A reader sent me the above 14-minute clip of an address the Catholic screenwriter and retired TV director Ron Austin gave to a Dominican gathering earlier this summer. In it, Austin talks about the cultural crisis of our time (political, economic, artistic, etc.) and different Christian responses to it. In terms of filmmaking, he says that movies today traffic almost entirely in emotion disconnected from meaning. He also says that Christians today don’t understand what’s happening in our culture, as well as how we are compromised by it.
Austin identifies three basic stances:
Reform: Held by those who think the institutions of government and education are sound, but just need some reform. No need for basic, big changes
Restoration: Held by those who think that things are worse than that, but that a moral revival of some sort could bring our institutions back to their former soundness
Benedict Option: Held by those who believe neither reform nor restoration is possible, and that a more radical response is required. Austin says this is his point of view. Remember, he’s addressing a Catholic audience as a Catholic. I see no reason why this sensibility could not apply to all Christians. He says:
What is implied by [the Benedict Option] is a more, independent, autonomous building of Catholic community. We need to step forward, and first work together. … Certainly there’s a danger of trying to isolate ourself. I don’t think that should be the impulse. … But we need to come together, join together, and create community that can be a model for others. … None of these problems are going to be solved by abstractions. To the extent that this country can be brought back together, it’s going to become credible by other Americans saying, “Look at them. Look how they’re living. Look how they’re working together.”
I respect the Reformers, I respect the Restorationists. I don’t think that’s going to happen, frankly. And so what sounds like the most utopian — that we should really begin to build our own communities, identifiable Catholic communities and the work we do, I think it’s the most realistic.
I love this clip because he never mentions me, or the book. This is great because it indicates that the Benedict Option may be moving into a conceptual rallying point for creative minority responses to the post-Christian condition. It’s not something I own, or want to own, but I want it to be a diagnosis that prompts Christians of all sorts (and non-Christian fellow travelers too) to put our heads together and figure out what we can do as little platoons (“To love the little platoon we belong to in society, is the first principle [the germ as it were) of public affections. It is the first link in the series by which we proceed towards a love to our country, and to mankind.” — Edmund Burke).
Having spent the weekend in California talking to a bunch of different folks about where we are and where we might go — and mind you, not all of them were Ben Op supporters — I feel more confident than ever that we all really might be finding our way together into a new and constructive kind of social conservatism.