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What Would Jeremiah Do?

In his 1981 classic After Virtue, Notre Dame philosophy professor Alasdair MacIntyre offers a provocative diagnosis of the modern condition. Rejecting the assumption that secular modernity is the culmination of centuries of improvement, MacIntyre contends that we live amidst the ruins of Western civilization.

There can be no restoration of the past. Even so, MacIntyre urges readers to take their bearings from a previous experience of loss by pursuing “local forms of community within which civility and the intellectual and moral life can be sustained through the new dark ages which are already upon us.” As he puts it in a famous sentence, “We are waiting not for a Godot, but for another—doubtless very different—St. Benedict.”

Benedict is considered the founder of the monasteries from which Christian Europe would eventually emerge. MacIntyre does not claim to be a successor to Benedict. But his suggestion that civilization can be preserved only by dropping out of modern life has become influential among conservatives with traditional religious commitments.

Rod Dreher has summarized the “Benedict Option” [1] as “communal withdrawal from the mainstream, for the sake of sheltering one’s faith and family from corrosive modernity and cultivating a more traditional way of life.” And small but vibrant communities around the country are already putting the Benedict Option into practice. Without being rigorously separatist, these communities do aim to be separate. Some merely avoid morally subversive cultural influences, while others seek physical distance from mainstream society in rural isolation.

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But a neo-Benedictine way of life involves risks. Communal withdrawal can construct a barrier against the worst facets of modern life—the intertwined commodification of personal relationships, loss of meaningful work to bureaucratic management, and pornographic popular culture—yet it can also lead to isolation from the stimulating opposition that all traditions need to avoid stagnation.

American religious history offers a clear example of this danger. Between World War I and the 1970s, conservative Protestants pursued strategies of withdrawal that impoverished their intellectual and cultural lives in ways that have they have only recently begun to remedy. In MacIntyre’s telling, the Benedict Option is a detour that leads back into the center of history as civilization eventually re-emerges from its refuges. But it can just easily become a dead end.

The Benedict Option is not the only means of spiritual and cultural survival, however. As a Catholic, MacIntyre searches for models in the history of Western Christendom. The Hebrew Bible and Jewish history suggest a different strategy, according to which exiles plant roots within and work for the improvement of the society in which they live, even if they never fully join it.

This strategy lacks the historical drama attached to the Benedict Option. It promises no triumphant restoration of virtue, in which values preserved like treasures can be restored to their original public role. But the Jews know a lot about balancing alienation from the mainstream with participation in the broader society. Perhaps they can offer inspiration not only to Christians in the ruins of Christendom but also to a secular society that draws strength from the participation of religiously committed people and communities. Call it the Jeremiah Option.

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On March 16, 597 BC, the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar sacked Jerusalem after a long siege. In addition to the riches of the city and Temple, he claimed as spoils of war thousands of Judeans, including the king and court. Many of the captive Judeans were settled on tributaries of the Euphrates, which inspired the words of Psalm 137: “By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down, yea, we wept, when we remembered Zion.”

The Judeans had reason to weep. In addition to the shame of defeat, few had direct experience of foreign cultures. The language and customs of their captors were alien and in some ways—particularly the practice of idolatry—abhorrent. More importantly, the captives could no longer practice their own religion. Banned by ritual law from making sacrifices outside the Promised Land, the exiles were unable to engage in public worship.

Under these circumstances, two ways of dealing with Babylonian society presented themselves. First, the exiles could accommodate themselves to the norms of the victors. They could learn Aramaic and adopt local manners. But this would mean the loss of their national and religious identities. In becoming honorary Babylonians, they would forfeit their status as God’s chosen people. On the other hand, the captives could resist. Taken from their homes by force, they might use force to get back again. Proposals for resistance behind enemy lines were seriously considered. In fact, several Judean leaders seem to have been executed for subversive plotting.

But any military campaign was doomed to failure. The empire was too strong to overthrow or escape. So how should its prisoners conduct themselves? How should they live in a society that they could not fully join without giving up their fundamental commitments?

The question was important enough to attract the attention of God himself. Speaking through the prophet Jeremiah, who remained back in Jerusalem, the Lord commanded the captives to steer a course between extremes of assimilation and violent resistance. In his famous letter to the leaders of the Judean community, Jeremiah reports God’s orders as follows:

Thus saith the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, unto all that are carried away captives, whom I have caused to be carried away from Jerusalem unto Babylon; build ye houses, and dwell in them; and plant gardens, and eat the fruit of them; take ye wives, and beget sons and daughters; and take wives for your sons, and give your daughters to husbands, that they may bear sons and daughters; that ye may be increased there, and not diminished. And seek the peace of the city whither I have caused you to be carried away captives, and pray unto the Lord for it: for in the peace thereof shall ye have peace.
(Jeremiah 29:4-7)

What is God saying? In the first place, he insists that the captives unpack their bags and get comfortable. True, God goes on to promise to redeem the captives in 70 years. But this can be interpreted to mean that none of the exiles then living would ever see their homes again. After all, the span that the Bible allots to a human life is threescore years and 10.

So the captives are to await redemption in God’s time rather than seeking to achieve it by human means. But this does not mean that that they are to keep their distance from Babylonian society until the promised day arrives. On the contrary, God commands them to “seek the peace of the city whither I have caused you to be carried away captives, and pray unto the Lord for it: for in the peace thereof shall ye have peace.”

“Peace” could be read as the absence of conflict. But this doesn’t fully express God’s directive. In the Hebrew Bible and Jewish tradition more broadly, peace refers to flourishing and right order. What God is saying is that the exiles cannot prosper unless their neighbors do as well. For the time they are together, they must enjoy the blessings of peace in common.

By what means are these blessings to be secured? The reference to prayer suggests that God wants the Judeans to promote peace by spiritual means. But that is not all. God also enjoins the Judeans to promote the common good by means of ordinary life. His very first instruction is to build houses. In other words, the Judeans are to conduct themselves like long-term residents—if also resident aliens.

Reinforcing the point that captivity is for the long haul, God reminds the captives that the dwellings they are to build are not for themselves alone. Instead, they must shelter generations of children and grandchildren, multiplying the community. God’s plan is for expansion and growth, not marginal existence.

The emphasis on securing peace through ordinary life does not absolve the exiles of their responsibility to remain holy. But theirs is to be a holiness based on upright life rather than the independence of a homogeneous community. Reassuring those who feared that they could not continue their relationship with God in exile, God explains, “ye shall seek me, and find me, when ye shall search for me with all your heart.” The Babylonian captivity is thus the origin of Judaism as a law-based religion that can be practiced anywhere, rather than a sacrificial cult focused on the sacred temple.

The piety that God encourages, therefore, can be practiced by ordinary people living ordinary lives under difficult circumstances. God enjoins the captives not only to live in Babylon, but also to live in partnership with Babylon. Without assimilating, they are to lay down roots, multiply, and contribute to the good of the greater society.

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The Babylonian captives addressed by Jeremiah bear comparison to the traditionalist dissenters in MacIntyre’s stylized history. Both groups are minorities. Both are prisoners of empires that are unwilling or unable to support their moral and religious commitments. Yet both know that violence is an unacceptable means to achieve their communal goals. It would not work—and more importantly, it offends God.

Where Jeremiah counsels engagement without assimilation, Benedict represents the possibility of withdrawal. The former goal is to be achieved by the pursuit of ordinary life: the establishment of homes, the foundation of families, all amid the wider culture. The latter is to be achieved by the establishment of special communities governed by a heightened standard of holiness.

Although it can be interpreted as a prophecy of doom, the Jeremiah Option is fundamentally optimistic. It suggests that the captives can and should lead fulfilling lives even in exile. The Benedict Option is more pessimistic. It suggests that mainstream society is basically intolerable, and that those who yearn for decent lives should have as little to do with it as possible. MacIntyre is careful to point out that the new St. Benedict would have to be very different from the original and might not demand rigorous separation. Even so, his outlook remains bleak.

MacIntyre’s pessimism conceals what can almost be called an element of imperialism—at least when considered in historical perspective. Embedded in his hope for a new monasticism is the dream of a restoration of tradition. The monks of the dark ages had no way of knowing that they would lay the foundation of a new Europe. But MacIntyre is well aware of the role that they played in the construction of a fresh European civilization—and subtly encourages readers to hope for a repetition.

Jeremiah’s message to the captives is not devoid of grandiose hopes: the prophet assures them that they or their progeny will ultimately be redeemed. But this does not require the spiritual or cultural conversion of the Babylonians.

The comparison between the options represented by Jeremiah and by Benedict has some interest as an exercise in theologico-political theorizing. But it is much more important as a way of getting at a central problem for members of traditional religious and moral communities today. How should they conduct themselves in a society that seems increasingly hostile to their values and practices? Can they in good conscience seek the peace of a corrupt and corrupting society?

In the 2013 Erasmus Lecture sponsored by First Things [2], Jonathan Sacks, the former chief rabbi of the United Kingdom’s United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth, took up this question with specific reference to Jeremiah. Rejecting Jeremiah’s reputation as a prophet of doom, Sacks argued that Jeremiah’s letter to the exiles fundamentally expresses a message of hope. Despite their uncomfortable situation, the captives are not to resist or separate themselves from Babylonian society. Rather, they are to pursue the fulfillments of ordinary life, practice holiness, and work and pray for the prosperity of the society in which God placed them.

As Sacks pointed out, this pattern has governed much of Jewish history in the diaspora. Between the destruction of the second Temple in AD 70 and the foundation of the State of Israel in 1948, nearly all Jews have found themselves in a condition comparable to that of the Babylonian captives. A small and often despised minority, they have nevertheless taken to heart God’s insistence that their peace depend on the peace of their captors.

This is not a solution to all problems of communal survival, however. The appeal of assimilation has been considerable. Descendants of the captives often took Babylonian names and adopted Aramaic. In modern times, many Jews have not only modified religious practice but rejected Jewish identity altogether. Recent surveys show that Jewishness in America is seriously endangered by indifference and intermarriage. So advocates of more rigorous separation have a point.

Nevertheless, there may be lessons in Jeremiah and Jewish history for Christians and others concerned about their place in modern society. These can be sketched by three ideas.

First, internal exiles should resist the temptation to categorically reject the mainstream. That does not mean avoiding criticism. But it must be criticism in the spirit of common peace rather than condemnation. Jeremiah is famous as the etymological root of the jeremiad. Yet his most scathing criticisms are directed against his own people who have failed in their special calling of righteousness, not the “mainstream” culture.

Second, Jeremiah offers a lesson about the organization of space. Even though they were settled as self-governing towns outside Babylon itself, God encourages the captives to conduct themselves as residents of that city, which implies physical integration. There need be no flight to the hinterlands. Web issue image [3]

Finally, Jewish tradition provides a counterpoint to the dream of restoring sacred authority. At least in the diaspora, Jews have demanded the right to live as Jews—but not the imposition of Jewish law or practices on others. MacIntyre evokes historical memories of Christendom that are deeply provocative to many good people, including Jews. The Jeremiah option, on the other hand, represents a commitment to pluralism: the only serious possibility in a secular age like ours.

I offer these arguments against communal withdrawal from a somewhat idiosyncratic motive. An heir to the Jewish diaspora, I am a relatively comfortable inhabitant of secular modernity. By what right do I counsel people whose first loyalty is to God?

The answer is: self-interest. While not a member of traditional religious community myself, I am convinced that the rest of society is immeasurably enriched by the presence of such communities in political, cultural, and intellectual life. So while I do fear that practices of separation will be bad for those communities themselves—as the fundamentalist experience of the last century indicates—I am certain that they will be bad for the rest of us. If demanding, traditional forms of religion disappear from mainstream culture, that culture may actually become the caricature of a destitute age on which MacIntyre builds his analysis.

At the same time, it would be cynical to offer a merely instrumental argument for the continued engagement of religious communities with secular society. Although not very observant myself, I found Jeremiah’s letter to the exiles helpful in thinking through this problem. God reminds the captives that they will find peace only in the peace of the Babylonians, that they are to promote the good of the rest of society as well as their own. The Jeremiah Option gives me reason to hope that Jews, Christians, and the rest of us can find peace together.

Samuel Goldman’s work has appeared in The New Criterion, The Wall Street Journal, and Maximumrocknroll.

27 Comments (Open | Close)

27 Comments To "What Would Jeremiah Do?"

#1 Comment By LarryS On August 13, 2014 @ 10:16 am

The Jeremiah Option and the Benedict Option are not mutually exclusive. Conservative Christians are not forming isolated separate communities. We live and work in the mainstream culture.

The Judeans have never assimilated but have maintained their identity wherever they lived. Their success has been a result of deliberate ethnocentrism.
Good for them.

All ethnic and racial groups are encouraged to practice ethnocentrism except white Christians. That’s OK. Jesus said to let the wheat and tares continue to grow together until “the harvest.”

#2 Comment By Uland On August 13, 2014 @ 10:20 am

I’d argue that the Benedict option is much more like the Jeremiah option than what the author seems to propose.The key similarity lies in marriage/reproduction. Explicit in Gods revelation to Jeremiah is to avoid miscegenation. Who – a Benedictine or a Jeremiahn- is more likely to marry & reproduce within a tradition? Given what we know of modernity, which approach will more likely result in the continuation of a distinct people? It seems to me that Benedictines do in fact make themselves comfortable in Babylon; they seek the same sort of distance Jews enjoyed, but through different means, while (usually) keeping their day jobs. Making ourselves comfortable without an explicit appeal to that distance will result in absorption so similar to what we’ve observed in Christian culture throughout modernity it won’t exist beyond a learned, pragmatic-seeming affectation.

#3 Comment By cornel lencar On August 13, 2014 @ 11:15 am

Nice.

#4 Comment By .philadelphialawyer On August 13, 2014 @ 11:20 am

Perhaps it is time we put the “Benedict Option” to rest, as a matter of history, before considering alternatives to it.

Benedict and the early monastery movement did NOT come at a time when Christianity in general was in retreat, when Christianity was supposedly being destroyed in the mainstream of society. Quite the contrary, Christianity, which had long been the official religion of the Roman Empire, East and West, was fully engaged in a struggle spanning three continents for religious supremacy, and it was wining. Paganism and Arianism and other religions were on the decline in the metropolitan centers and were retreating to the periphery and to the hinterlands. In addition to monasteries there were bishops, arch bishops, priests, deacons and so on. There were Christian communities in every region, in every city and town of the old Roman world. And they were sending missionaries to places outside that world (Ireland, Scandinavia, eastern Germany, etc). Christianity was vibrant, growing and conquering new lands (often starting by converting the royalty, aristocracy and other powerful people in kingdom after kingdom).

Moreover, that world, the Roman world, “Western civilization,” if you will, had NOT sunk without a trace into “barbarism.” Scholars today do not use the term “Dark Ages.” And they have discovered that the Germanic groups, far from being mere “barbarian tribes,” were folks who wanted to share in the Roman heritage of settled agriculture and law and order. That is why they migrated, for the most part, NOT to sack, pillage, rape and destroy. And the newly formed “barbarian” kingdoms (which, rather than the Benedictine monasteries, are the real foundations of Western European civilization), continued with Roman law and practice, almost without missing a beat.

Of course, the monasteries themselves were not hermetically or otherwise sealed from mainstream society. They were part of a growing, confident religion, which was becoming dominant over a wide swath of territory. And they worked with the bishops, arch bishops and so on, and the secular authorities, as opposed to against or even apart from them. The monks themselves, obviously, did not come from the monasteries, as celibacy rules forced them to constantly bring in “new blood” from the surrounding world. And, in many cases, the monasteries, if not directly supported by the church as a whole, were given villages, with farmlands, pastures, forests, etc to rule over as lords (much like aristocrats), the proceeds of which funded the monastery’s existence. In other words, the monks themselves became (eventually) feudal landowners, and far from being separate from the society that surrounded them, played a more or less standard, administrative and executive role in it (that of lord over peasants, who worked, at least in part, for their gain). As such, the monks not only were in an economic relation with these serfs, but also exercised what we would call judicial and police authority over them as well. Which, again, points out just how far from being alone on their mountaintops the monks were. Furthermore, the tradition of hermitage, of real withdrawal from the world, is an Eastern one, and never really became popular in Western Europe.

Dominant groups can form institutions like monasteries, and be sure of their safety, because the surrounding environment is controlled by the dominant group. Thus, far from being some sort of lonely outposts, carefully hiding from the alleged “chaos” that surrounded them, the monasteries were well known institutions approved by the secular and religious authorities that ran the country generally.

The Jeremiah option, as presented here, makes more sense, if one truly believes that one’s way of life is endangered by mainstream society, and one does NOT control it. With current technology, transportation, communication, military, etc, a minority group really can’t just pick up and head to the boonies, and hope to escape the dominant authorities, a move that the Mormons more or less managed to pull off in the USA in the 1800’s. And attempts to build sealed off communities in the midst of the dominant culture seemed doomed to failure. Rather, as the article suggests, traditional Christians might do better by engaging with the world, and keeping to their traditional practices as much as possible. Try to live among folks who agree with you, but don’t strive for total separation. And, yeah, maybe give up the idea of restoring dominance and settle for pluralism.

#5 Comment By Dylan On August 13, 2014 @ 2:07 pm

This is wonderful. Thank you. I wrote a response to Dreher’s Benedict Option last February ( [4]), but I think I like yours even better.

#6 Comment By Quentin On August 13, 2014 @ 2:15 pm

Great article. I struggle with these ideas regularly. Another interesting point about the Babylonian captivity is that it is probable that Daniel served in Nebuchadnezzar’s cabinet during the Babylonian destruction of Jerusalem in 586 B.C.

#7 Comment By Chestertonian On August 13, 2014 @ 2:22 pm

Samuel:

Thanks for the thoughtful article, and I’m glad you referenced the precipitous decline of Judaism in the secular West, but that point emphatically refutes your argument here. If orthodox Judaism–which not only survived, but often thrived during the Diaspora–hasn’t been able to withstand the onslaught of secular modernity, why should Traditionalist Christians contemplating the “Benedict Option” reconsider based on the Jewish tradition? If anything, the current state of orthodox Judaism is a strong endorsement of separating oneself from the mainstream culture.

You mentioned that the “Jeremiah Option” represents a commitment to pluralism. Why should an orthodox Christian double down on such a principle when the barbarians in power, having successfully repaganized the culture, are becoming less and less inclined toward tolerance themselves?

#8 Comment By Margaret Kelly On August 13, 2014 @ 4:07 pm

I’m interested in how typical Benedictine integration-with-modernity practices differ by gender. I was educated by Benedictine-types and keep up with some of them online, and it appears to me that the women, who are more often (though not always) primarily homemakers, maintain a greater distance from mainstream secular culture. Their work is in the home, for the ends of the family and perhaps their neighbors, and their community is basically a Catholic community – other families, religious figures, children. The men, on the other hand, work alongside their secular peers and pursue ends other than their family (the good of their corporation, their political party, etc).

#9 Comment By Sam On August 13, 2014 @ 5:29 pm

The fact that parts of Western civilization were preserved by the monasteries was a happy accident of history. Reading the life of St. Benedict, it becomes clear that his goals in moving away from society are closer to those of the Desert Fathers than today’s Christians.

A more appropriate name for the Benedict Option would be the Benedictine Option… it’s his legacy that’s being imitated, not the man himself.

#10 Comment By Hetzer On August 13, 2014 @ 6:09 pm

@LarryS – which whites, and which Christians? Are you telling me an Italian and a Lithuanian are the same? A Catholic and a Calvinist?

#11 Comment By David Naas On August 13, 2014 @ 7:37 pm

The problem stated — how can Jews remain Jewish without the Temple, how can Christians remain Christian without Christendom?

It would be a mistake to use “lessons from history” in plotting an avenue of divorcement or engagement. History does not repeat itself; Clio does not stutter.

#12 Comment By John On August 13, 2014 @ 8:03 pm

I appreciate the reflections on these questions, but I suggest that before conclusions can be drawn, the relevant terms must be more fully defined or at least clarified. What, in precise terms, is meant by such phrases as ‘engaging the culture,’ ‘participation in the broader society,’ ‘separating,’ et cetera? (Obviously, answering this would involve making distinctions among different, concrete types of participation/separation.) Until this is clarified, no precise answers to these questions are possible.

Further, the notion of seeking the good (or ‘peace’) of the larger community is also ambiguous, because there are different modes in which this good can be pursued. MacIntyre’s point is not that the good of the larger community should be discarded, but that it often, in certain circumstances and certain arenas, might not be possible to pursue it by the same means, and by as direct a means, as was once possible.

#13 Comment By Anonymous On August 13, 2014 @ 8:49 pm

A really wonderful article and reminder that living an ordinary life, with our eyes on God, living a purposeful life while exercising “engagement without assimilation”…as salt and light, is what God wants for us and will bring glory to Him in a society that is “increasingly hostile to [our] values and practices.” Thank you. I can’t tell you how much this means to me.

#14 Comment By philadelphialawyer On August 14, 2014 @ 11:53 am

Chestertonian:

“You mentioned that the ‘Jeremiah Option’ represents a commitment to pluralism. Why should an orthodox Christian double down on such a principle when the barbarians in power, having successfully repaganized the culture, are becoming less and less inclined toward tolerance themselves?”

Because what else can a minority group realistically strive for? Orthodox Jews know that, outside of Israel, there is not even the possibility of their culture being dominant. Thus, it behooves them to champion pluralism. The opposite of pluralism would mean that the dominant culture would be trying to convert them, perhaps by force, or, at a minimum, trying to get them to change many of their cherished practices and traditions.

The whole notion (which, frankly, I think is overblown and overwrought, but that is besides the point) behind either “option” is that, yes, “the barbarians” (if you must) have “repaganized” (or, more generally, de Christianized) the dominant culture. (As an aside, weren’t the ancient Greeks, who coined the term “barbarian” to refer to everyone else, themselves pagan?)Christians are no longer in the drivers’ seats. So, any chance they had for calling the shots, for doing the deciding when it comes to what is the prevalent culture, and being intolerant to all who won’t go along, is gone. As with the Orthodox Jews, it thus behooves Christians, who, again the theory has it, are now a minority group, to champion pluralism.

Christians, to take the idea further, are now like Jews generally (not just Orthodox Jews) in American and Western society. And, like the Jews over the centuries, it now makes sense for Christians to champion minority rights generally. Christians, as a matter of strategy and survival, should be working in coalition with other “out” groups (as Jews worked with the African American Civil Rights Movement) to ensure fair treatment of all minorities.

Precisely because, again, according to the theory we are operating under, the “pagans” and “barbarians” are now the majority, Christians had better be calling for pluralism, and trying to make the institutions, doctrines, practices, etc that ensure it stronger, now that it is the pagan barbarians’ turn, if they choose to take it, to act the role of intolerant majority.

#15 Comment By Pasha On August 14, 2014 @ 3:40 pm

I think McIntyre gets misrepresented in these discussions of the Benedict Option.

“After Virtue” is not about how Christians can maintain their culture and moral bearings in an increasingly pagan age. Rather, the book is about virtue ethics and how the Enlightenment’s shift to emotivism destroyed the ability to rationally discuss ethics. In addition, McIntyre spends some time on the post-enlightenment adoption of the virtues of Max Weber’s bureaucratic worldview.

The comment about St. Benedict at the end of the book seems simply to mean that we can’t undo the Enlightenment, but given the right leaders we can re-construct communities where teleology allows for meaningful, virtue-oriented moral discourse. It really has little to do with Christians hiding away from the culture’s continuous decline.

That’s not to say that “The Benedict Option” as it’s been developed by Rod Dreher is a bad idea. It just has little to do with McIntyre’s thought on morality and ethics.

#16 Comment By philadelphialawyer On August 14, 2014 @ 5:55 pm

Pasha:

“…given the right leaders we can re-construct communities where teleology allows for meaningful, virtue-oriented moral discourse..”

I’ll bet those will be fun towns to spend a Saturday night in!

#17 Comment By Aharon Michael ben Chuna HaLevi On August 15, 2014 @ 8:18 am

Excellent article and exposition of the “philosophical” Jeremiah with references to solid Jewish history as it relates to the issue of alienation and community. Since I am a member of the Orthodox Jewish community, I would add a few nuances. Jeremiah was commanded by G-d to teach the people to survive – for a better future, a redeemed future – to survive and thrive. Jews were called upon to live a better way, and thereby be a “light unto the nations”. G-d did the rest. Would that all communities tried to do the same! Now, granting, age old and recurring international antisemitism often undercuts that message and effort by the Jewish community. It would and is opposed, in similar if less deadly fashion, by modernists of traditional Christians – since success by traditionalists represents a heresy for modernists, pagans and those who demean tradition (liberals). Such people feel threatened by both the success of traditionalists and the lack of success by modernists. That is why modern liberlism is taking on aspects of tyranny – telling the rest of us what we can eat, what to wear,what to think (political correctness), how to raise our kids, prohibiting private religious expression (at work, in school), opposing home or parochial schooling, rewriting national histories to fit political ideologies and in some extreme cases – legally banning (or trying to) ritual slaughter, circumscion or other traditional religious ideas (ex. San Francisco, some European nations). This requires all of us mutually supporting our common legal basis for our separate ways of life and developing a tolerance while we erect the effective, if not, impenetrable social barriers. I can support a Christian child reading his own bible in a public school, the right for all to home school their kids and would hope a Christian would support a Jewish right to ritual slaughter and circumscion in an ostensibly free country.

#18 Comment By N.D. On August 15, 2014 @ 9:31 am

With all due respect, God reminds captives that they will find peace only if they desire to live according to The Word of God. The answer is not self-interest because God Is Love. Love exists in relationship. From The Beginning, Marriage and The Family has been ordered to The Glory of God.

“Let Us Make man in Our Image”. – The Communion of Perfect Love, The Holy of Holies, The Blessed Trinity.

“As the family goes, so goes the Nation, and so goes the world in which we live.”

#19 Comment By Stefan Stackhouse On August 15, 2014 @ 9:46 am

How to be in the world but not of the world? That has been a basic issue with which Christians have always been trying to come to grips. It is up to Christians in each time and place to come up with their own fresh answer relevant to their own situation. The only thing that is clear is that to be entirely of the world or to be entirely out of the world are both unacceptable answers.

The Benedictine option is only really possible in societies what are at least not overly hostile toward Christians and Christianity. You simply don’t find monasteries in places that are hostile to Christianity, or at least very few of them. Note, also, that the monastics were very much aware of the “in the world but not of the world” challenge, and their answer was to balance their withdrawal from the world by sending missionaries out into the world.

It is pretty difficult to blend marriage and family life with intentional communities. That is a big reason why the monasteries were exclusively for single celibates. The Benedict option is thus impossible as a stand-alone option. Not only is it dependent upon a tolerant state, but also upon a wider society of co-religionists living “in the world” to raise up a population of replacement monastics as the old ones die off.

Constantinian Christendom has had a good run, but is probably going to prove to have been exceptional from a broad and global view of history. The Jeremiah option is pretty much what the Bible assumes to be SOP for Christians, and it has in fact been SOP for many Christians in many different times and places. What is really happening is that we are transitioning from what has been an abnormal situation into a more normal one.

Because living as a small, beleaguered minority has been so commonplace for so many Christians around the world, we could greatly benefit by learning from our brothers and sisters rather than thinking that we have to figure out how to do it for ourselves.

Rather than either withdrawal or assimilation, the option we should be taking is to become counter-cultural. Live in the midst of our ungodly society, but live differently, live godly.

#20 Comment By An Anachronistic Apostle On August 15, 2014 @ 2:47 pm

I consider it a dubious jump of logic to conclude that the instructions of the Lord … given to His servant Jeremiah for the benefit of preserving the chosen line which eventually whelped promised Messiah … necessarily constitute His advice for today’s Christians to follow.

Enjoin the Jeremiah Option if you will, sure; but don’t think this gambit has a Divine sanction. Unless Mr. Goldman is claiming to a direct, “Thus saith the Lord” inspiration from God, on this matter. Even then, I’d prefer for him to back up his assertion authority, by perhaps changing water into wine, restoring the sight of the congenitally blind, or walking on water.

Christ’s words concerning the devout wheat and the rascally tares hankering down together, are an observation of principle relevance to the state of the visible Church at large; and not to the world (or certainly heaven) as such. That is to say, expect to find some unrepentant and undermining rascals therein (inside the Church, that is). Don’t be sanctimoniously scandalized by this, in other words; the Boss is being descriptive of reality.

However, it is true: Christ was anything but hermetically sealed, in His taking on the world; He regularly mixed it up with sinners at meals, touched pariah lepers (and thence healed them), and was accordingly accused by His enemies as being immoderately bibulous.

Even St. Paul, with his scholarly and punctiliously Pharisaical training, engaged the world … strolling through agoras, examining idols up close (“Hmm … a pagan altar devoted ‘to the unknown god;’ well, that gives me some great sermon material”); willing to debate Athenian solons in matters transcendent, etc., etc..

#21 Comment By N.D. On August 15, 2014 @ 4:06 pm

Not every person is called to the Benedictine option; if we were all, by vocation, Benedictines, we would not be able to go and make disciples of all Nations.

#22 Comment By Chestertonian On August 15, 2014 @ 5:54 pm

@philadelphialawyer

I think you misconstrued the point of my comment. Goldman is arguing that orthodox Christians should remain embedded in secular mainstream culture because the Jews managed to do so successfully in many different nations over the last couple thousand years. But he doesn’t square that recommendation with the fact that secular modernity has basically wiped out orthodox Judaism in the West. Reform Judaism can hardly be called a religion. To the extent that orthodox Judaism persists, it is only in Benedictine-style communities which are insulated from the corrosive effect of our secular culture.

So when Goldman states that the Jeremiah Option represents a commitment to pluralism, my retort is, “And what state is orthodox Judaism in today as a result of that commitment?” As you’ve correctly noted, orthodox Christians are now a minority, and should have a new-found appreciation for pluralism. I certainly support it, though the technocratic elites who rule over us seem less and less committed to it with each passing day.

Regardless, if my choices are maintaining my faith in a community which consciously separates itself from our culture, or embracing “pluralism” and remaining embedded in that culture, then I’ll be choosing the former every time.

#23 Comment By John campbell On August 16, 2014 @ 11:57 pm

Thank you for posting this information. It is helpful to me in understanding my struggle with the culture as a Catholic, and my yearning for better unification with others, whether or not Christian.

#24 Comment By Delirium On August 17, 2014 @ 7:27 am

philadelphialawyer:

“Thus, it behooves them to champion pluralism. The opposite of pluralism would mean that the dominant culture would be trying to convert them, perhaps by force, or, at a minimum, trying to get them to change many of their cherished practices and traditions.”

You are trying to convince us that “pluralism” can possibly mean something else than what the self-appointed “pluralist” elite decides should or should not be around.

Would you be tolerant of “hateful repressivist homosexist” etc. cultures indoctrinating children into something else than what you are made to see as “liberty” or “tolerance”? Of course not.

“Christians, as a matter of strategy and survival, should be working in coalition with other “out” groups (as Jews worked with the African American Civil Rights Movement) to ensure fair treatment of all minorities.”

Too bad patronizing token “out groups” is now the ideological basis of social dominance itself.
So you are recommending Christians should be subservient little slaves to the atomizing, regressive whims of your “progressive” establishment, in exchange for graciously allowed to exist.
And this constitutes “pluralism”.

A truly perverse mind, you have there.

#25 Comment By N.D. On August 18, 2014 @ 8:51 am

It is up to Christians to be in the world but not of the world; to be able to read the signs of the Time in which we live, as we challenge the issues of the Day in the light of our Christian Faith, in the Hope of bringing others to Christ, The Word of Love Made Flesh, for The Glory of God, and thus for the sake of mankind.

#26 Comment By philadelphialawyer On August 18, 2014 @ 5:12 pm

Chestertonian and Delirium:

Neither one of you has presented any real alternative to championing pluralism as a strategy for traditional Christians. You will notice, despite the claims about its demise, that the one poster with an Orthodox Judaism background, Aharon Michael ben Chuna HaLevi, calls for pluralism. As does poster Brian Larrimore and Benedict Option champion, traditional Christian and TAC blogger Rod Dreher.

Both you seem to be saying that the non or anti Christian majority will not act in a pluralist manner. And that may be the case. Still, again, what other policy can you ask/demand/recommend that it follow? You are now the minority. That is the predicate here, the given (again, I don’t really buy it, but what I think is not dispositive or even relevant).

“You are trying to convince us that ‘pluralism’ can possibly mean something else than what the self-appointed ‘pluralist’ elite decides should or should not be around. Would you be tolerant of ‘hateful repressivist homosexist’ etc. cultures indoctrinating children into something else than what you are made to see as ‘liberty’ or ‘tolerance?’ Of course not.”

Putting aside the irrelevant and possibly ad hominem question of what I would do, all you really seem to be saying here is that the anti Christian majority will NOT be pluralist, in the true, non scare quoted, meaning of the word. Maybe it won’t be. But, again, what would you ask for instead? Isn’t a real pluralist majoritarian tolerance of Christianity the best that can be hoped for in the non Christian future?

“Too bad patronizing token ‘out groups’ is now the ideological basis of social dominance itself. So you are recommending Christians should be subservient little slaves to the atomizing, regressive whims of your ‘progressive’ establishment, in exchange for graciously allowed to exist. And this constitutes ‘pluralism.’ A truly perverse mind, you have there.”

Again, leaving me, personally, out of it, what is the other option? Christianity is itself now an “out group.” You had better start building bridges to and alliances with other “out groups,” and better start to hope that the dominant ideology, to some extent, “patronizes” your particular out group. Isn’t that, “patronization,” a fair characterization of the dominant society’s view of Orthodox Judaism? And Native American religions and other traditional practices? And the Amish and Mennonites and Quakers? It seems to me that you would want to join that list. Would you rather be patronized or persecuted?

“As you’ve correctly noted, orthodox Christians are now a minority, and should have a new-found appreciation for pluralism. I certainly support it, though the technocratic elites who rule over us seem less and less committed to it with each passing day.”

So, again, you are admitting that real pluralism is the best that orthodox Christians can hope for. Your fear is that the majority won’t give it to them. Fair enough. But what would you do instead of asking for it?

“Regardless, if my choices are maintaining my faith in a community which consciously separates itself from our culture, or embracing ‘pluralism’ and remaining embedded in that culture, then I’ll be choosing the former every time.”

Sure, but who says you will have that choice? A truly anti pluralist majority will not let you, or any other minority, simply “separate” yourself. Unless you leave the country, you will be subject to that majority’s will, however and wherever you choose to live. (Even outside the country, it will be hard to escape from the modernist majority, at least unless you flee to some Third World nation, which might have another kind of intolerant majority, like an Islamic or Hindu one.)

To me, that is the fallacy of the “Benedict Option.” The Benedictine monasteries were established at a time and place where Christianity was embraced as the established religion of the people and the ruling elites. Both secular and “regular” religious authorities approved of, helped establish and fund, and protected the monasteries. As another poster mentioned, the monasteries were not founded in places hostile to Christianity. You can’t retreat to a monastery if, like Henry the Eighth, the rulers of the land won’t allow monasteries.

Thus, if you really believe we are entering a post, non or anti Christian era, then a monastic “option” is hardly on the table. Which is why I think the “live among the heathen but try to hold on to your traditions,” Jeremiah Option is more practical. Try to argue for space to practice your traditions, and do your best to work around anti pluralist tendencies, and to work with others who share your position as “out group” members. Keep the faith until a better day comes along.

#27 Comment By Tom On March 30, 2015 @ 12:22 am

If Goldman recommends that certain Christian sects model Jews, then they must be allowed to model Jews. That is: few effective conversions, matrilineal membership, no proselytizing, dissuasion from conversion, and no intermarriage. However, if Christians did this they’d likely be branded as bad by the PC police. Thus, the Jeremiah strategy isn’t available to Christians in the majority group in the same way it is to Jews and so this article is a bit disingenuous. The physical space between Christian cultural separatists and society, absent Jewish style safeguards against cultural encroachment and dissolution, is necessary.