of civic association in a classical liberal polity. It is about continuing Christian life and, yes, evangelism, in an apostate society. Nobody doubts this is easy, but it is a mistake to frame this in the language of ‘withdrawal’ and ‘retreat’, not least because Rod uses these words time and again and responds angrily when people take him at his word and assume he does want to head for the hills. One is left with the question of what exactly he does want. If it is, as joseph says, “being better Christians”, then I question whether the worldview of monastic withdrawal is remotely applicable – it never was meant to be applied to life outside the monastery walls. That doesn’t mean at all that serious thought should not be given to how one can preserve Christian life and witness in the world, but this is only likely to come to anything through being realistic about what life in the day-to-day world is actually like and what is possible for people outside the bourgeois; Fishtown is not Norcia.

#29 Comment By Colonel Blimp On April 20, 2017 @ 7:01 am

Correction – Little Sisters of the Poor. Typing at haste

#30 Comment By Colonel Blimp On April 20, 2017 @ 7:07 am

“Is there any wonder critics have been going on about isolationism, quietism and political retreat? When Rod points to a community such as Clear Creek, or even an actual monastery such as the one in Nursia, he just reinforces all of the above.”

Yes, Anne has put her finger on exactly the point I was making.

[NFR: Never mind the many other types of community I cite in the book. — RD]

#31 Comment By Realist On April 20, 2017 @ 9:45 am

I really think that part of the problem with the misunderstanding of your message is the inappropriate title itself “The Benedict Option”. First, it’s really not an “option”, because there are no other viable alternatives, if lay Christians are to maintain their identity in a hostile society. Second, while Saint Benedict was certainly one exemplar of this approach, he was by no means the only one, and by citing him, you give people the impression that you are advocating a monastic approach, which causes most people to tune you out before they ever get into the details of what you are advocating. I would really suggest adopting another title for your message, such as “The Christian Way of Self-Preservation”. Such a title may not be as attractive for marketing purposes, but it would provide a more accurate representation of your message.

#32 Comment By JonF On April 20, 2017 @ 10:26 am

Re: irst, it’s really not an “option”, because there are no other viable alternatives

Of course there are and millions of people will take those options. The argument is that the Benedict Option is the best option.

#33 Comment By chris On April 20, 2017 @ 12:03 pm

What exactly is the Benedict Option? A pretext for discussing the moral decline of America. A catchphrase that announces your belief culture is dead. Its popularity is based on attracting those who mistakenly interpret it to mean total withdrawal a la Doomsday Preppers and John Gault. But once corrected, we see the Benedict Option actually offers nothing distinct from what Christians are already called to be and to do. The Benedict Option is whatever you want it to be, it seems.

[NFR: You can search the archives on this blog, or you can buy the book yourself to find out. — RD]

#34 Comment By Ken’ichi On April 20, 2017 @ 6:06 pm

As Bishop Barron writes in his piece, the danger we face is that we seek to be so “relevant” to the culture outside the church that we lose what makes us distinct.

But as to preserving “what makes you distinct”, what about when those same “distinctions” make you marked for destruction?

A Christian who lives as if these are normal times is going to get steamrolled.

And what will prevent the Christians who don’t “live as if these are normal times” from being “steamrolled”? What prevents your “Ben-Op communities” from being outlawed, the children of BO parents from being taken away, or even just every single “small-o orthodox” Christian being lined-up on their knees alongside ditches and getting a bullet to the brain?

Rather, we need to form intentional communities that more fully embody our Christian faith and in which we are willing to face the consequences of going against the stream.

And if those “consequences” are total extermination?

It is from such institutions that real cultural change will occur.

Which is why “such institutions” shall not be permitted, but sniffed out at the first sign and crushed with swiftness and utter destruction.

Plus, what of “transhumanism”? Even if your “Benedict Option” survives and is not crushed, how will it “turn thing’s around” and “take back” a world ever more alien? How will your descendants “go out into and convert”, say, a world of genetically-modified hyper-intelligent cyborgs?

>>Siarlys Jenkins

Over on this side of the Atlantic, we have a concept called “Freedom of Association.”

And how well is that surviving against “anti-discrimination”, “tolerance”, “equality”, etc?

>>Mia

The people who do like the revolution certainly don’t want the orthodox to leave their fold, because they want us around to evangelize, not go sit in a corner and reinforce our commitment to our “wrong-headedness”. You can’t evangelize people who aren’t there, and there is a certain amount of social one-upmanship that will no longer be possible if we cut out.

Indeed, thus why you shall not be “left alone”. No tolerance for heresy “bigotry”, or any other deviation from the unofficial official church of the American ruling class.

#35 Comment By Brendan from Oz On April 20, 2017 @ 8:59 pm

@Colonel Blimp

Thank you for pointing me to the arrogant Marxist arguments by declaration (Mt Athos’ “hytsterical nonsense” sans any justificatioin or argument for his unsubstantiaterd claim) that DeVille has produced to shine light upon his own lack of serious scholastic engagement or reasonable argument.

#36 Comment By Realist On April 20, 2017 @ 10:53 pm

To JonF:

I would love to hear from you about those “viable alternatives” for lay Christians to preserve their identity in a hostile society. I would wager that upon close examination they will turn out to be not viable at all. That is why I said that there is no other option to the approach advocated by Rod. And it should be noted that this approach is really nothing new. It was first applied by the early Christians living in the Roman Empire.

#37 Comment By Let Me Recover My Sight – Mk 10 On April 20, 2017 @ 11:08 pm

Here is my question:
Why propose a “return to roots” to the 6th century? Rod Dreher has described his Benedict Option as a “return to roots” to help the church survive and prosper amidst an increasing hostile culture and government. But why a “return to roots” to the 6th century, the lifetime of Benedict of Nursia?
In the 6th century, the church (there was just one church at that time) had the full support and protection of the State. Benedict of Nursia went into monasticism to escape corruption within the church itself as much as in the government and secular society.
So, why not propose for today’s Christians a “return to roots” as found the 1st century? You know, the time period of the church when the apostles hand-picked by Jesus Christ were still alive and leading the church on the earth, the time period when the Holy-Spirit-safeguarded New Testament Scriptures were written to document the teachings, practices and lifestyle of the church at that time. The 1st century Christians faced a hostile pagan government and culture.
Wasn’t what 1st century Christians faced more like what today’s Christians are facing? Wasn’t what 6th century Christians were facing quite different from what today’s Christians were facing?
Was not the 1st century church very successful at keeping separate from the pagan culture, and also very successful at evangelization? By contrast, in the 6th century, the church has largely ceased evangelization activities. Mohammed was born in the 6th century. Just think if the church in the 6th century had been zealous in missionary work and had sent evangelists to the hometown of Muhammed in Arabia? Maybe we’d be talking about St. Muhammed today, there’d be no Jihadist menace, and Mecca would be a vibrant center of Christian life.
In the 1st century, the WHOLE church (including married folk, the elderly, children, everyone) lived a lifestyle that was very separate from the pagans around them. By contrast, in the 6th century, only a tiny fraction of the church (and all of them celibate, unmarried, childless) ever followed the separate way of life demonstrated by Benedict of Nursia.
So I repeat: Why only go back to the 6th century as a “return to roots” to find models and inspiration for God’s design and intention for the WHOLE church to be substantially separate from the lost world? We all have our Bibles laying right there before us.

#38 Comment By JonF On April 21, 2017 @ 1:03 pm

Realist,

First off, the larger society (as a whole) is not “hostile” and I foresee no real outright “hostility” happening in the US in any time frame that ought matter to us (even the youngest of us). I do see a society that is becoming extremely indifferent to Christianity and unwilling to make any accommodations to it, or to any religious faith– for better or worse religion has been exiled from the Public Square and shuffled off to the Realm of Private Things where it matters less in matters of policy than whether one prefers cats or dogs or hates domestic critters period.
The way to handle this is to keep one’s head down, mind one’s own business, embrace the label of “eccentric” if others want to slap it on you– and to look to one’s own salvation.
The real problem is not “hostility” but worldly temptation– which has always and everywhere been the case. That, not rants from college radicals, is what is siphoning people out of the churches. Party late, sleep in late, hey, just go shopping! Who needs religion when there are 900 channels of HD crap to choose from on cable- and a whole Internet of wondrous things to be diverted by. Miracles can be sought from science and medicine rather than saints these days. And justice can be sought (however imperfectly) from politics.
These are the things we need to struggle against: Materialism, consumerism, faddish distractions and sybaritic delights, the purposing of political movements as things of ultimate meaning and worth– and we cannot avoid them. Rod is not wrong in his advice on how to live a spiritually meaningful life in the face of modernity; the chapters I am reading (ever so slowly, I fear) are spot on about this– e.g., Make your home a monastery, stay (physically) close to your church, etc. So yes, I am endorsing his suggested Way thus far (I am about half way through the book). But I do reject persecution paranoia because while manning the gates against those non-existent enemies the worms of corruption more easily slip in and do their slow chewing away at the foundations unseen.

(I hope this makes some kind of sense. I had insomnia last night an feel like my brain is full of helium today)

#39 Comment By Realist On April 22, 2017 @ 1:11 am

JonF:
You are being way too narrow in your definition of what constitutes a society that is hostile to the Christian faith. I was not primarily referring to political hostility. A society that is permeated by pornography made readily available even to young adolescents, that churns out immoral “entertainment” in the form of movies, TV programming, books etc. that mock the values and beliefs underpinning our faith, that relentlessly propagandizes the population in an effort to morally legitimize abortion, LGBT lifestyle, moneyworshipping materialism, etc. through its mainstream media, advertising and news outlets — this is very much a society that is hostile to the Christian faith and that is causing the ruination of many souls. Meanwhile, our apparently clueless clerical leadership prefers to talk about a “constructive dialogue with modernity”, fiddling away like Nero while Rome burns. This is not rocket science, but many Christians simply want to have their cake and eat it too, and ignore the cost of discipleship.

#40 Comment By connecticut farmer On April 22, 2017 @ 10:41 am

I have read several reviews of BenOp–some positive, some negative–but haven’t read the book myself (though I intend to do so shortly). Yes, I know what it’s about but am unable to comment further ’till I read it. Makes sense, right? It sounds as though many of the critics are basing their comments upon book reviews written by people who actually DID read the book.

If one hasn’t read the book, how does one pass judgement on it? Am I missing something here?

#41 Comment By JonF On April 23, 2017 @ 9:29 pm

Realist,
You seem to be saying that society that indulges in sin (or what Christianity considers to be sin) is hostile to it. Well, then I guess every age has been hostile to Christianity, since every age has had its besetting sins, both the rulers and the ruled, practiced openly and in the face of the Church. And indeed even many of the Church’s leaders did likewise. Which is more or less what Jesus promised after all.