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Competing Benedict Options

Gracy Olmstead considers whether people who choose to live intentionally separate, in some sense, from the broader society do so in a healthy way, or unhealthy way. Excerpt:

There are significant differences between this sort of “opt-out” community, and the homesteaders in Holland’s articles. One mode of life is focused on self-sufficiency; the other is focused on benefiting community. One is focused on material goods (or a lack thereof); the other is focused more on spiritual and cultural cultivation than on smoking salmon or keeping chickens.

While both Thoreau and Benedict chose to “opt out” of society’s customary mode of living, their methods of abstention were radically different. The individualism and self-focus of Thoreau’s romantic primitivism is sadly injurious to social living. Man is truly made for community—as Aristotle wrote, “man is by nature a political animal, and a man that is by nature and not merely by fortune citiless is either low in the scale of humanity or above it.”

Benedict’s communities were also separated from the urban centers of his time. But rather than attempting to withdraw entirely from civilization, he wanted to provide a place for those needing care, shelter, and instruction.

Read the whole thing.  As I’ve said, the Benedict Option is not exclusively about running off to the woods to live hived away from everybody else (though it can be). It can be living in a more or less intentional community in a city, or a suburb. As Gracy points out, the early Benedictines did separate from the greater community, because they had to do so to live out their charism. But their monastery walls had doors in them. The point is, contemporary life is so hostile to traditional concepts of religion and virtue that to keep them alive and pass them on to one’s children, one has to be consciously countercultural — and consciously communal. Far as I can tell, nobody has figured out a one-size-fits-all model for that, because one does not exist. There will be of necessity a lot of experimentation.  I’m eager to hear from readers what works, and why it works.

about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. He has written and edited for the New York Post, The Dallas Morning News, National Review, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, the Washington Times, and the Baton Rouge Advocate. Rod’s commentary has been published in The Wall Street Journal, Commentary, the Weekly Standard, Beliefnet, and Real Simple, among other publications, and he has appeared on NPR, ABC News, CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, and the BBC. He lives in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, with his wife Julie and their three children. He has also written four books, The Little Way of Ruthie Leming, Crunchy Cons, How Dante Can Save Your Life, and The Benedict Option.

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