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Benedict Option: ‘Dark Mountain’ For Christians?

Via The Browser [1], Peter Ross of the Boston Review has an interview with Paul Kingsnorth [2], the co-ounder of a dystopian movement called the Dark Mountain Project [3]. It’s not a political or religious thing; it’s a group of artists, writers, and thinkers who are focused on ecology, and who believe that civilization as we know it is unraveling, and can’t be stopped. From its website:

It might also be useful to explain what Dark Mountain is not. It is not a campaign. It is not an activist project. It does not seek to use writing or art to ‘save the planet’ or stop climate change. Rather, it is a creative space in which people can come to terms with the unravelling of much of the world we have all taken for granted, and engage in a conversation about what the future is likely to hold, without any need for pretence or denial.

Peter Ross describes the Dark Mountain vision as the belief “that it is too late to save the world, but you can care for one small part of it, enriching both the land and your own life in the process.” Here are excerpts from the interview:

PK: My writing is also increasingly religious, or spiritual, although “spiritual” is such a horrible New Age word. I am a Zen Buddhist, but that’s not exactly a religion, it’s more a practice. As I get older, the spiritual mystery of life seems to be coming to the fore. It’s right there in Beast, which is a religious book, a quest book. It’s all the way through The Wake as well. I have a strong sense that the earth is alive. I’ve always had this. I remember reading Wordsworth when I was fifteen or sixteen and being really struck by the fact that he was talking about experiences that I had had—when you are up on a mountain and the world opens itself up to you. All the time when I was young, I felt there were mysterious things going on in nature. I believed in fairies and magic and all that. Then you grow up and put all that to one side, but it feels like it’s coming back into my writing as I get older. One of the disastrous stories our culture tells itself is that the world is a machine, and that you can cut it into bits and look at how it works. But it’s not a machine, it’s a great web of life with a strange religious mystery bubbling underneath.

Yes, exactly. For traditional Christians, the world is charged with the presence of God, who, in the Orthodox prayer, “is everywhere present and filling all things.” This is what all Christians believed until the modern period, which disenchanted the world. If Christianity is going to survive this, it has to regain the older Christian vision.

This is not some woo-woo, superstitious New Age thing. This was Christianity before the modern era. Here is a link to Episode 1 of Tudor Monastery Farm, [4] a British reality series (in six hourlong episode, as I recall) that explores various aspects of daily life for people who worked on a monastery farm in the year 1500. In this post [5], I talk in detail about how the series reveals the sacramental vision that held medieval society together, and what it has to do with the Benedict Option. (That post will explain why Kingsnorth’s words above resonate, or should resonate, with traditional Christians.) I strongly recommend watching the series — it’s great to watch with kids. Not boring at all — quite the opposite, actually. Great to watch with the kids.

OK, more Kingsnorth:

PK: … One of the problems with the green movement is that it is constantly issuing deadlines: “We’ve only got five years to save the world!” I read Naomi Klein’s book on climate change a while back, and I found it ludicrous and dishonest. There’s plenty of good research in there about how the corporations are refusing to act and are covering up what needs to be done, but then she says that we have to have radical change in ten years and provides an enormous list of impossible global tasks. She’s a smart woman and she knows damn well none of that is going to happen.

PR: How did it feel when you accepted the end of the world? Relief or despair?

PK: I’d make an important distinction between “the end of the world” and the end of the way we’re living now; it’s the latter that’s ending. What do I feel about that? Kind of both. More relief, actually. There’s a common notion among activists that “taking action” must be inherently hopeful. If you’re going on demonstrations or working to stop climate change then that’s a hopeful or optimistic thing. But after a while, when people realize they are banging their heads against a brick wall, this kind of campaigning leads to despair. What I found when I said, “You know what? This isn’t going to work,” was that a great weight lifted off my shoulders. I’ve stopped pretending that the impossible is possible.

People often call me dystopian. They think, “This guy says the apocalypse is coming and there’s nothing we can do, so we should all have a party.” I like a party as much as the next man, but that’s not the point I’m making. I’m saying we should be honest about what’s happening and not entertain fantasies about how we can turn it around with, for example, global governance. How does that focus your mind? Where does that leave you? What do you do? Dark Mountain starts with those questions.

Yes, this is very similar to the Benedict Option vision. As I write in the book [6]:

We Christians in the West are facing our own thousand-year flood—or if you believe Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, a fifteen-hundred-year flood: in 2012, the then-pontiff said that the spiritual crisis overtaking the West is the most serious since the fall of the Roman Empire near the end of the fifth century. The light of Christianity is flickering out all over the West. There are people alive today who may live to see the effective death of Christianity within our civilization. By God’s mercy, the faith may continue to flourish in the Global South and China, but barring a dramatic reversal of current trends, it will all but disappear entirely from Europe and North America. This may not be the end of the world, but it is the end of a world, and only the willfully blind would deny it. For a long time we have downplayed or ignored the signs. Now the floodwaters are upon us—and we are not prepared.

So, to restate this in a Kingsnorthian way, I’m saying we should be honest about what’s happening and not entertain fantasies about how we can turn it around with, for example, winning political power or by repackaging our evangelical message. How does that focus your mind? Where does that leave you? What do you do? The Benedict Option starts with those questions.

To be clear, Kingsnorth is focused on environmentalism and global system collapse. I am focused on Christianity in the West. But there are parallels. More:

PR: Is there a survivalist aspect to the way you are trying to live? Are you trying to learn to survive the catastrophe you predict coming?

PK: I wouldn’t call it survivalism. That conjures up images of men with guns in shacks. I’m not expecting some nuclear war or apocalyptic zombie catastrophe, but there is certainly a slow grinding collapse going on. So I want my children to know what seeds are and how to plant them. I want them to know how to light fires and how to use knives and simple tools. I want them to know how to cook properly and how to ferment drinks. The more of those things you know, the more connected you are to life, the more control you have, and the more choice you have over how to live. I don’t want them growing up in a consumer economy that wants to teach them absolutely nothing about how living is done. Even if all that stuff doesn’t fall apart in their lifetime, which it might well, it’s a powerless way to live. You end up making yourself a slave. You are completely dependent on this destructive world-spanning machine, and you are not fully human. I want them to be fully human. So it’s an insurance policy but it’s also just a way of living. And it’s enjoyable. You can’t live this way from some puritanical notion. You actually have to enjoy it, which we do.

This is important. I want my children to know traditional Orthodox Christianity, to know what the prayers are, and what they mean. To know how to do things that our Christian ancestors knew how to do. To see the world with the same vision, and not the corrupted vision of desacralized modernity. It’s an insurance policy, but it’s also just a way of living. And yes, you actually have to enjoy it — which we do!

One more bit:

PR: In an essay published the day before the U.S. election, you likened Hillary Clinton to a corrupt late Roman emperor and Donald Trump to a barbarian hammering at the gates. If you had a vote, would you have cast it for the emperor or the barbarian?

PK: I don’t think I’d have voted for either of them. I would certainly not have voted for Clinton as she was just the continuation of a dead system. I kind of like the chaos energy that Trump is bringing, but I’m not sure I could have brought myself to vote for him. I’ve waited my whole life to see what is effectively an independent candidate in the White House, a guy who is going to take on the media establishment and global free trade and the authoritarian left and stand up for the working class, and it’s just a shame that it had to be Donald Trump. Those are the things he says he is going to do, but I’m not sure he is capable, and a lot of what he stands for I dislike intensely, especially his cowboy attitude to nature.

PR: On the day that you and I confirmed this interview, Trump signed executive orders to allow construction of the controversial Dakota Access and Keystone XL oil pipelines. Surely you can’t favor that?

PK: Of course not. But what you see with Trump is American capitalism with its mask off. Obama talked a great game about climate change, but he never did anything. He was so charming that he could drone-bomb people every day for eight years and the media who are now calling Trump a fascist wouldn’t say anything about it. Trump is a barbarian, but barbarians are what you get when empires collapse, and the United States is obviously a collapsing empire.

Oh, yes.

Read the whole thing.  [2] I think a lot of conservative Christians, like environmentalists re: Dark Mountain, believe that to accept the Benedict Option is an act of surrender and despair. I do not, not at all. It is hopeful because it is realistic, and bases its real hope in eternity. It accepts that for whatever reasons, it is highly unlikely that we are going to stop the collapse of Christian belief in the West — so we should do what is necessary to stay faithful and steady through it, and to ride it out so as to preserve the spiritual and cultural seeds for the rebirth. Again: it’s not the end of THE world, but it’s the end of A world, and those who want to survive it and to thrive in the midst of it had better wake up and change their lives. If you read the interview, you’ll learn about how Kingsnorth and his wife live on a patch of green ground in Ireland, and homeschool their kids. They don’t sound like unhappy preppers at all.

You may disagree with all of this, and if so, read The Benedict Option [6] and let’s have that discussion in our churches and families and small groups.

45 Comments (Open | Close)

45 Comments To "Benedict Option: ‘Dark Mountain’ For Christians?"

#1 Comment By Rob G On March 20, 2017 @ 7:32 am

Very interesting interview.

Kingsnorth wrote a book seven or eight years ago called Real England, which had some parallels with Crunchy Cons, albeit from a more leftward direction. Well worth a read.

#2 Comment By Matt On March 20, 2017 @ 7:56 am

The Disciples of Jesus community was formed years ago to bring Catholics in close community as an insulation against the collapse. Home schooling and their own colleges, seminaries, community gatherings each Saturday, sharing groups during the week and many outreach initiatives have grown it greatly over the years. It is already being done and prepared for years ago this benedict option, and it is being driven by the lay church.
Benedict is the Catholic father of western civilisation and the Catholics have long prepared for this storm, and now the doors of the Ark are closing.

#3 Comment By at the soundcheck On March 20, 2017 @ 8:20 am

Homeschoolers are handing the public square and public schools over to Muslims. See Texas. Are BenOps Ike this, too? Unable to parent and too lazy to fight? They remind me of people who liquidate their assets and thus help to create the very economic crash they fear.

#4 Comment By Heidi On March 20, 2017 @ 8:20 am

Yes to all of this.
This post reminds me of some of your writings after 9/11, when some of us were hotly debating peak oil. I remember that the point I tried to make to family and friends was that it didn’t matter *when* the oil actually ran out, the conversation itself was more a metaphor for the end of A Way Of Life that could not be sustained. 9/11 brought it into sharp relief, it was the first shot across the bow for millions of us who had not really been paying attention to previous warnings. It spurred us and dozens of families in our area into homeschooling, homesteading, learning old skills and showing our kids how to do them. Most importantly, in my mind, we began thinking and talking about what the end of “all this” meant for us but mostly for our children, and it served as the vehicle for a deepening of faith and a more meaningful connection to church. This continues, in spite of any changes in family or community that might feel like road blocks, ie teenagers and young adults(!), changes in clergy and a change in the physical church attended due to political pressures, etc. I don’t want to say we became doomers or preppers or end of timers because we didn’t. We just realized, as Kingsnorth has, that is was “the end of all that”.

#5 Comment By Matt On March 20, 2017 @ 8:22 am

“If Christianity is going to survive this, it has to regain the older Christian vision.”

“If” denotes doubt of christianity’s survival and we can’t entertain it, since Christ’s promise remains. This promise exits most prevalently in the mind of the Western Church of Benedict under The Chair of Peter whose office is set in place by Christ.
It was the great western father Benedict that was the shoot of new growth that began in darkness. The day of The Lord begins in darkness and already the new shoots of His era are appearing. These buds are visible to those that discern them, even in the midst of the doom heraldry of today.

[NFR: As I have said over and over, we have Christ’s promise that the gates of Hell will not prevail against His church … but we do not have His promise that the gates of Hell will not prevail against His church in the West. That’s up to us. My book addresses the West. — RD]

#6 Comment By mdc On March 20, 2017 @ 8:23 am

“Obama talked a great game about climate change, but he never did anything.”

This ludicrously false claim betrays the risks of deciding ahead of time that politics is futile.

BTW, have you read Rousseau’s Emile? Profound connections to your Ben Op questions.

#7 Comment By at the soundcheck On March 20, 2017 @ 8:30 am

The problem with the ark metaphor is that God has not directed anyone to build an ark to protect body or faith; God said he would not flood the earth again; and if the apocalypse is coming, expect Wormwood to crush the mountains – there will be nowhere to hide. If anything, Christians have been directed to stand.

#8 Comment By Floridan On March 20, 2017 @ 9:23 am

Obama talked a great game about climate change, but he never did anything.

If that’s the case, then the Republicans are going to a lot of trouble reversing executive orders and regulations that Obama never initiated.

#9 Comment By Gerrit On March 20, 2017 @ 9:24 am

Rod, this is an amazingly productive vein of thought to follow. The synergies of of Christianity and environmental stewardship could be helpful to both communities.

Environmentalists have generated numerous practical ways for people to minimize consumption and wean themselves off of materialism. I mean not the basics of the three R’s of reduce, reuse and recycle, but the deeper practices of increasing self-sufficiency-in-community. Christians could learn these practices and make them part of their community life. It will bind members to the common good again. Christians in turn could help environmentalists recover the ancient language of the sacred universe to restore transcendence to immanence. That would help them overcome the sterility of modern reductionist worldviews. And so on and so forth.

I really look forward to your post on the anabaptists and to further exploration of the commonalities and synergies of Christianity and environmental stewardship.

#10 Comment By jaybird On March 20, 2017 @ 9:25 am

Carlin got there 20 years ago:

#11 Comment By Tag Murphy On March 20, 2017 @ 9:40 am

I wondered when you were going to get around to this. You seem to think your greatest enemies are, you know, “gay married” faggots like me, zealous judges scouring the landscape for every last node of resistance to “bigotry”, and SJW’s policing campuses for politically incorrect hate speech.

They (we) won’t last two weeks in the coming apocalypse. Here are a couple of previews of what is coming from other blogs I read regularly in addition to yours.

From Ian Welsh:
[7]

QUOTE

These increases will make those places uninhabitable outside of air conditioning. Changes in rainfall patterns will large current agricultural powerhouses to fail; an effect which will be compounded by the fact that we have vastly drained and polluted our groundwater in prime agricultural areas.

Later on, we will see vast rises in the ocean level. Virtually every city sitting on a seashore today will be gone in a hundred years, some of them a lot sooner.

This stuff is baked into the cake. It is essentially unavoidable. It has been effectively and politically unavoidable for quite some time now.

Do not expect the political, economic, and social arrangements you favor to survive this. The waves of refugees will be magnitudes larger than those currently shaking the Middle East and Europe. There will be water wars; people will not sit still while they are dying, they will fight. Some of those wars will involve, at the least, the use of tactical nukes.

Capitalism, Democracy, the Chinese Communist Party, etc…any system and group of people who can reasonably be blamed for this, will likely be on the block. When hundreds of millions to billions start dying, they will not go gently into that long dark night. No, they and those they leave behind will look for people, ideologies, and organizations to blame, and they will plenty of them, because everyone and everything who had any power has failed to prevent an entirely forseen and largely preventable disaster.

Our failure will not be considered acceptable to those who pay the bill, and our “capitalism” and “democracy” and “corporations” and “free trade” and everything else you can think of will be on the block, liable for destruction.

This is coming on faster than many expected. Added to ecosphere collapse, the current cyclical capitalist sclerosis, and vast arsenals, it is going to be immensely damaging.

If you aren’t old, or sick, you’re going to suffer some of this. If you’re young, you’re going to suffer a lot of this, assuming you aren’t an early casualty.

So it is. So it shall be. We were warned, we chose not to act, because corporations needed profits or something.

So be it.

UNQUOTE

And from The Archdruid Report (to which you have linked before):

[8]

QUOTE

we’ve gotten a very modest helping of decline and fall, and people who were enthusiastically discussing the end of the industrial age not that long ago are freaking out six ways from Sunday. If a relatively tame event like the election of an unpopular president can send people into this kind of tailspin, what are they going to do the day their paychecks suddenly turn out to be worth only half as much in terms of goods and services as before—a kind of event that’s already become tolerably common elsewhere, and could quite easily happen in this country as the dollar loses its reserve currency status?

What kinds of meltdowns are we going to get when internet service or modern health care get priced out of reach, or become unavailable at any price? How are they going to cope if the accelerating crisis of legitimacy in this country causes the federal government to implode, the way the government of the Soviet Union did, and suddenly they’re living under cobbled-together regional governments that don’t have the money to pay for basic services? What sort of reaction are we going to see if the US blunders into a sustained domestic insurgency—suicide bombs going off in public places, firefights between insurgent forces and government troops, death squads from both sides rounding up potential opponents and leaving them in unmarked mass graves—or, heaven help us, all-out civil war?

This is what the decline and fall of a civilization looks like. It’s not about sitting in a cozy earth-sheltered home under a roof loaded with solar panels, living some close approximation of a modern industrial lifestyle, while the rest of the world slides meekly down the chute toward history’s compost bin, leaving you and yours untouched. It’s about political chaos—meaning that you won’t get the leaders you want, and you may not be able to count on the rule of law or even the most basic civil liberties. It’s about economic implosion—meaning that your salary will probably go away, your savings almost certainly won’t keep its value, and if you have gold bars hidden in your home, you’d better hope to Hannah that nobody ever finds out, or it’ll be a race between the local government and the local bandits to see which one gets to tie your family up and torture them to death, starting with the children, until somebody breaks and tells them where your stash is located.

It’s about environmental chaos—meaning that you and the people you care about may have many hungry days ahead as crazy weather messes with the harvests, and it’s by no means certain you won’t die early from some tropical microbe that’s been jarred loose from its native habitat to find a new and tasty home in you. It’s about rapid demographic contraction—meaning that you get to have the experience a lot of people in the Rust Belt have already, of walking past one abandoned house after another and remembering the people who used to live there, until they didn’t any more.

More than anything else, it’s about loss. Things that you value—things you think of as important, meaningful, even necessary—are going to go away forever in the years immediately ahead of us, and there will be nothing you can do about it. It really is as simple as that. People who live in an age of decline and fall can’t afford to cultivate a sense of entitlement. Unfortunately, for reasons discussed at some length in one of last month’s posts, the notion that the universe is somehow obliged to give people what they think they deserve is very deeply engrained in American popular culture these days. That’s a very unwise notion to believe right now, and as we slide further down the slope, it could very readily become fatal—and no, by the way, I don’t mean that last adjective in a metaphorical sense.

History recalls how great the fall can be, Roger Hodgson sang. In our case, it’s shaping up to be one for the record books—and those of my readers who have worked themselves up to the screaming point about the comparatively mild events we’ve seen so far may want to save some of their breath for the times ahead when it’s going to get much, much worse.

UNQUOTE

Rod, you may be even more of a prophet than you realize.

#12 Comment By Rich On March 20, 2017 @ 10:21 am

As a confessional Lutheran, the Ben-Op is just a cultural option, it’s not a biblical directive. A hybrid version of romanticized medieval EO and RC ecumenical cultural localism is nowhere commanded in scripture. What the Ben-Op seems to be calling for is what local congregations are for. Hospitals for sinners, mission posts for evangelism, and houses of true biblical worship and discipling, within established communities. The Ben-Op may not be full retreat nor monasticism, but it does tilt towards pietism and holiness movement mentality with a decidedly political-cultural bent.

The problem is not the culture. The problem is that the amount of sheep and local sheep pens that have syncretised with the worldliness within our culture as an embraced lifestyle have been the majority for some time. The church is worldly and lukewarm today. As Luther would say, the problem isn’t out there, it’s inside of me/us.

For us Lutheran Protestants, the Ben-Op is eerily similar not to monasteries, but to Donatism at worst and Puritanism at best.

#13 Comment By Mark C On March 20, 2017 @ 11:15 am

The Canadian conservative Christian philosopher George Grant wrote a book in 1965 called “Lament for a Nation,” expressing his anger and remorse that Canada, as he saw it, was losing its traditional English and French sources of identity and becoming swept up in the American technological empire (which he characterized as holding the doctrine of “the orgasm at home and napalm abroad”), and thus was inevitably doomed as a nation, at least in the sense of having a meaningfully different kind of society. While Grant’s book struck a chord, especially on the Canadian left, it was rejected by many for its overarching pessimism about Canada and its prospects, and the futility of political or economic resistance. In a new introduction to the book in 1970, Grant wrote something that I think has broader application to the charge of political pessimism or defeatism in other circumstances:

“It would be the height of pessimism to believe that our society could go on in its present directions without bringing down upon itself catastrophes. To believe the foregoing would be pessimism, for it would imply that the nature of things does not bring forth human excellence.”

#14 Comment By Priest Raphael On March 20, 2017 @ 11:40 am

Rod, have you watched:
Captain Fantastic?

[9]

#15 Comment By William Harrington On March 20, 2017 @ 11:41 am

At the sound check

You fail to account for the fact that the public schools are largely already owned by maoists who have invested decades into taking over the positions of power. Muslims in the public schools should be the least of your worries. Chances are that they will join home schoolers before long.

#16 Comment By Deirdre Mundy On March 20, 2017 @ 12:05 pm

Of course the Benedict option is suffused with hope. It’s like the Cardinal George quote: ” I expect to die in bed, my successor will die in prison and his successor will die a martyr in the public square. His successor will pick up the shards of a ruined society and slowly help rebuild civilization, as the church has done so often in human history.”

By trying to form places of retreat, we’re also forming the people who will also rebuild civilization and spread the Gospel to new generations.

I was thinking about this, and I wonder if one issue with people taking ‘retreat’ as giving up is that they’re using the wrong definition?

For many denominations, ‘retreat’ is what happens after you’ve been routed by the enemy. Revival is what strengthens your faith.

But in the Catholic and Orthodox world, a retreat is a temporary withdrawal from the world to focus on God and to gather the strength to go out and spread the good news. For us, revival is what happens on retreat.

I haven’t gotten my hands on your book or Chaput’s yet (both are on order) but I’ve been thinking about what it means to make communities that can function as a ‘retreat’ for laypeople living in a declining, and frankly, exhausting, culture.

I think if we want our children to grow up to know God we need to be more conscious about creating these ‘retreats’ in our life, because the larger culture is less likely to make them easy to find.

#17 Comment By Charles Cosimano On March 20, 2017 @ 12:19 pm

I would say something witty and biting but I’m laughing too hard. This is a nut. It would seem, at least on the surface, that except for his ideas about religion, he is doing everything that the Benedict Option is not supposed to do.

Remember, the roots of Western Civilization go back at least 10,000 years and maybe longer as the age keeps growing as we dig more stuff up. The Christian part is only 1500 years of that. There will be Western Civilization long after Christianity has gone the way of the Greek gods and the divinity of Pharoah. A few thousand years from now humans on an Imperial outpost on a world circling a far star will no doubt be speculating as to the ending of the Cosimanian period (or whatever) and what is going to replace it. This is what we do.

That is how civilization works in the long term.

#18 Comment By DM On March 20, 2017 @ 12:31 pm

I found I could agree with much of the Dark Mountain Manifesto, but not its assertion that man is not unique. Yes, we need to look at nature in a new, more sympathetic way, but seeing man as just another animal always ends up in the desire to see the herd culled.
It quotes that misanthropist creep Robinson Jeffers way too much to be healthy.

#19 Comment By Nancy E. Head On March 20, 2017 @ 12:36 pm

There are three pieces to the Christian Church. The vibrantly ministering Church, the corrupt church seeking self, money, and influence (a false church, which is the only one some can see), and the sleeping Church–Laodicia.

Time to wake up!

#20 Comment By Hound of Ulster On March 20, 2017 @ 12:36 pm

Economic/ecological collapse that is coming down the pipe in about a century’s time is the reason I support Rod’s BenOp proposal. Everything remotely political looks rather academic when a billion people are starving to death.

I find it…interesting that the same people who yell about having prayer in public school lose it when a group of students who aren’t Christian ask for that accommodation. And then wonder why liberals don’t take socon claims about religious liberty seriously.

#21 Comment By minimammal On March 20, 2017 @ 12:38 pm

A good, slender book related to ecological and civilizational collapse is Learning to Die in the Anthropocene by Roy Scranton. His argument is virtually the same as the Dark Mountain Project’s, that there’s no activist, political, or economic solution to ecological collapse; it is something we simply must accept. He gives a sort of Benedict Option-y strategy for riding out this collapse: he says that we can learn from and be enriched by the classics and great works of Western literature, as those works confront and explore the same timeless trials and tragedies of the human condition which we are now experiencing at a global scale. He also stresses the importance of preserving these priceless cultural memories that they may continue to inform & inspire the human race, if it survives the current epoch named for it. It’s ironic how similar in theme his book is to the Benedict Option, even though he never mentions religion (a major error on his part) and sees the primary threat to Western civilization being environmental destruction as opposed to cultural decline. It seems that everyone at every point of the political spectrum sees the writing on the wall. We are living in frightening times, indeed.

#22 Comment By Rob G On March 20, 2017 @ 12:49 pm

“What the Ben-Op seems to be calling for is what local congregations are for.”

Yep, as is made quite plain in the book…

“For us Lutheran Protestants, the Ben-Op is eerily similar not to monasteries, but to Donatism at worst and Puritanism at best.”

…which it doesn’t sound like you’ve read, as the BenOp is nothing like either, and if you had read it you’d know that.

Seriously, what’s with all the non-reading naysayers?

#23 Comment By Mister Pickwick On March 20, 2017 @ 1:07 pm

Some of us have long been both orthodox Christians and full-tilt environmentalists. I was active in the Evangelical “Creation Care” movement since the earliest days, and often felt more kinship with secular and even pagan greens than with fast food-addicted Christians who plastered fish stickers on their gas-guzzling SUVs.

My secular and pagan green friends joined me in appreciating Wendell Berry and Tolkien as well as C.S. Lewis’ critique of scientism. And often they were surprisingly open to the Biblical message about Creation Care.

I recall a fascinating debate that played out in CoEvolution Quarterly, a quirky journal of New Agey, deep green thought. A Catholic priest named Foley wrote an article in 1977 called “Who Cut Down the Sacred Tree?”. My recollection is that he argued that it was the Enlightenment and the Industrial Revolution that led to the cutting down of the pagans’ sacred groves in Europe (not Christianity, as had been the accusation from certain environmental historians and philosophers). Foley urged greens to consider the Christian tradition as an ally on environmental issues.

I’m still on the fence concerning the BenOp (waiting to read your book first, Rod). But if I do decide to support it, my vision for the BenOp will be deep green, and will involve cautious, strategic alliances with non-Christian greens on issues relating to environment, food, architecture, technology, transportation and agriculture.

#24 Comment By Major Wootton On March 20, 2017 @ 1:53 pm

As an adherent of the Lutheran Confessions, I wish Rich at 10:21 a.m. had written more clearly about what he thinks, in the Benedict Option as Rod has explained it, is incompatible with those Confessions. Rich writes, “What the Ben-Op seems to be calling for is what local congregations are for.” I think Rod has said more or less just this, more than once.

“Hospitals for sinners, mission posts for evangelism, and houses of true biblical worship and discipling” sounds close to the Ben Op understanding of the local church as I have understood Rod to be describing it.

Maybe Rich runs into a problem when he adds, to what I just quoted, “within established communities.” Rich seems to be referring, in his expression “established communities,” to neighborhoods, towns, and cities outside the local churches. It would have been good if he had spelled out more clearly what he meant here.

Rod has been arguing that, now and almost certainly increasingly so, the “established communities” will be antagonistic towards Christ’s Church. These “communities” are like the nations of Psalm 2, where the leaders take counsel together against the Lord and His Anointed, saying “Let us break Their bonds in pieces and cast away Their cords from us.”

Isn’t it obvious that that agenda is what propels much activity of law, education, arts, commerce, etc. today?

The Benedict Option takes seriously the situation we are in and says that we Lutherans for this moment and other Christians would be well advised to rededicate ourselves to Word, Sacrament, prayer, fellowship of the brethren, etc.

Rich seems unduly spooked about “monasticism” to me.

Let me suggest to Rich that a Benedict Option alertness is compatible with Lutheran classic thinking as in Koberle’s The Quest for Holiness, etc. and other exempla of our heritage -cf. Grundtvig’s “Built on the Rock, the Church Doth Stand.”

#25 Comment By Major Wootton On March 20, 2017 @ 2:02 pm

Further to Rich at 10:21 a.m. and to other adherents of the Lutheran Confessions (and other interested persons):

Get hold of LCMS pastor Frederic Baue’s The Spiritual Society, which works with Pitirim Sorokin’s thought (which Rod has discussed here) and our Lutheran convictions in outlining a probable social trajectory and what we need to do in response.

Okay, Rich: I have recommended some Lutheran sources that I believe are Ben Op compatible. If you are convinced that you understand what Rod means by the Ben Op and that it is incompatible with adherence to the Lutheran Confessions, please explain.

#26 Comment By Major Wootton On March 20, 2017 @ 2:55 pm

Still further to Lutheran Rich at 10:21 a.m., to other adherents of the Lutheran Confessions, and to anyone else interested:

Luther said: “I would advise no one to send his child where the Holy Scriptures are not supreme. Every institution that does not unceasingly pursue the study of God’s word becomes corrupt. Because of this we can see what kind of people they become in the universities and what they are like now. Nobody is to blame for this except the pope, the bishops, and the prelates, who are all charged with training young people. The universities only ought to turn out men who are experts in the Holy Scriptures, men who can become bishops and priests, and stand in the front line against heretics, the devil, and all the world. But where do you find that? I greatly fear that the universities, unless they teach the Holy Scriptures diligently and impress them on the young students, are wide gates to hell.”

To the Christian Nobility of the German States (1520), Luther’s Works, vol. 44 : The Christian in Society I, page 207

Luther was looking at a situation in which parents were confronted by a society organized against the Gospel. If “existing communities” oppose the truth of God’s Word, what is to be done? Rod’s remarks on the Benedict Option provide many seed-thoughts for our consideration as we try to answer that.

Conversely, I don’t think your remarks about Eastern Orthodox “romanticism” were, as they stood, very helpful to us.

#27 Comment By forty-two On March 20, 2017 @ 3:02 pm

@Rich

Confessional Lutheran here, too. I haven’t finished TBO yet, but from what I’ve read so far, it’s seemed to me that Dreher is conflating two related but separate things in how he frames the BenOp. One side of the BenOp coin is to do with how the church can best be the church. Dreher is sounding the alarm about how the church has been far more corrupted by the world than she thinks and because of that has quit being the church in many ways. To become again the church she should always have been, she needs to take a giant step back from the culture – to quit treating the culture as a (potential) partner in raising up Christians (if only we could regain it for Christ), but instead have the church separate from her cozy dependence on the wider culture to form moral citizens and commit to forming Christians herself, with her own resources, so she is no longer dependent on the wider culture’s moral formation for her survival. It sounds like you would agree partially with the diagnosis here – that the church has indeed become syncretized with the worldly culture, and because of that she is failing to be the church – if not the prescription (for the church to disentangle herself from her dependence on the culture’s moral formation as the foundation for her Christian teaching). For my part, I agree with both the description and prescription here – that the church has been significantly syncretized, and that to overcome that, the church needs to both take a step back from the world’s moral formation (delivered via culture) *and* has to use that space to proactively and positively do some Christian formation, including Christian moral formation (we *are* expected to actually *follow* God’s Law as Christians; teaching how to handle our sinful-yet-inevitable failure is a major part of forming Christians). And I’m definitely including confessional Lutheranism in the problem – we’ve allied ourselves with secularized Lutheranism (Forde et. al.) over against trying-not-to-be-secular evangelicals, and have secularized ourselves in the name of resisting pietism. Fortunately there’s a growing awareness of this in my circles.

The other side of the BenOp coin is to do with how the church can best relate to a wider culture that is arguably dying, and is definitely passively hostile (and occasionally actively hostile) toward Christianity. I think of it as the question of how can Christians best work toward Augustine’s “peace of Babylon”? Dreher’s BenOp is arguing, per MacIntyre, that the time has come for men and women of good will to disentangle “working for the peace of Babylon” (a Christian duty) from “shoring up the [American] imperium”. Aka, it’s time to give up on fixing the faltering American institutions and instead build new ones. And, yes, I definitely see this as *one* way to fulfill the Christian duty to work for the good of our neighbors, as opposed to *the* way to work for the good of our neighbors. (And arguably Dreher would agree, as TBO’s subtitle is *a* Christian strategy, not *the* Christian strategy.). And I am personally hesitant to go here, I am not ready to give up yet – because people giving up can actually *cause* (or accelerate, or worsen) the fall. But just as homeschoolers can also work to improve public education, BenOp’ers can work to build new institutions for ourselves and our families and churches and local communities – aka not subject ourselves to the failures of the current institutions – while still desiring and working toward the improvement of those failing institutions. But I understand those who are opting out entirely, and are working for the good of their communities outside our current faltering institutions, as Dreher advocates.

Anyway, that’s how I’ve been thinking of the BenOp: I separate out the church’s “strategic withdrawal” from the culture to make space to form Christians who can stand counter culturally when the faith calls for it (which I very much agree with) from Christians-as-citizens’ “strategic withdrawal” from the culture to make space to form better citizens and a better society, for the benefit of all, bearing in mind the limited nature of what can be achieved in this sinful world – no goals of building heaven on earth or anything like that. (I think there’s a lot to be said for this, too, but for me it’s secondary in all respects to the first goal of helping the church better be the church.)

#28 Comment By AnnieD On March 20, 2017 @ 3:52 pm

I was going to suggest the movie “Captain Fantastic,” too, but Priest Raphael beat me to it. So I’ll second his recommendation. A viewer may likely think the movie is going to go in any of a few predictable, possibly opposing, directions, but I’m pretty sure everyone will find their expectations, from any direction, upended. A very thoughtfully done film.

#29 Comment By l’autre J On March 20, 2017 @ 3:55 pm

Charles Cosimano, another twit for your consumption.

“It is a talent of the weak to persuade themselves that they suffer for something when they suffer from something; that they are showing the way when they are running away; that they see the light when they feel the heat; that they are chosen when they are shunned.” — Eric Hoffer

“In a time of drastic change it is the learners who inherit the future. The learned usually find themselves equipped to live in a world that no longer exists.” — Eric Hoffer

#30 Comment By Fran Macadam On March 20, 2017 @ 4:13 pm

If only the Empire could collapse, but leave civilization standing. In some way, I think the various strategies that are contiguous with Rod’s “Benedict Option” will be just that – as widely as possible, but if necessary, as small as it takes to make that stand.

#31 Comment By Fran Macadam On March 20, 2017 @ 4:21 pm

“the orgasm at home and napalm abroad”

I may be more Canadian than I believed. It is true that Canadians have been remarkable in their succinct summations of the American scene, helped by close proximity of observation and common culture, while too often using that as an excuse to obfuscate their own considerable provincial shortcomings. Which are now mostly the same, right down to the sexual obsessions at home and profiting from imperial military misadventures abroad.

#32 Comment By Philly guy On March 20, 2017 @ 4:23 pm

“History recalls how great the fall can be”- Rodger Hogson. Well… if you want to quote lyrics you should mention the title of the piece “Fools Overture”.

#33 Comment By at the soundcheck On March 20, 2017 @ 4:34 pm

Ken Paxton and Kim Davis were both wrong. Intelligent Christians get it. Christians whose children attend public schools must be the ones to keep church and state separate. No one else will do it. Not the progressives, not the homeschoolers, not the Muslims, not the Jews. Your homeschooled kid could get a prestigious law degree but she will be outnumbered by the time she runs for election.

#34 Comment By Ken Zaretzke On March 20, 2017 @ 4:50 pm

Another thing is the impending destruction of conservatism, as a political belief system, because of conservative denialism about global warming. This may happen generations before the planetary apocalypse actually arrives. Anarchism might end up being the reigning political philosophy during the final decades of the “long emergency.”

#35 Comment By JonF On March 20, 2017 @ 4:59 pm

Re: His argument is virtually the same as the Dark Mountain Project’s, that there’s no activist, political, or economic solution to ecological collapse

Yes, of course, everything fails that is unattempted.

#36 Comment By dave On March 20, 2017 @ 7:08 pm

Thanks for the link.

#37 Comment By Rich On March 20, 2017 @ 8:09 pm

Forty Two- you understood my post. Thank you and I agree with you. Both the diagnosis and prescription are true. To put a fine point on it- many of us who disagree with the Ben-Op are not disagreeing with those two categories. We are in disagreement with the HOW of the prescription and the assumptions made about us who disagree. My point was also not about the Lutheran confessions, that was just my full disclosure of personal standpoint. My concern is for the lack of biblical directive for the given specific hows of the prescription and that the option is being conflated with the congregation’s vocation. Calling the church to be the church is one thing, calling the church to become some form of institutionally separated community outside of the church walls is another. If that is a distinction without a difference then we need to stop calling this the ben-op and just call it what is- Christians called to care more about living our faith rather than taking the christian name and mixing it with all things cultural. That’s not ben-op, that’s scripture.

#38 Comment By Mr Macho On March 20, 2017 @ 9:03 pm

Rod and Kingsnorth are going to be heartbroken in about 30 years, when they realize liberal democracy and capitalism are still hanging in there, and that the Apocalypse isn’t any closer.

#39 Comment By Curious Reader On March 20, 2017 @ 11:02 pm

DM is right; the Dark Mountain people like Jeffers, who is a fundamentalist, almost a jihadist misanthrope, far too much. Anyone who could write “I’d sooner, except the penalties, kill a man than a hawk” is verging on certifiably loony. See

[10]

The Dark Mountain people need to read Czeslaw Milosz’ poem in reply to Jeffers and his ideas. And a lot of what they’re saying has been said, starting in the 1960s and 1970s, by Gary Snyder, in both his essays and his poems.

Basically, the DM people want to both privilege story, myth, while ignoring the fact that story is an outgrowth of human language and intellect, which appear to be unique to us. This does not at all mean we should be in our current relationship to the non-human world; but most traditional religious cultures would not countenance our modern attitudes to the non-human if they lived up to their central beliefs in a serious way. The DM people ignore the inconvenient fact that if we’re all just stuff, inert matter variously organized, then modernity’s arrogance is more justified, not less, than in the case of human difference as conceived by the major religious traditions.

Finally, the DM people ignore the inconvenient fact that we do have a different position in the cosmos than does any other animal. Ours is a central position, a priestly one, which requires humility, not exploitation.

Another poem by a poet that they ought to read: Edwin Muir (who grew up in a time warp in the Orkneys in Scotland) wrote this one:

[11]

There’s far, far too much intellectual and spiritual sloppiness in the parts of the site I’ve read, despite my very, very real agreement with them in many ways.

#40 Comment By Christoph Allin On March 21, 2017 @ 8:15 am

‘Remember, the roots of Western Civilization go back at least 10,000 years and maybe longer as the age keeps growing as we dig more stuff up. The Christian part is only 1500 years of that. There will be Western Civilization long after Christianity has gone the way of the Greek gods and the divinity of Pharoah. A few thousand years from now humans on an Imperial outpost on a world circling a far star will no doubt be speculating as to the ending of the Cosimanian period (or whatever) and what is going to replace it. This is what we do.

That is how civilization works in the long term.’

Uncle Chuckie speaks the truth.

#41 Comment By Matt On March 21, 2017 @ 8:49 am

“but we do not have His promise that the gates of Hell will not prevail against His church in the West. That’s up to us. My book addresses the West. — RD”

Well so long as The Chair of Peter remains in the West, Christ’s promise remains in the West.

Theodore of Constantinople Writing to Pope Leo III:
Since to great Peter Christ our Lord gave the office of Chief Shepherd after entrusting him with the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven, to Peter or his successor must of necessity every novelty in the Catholic Church be referred. [Therefore], save us, oh most divine Head of Heads, Chief Shepherd of the Church of Heaven. (Theodore, Bk. I. Ep. 23)

#42 Comment By JonF On March 21, 2017 @ 1:09 pm

Re: Well so long as The Chair of Peter remains in the West, Christ’s promise remains in the West.

I would not count on that. The Papacy spent a human lifetime in Avignon in the Middle Ages. It’s not impossible that the Bishop of Rome might have to relocate somewhere else again.

#43 Comment By JonF On March 21, 2017 @ 1:12 pm

Re: There will be Western Civilization long after Christianity has gone the way of the Greek gods and the divinity of Pharoah.

I would predict the exact opposite: that Christianity will endure long after our civilization is something that is known only from history and archaeology. Ubi nunc gloriae Babylonae?

#44 Comment By Chris On March 21, 2017 @ 9:23 pm

Thank you for this. As reader of Dark Mountain for a few years now, I think the excerpts you share do justice to DM’s intent.

Ross’s characterization of DM as “dystopian” is off. Kingsnorth: “I’d make an important distinction between “the end of the world” and the end of the way we’re living now; it’s the latter that’s ending.” The end of the way we’re living now may or may not be dystopian. It will be what we make of it. I’d say the organizing theme of DM’s writing is how we prepare for and get ourselves through that transition. From a recent piece by DM co-founder Dougald Hine:

“The concept of liminality was first used to describe the structure of rituals… but its application as a term for thinking about modern societies is connected to the study of theatre and performance. The anthropologist who made the connection, Victor Turner, distinguished the ‘liminal’ experiences of tribal cultures – in which ritual is a collective process for navigating moments of change – from the ‘liminoid’ experiences available in modern societies, which resemble the liminal, but are choices we opt into as individuals, like a night out at the theatre. This distinction comes with a suggestion that true liminality, the collective entry into the liminal, is not available within a complex industrial society.

Now, perhaps this has been true – but here’s my next wild suggestion. The consequences of that very complex industrial society are now bringing us to a point where we get reacquainted with true liminality. To take seriously [the ecological and social crises we face] is to recognise that we now face a crisis which has no outside. The planetary scale of our predicament makes it as much a collective experience as anything faced by the tribal cultures studied by Turner and his colleagues.

If this is the case, then where within our existing cultures do we go for knowledge about how to navigate the terrain of liminality? Not to the sources of factual authority, much as we need them, but to the places where liminoid practices have endured – to the arts, especially those forms in which people gather and share a live experience, and also (Turner would tell us) to those traditions and institutions that deal with the sacred.

…Art can hold a space in which we move from the arm’s-length knowledge of facts, figures and projections, to the kind of knowledge that we let inside us, taking the risk that it may change us. Art can give us just enough beauty to stay with the darkness, rather than flee or shut down. Like the bronze shield given to Perseus by Athena, art and its indirect ways of knowing can allow us to approach realities which, if looked at directly, turn something inside us to stone. Art can call us back from strategic calculations about which message will play best with which target group, insisting on the tricky need for honesty – there’s a line I kept coming back to, from the playwright Mark Ravenhill, that your responsibility when you walk on stage is to be ‘the most truthful person in the room’. Art can teach us to live with uncertainty, to let go of our dreams of control. And art can hold open a space of ambiguity, refusing the binary choices with which we are often presented – not least, the choice between forced optimism and simple despair.

These are strange answers. For anyone in search of solutions, they will sound unsatisfying. But I don’t think it’s possible to endure the knowledge of the crises we face, unless you are able to draw on this other kind of knowledge and practice, whether you find it in art or religion or any other domain in which people have taken the liminal seriously, generation after generation. Because the role of ritual is not just to get you into the liminal, but to give you a chance of finding your way back.

Among the messages of the liminal is that endings are also beginnings, that sometimes we need to ‘give up’, that despair is not a thing to be avoided at all costs – nor a thing to be mistaken for an end state.”

[end quote of Hine’s piece – [12]

Where Hine focuses on art others may focus on religion.

DM resonates more with me than the Benedict Option* but perhaps we share some common ground. “Birkenstock Burkeans” suggested we have some.

*With the admission that I have not read the book, Elizabeth Stoker Bruenig’s review captures my reservations.

#45 Comment By Kansan On March 22, 2017 @ 2:21 pm

Re Mr Macho, “Rod and Kingsnorth are going to be heartbroken in about 30 years, when they realize liberal democracy and capitalism are still hanging in there, and that the Apocalypse isn’t any closer.”

Not quite sure that’s what Kingsnorth indicates: “Even if all that stuff doesn’t fall apart in their lifetime, which it might well, it’s a powerless way to live. You end up making yourself a slave. You are completely dependent on this destructive world-spanning machine, and you are not fully human. I want them to be fully human. So it’s an insurance policy but it’s also just a way of living. And it’s enjoyable.”

Rod, glad you are giving Kingsnorth more attention. Some good cross-pollination here.