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Liberals for the Benedict Option

A reader writes:

I really resonated with your post [“George Bailey is Dead” [1]].  I am the son of blue collar union laborers from a rust belt city – steelworkers, auto workers, truck drivers.  My family wasn’t religious but I went to public school alongside tons of ethnic Catholic kids.  I was raised with pretty traditional working class values – the stuff that George Bailey stood for.  Now I’m like you — sitting out or feeling left behind.

I am a progressive socially.  That’s where you and I part ways.  But even there I feel left behind.  I am not the kind of militant, hateful liberal who would shut down a family pizza parlor for disagreeing with me on gay rights.  And I feel nothing but disgust towards the campus shenanigans you’ve been documenting.  I don’t know what it means for the future of this country when conservatives like you and liberals like me both need to hold our noses to vote and feel increasingly marginalized by the dominant discourse.  But I suspect it means a very hostile and broken and painful place for non-elites – for working people.  That breaks my union kid’s heart.

And though I am on the other side of the sexuality debate, I am a Christian and I still see a powerful need for a Benedict Option.  Not because of “the gays” but because of Who Runs Things Now and Where Things Are Going and what that’s going to do to families like the one I grew up in and the kind of men and women who raised me and those families with less social support and less robust economic means.  Folks who, I suspect, have much more in common with you and your family and the owners of Memories Pizza than with any campus liberal or corporate big wig.

What a great letter. It’s the second one I’ve received in the last 24 hours from a liberal Christian who supports the Benedict Option. I wonder what a liberal BenOp would look like?

I can’t see traditional Christians signing on for it, because to do so would require compromising on fundamental doctrines and teachings. Still, I want to affirm what is good among liberal BenOppers, and support them in ways that I can. Thoughts, readers?

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60 Comments To "Liberals for the Benedict Option"

#1 Comment By Ned On December 9, 2015 @ 11:59 am

“I wonder what a liberal BenOp would look like?”

Vermont.

#2 Comment By Anne On December 9, 2015 @ 12:24 pm

PS to my last comment: As I understand the the BenOp concept, forming close bonds would require physical proximity of some kind…maybe not moving into fully segregated intentional communities such as the Amish, but into the same neighborhoods or clustering around a monastery, church or some common place.

#3 Comment By Gromaticus On December 9, 2015 @ 1:03 pm

“I wonder what a liberal BenOp would look like?”

Vermont.

I was thinking a little further south; I mean if you’re going to withdraw from the dominant culture, go all out and print your own money

[2]

#4 Comment By CatherineNY On December 9, 2015 @ 1:31 pm

I think there are probably quite a few examples of liberal Ben Opts. I recall wandering into a Mass at Georgetown U that turned out to be the regular liturgy of a group of pacifists. They were very welcoming — I actually made a friend in the group, although it was the last time I went to that particular Mass. The Sisters of Mercy encourage their Mercy Volunteer Corpos alumni to stay connected, including at the local level: [3]. I posted this article from the Washington Post on one of the posts where Rod asked for examples of Ben Opts — it lists a number of intentional communities in Washington, D.C.: [4]. Here’s an interesting Wash Post piece about how to live like Pope Francis: [5]

#5 Comment By princess leia On December 9, 2015 @ 10:32 pm

Dorothy Day WAS a Benedictine Oblate. She lived a very liturgical,sacramental life of prayer and service. the Catholic WOrker movement has a thick culture, and though there are many who see it as “liberal” it really is just radical, attempting to return to the roots of a community life of faith.
I doubt anyone knows what Dorothy told her “confessor” – but she would have been as likely to quote Acts 2- ” All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need” as Marx. She was a distributist, not a communist or socialist.

#6 Comment By naturalmom On December 9, 2015 @ 11:08 pm

The Annual Gathering of Friends General Conference (Quakers) gives a glimpse. It’s only one week a year, but the level of caring community experienced there – so intense it brought me to tears when I attended with a baby and a child – combined with the focus on how to live out one’s faith, make it fit the bill, I think. A more sustained, permanent community would have to be less intense of course, but I suspect it could work.

Indeed there is a similar small community here in Michigan: Friends Lake Cooperative Community. ( [6] While the website says it is open to all faiths, in practice, it has always been a Quaker community. Decision making and community worship is dictated by Quaker tradition and values. A Methodist could join, but that doesn’t mean the group is going to entertain the idea of voting on decisions.) Friends Lake community thrived for a long time but is not thriving so much any more. Families with kids – the life blood of such communities – now tend to be committed to activities on many weekends. It makes me wonder if a modern BenOp would mean having to eschew wider community life for children: no club sports, no art camp, no scouting unless the community can support their own activities. Tough choice for many of us. Kids don’t always take kindly to giving up that stuff.

#7 Comment By naturalmom On December 9, 2015 @ 11:13 pm

Also, I wanted to appreciate the important and challenging questions that Anne has brought up. Thanks, Anne.

#8 Comment By Ben in RI On December 10, 2015 @ 11:11 am

I don’t quite understand the concept of the liberal BenOP. Isn’t society moving in an ideological direction that is absolutely desired by liberals and progressives? It just sounds like an oxymoron to me.

#9 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On December 10, 2015 @ 11:21 am

I doubt anyone knows what Dorothy told her “confessor”…

I give Dorothy Day the benefit of the doubt that when SHE recounted this conversation (it may not have actually been in the confessional booth, I don’t recall her being that specific), she knew what she was talking about.

Yes, she may well have ALSO contemplated the passage from Acts cited here. But what Day said she recounted included the specific words “From each according to their abilities, from each according to their needs.” She also framed this (or so she wrote) as “I still want the same things the communists want…” Frankly, as a libertarian communist Christian, I’d be perfectly happy with distributism as a means for the workers of the world to take control of the means of production. I’m not picky, I just care about the results.

#10 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On December 11, 2015 @ 6:01 pm

Isn’t society moving in an ideological direction that is absolutely desired by liberals and progressives?

Which ones? Did society under George W. Bush move in an ideological direction that is absolutely desired by Crunchy Cons and the editorial board of TAC?

My mother was a life-long Republican, and she didn’t even rate Ronald Reagan as a conservative.