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Mysticism & The Benedict Option


Here’s an interesting short piece [2] by Thaddeus Kozinski discussing The Benedict Option [3] in light of the writings of René Girard, Romano Guardini, and Charles Taylor. Excerpts:

Catholic traditionalism in general, and the Benedict Option [4] in particular, are simply not adequate for living the life of Faith in today’s world and enabling others to do the same, for it is not the proper response to how things actually are and will be quite soon. To help us see how things really are, or at least, to present a view of our situation for which the Benedict Option may not even be an option, let alone the long-term solution to our problems, I would like to present three philosophers: Taylor, Girard, and Guardini, who look at three aspects of our world: Taylor, the existential, Girard, the political, and Guardini, the spiritual. Taylor will teach us that modernity is inescapable, Girard that our politics is in the final stages of the apocalypse, and Guardini that intimate union with God Himself—with nothing in between—is no longer an option, but an absolute obligation and necessity.

Kozinski points out that philosopher Charles Taylor says that it is futile to try to avoid modernity:

If this is the existential milieu we find ourselves in, and if it is indeed inescapable, then any Benedict Option community must reckon with this, and thus not attempt, whatever else it attempts, to escape this mode of consciousness, for such would be futile. No matter how monastic and centered-on-God our practices and our community is, we simply cannot go back to the naïve theistic consciousness of the medieval man. We are inevitably going to feel the pull of other worldviews and social imaginaries, and we simply have to accept the deep pluralism of our age, even if it is a pluralism that cloaks a homogeneous and stultifying immanentism, materialism, liberalism, and individualism. In other words, what Taylor is telling us is that the Benedict Option is impossible, if what is meant by it is a return to a medieval consciousness and immunization from modernity through small-scale, communal participation in traditional religious, cultural, and familial practices.

Well, once again, I wonder if a critic has read the book. I make it pretty clear that we can’t escape modernity, for reasons Taylor says. I describe our situation “not as a problem to be solved, but a reality to be lived with.” Here (from The Benedict Option) is my description of what Charles Taylor described as the “pillars” of the medieval imagination:

Contemporary Catholicism and Orthodoxy still hold to these beliefs (I’m not sure to what extent Protestantism does; I’m pretty sure the third is not true of Protestantism, but I could be wrong). But it is undeniably true that all of us today live in the modern age, where none of these things are believed by all. In fact, I doubt your average Christian of any kind affirms all of these pillars, or even knows what they mean. The world has become “disenchanted” in modernity. It’s not that the three pillars are untrue, but that they have ceased to be part of our common experience. Practically speaking, one has to work to keep one’s eyes on the truth of those statements. The way modern life is organized obscures these truths, when it doesn’t deny them outright.

According to Taylor, the key difference between our time and the Middle Ages is that we know that it is possible not to believe in God, in Christianity, or in anything. This was scarcely possible for medievals. This is why Kozinski rightly says the Ben Op can never be a total escape from modernity. We cannot un-know what we know.


Kozinski then turns to the theories of René Girard, especially Girard’s teaching that mankind is hurtling towards an apocalypse. It may not be the Apocalypse (though it might; Girard was a believing Catholic), but it is nevertheless an orgy of violence, coming upon us because in modernity, we have cast off all restraints that would have held us back. Girard’s view is more anthropological than religious, and it is hard to explain simply. In this 2009 essay in First Things [5], Girard discusses the basics of his theory of apocalypse. He points out that ours is the first civilization in history that has to live with the knowledge that it has the power to destroy itself.

Anyway, Kozinski:

Needless to say, if Girard is correct, while we can protect ourselves from the spiritual contagion of scapegoating by unwavering obedience to and identification with the Divine Scapegoat, the apocalyptic political violence Girard foresees will not be forestalled by Benedict Option communities, and we will not ultimately be protected from it wherever we go.

Well, yes. I don’t present the Benedict Option as some earthly version of the Rapture, whereby the faithful will be spared the violence coming from the breakup of our civilization. I can’t say it often enough: the Ben Op is not escapist. Rather, it is a strategy for enduring hard times — even very hard times — upon us now, and increasing with each passing year of the advance of post-Christianity. The best we can hope for is to ride this out, even if it takes centuries. I certainly don’t want to have to suffer, or to have my children, or their descendants, suffer. But if suffering must come, I want them to meet it bravely, as true Christians. I believe, with Girard, that we must not comfort ourselves with false optimism or escapism, for “to seek to comfort is always to contribute to the worst.” For the Christian, death is not the worst thing. Losing one’s soul is. That is what the Benedict Option seeks to prevent.

Finally, Kozinski turns to Guardini:

Guardini described a world in the 1950s similar to the one Dreher describes now, one of a neo-pagan totalitarianism that is no longer tolerating any threats to its secularist, atheistic, and humanist dogmas, one in which Christians and other theists are called to brook no compromise and live out their Faith all the more integrally and heroically. But Guardini’s prescription for action is something at once more bracing and consoling than Dreher’s. Nothing but the “free union of the human person with the Absolute through unconditional freedom will enable the faithful to stand firm—God—centered—even though placeless and unprotected.” He goes on: “Loneliness in faith will be terrible. Love will disappear from the face of the public world, but the more precious will be that love that flows from one lonely person to another, involving a courage of the heart born from the immediacy of the love of God as it was made known in Christ. . . . Perhaps love will achieve an intimacy and harmony never known to this day.”

In short, Guardini sees no real possibility for “safe” havens of Christian culture, and even if we could create them, they have the real potential of stunting our spiritual growth. God is calling theists to a higher level than mere orthodoxy and orthopraxy, indeed, a heroic and mystical level, of Faith, obedience, and trust—unshakable, naked, intimate, experienced union with God, communicating this supernatural reality wherever we go and to everyone we meet. Like Christ, we will have nowhere to lay our heads.

Kozinski posits this vision — radical mysticism — against the Benedict Option. This is a false juxtaposition, one he could have only made from either not reading the book, or reading it in a facile way — that is, as an escape plan. It’s not that. I agree with Guardini (as interpreted by Kozinski) that we Christian believers are being called by the times to radical trust and obedience, and that this will only be possible in the face of post-Christian modernity by believers who are deeply rooted in prayer, Scripture, and practices — individual, familial, and communal — that sediment the reality of our faith into our bones.

It’s like this. In the medieval age, and for some time beyond it, the social structures in Western culture acted as an external framework bolstering Christian belief. It was easier to believe in Christianity because nearly everything in society made that belief incarnate. It’s not to say, obviously, that life was an Eden. Every age has been a sinful one. The point is, belief was supported by social structures, much as flying buttresses support the high walls of Gothic cathedrals.

Those external structures are gone now. There is nothing to buffer us from unbelief. We have to rely on our internal strength — that is, on our faith as individuals, and in our small communities. If the Christian life is a walk on a footbridge crossing the abyss, our ancestors were able to make that walk steadied by the unshakableness of the bridge, and by strong railings on either side to keep them from falling off. Today, the decayed bridge sways in the winds of a coming storm, and there are no handrails. We have to train to develop the internal strength and sense of balance to keep from falling off. We cannot wish the old bridge back, nor can we avoid the walk. The Benedict Option [3] is about the spiritual training we all need to devote ourselves to for the sake of making that walk — and making it together — in very difficult times.

Put another way, the Benedict Option is about practices that make the metaphysical truths perceived by all Christians in the first millennium of the Church, and just beyond, visible through the fog of modernity. As I write in the book:

“Monastic life is very plain,” [Father Cassian Folsom] continued. “People from the outside perhaps have a romantic vision, perhaps what they see on television, of monks sort of floating around the cloister. There is that, and that’s attractive, but basically, monks get up in the morning, they pray, they do their work, they pray some more. They eat, they pray, they do some more work, they pray some more, and then they go to bed. It’s rather plain, just like most people. The genius of Saint Benedict is to find the presence of God in everyday life.”

People who are anxious, confused, and looking for answers are quick to search for solutions in the pages of books or on the Internet, looking for that “killer app” that will make everything right again. The Rule tells us: No, it’s not like that. You can achieve the peace and order you seek only by making a place within your heart and within your daily life for the grace of God to take root. Divine grace is freely given, but God will not force us to receive it. It takes constant effort on our part to get out of God’s way and let His grace heal us and change us. To this end, what we think does not matter as much as what we do—and how faithfully we do it.

A man who wants to get in shape and has read the best bodybuilding books will get nowhere unless he applies that knowledge in eating healthy food and working out daily. That takes sustained willpower. In time, if he’s faithful to the practices necessary to achieve his goal, the man will start to love eating well and exercising so much that he is not pushed toward doing so by willpower but rather drawn to it by love. He will have trained his heart to desire the good.

So too with the spiritual life. Right belief (orthodoxy) is essential, but holding the correct doctrines in your mind does you little good if your heart—the seat of the will—remains unconverted. That requires putting those right beliefs into action through right practice (orthopraxy), which over time achieves the goal Paul set for Timothy when he commanded him to “discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness” (1 Timothy 4:7).


Thought it quotes Scripture in nearly every one of its short chapters, the Rule is not the Gospel. It is a proven strategy for living the Gospel in an intensely Christian way. It is an instruction manual for how to form one’s life around the service of Jesus Christ, within a strong community. It is not a collection of theological maxims but a manual of practices through which believers can structure their lives around prayer, the Word of God, and the ever-deepening awareness that, as the saint says, “the divine presence is everywhere, and that ‘the eyes of the Lord are looking on the good and evil in every place’ (Proverbs 15:3).”

The Rule is for monastics, obviously, but its teachings are plain enough to be adapted by lay Christians for their own use. It provides a guide to serious and sustained Christian living in a fashion that reorders us interiorly, bringing together what is scattered within our own hearts and orienting it to prayer. If applied effectively, it disciplines the life we share with others, breaking down barriers that keep the love of God from passing amongus, and makes us more resilient without hardening our hearts.

We are not trying to repeal seven hundred years of history, as if that were possible. Nor are we trying to save the West. We are only trying to build a Christian way of life that stands as an island of sanctity and stability amid the high tide of liquid modernity. We are not looking to create heaven on earth; we are simply looking for a way to be strong in faith through a time of great testing. The Rule, with its vision of an ordered life centered around Christ and the practices it prescribes to deepen our conversion, can help us achieve that goal.

Read Kozinski’s entire essay.  [2] There’s a lot of good stuff to contemplate there. He is right that all Christians have to become mystics in post-Christian modernity, in the sense that we will only be able to endure this trial if we are people of prayer, people who have formed their imaginations with a strong sense of the unseen order all around us. Nothing else will do. The Benedict Option is a strategy, based on ancient Christian monastic practice, for helping ordinary believers in the world do just that: by structuring our entire lives around deeper communion with God.

If Prof. Kozinski (or anybody else) has a better strategy, I’d love to hear it, because I have children, and therefore skin in this game. I’m not kidding.

UPDATE: Please be patient with my posting and comment-approving today. I am suffering from a relapse of chronic mononucleosis, and having to sleep at inopportune moments. A lot. Plus, brain fog. More than the usual. Thanks.

UPDATE.2: At last, in the comments, we get to the root of why Prof. Kozinski doesn’t like The Benedict Option (a book he says he has not read): because its author left the Roman Catholic Church. It’s sad how educational standards have declined. Prof. Kozinski teaches at a Catholic college, but is apparently unfamiliar with the idea that argumentum ad hominem is a fallacy.

43 Comments (Open | Close)

43 Comments To "Mysticism & The Benedict Option"

#1 Comment By Brendan On August 17, 2017 @ 9:16 am

I honestly don’t see how one could possibly practice the kind of radical mysticism he is advocating, in this context, without something like the Benedict Option to make it possible — that is, without some partial refuge within which the strength to practice that can be nurtured and strengthened. Otherwise, it’s just advocating for something a truly minuscule number of people will be able to achieve otherwise — perhaps that is, in fact, what he is advocating after all.

#2 Comment By sdb On August 17, 2017 @ 9:32 am

Re: The world is charged with spiritual force.
“I’m not sure to what extent Protestantism [believes this].”

I think it depends on what you mean by “protestantism” and “spiritual force”. If you include those who are part of the pentecostal movement as protestants, then there is no question that the overwhelming number of protestants (and thus Christians) believe the world is charged with a spiritual force. The idea that demons and angels presently affect this world, that miracles happen, that prayers have an immediate impact on the world around us, that the Holy Spirit manifests himself in physical ways (e.g., praying in tongues, faith healing, etc…) are part of their understanding of reality. The world is indeed charged with spiritual force.

If you take a narrower understanding of protestantism, there is a strong streak of cessationism among reformed protestants (i.e., the idea that the age of spiritual gifts and miracles came to an end with the conclusion of the writing of scripture). This view probably created the fertile soil from which demythologizing sprung. But I don’t think this has ever been the majority view among protestants (and still isn’t today). It may seem that way because we confuse “mainline” (a shrinking fringe of protestantism) with “mainstream” (the majority common view – Rick Warren, Billy Graham, James Dobson, the SBC, Jerry Falwell, Bill Hybels, J.I. Packer, Dave Ramsey, and to a lesser extent Tim Keller and John Piper are for better or worse the mainstream among protestants).

I think all of these guys would agree with the following from the Westminster shorter catechism, “God’s works of providence are, his…preserving and governing all his creatures, and all their actions.” I don’t think you would find many mainstream protestants that would disagree with this. Is this the same view as pentecostals? Not exactly – it is perhaps a bit more restrained. But I think it is consistent with the view that the world is charged with spiritual force – God preserves and governs all of creation which is why the Westminster shorter catechism also tells us that he “foreordains whatever comes to pass.”

[NFR: I was thinking in terms of metaphysical realism, which I am pretty sure Protestants reject. But you make some good points about how “charged with spiritual force” can be understood in a Protestant way. Thanks. — RD]

#3 Comment By Rob G On August 17, 2017 @ 9:51 am

“Kozinski posits this vision — radical mysticism — against the Benedict Option. This is a false juxtaposition, one he could have only made from either not reading the book, or reading it in a facile way — that is, as an escape plan.”

Yep. It’s a temporary and partial pullback, not escape.

And it’s not temporary pullback versus radical mysticism, it’s temporary pullback in order to cultivate radical mysticism.

#4 Comment By grumpy realist On August 17, 2017 @ 10:06 am

Please get better, Rod! I had mono way way back when and know how brain-deadening and exhausting it is. Luckily I recovered totally after 10 months. I can’t imagine how horrible it must be to have it stuck to you forever.

Mentally sending you good vibes and a lot of dachshund puppy pix.

#5 Comment By sketches by boze On August 17, 2017 @ 10:10 am

“If the Christian life is a walk on a footbridge crossing the abyss, our ancestors were able to make that walk steadied by the unshakableness of the bridge, and by strong railings on either side to keep them from falling off. Today, the decayed bridge sways in the winds of a coming storm, and there are no handrails.”

This is one of the best and most succinct descriptions you’ve given for the Benedict Option. It grieves me to think that we once had a civilization where faith and the arts were able to flourish, and that we’ve spent the last few centuries willfully dismantling it. Girard is right that modernity can only end in apocalyptic violence, and it makes me wonder if any of us are going to survive it.

#6 Comment By Will Harrington On August 17, 2017 @ 11:15 am

I was going to comment that Taylor misses the point in not realizing that even medieval people had to choose Christ and nothing has changed, except that we are aware of more choices, but you covered it pretty well. Take it easy and get better, the brainfog doesn’t show.

#7 Comment By Alan On August 17, 2017 @ 11:19 am

Taylor says that it’s futile to try to avoid modernity.

Well, I’m glad that St Benedict, along with numerous others saints (including saints from the 19th and 20th centuries), were in fact able to do just what Taylor claims to be futile.

Rod, as Orthodox Christians, you and I both know what we must do. And I get it that you have a job that entails you writing and in some sense, trying to convince people of things. I sure don’t envy your job. But I must say, I sense that you get frustrated when you try to convince secular people about certain (Orthodox) Christian ideas and they push back. They’re not in The Church, they’re not going to agree. I gave up listening to secular “philosophers” a long time ago. Taylor’s cute little theory was disproven by Christian Monastics centuries before Taylor was even born.

[NFR: No, you misunderstand Taylor. They avoided modernity because they didn’t live in modernity. Modernity beganwith the end of the Middle Ages — that is, the coming of the Renaissance. (They call it the “Middle Ages” because they come between classical antiquity and the Renaissance). Others place modernity as beginning with the Reformation, but it is undoubtedly the case that by the time of the Scientific Revolution and the Enlightenment, modernity was here. Taylor is himself a Catholic. He’s simply describing the times in which we live. His magnum opus is called “A Secular Age” (meaning our time), not because he doesn’t believe in God, but because we live in a time when we cannot escape knowing that belief in God is a conscious choice — something that the average person living 500 years ago did not grasp. — RD]

#8 Comment By Khalid On August 17, 2017 @ 11:25 am

“We have to rely on our internal strength — that is, on our faith as individuals, and in our small communities”

I don’t want to sound controversial ( and I’m sure it will come across- rightly-as pure ignorance) but isn’t that what Protestantism has been pointing to all these years?

As Kelvin says in Solaris: there’s no going back to the cosmos ( not at a collectively level anyway).

But to take up Charles Taylor’s point.. Wasn’t the shift to finding spirituality in the ordinary ( work, family, nature) of profoundly importance? That sobriety/ austerity remains, in my opinion, deeply relevant to modernity. Joy in austerity I think a medieval once said. As you rightly say, that doesn’t necessarily mean a physical retreat, but it does, as Merton wonderfully put it, mean finding ourselves where we are!

Hope you get well soon.


#9 Comment By John Turner On August 17, 2017 @ 11:44 am

Rod, I think that people who want to avoid the challenge of what you are describing, need to view it as an escape, and then they can proceed directly to inevitable defeat without any sense of guilt.

By and large, mainline Christians, although certainly not all ministers and members of such churches, are comfortable with the secular drift, and are willing to abandon biblical doctrines that stand in the way. They excuse themselves from the challenge of thinking about anything resembling the Benedict Option by dismissing it as escapist. Forget them; they are not going to adopt any form of opposition to the cultural trends no matter how good those forms might be. Let them have their false sense of superiority; they are not going to abandon it whatever you say.

I think that the Ben Op is easier for Eastern, Roman, Anglican, and Anabaptist Christians to imagine because there is something in their tradition on which to model such lives. What do the rest of us have?

In studying my family tree, I have discovered Moravians on my mother’s side and Quakers on my father’s side who used communities of various descriptions to stand against mistreatment of native Americans and for an end to slavery. They did not have an easy time of it, and their causes were lonely ones, but I believe that they played some part in such justice as followed. They managed to pass some of their values along to their Methodist, Baptist, Presbyterian, and Disciples of Christ offspring.

#10 Comment By mrscracker On August 17, 2017 @ 12:01 pm

So sorry, I sure hope you feel better soon & will say a prayer for you.

#11 Comment By Charles Cosimano On August 17, 2017 @ 12:22 pm

Taylor is obviously right. Medieval man did not really get a choice in the matter. He was not likely to become Jewish and Islam was not a good idea. Neither were particularly healthy in any event. None of them even heard of the Buddha.

They did not need to consciously choose to be Christian. They were born that way.

Now one can believe in God or not as one chooses. One may choose from any number of varieties of Christianity, or convert to Judaism or Islam with no trouble. Failing that, one may decide to become a Buddhist or a Hindu until finally coming to the True Faith of Cosimanian Orthodoxy, heeding the Universal Commission to “Put on your Helmet and raise hell!”

In such a world the traditionalist Christian is in a lonely place and it is going to be lonelier. Can the Benedict Option survive a Cosimanian Orthodox future?

#12 Comment By bmj On August 17, 2017 @ 12:42 pm

Khalid said:

I don’t want to sound controversial ( and I’m sure it will come across- rightly-as pure ignorance) but isn’t that what Protestantism has been pointing to all these years?

In a manner of speaking, but in a manner not moored to the traditions of the Church. Disagreeing about theology, and creating new theology, is wired into Protestant DNA. So, yes, over the years, Protestants have correctly identified the spiritual problems of modernity, but the tendency is to formulate new theology (which often results in splintering denominations) instead of peering back through history.

I don’t want to paint with too broad a brush here, though. There are Protestants who understand “thick ecclesiology,” and understand the importance of the sacraments. They are, however, a minority among the Protestants.

#13 Comment By Brendan Hanley On August 17, 2017 @ 1:36 pm

Calvin, Luther, Jonathan Swift, Richard Hooker, C.S Lewis and the other classical Protestants were all metaphysical realists. Luther’s brand of realism just wanted to see more mystery in the world than Aristotle provided. Calvin’s doctrine of communion (which I personally disagree with, I’m more on Luther’s side myself) was pure Plato. Hooker condemns the squabblers and inventors of modern philosophies. Jonathan Swift has a scene where a Necromancer summons the ghost of Descartes from Hell in Gulliver’s travels. Descartes then proceeds to admit that Plato and Aristotle were right about everything. C.S Lewis’s defences of metaphysical realism are now famous within Christian circles.

Francis Schaeffer, Gene Edward Vieth, and a host of other Protestant thinkers are metaphysical realists. Traditionally Metaphysical Realism is only accepted by the more Catholic Protestant groups. Anglicans, Lutherans and some of the more traditionally minded Presbyterians.

Sorry, don’t mean to nitpick.

[NFR: Thank you, this is informative and enlightening. — RD]

#14 Comment By Nick B. On August 17, 2017 @ 2:30 pm

Piggybacking on Brendan Hanley’s comments, the Anglican communion (at least, certain sides of it) has definitely sought to preserve those pillars. The concept of the “dissociation of sensibility” between reason and emotion was pioneered by the Anglo-Catholic T.S. Eliot (“The Metaphysical Poets”) and his occasional rival and fellow churchman C.S. Lewis (beginning in “The Pilgrim’s Regress” and continuing throughout his works). This Christian, enchanted view of the world is in the background of distinctly Anglican contributions to children’s literature, such as L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time and Lewis’s Narnia, and has inspired a resurgent interest in “imaginative apologetics” (especially in the work of John and Alison Milbank), which focuses on rekindling the imagination to perceive the physical world as permeated by the sacred, which is a necessary precondition for affirming the truths of Christianity.

In a slightly different vein, there has been a renewed interest in the concept of “thin places,” or physical locales where heaven connects with earth in a unique and sacred way, a distinctively Anglican doctrine that supposedly predates Roman influence (and is occasionally maligned by some as hearkening back to English Christianity’s supposedly “Druidic” influences).

Basically, the pillars of medieval imagination remain quite intact in the Anglican communion.

#15 Comment By Eliavy On August 17, 2017 @ 2:30 pm

Mr. Dreher, you have my sympathy and prayers for your illness. I have fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome and well understand what you are going through. May God bless you and grant you his comfort, strength, love, and grace as he does for me.

[NFR: You are very kind. Thank you! I also have Raynaud’s syndrome, which, when my body is under constant assault from the Epstein-Barr virus (which causes mono), my feet and hands are painfully cold much of the time. I’m sitting here in my living room typing this with thick socks on and a heating pad turned up to HIGH around my feet. In the middle of August. A crappy disease, this. — RD]

#16 Comment By Captain P On August 17, 2017 @ 2:53 pm

Kozinski seems to be making one more iteration of a critique I keep seeing of the Benedict Option:

“We just need to be more spiritual/ have more faith, because you can’t shut out the modern world!”

The obvious response is – well, how are we going to grow in and preserve our faith? What are the practical steps? Don’t some of them involve communal practices inherited from Christian tradition? ISN’T THAT THE GOAL OF THE BENEDICT OPTION?

#17 Comment By Philly guy On August 17, 2017 @ 3:04 pm

” In our age, conscience and duty are not ideals,an excess of either is seen as a mental illness called social pressure personality disorder”. Cixin Liu

#18 Comment By Khalid On August 17, 2017 @ 3:05 pm

Thank you Brendan and bmj. I’m reading Rowan Williams’ Anglican Identities and am finding it, like his other work, illuminating ( though somewhat terse).

On metaphysical realism I think it is also worth mentioning the poets as well ( as M. Robinson does in her wonderful book, ‘ givenness’).

Haven’t read any Hooker but was very much taken by these lines by R.W. ( from another book) on him:

Anyway, to begin at Hooker’s beginning, we must ask with him what the primary character of God’s action is, as we learn it from Bible and nature. And Hooker’s answer is that God wills to exercise the ‘abundance’ of his glory – to create as many reflections as possible of his own being. But if the point of the world is the abounding plurality of such reflections, each must exist within limits, since God alone is infinite;

#19 Comment By Will Harrington On August 17, 2017 @ 3:53 pm

Charles Cosimano wrote “They did not need to consciously choose to be Christian. They were born that way.”

To which I say NONSENSE! Christianity was easier to choose, but it was still a choice. Manypeople chose to live for themselves, some actively rejected Chistianity and became Albigensian or defected and became Muslims or Heathens (depending on time or place). Many just went about their lives doing what was expected but not in any way being particularly concerned about their salvation (an argument I believe you have made before, which makes this nonsense seem like nothing more than reflexive opposition for its own sake). The only difference between now and then is that now there are more choices and they are more likely to meet with social acceptance and approval if chosen.

#20 Comment By Poop the Potato On August 17, 2017 @ 4:24 pm

With regards to Protestants and point 3, I highly recommend the research of Carlos Eire. His book War Against the Idols (you can probably read the last chapter on Google Books) describes the effect of the Reformation on the daily lives of Western Christians. (It’s oddly like our own day, when the tearing down of statues is again a hot topic. Iconoclasm reflected a desire to separate Earth from Heaven and today reflects a desire to separate Present from Past.) He also gave a fascinating and humorous lecture on miracles and the disenchantment of the West: [6]

#21 Comment By Bob Taylor On August 17, 2017 @ 4:31 pm

As I see it, mainline Protestantism, being eager for intellectual respectability, succumbed to the lure of pride in its acceptance of a demythologized Christianity.

My own, woolier, now former bunch of evangelicals, the quasiBaptistic Bible churchers, never having had much interest in the life of the mind, and tending to be sentimentally patriotic slobs ( at my aunt’s funeral a year ago, her casket was wrapped in an American flag – sound of man vomiting – in a nod to her service as a WAVE during World War II ), were easy pickins’ for the lure of industriousness -based materialism. ( As everyone knows, Jesus, though not lucky enough to have been an American, was a capitalist.

I’ve been blessed in the last twenty five years to have made my way back to the classical Protestantism, tacky though the baptismal waters were in the already wandering church I began my life in, which I’d somehow always known ( thanks be to God ) but hadn’t really got to experience.

( By the way, Rod, you’d be pleasantly surprised to find how many of us in my PCA Presbyterian church are strongly attracted to Eastern Orthodoxy, including me and my two pastors. )

But our little assembly does by the grace of God have that sense of everything’s being charged with the glory of God. Is it because we have a high view of the sacraments? Sing mostly the Psalms? Wouldn’t dream of having an electric screen in the sanctuary?

Really, I think it’s because God has his people everywhere, and draws those who yearn for it to find fellowship with the likeminded.

If, in the next few years, the excrescence really comes down, am I certain that all of our small number will be drawn even more tightly together? No, but I think it’s likely with most of us.

( Oh yes, lest I forget in October, I state now that no, actually, Luther and his spiritual progeny disclaim all accountability for the decline and extinction of Western civilization.

Thank you. )

Please do not disdain to rest amply during the mono resurgence; I’m sure I don’t need to remind you, but will anyway, that those who do tend to become only sicker. If someone advises you to exercise, throw a knife at him.

#22 Comment By Reed DePace On August 17, 2017 @ 6:35 pm

metaphysical realism?

“Metaphysical realism is the view that most of the objects that populate the world exist independently of our thought and have their natures independently of how, if at all, we conceive of them. It is committed, in my opinion, to a robust form of essentialism.
Essentialism, Metaphysical Realism, and the Errors of Conceptualism

I’m a reformed guy (Westminster Standards). I can assure you that our view has no problem with metaphysical realism.

Spiritual force? If by that you mean that the material realm is intimately connected to the spiritual realm, so much so that one affects the other, well, yeah!

Not sure what you’re thinking in wondering where Protestants are. Now as a reformed guy do I think we’ve intellectually leeched out the reality of spiritual effects in everyday life.

Are you thinking something else?

#23 Comment By Erich On August 17, 2017 @ 6:44 pm

Yes, please take it easy and recuperate properly!

Kozinski’s article, though insightful, treats BenOp as pragmatic and programmatic, as if it were a recommendation of some set of “procedures” of withdrawal, when it is far more a reminder of where we actually stand, and what we must keep in mind in our engagement with the world, so that we may develop – organically, one might say – efficient strategies of resistance and self-sufficiency. The force of this runs largely orthogonal to the diagnoses of Girard, Guardini, and Taylor.

So I wonder whether the Benedict Option might benefit from deeper consideration of its own flip-side: if stepping away from standard political engagement (conservative or otherwise) is necessary, what should our political engagement look like? Where do we speak up, what do we call for, how do we remain citizens? Perhaps deeper exploration of the positive elements of political engagement is called for. Needless to say, this very blog serves as a prime example of such engagement! In general, though: what is worth engaging and supporting?

Consider for example the work of John Milbank, Adrian Pabst, and others on trying to articulate a “Politics of Virtue” (Milbank and Pabst have a recent book by that name). It’s an attempt to rethink – again, not pragmatically (hardly!) nor programmatically, how liberal democracies both fail AND succeed in encouraging the vitality of community, tradition, and “thick” forms of culture and meaning, and what we need to keep in mind in order to reorient the polity in face of the superhuman forces rallied against those things. It is fascinating work, by the way, and well worth the attention of readers of this blog. Might such ideas (or others like them) help articulate the voice of our movement that has lost confidence in politics as usual?

#24 Comment By dfb On August 17, 2017 @ 8:30 pm

“The Rule is for monastics, obviously, but its teachings are plain enough to be adapted by lay Christians for their own use.”

Talk about not reading a text…

#25 Comment By Charles Cosimano On August 17, 2017 @ 8:35 pm

Once again, Will Harrington manages to prove that his knowledge of human nature and history is non-existant.

#26 Comment By MsT On August 18, 2017 @ 12:13 am

This is for Eliavy and Rod:

A revolutionary treatment for baffling chronic illness – Fibromyalgia, CFS, and much more – is the Dynamic Neural Retraining System (DNRS). Rod, I think there’s a good possibility that your fatigue and Raynaud’s would respond well to the DNRS too – especially as primary Raynaud’s is understood to be the result of an over-reactive sympathetic nervous system.

Essentially, the neuroplasticity-based DNRS enables one to create new (and more healthy/normative) neural pathways in response to stress, and to pull the body out of a chronic limbic system trauma loop that can result in a host of chronic illness symptoms.

Please check out the website (link below), and listen to the many inspiring Success Stories.

Hope both of you will be feeling better soon…….

Explanation from the DNRS website:

“The Dynamic Neural Retraining System provides a natural and drug free, neuroplasticity-based approach to recovering from many illnesses that have baffled the medical system for decades.
This step-by-step method shows you how to rewire chronic illness disease patterns in the brain that are associated with Multiple Chemical Sensitivities, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, Fibromyalgia, Depression, Chronic Pain, Electric Hypersensitivity Syndrome, Anxiety, Food Sensitivities, Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome, Lyme Disease, Irritable Bowel Syndrome, Mold Toxicity and more.

Many conditions may have a variety of contributing factors like physical injury, mold or chemical exposure, viral or bacterial infections, emotional stress (from childhood or present day life experiences) and psychological trauma (like divorce or the sudden death of a loved one). Often times, when combined, these accumulative stressors can create the ‘perfect storm’ for limbic system trauma. The injured brain becomes stuck in an unconscious flight or fight pattern that changes hormones, chemicals and neurotransmitters in the body. This results in a heightened chronic stress response that may affect many systems of the brain and body. Cognitive function, sensory perception (sensitivities to smell, taste, sound, light), emotional regulation, detoxification, absorption of nutrients or cellular communication can become compromised.
Regardless of the combination of stressors which may have led to illness, addressing limbic system function is a key component in the recovery process and is often overlooked. When we place our focus and energy on rehabilitating the brain and correcting an unconscious stress response that is at the root of suffering – our bodies can regain the building blocks that are needed for healing.”


#27 Comment By Khalid On August 18, 2017 @ 1:19 am


I only read 180 pages of the book. Although they made a number of interesting points it was written so poorly that I gave up on it. I think there are more interesting voices, such as L. Bruni ( The wound and the Blessing).

#28 Comment By Thaddeus Kozinski On August 18, 2017 @ 1:27 am

Thanks, Rod Dreher, for reading and commenting on my essay. A very astute and persuasive response, and I am glad to be mistaken in my critique. I guess I’ve been critiquing a bit of a straw man. Sorry about that. I like how you describe the BenOp in your response, very reasonable and strategically prudent, and it makes it more compatible with the authors I present, whose work we both respect.

I guess my critique of the BenOp is not so much with the ideal you depict but its lived reality, based upon my experience of living within them for a couple decades. What I have found is very good-willed and some holy people, certainly, and wholesomeness, moral safety, so so speak, and protection against the more sinister evils of the culture. But I have not experiences a lot of genuine and down-to-erth love, friendship, and intimacy. Instead, a lot of Phariseeism, inner-circle pressures, pious egos prancing around and setting idiosyncratic self-serving “rules” and taboos, a lack of trust and vulnerability and an unwillingness to share wounds and defects (for fear of being judged as not worthy or dangerous), and an insular fear-of-the other mixed with a lack of evangelical witness. If there could be a BenOp in the attractive cast you describe, I’d be all for it, but why do they tend to produce such unholy dynamics and attract such neurotic people, of whom I am the first? Far from training and producing humble saints, from my experience, they tend to be places were orthodox minded Christians can escape from authentic existential and concrete, actual, down-to-earth, so to speak, spiritual reality. Again, my critique applies to me as much as it does to anyone else. It has just taken me a while to grow in self-awareness and be able to recognize the pattern.


“free union of the human person with the Absolute through unconditional freedom will enable the faithful to stand firm—God—centered—even though placeless and unprotected.” He goes on: “Loneliness in faith will be terrible. Love will disappear from the face of the public world, but the more precious will be that love that flows from one lonely person to another, involving a courage of the heart born from the immediacy of the love of God as it was made known in Christ. . . . Perhaps love will achieve an intimacy and harmony never known to this day.”

Even after reading your response, I am still not sure how the BenOp, even in the attractive ideal you describe, can be completely reconciled with Guardini’s prophetic words. Perhaps Guardini was too stark and dour in his prediction, but I tend to doubt this.

My BenOp these days is to practice twice-a-day silent prayer alone and in a prayer group (the great Benedictine, John Main’s, method–his “Community of Love” is a profound take on lay monasticism)–try to love more and be more attentive to my wife and children and the present moment and the people I meet wherever I go in my small town, and with reading Catholic mystics, past and present.

In a Guardinian vein, I have found the “Flame of Love” devotion of Elizabeth Kindelmann, a poor Hungarian widow who Jesus called to radical poverty and abandonment, to be the most recent and most significant mystical revelation for our day. Kindelmann’s diary teaches that Our Lord promised that the Flame of Love, and the effect of its Grace–the most powerful given to the world since the Incarnation, if Kindlemann’s diary is true–will “blind Satan” and thus allow for worldwide repentance and freedom from sin, the new pentecost that 100 years of Popes have been calling and yearning for.


From Jesus to Elizabeth: “All are invited to join my special fighting force. The coming of my Kingdom must be your only purpose in life. My words will reach a multitude of souls. Trust!~ I will help all of you in a miraculous way.” He continued, “Do not love comfort. Do not be cowards. Do not wait. Confront the storm to save souls. Give yourself to the work. If you do nothing, you abandon the earth to Satan and to sin. Open your eyes and see all the dangers that claim victims and threaten your own souls.”

Our lady continued, “Enter into battle. My Flame of Love will blind Satan to the degree that you spread it to the whole world. This Flame will work miracles in their hearts. They will communicate this miracle to others. No need for this miracle to be authenticated. I will authenticate the miracle in each soul. All will recognize the outpouring of the Flame of Love.”

BenOp communities founded on and burning with the Flame of Love. Seems like a good fit to me.

[NFR: Quick question before I respond: Have you read the book? — RD]

#29 Comment By George LeS On August 18, 2017 @ 6:45 am

(I hope this won’t be too incoherent.)

One of the things that puzzle me is the claim that we “can’t escape modernity.” Surely we can, and will. People forget that we, like our predecessors, live in an era, and like all others, it will pass. What comes next is really the only thing we have any effect on.

This matters because of the way the attitude displays in the Taylor quote. There seems to be a bedrock assumption among existentialists that there is a single Spirit of the Age which surrounds us and makes us who we are. Perhaps it would be better to say it makes us, period.

This is very questionable. Yes, very few can literally escape the world entirely. But that is very different from claiming that we must be of our age. We don’t have to keep up with the times; certainly we don’t have to cheer on the Spirit of the Age. (The very existence of the book Dreher wrote proves this. It is itself an act of defiance and disassociation.) It’s an exaggeration, but this view seems to approximate a kind of single intellect in all, as Averroes posited. If someone wishes to give arguments supporting this, fine, they can be discussed. But that almost never happens. It is just assumed.

Someone else already mentioned them, but the very existence of the medieval Manichees shows this. They quite explicitly rejected all three of the pillars cited above. This matters, too, in that they have many intellectual heirs. (Again, more in the way of unexamined assumptions than explicit beliefs.) That is the assumption that man is a pure spirit, contingently but not essentially embodied. This leads to the idea that we must embrace a “pure” spirituality of a wholly unworldly kind. I believe that is the real source of one problem with American Churches today, that assumption is pretty deeply held. I have never understood how that can be Christian. God made the world, and then entered it.

tl;dr: There are two things wrong with the above criticisms of BenOp. One is the (unstated but real) assumption that we must be both in the world and of it; the other is that we must be neither.

#30 Comment By Rob G On August 18, 2017 @ 7:19 am

I’d recommend William Cavanaugh’s little book Being Consumed: Economics and Christian Desire as a primer of sorts for a BenOp approach to economics.

#31 Comment By michael H. Brown On August 18, 2017 @ 9:33 am

The greatest failing in the modern Church of whatever denomination is the stripping away of mystical phenomena — the kind of (miraculous) things that authenticated Jesus. Pews will continue to empty as long as the Holy Spirit is not felt in a real way by our young. (Michael H. Brown, Spirit Daily)

#32 Comment By sdb On August 18, 2017 @ 9:42 am

I was thinking in terms of metaphysical realism, which I am pretty sure Protestants reject.

I don’t think that is quite right. R.C. Sproul is a pretty central figure to conservative reformed protestantism. In his book “Inerrancy”, he writes, “[The Bible] presupposes some kind of metaphysical realism…” He has also spoken and written quite a bit about Aquinas. Here is an

You will find positive appraisals of metaphysical realism by protestant apologists as diverse as Norman Geisler and C.S. Lewis. I think it is fair to say that most flavors of protestant Christianity do not require metaphysical realism but they are compatible with it.

#33 Comment By John Kuykendall On August 18, 2017 @ 9:34 pm

I really enjoyed the sincerity that this article was compose with thank you and salutations to the Divinity within you. If we want this communion with the Father, we have to go to the inner church of our soul because our extroversion only distracts us and makes us insecure. This meaningless external chitchat only keeps us in the mind and separates us from rejoicing in the inner communion with our consciousness in the nonmaterial intensity of a spiritual experience. Those that contemplate and meditate on the different images or sounds that produce this spiritual realization receive this inner unity. If we perform inner observances sincerely and receive the sacrament of unity, we will have mastered the uncertainty caused by our mental complex and discover that life has taken on a mature quality. At the highest point of our love, selfless love we find spiritual, mental and physical satisfaction in the medium of service and sacrifice for all of humanity. Sacrifice causes us to change our point of view as we progress to being fulfilled because growth starts with our mind then we pick up the pace as we go forward in the awareness of consciousness. Contrary to a point of view that is one dimensional, our service to others gives us the world view of a universe that is multidimensional. It helps us to rearrange our attitude so we become conscious that we are not our body or our mind that they are in us as a part of consciousness that expands to help the people in need. We have the leading role and are the hero in our life as the change we want to see in the world starts with us as we start to change the world in our consciousness. Foolish people go after pleasure in belongings that they lose while wise people sacrifice to find it within themselves because love is not found anywhere else, find it in others, we feel lonely, find it inside, we are happy even when we are alone.

#34 Comment By Thaddeus Kozinski On August 18, 2017 @ 9:47 pm

Rod: I’ve read many of your articles and interviews on the BenOp, but the not book. I’ve got the gist of your project, I think.

[NFR: But you can’t really know unless you’ve read the book. Just sayin’. — RD]

#35 Comment By Rob G On August 19, 2017 @ 1:45 pm

“But you can’t really know unless you’ve read the book. Just sayin’.”

Very true. I’ve spoken with probably a dozen people who think they get the Benedict Option because they’ve read some, even most, of the posts. Fact is, it’s all put together in a cohesive way in the book that one can’t really grasp by reading just the various posts.

#36 Comment By Thaddeus On August 20, 2017 @ 12:24 am

I would love to hear your response anyway.

[NFR: OK, here’s a short version. The chapter in the book that is one of the least commented on publicly is the foundational one about Benedictine spirituality, and why its principles need to be incarnated into the lives of Christians living in the world. Fragmentation is a core problem; the Benedictine life — regular prayer, fasting, Scripture reading, liturgy, work, etc. — re-orders us around practicing the presence of God in our daily lives. But: you can have all these things, but if you don’t have love, you end up creating a miserable community, such as you describe. In the book, I have an interview with a young Catholic woman who grew up in that kind of community, and ended up becoming an atheist, like her older siblings. She told me that her community was built around fear, not love. I included that interview with her as a warning to readers. I also included in the book some examples of Christians who seem to be doing it right, most of all the Tipi Loschi, a community of orthodox Catholics in Italy. They are faithful and, um, “woke,
but they’re not angry about it. To the contrary, they’re joyful! They are a good example to the rest of us. They also know how much we need community to be what the Church is called to be. The reason I encourage you to read the entire book is that it brings all of these loose strands together. I am sure you will find some things to criticize in it, and that’s fine with me. I invite readers to show me where I’m wrong, or where I could have done better. I really am trying to figure out how to create structures within which to live out these ideals. We need each other. My tendency is to be a loner in church matters, but I know that this is not sufficient, or faithful to the Lord’s calling. — RD]

#37 Comment By Thaddeus On August 20, 2017 @ 4:36 pm


The sine qua non-of any God blessed and spiritually effective Benedict option community is that it is grounded in the Eucharist, devotion to our lady, and the teachings of the Magisterium.

I’ll read your book if you become Catholic. Just sayin….

[NFR: That’s a pretty poor reason not to read the book, especially if you are writing commentaries on what’s wrong with it. You’re a college professor. Do you do that to other books? — RD]

#38 Comment By Rob G On August 21, 2017 @ 7:05 am

“That’s a pretty poor reason not to read the book…”

Sadly I think that this sort of Catholic partisan sentiment is what has led many RC’s of a certain sort to ignore, pooh-pooh, or even attack the book. I see this, alas, among some RC’s in my own circle of acquaintance. It’s not just a lack of interest, but almost a pointed avoidance of it.

One gets the sense that the problem isn’t with the book itself, it’s with the fact that it was written by Rod Dreher, and Rod Dreher’s an ex-Catholic.

#39 Comment By Thaddeus On August 21, 2017 @ 11:09 am

Rob G: you’ve hit the nail on the head. Someone who has rejected and left the one true Church and Faith and Community can speak neither accurately nor authoritatively about the right sort of community for our times.

Guardini and Rahner are more trustworthy guides, and both paint a picture of the spirituality and Church of the future in which the BenOp as Dreher describes it is just not quite the right response or mentality for it.

[NFR: Wow. As a scholar, you really ought to be embarrassed by this. Has no one explained to you the argumentum ad hominem fallacy? I wish you had been straightforward about your small-minded prejudice at the beginning, sparing me the time it took to try to answer you seriously. It doesn’t matter to me that you don’t want to read my book because I’m an ex-Catholic, but to undertake to criticize a book you haven’t read because its author is of a confession not your own is really low. — RD]

#40 Comment By Thaddeus On August 21, 2017 @ 11:48 am

Hitting a nerve, just sayin…

[NFR: I hope one of your students refuses to do a paper on an assigned reading by a non-Catholic author, on the grounds that having not been part of the Roman church, the author has nothing of importance to say to Catholics today. Yours is the right-wing Catholic version of the lefty conceit that Dead White European Males should be ignored because they are unclean. — RD]

#41 Comment By Thaddeus On August 21, 2017 @ 12:37 pm

The fact that you interpret my concern with your having rejected and left the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church as a “small minded prejudice”, is just the type of flawed thinking about the meaning of spiritual community that renders your published series of extended blog posts suspect.

Ad hominem is only fallacious when the personal character or background or behavior of the speaker is irrelevant to the truth or falsity of his thought.

The grave flaw of your project is something that you say without words, but it is also obvious in your past 10 years or so of blog posts and interviews on the project, much of which I read: Namely, that membership in the Roman Catholic Church, the community set up by Christ Himself, is just not essential.

Not Incidentally, your criticism of Kim Davis is indicative of similar confusion:


[NFR: Read the book if you want me to take your further comments on it seriously. And I do hope, for the sake of Wyoming Catholic College, that you hold your students to a higher standard than you hold yourself. — RD]

#42 Comment By Thaddeus Kozinski On August 21, 2017 @ 5:37 pm

Your continual insistence on my reading your book, which is essentially a collection and extension of your blog-posts, of which I have read many, as well as listened to you talk about your book, is tedious. It’s not rocket science. I am critiquing your central idea and strategy, whatever nuances you may have given it in your book, and I grasp that central idea and strategy well enough.

The real issue regards Guardini’s prophecy of the future Christian having to deal with being “placeless and unprotected,” and thereby being called to a new and unprecedented mystical communion with God (the same communion that mystics such as Faustina, Kindlemann, and Piccarretta have talked about and lived) that could very well be stunted and attenuated by even the best of BenOp communities having the BenOp mindset you describe. Your characterization of the kind of communities we need seems also the polar opposite of Rahner’s conception of the “spirituality of the future,” and he knew what he was talking about, a spiritual giant, mystic, and true man of God. His intimations of the Chruch of the future and the Christian of the future–“a mystic, or not at all” as he said, were right on.

Of course, non-Catholic and non-Christian authors have plenty to say to the Church and to Catholic students. I teach them all the time, with sympathy. Most of the time I have to challenge homeschooled students who fear exposing their mind to anything but a narrow construal of Catholicism. Evelyn Underhill, for example, is the most wonderful teacher of mysticism. Great Muslim thinkers like Schuon, Guenon, and Nasr are beautiful teachers of deep spiritual and philosophical truths. Nobody better than Dostoyevsky on human psychology in its struggle with fallen nature. Even Nietzsche and Derrida show well the limits of language to convey ultimate truth, and concepts effectively to capture reality and bring us into union with it.

No, my problem is not with non-Catholic thinkers at all, but with your ideas, and with you, Rod, someone who left the True Church and yet wants to be a leading guide for conservatives and Christians on Christian communities. You broke with THE Community of communities, and with the Holy Father (whom you once criticized and instructed conservatives they didn’t need to listen to about the genocidal and criminal Iraq occupation), and yet you want to teach us all about loyalty to Christ and to communities founded on Him. You also threw Kim Davis, who pledged her allegiance in suffering to Christ, and not the Evil Empire, under the bus, and yet you talk about Christian solidarity and resistance to the godless state.

You’re a talented and thoughtful guy, and the Church needs you in her bosom doing good work for her and the salvation of souls, but much more do you need her guidance, discipline, and wisdom. Rejoin her and renounce your schism.

[NFR: You can waste your time writing paragraph after paragraph, but it still won’t erase the embarrassing fact that you denounced a book you have not read, on premises that are untrue (and which you would have known had you read it), and then when called on it, you said that the book can’t possibly be any good, because its author left the Catholic Church. And you are a college professor! Again and again I say unto you: I hope you hold your students to higher standards than you live by yourself. If anybody turned in a book report in my class on a book they had not read, and when called on it, said they figured they didn’t need to read it because the author isn’t Catholic — well, I’d fail them. — RD]

#43 Comment By Thaddeus On August 22, 2017 @ 12:01 am

Needless to say, my article was not a “review” of your book. I employed a very generic idea of the BenOp, treated by many authors before you, to contrast it with other ideas to show its possible inappropriateness for what we are really dealing with.

But I keep saying the same thing, so take care and I hope to see you a Catholic someday.