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What Is The Benedict Option For?

A reader writes, commenting on my Rich Young Rulers Vs. SJWs [1] post:

I teach at [a college in a deep red state] and the opinion held by the essayist in the SJW vs. Rich Young Ruler posting dovetails with what I see around here. The students we have and I observe are mostly too busy to engage in activism and a fanatical devotion to social justice.

Most are satisfied to smoke weed, drink, and fornicate. The posting you put up about “rape rape” [2] last summer is largely accurate here–just more prescription drugs and weed. Then that is chased the next day by the morning after pills. This subject came up in one of my classes and I let the discussion run to hear what was said. I was under few illusions about the students, but that discussion caused what few scales I had to fall.

Around here, as long as the students are entertained and able to get cheap food they are happy. (Bread and circuses). That said, I teach history and have read enough to believe I can guess what is coming. The true believers at the Stanfords, Berkeleys, and Ivy Leagues plus a handful of other prominent universities are the SJWs of today; they will, by virtue of their educational perch, be the leaders of the country tomorrow. People who lead a state or run a bureaucracy don’t come from [my college]. These future leaders are illiberal today and will crush those who don’t bow to their orthodoxy tomorrow.

Applying that to the article, the kids I deal with don’t care too much about anything except bread and circuses–with a few exceptions. This majority remind me of the average German of the 1930s. When the Nazis sought to co-opt the church and use it to further the Nazi ideology, the Confessing Church resisted, (think Bonhoeffer) spoke out, and faced persecution. Most Germans, at least according to Richard Evans’ The Third Reich in Power, didn’t trust the fanatical Nazis because they were too dogmatic about National Socialism, but they had made the economy better, broke the Communists, and gave order to society. The average German didn’t trust the preachers either because they were fanatics for God and they took the Bible seriously. Ultimately, the Nazis came to understand that if the average parishioner and congregant were left alone to celebrate their holidays, festivals, and have an unobtrusive church service that didn’t demand too much, the average German was satisfied. That gave the Nazis the free hand they needed to break the opposition of the Confessing Church.

What I am saying is that most of the Christians I meet on campus are nice kids, but know little about their faith, and when the pressure of a bureaucracy or the threat of an empowered SJW comes, I am afraid they will roll over as long as their life is not disrupted too much. They might say, “Sure the SJW bureaucrat is a fanatic, but so are those preachers. Just leave us alone.”

I’m reading these comments after spending a big part of this morning doing the On Point with Tom Ashbrook [3]radio show for NPR (follow the link to the episode). On Point is my favorite public radio interview show, and I wish I had done better on this outing. I’m realizing how easy the Ben Op is to caricature. I had to keep saying that I’m not not not not not calling for a total retreat from the public square.

A transgender person called in and wanted to know if there was any room in my church for her. I said of course there was, because we are all sinners. That transgendered person is a precious child of God, no question. But I did not want to leave the impression that being a part of the church means that we don’t have to change, to repent. There is one standard for all Christians. I don’t know enough about transgenderism from an Orthodox theological point of view to offer any kind of pastoral counsel to that particular person, and heaven knows a call-in radio show is not the place to do that. But when host Tom Ashbrook said that “there is no place for her in your country,” or words close to that, I did not really know how to respond. It’s not true, but by the time I understood the claim, the moment had passed. I think that many well-intentioned liberals simply cannot stand the thought of diversity unless they set the terms. Like very many liberals, Ashbrook was genuinely perplexed that I, as an Orthodox Christian, expect gays and lesbians to be celibate. I told him all Christians who are not married are expected to be celibate, and I said that this was what all Christians in all ages believed until the day before yesterday.

Anyway, a reader of this blog e-mailed:

I just finished listening to your bit for On Point; thank you for doing that. I was incredibly frustrated while listening, so I can’t imagine how you must have felt. I don’t think people are intentionally being thick when they respond in anger or dismissal to arguments that you don’t even put forth in your book, but, nevertheless, I imagine that is a source for discouragement for you. Thanks for being respectful and Christ-like today.

One thing I’ve thought about much in these past few weeks is how perfectly the popular response to your book fits into your narrative of Christianity being under attack. For decades, secular culture has been asking Christians to stick to themselves, to live out their faith in their community while not encroaching upon other communities. The existence of the Religious Right infuriated them, and they wished Christians would be less forceful in weaving their faith into the fabric of the popular culture. As pluralism and “tolerance” won the day, they demanded that Christians get in line. It occurs to me that the BenOp is perhaps the most prominent prescription for following these orders, and it’s instructive that it is still unacceptable to secular culture. Does that make sense? That is, in the BenOp we finally have a method of living that seems to jive with what secular culture has been demanding since the sexual revolution. That this method now isn’t good enough for secular culture because it doesn’t affirm and accept everyone is case and point for the premise behind the BenOp in the first place (to which so many stridently disagree). I wonder, as you defend yourself and your book, if it would be helpful to frame the response in that way? For instance: “Look, isn’t the BenOp exactly what you have been asking of orthodox Christianity for 60 years? We are now prepared to do what you want, why do you want to inhibit that? That you demand the BenOp affirm and accept everyone proves my point that Christianity is now intolerable to the prevailing culture, and thus that the BenOp is necessary.”

I also think it would be helpful to frame the BenOp as one interpretation of how to “live in the world, but not of it.” Since those words were first uttered by Christ, Christians have worked to develop a way of actually living them out that makes sense, and different methods have been necessary for different times and places. These methods have taken many forms, not all of them truly orthodox and not all of them truly successful. I get that maybe you would be more forceful than saying the BenOp is one of many options for American orthodox Christians, but I think it would help readers and listeners if they were able to frame it that way — as one interpretation of Jesus’ words. As Christians, how do we live out those words? Is the BenOp better for this time than any other option?

An interesting take. I wish I had been more aggressive in the radio interview in steering the conversation, especially when my friend Andrew Sullivan joined it, towards this question: What is Christianity for? The answer to that question ought to determine what you think of the Ben Op.

Modern Christianity — which inevitably devolves into Moralistic Therapeutic Deism — is about rationalism and self-comfort. Pre-modern Christianity is about conforming to a divinely mandated way of life according to standards beyond the self. Of course it’s not that simple either way, but this is the gist of the matter. I’m going to be on a couple more national NPR shows this month, and I’m going to try to discuss this central point. If we just end up talking about gays, or politics, or ancillary issues, we won’t get to the meat of it.

This biting satirical essay by Andrew Wilson speaks directly to the heart of the problem with modern Christianity.  [4] In it, he talks about how Christianity rightly understood justifies idol worship (remember, this is satire). He writes:

I start with my own story, and the stories of many others like me. I’m an evangelical, and have a high view of the Bible—I have a PhD in biblical studies at King’s College London, which will be my third theology degree—and I know both the ancient languages and also the state of scholarly research. Yet, after much prayerful study, I’ve discovered the liberating truth that it’s possible to be an idolatrous Christian. That, at least, is evidence that you can be an evangelical and an idolater.

Not only that, but a number of evangelical writers have been challenging the monolatrous narrative in a series of scholarly books. A number of these provide a powerful case for listening to the diversity of the ancient witnesses in their original contexts, and call for a Christlike approach of humility, openness, and inclusion toward our idolatrous brothers and sisters.

Some, on hearing this, will of course want to rush straight to the “clobber passages” in Paul’s letters (which we will consider in a moment), in a bid to secure the fundamentalist ramparts and shut down future dialogue. But as we consider the scriptural material, two things stand out.

First, the vast majority of references to idols and idolatry in the Bible come in the Old Testament—the same Old Testament that tells us we can’t eat shellfish or gather sticks on Saturdays [5]. When advocates of monolatry eat bacon sandwiches and drive cars on the weekend, they indicate we should move beyond Old Testament commandments in the new covenant, and rightly so.

Second, and even more significantly, we need to read the whole Bible with reference to the approach of Jesus. To be a Christian is to be a Jesus person—one whose life is based on his priorities [6], not on the priorities of subsequent theologians. And when we look at Jesus, we notice that he welcomed everyone who came to him, including those whom the (one-God worshiping) religious leaders rejected—and that Jesus said absolutely nothing about idols in any of the four Gospels. Conservative theologians, many of whom are friends of mine, often miss this point in the cut-and-thrust of debate. But for those who love Jesus, it should be at the heart of the discussion.

Jesus had no problem with idolatry.

He included everyone, however many gods they worshiped.

If we want to be like him, then we should adopt the same inclusive approach [7].

Read the whole thing. [4] You see where he’s going with this. Modern Christianity does the same kind of thing: rationalizing modern beliefs, no matter how much they conflict with the Bible. (Yes, conservative Christians do this too at times.)

The point is this: is the purpose of Christianity to call you outside of yourself, to grant you forgiveness from your sins and to offer you new life, and healing? Or is it to confirm you where you are right now, and to relieve your anxiety over your condition?

We can agree that Christianity is therapeutic, in that it is meant to heal you. Does that healing consist of at-times painful surgery and spiritual therapy, or does that healing consist of a heavy dose of painkillers to mask the underlying broken condition?

I am grateful to Steve Thorngate, writing in the Mainline Protestant journal Christian Century, for his thoughtful essay, “What Is The Benedict Option For?” [8] He writes:

Rod Dreher’s The Benedict Option touches on an array of subjects, from the decline of the Christian West to the atomizing effects of smartphones to the competing rights claims of same-sex couples and evangelical bakers. It does this in tones pitched variously to inform, to motivate, or to air grievance. So there is ample opportunity for readers to be distracted from Dreher’s overall purposes, as indeed many have been—interpreting The Benedict Option as either a political tract against same-sex marriage or a separatist call to take to the hills. Both readings are there for the proof-texter’s picking; neither attends to the deeper vision of this provocative book.

To do that, you have to appreciate who the book is for. It is not aimed at conservative political activists, though its publisher is known for just that. It doesn’t target radicals who aspire to rarified modes of Christian community, though Dreher finds much to admire there. Nor is it meant to enlighten spiritual seekers or the social scientists who study them.

No, Dreher writes for the church and the ordinary Christians in it. He sees existential threats to the faith—from without but especially from within, where bonds are frayed and formation is thin. Inspired by the well-known ending of Alasdair MacIntyre’s After Virtue, Dreher looks to St. Benedict for a survival plan. How can the church build the internal strength it needs?

Would it surprise you to learn that I very nearly had tears in my eyes reading that? I hadn’t seen anything else Thorngate had to say about the book, but to know that here is someone who has heard what I have to say, whether or not he agrees with it, was such a relief.

More:

Dreher emphasizes, however, that the Benedict Option is not just about rejecting the bad, technological or otherwise. It’s about cultivating the good; it’s resistance by way of creation. Dreher is at his best when he is constructive and concrete, and his chapter explicating Benedict’s Rule for 21st-century laypeople is perhaps his most compelling. Cultivating the good means seeing God’s presence in the everyday, in mundane routine. Anxious people are “looking for that ‘killer app’ that will make everything right again”; Benedictine life shows another way. Develop a discipline of prayer. Let your approach to work flow out of that prayer. Grow roots in a place, among a people. Go to church, and linger afterward—be a pilgrim, not a tourist.

Our lives are inevitably centered on something, says Dreher, and it requires daily practice to ensure that something is Christ. So the most pressing task for Christians is to embed themselves in the day-to-day life of Christian community. And wherever thick Christian ways of life do not exist, they will simply have to be built, one local, unglamorous piece at a time.

This doesn’t mean turning a blind eye to national politics, but it does mean giving it less relative emphasis. If the Benedict Option is a withdrawal strategy, it’s one of priority, not principle. It’s not that public life has no value, only that time is limited and other things matter more: Christian culture and community, a faithful alternative to the reigning order.

This will all sound quite familiar to most mainline Protestant church leaders, and quite compelling to a lot of them. Dreher’s themes echo the postliberal theology popularized by, among others, Stanley Hauerwas and Will Willimon. Their thinking has met some resistance in the mainline, but it has also deeply shaped it—especially the distrust many of us have for the imperial state, our refusal to cede the high christological ground to evangelicals, and our localist-communitarian ideals.

I urge you to read the whole thing. [8] Thorngate goes on to criticize The Benedict Option for giving short shrift to liberal Mainline Protestantism, and to explain why, in his view, I am wrong to dismiss that tradition, and the fruits it has borne (e.g., acceptance of same-sex marriage). I don’t agree with him, obviously, and I don’t agree with him on several points he mentions in the latter half of his piece. But I don’t want to emphasize that in this blog. I simply want to thank Steve Thorngate, liberal Protestant, for a fair-minded, vigorous engagement with the Benedict Option concept. Note that he ends with a call for his fellow liberal Protestants to articulate a Benedict Option for themselves.

He does that, I think, because though Thorngate doesn’t agree with the solutions I as an Orthodox Christian offer, he agrees (or seems to agree) that we contemporary Christians on all sides have lost a sense of what Christianity is supposed to be for. In reading Thorngate’s essay, I have a better sense of why David Brooks called The Benedict Option [9] “the most important religious book of the decade.” It is meant for ordinary conservative/orthodox Christians, to challenge them to ask themselves what Christianity is for, and whether or not the way they live, individually and in community, serves to fit them to that purpose.

St. Benedict begins his Rule with this exhortation:

Listen, O my son, to the precepts of your master, and incline the ear of your heart, and cheerfully receive and faithfully execute the admonitions of your loving Father, that by the toil of obedience you may return to Him from whom by the sloth of disobedience you have departed.

The one thing we contemporary Christians in the West do not want to do is to listen. A big part of it is being American. Whether we are liberal or conservative, many of us are quite certain that we have it all figured out, and that we need to tell other peoples around the world what they must do. We also reserve the right to lecture all the men and women of ages past about how they have fallen short of the wonderfulness that is the standard we set.

We are prideful. We have to change our lives. That is what Christianity is for.

 

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46 Comments To "What Is The Benedict Option For?"

#1 Comment By Maggie Gallagher On May 9, 2017 @ 4:34 pm

The purpose of Christianity is so that we can know, love, and be happy with God forever in heaven. The reason the Benedict Option is so easily understood (apart from the big honking monastery on its cover and naming it for the founder of monasticism) is that right now it is more the question: how do we strengthen genuine Christian faith and Christian community. The answers are not clear. You say we should withdraw, but not withdraw so much that our kids rebel against our fundamentalism. Is taking away the smart phone like that? Who knows? We don’t know. The most important think about the Benedict Option is that it asks the most important question clearly.

#2 Comment By Maggie Gallagher On May 9, 2017 @ 4:34 pm

so easily misunderstood I meant.

#3 Comment By Jesse On May 9, 2017 @ 4:43 pm

” I told him all Christians who are not married are expected to be celibate, and I said that this was what all Christians in all ages believed until the day before yesterday.”

But Rod, Christian’s don’t expect heterosexual Christian’s to be celibate for their entire life.

That’s why your argument that, “hey, we have to live by the same rules” don’t pass. Because they’re not actually the same rules.

[NFR: Oh, please. It is not given to everybody to marry. We do not have the right to tell Scripture that sorry, you’re wrong because we, in the 21st century West, know better than you. — RD]

#4 Comment By Dave Taggart On May 9, 2017 @ 4:52 pm

What is there about the word OPTION that so many people have trouble understanding?

It’s not like Rod wrote THE BENEDICT REQUIREMENT or THE BENEDICT RULE or THE BENEDICT ULTIMATUM or THE BENEDICT-DRIVEN LIFE. The idea of an OPTION is a considered choice. Do we want to keep on going down the same road in this country, where theology is no deeper than the sentiment on a Hallmark card, and churches promote coffee bars and Zumba classes (with childcare!). Or maybe do we want to consider other OPTIONS?

#5 Comment By WillW On May 9, 2017 @ 5:06 pm

Rod, this should have been 3, maybe 4 different posts. You have GOT to control this new urge to do huge block quotes from different articles.

#6 Comment By James Burton On May 9, 2017 @ 5:08 pm

“But when host Tom Ashbrook said that “there is no place for her in your country,” or words close to that, I did not really know how to respond. It’s not true, but by the time I understood the claim, the moment had passed.”

Isn’t it? Maybe not you personally, but I can’t think of the last time conservative Christians didn’t object when LGBT people made some piece of progress toward legal/employment/etc equality. While I understand that, yes, there are some liberals who want conservative churches to be affirming, I’m not one of them and most of the people I know aren’t. We just want LGBT people to have the same rights and protections as everyone else. No more, no less. Your rights end where our nose begins, as the old saying goes.

And while I’m sure trans people in particular would love to be affirmed, I’m sure they’d just settle for being left in peace. It’s not conservative Christians being fired, beaten and killed just for who they are in this country. It’s trans people, particularly trans women. So, yeah, there is a very real sense in which there is no place for trans people in this country. Happily, though, that seems to be changing.

#7 Comment By dfb On May 9, 2017 @ 5:09 pm

“Note that he ends with a call for his fellow liberal Protestants to articulate a Benedict Option for themselves.”

Oddly, the Dean of Duke Divinity School noted at length in prior posts about Dr. Paul Griffiths, Dr. Elaine Heath, appears to be a liberal Protestant (Methodist) that has sought to articulate a liberal Protestant monasticism, if not a Benedict Option. She is apparently a co-founder of the Missional Wisdom Foundation, which apparently includes the “People of the New Day.”

[10]

“New Day communities base their structure upon these early practices of the church, believing that evangelism is best done incarnationally, in the manner of Acts 2:42-47. Early Methodism was also built on small communities that met for disciple formation through prayer, hospitality and justice. The same practices of hospitality, prayer, and justice are found in New Day communities.”

Small communities, disciple formation, practices of hospitality, prayer and ….justice.

“Our Rule of Life is based Wesley’s General Rules, the membership vows of the United Methodist Church and St. Benedict’s Rule. The New Day Lead team meets twice a month in a covenant group for accountability and support in following the rule of life. The rule of life and covenant group questions are below. We believe this rule opens our eyes to God’s grace, balances life and enables us to pursue holiness in all aspects of daily living.”

[11]

St. Benedict’s Rule, accountability,grace, balance, and …holiness.

“PRAYERS

•We will pray daily

•We will use a variety of forms of prayer such as the reflective reading of Scripture and other spiritual texts, confession, the prayer of examen, intercession, journaling, and contemplation

•We will fast from food once a week (either a full or partial fast)

PRESENCE

•We will practice a contemplative stance in order to be present to God, the world, and ourselves

•We will be hospitable to our neighbors in our families, neighborhoods and workplaces

•We will be hospitable to our faith community through participation in our worship, fellowship and mission”

[11]

Daily prayer, reflective reading of Scripture and other spiritual texts (lectio divina), fasting, contemplative stance,and… hospitality.

Also, diversity.

While there has not been a blog post – surely an important sign of life – for some time, it appears there has been a recognition among some liberal Protestants of the possible utility of “monastic” communities and “monastic” practices in furthering mission.

And of course,

[12]

#8 Comment By ROB On May 9, 2017 @ 5:09 pm

What is Christianity for: so we “love, know and serve God in this world and be happy with Him forever in the next.”

#9 Comment By Bernie On May 9, 2017 @ 5:35 pm

“…his biting satirical essay by Andrew Wilson speaks directly to the heart of the problem with modern Christianity. In it, he talks about how Christianity rightly understood justifies idol worship (remember, this is satire).”

Few thoughts are so off-base, satire or not. Andrew Wilson’s three theology degrees, including his PhD in biblical studies, must have succeeded in avoiding mention of the first Commandment: “I am the Lord your God; you shall have no other gods besides me.” The first Commandment. Jesus said: If you love me you will keep my commandments.” Geez.

[NFR: You’re completely missing his point. He doesn’t believe in idol worship. He’s showing how the same approach that liberal Christians use to justify something that Scripture clearly prohibits — homosexual acts — can be used to justify idol worship. It’s his ironic way of criticizing the pro-gay theological rationales. — RD]

#10 Comment By Kevin On May 9, 2017 @ 5:46 pm

“Applying that to the article, the kids I deal with don’t care too much about anything except bread and circuses–with a few exceptions. This majority remind me of the average German of the 1930s. When the Nazis sought to co-opt the church and use it to further the Nazi ideology, the Confessing Church resisted, (think Bonhoeffer) spoke out, and faced persecution. Most Germans, at least according to Richard Evans’ The Third Reich in Power, didn’t trust the fanatical Nazis because they were too dogmatic about National Socialism, but they had made the economy better, broke the Communists, and gave order to society. The average German didn’t trust the preachers either because they were fanatics for God and they took the Bible seriousl”

Your reader should venture beyond Richard Evans, and read Tom Childers’ the Nazi Voter. If he will do so, he will discover that the early Nazi strongholds were rural protestant areas, with church-goers and pastors more likely than other to support the movement. Catholics were famously less prone to vote to the Nazis, but they learned to live with it real fast. In fact, the groups most resistant to Nazism were largely secular: the bohemians of Berlin, and the Communist slum-dwellers.

#11 Comment By Alex Curbelo On May 9, 2017 @ 6:16 pm

Your stick of dynamite correctly calls into question the legitimacy of the liberal order. That’s your real “crime” Mr. Dreher.

I would have just said that of course transsexuals are welcome in the church and in the country just as schizophrenics or other mentally ill people are always welcome. We believe in treating everyone with the respect that they deserve, including severely mentally ill people. But we cannot affirm delusions or support creating a political ideology around them and then imposing it on the sane using governmental and cultural power.

#12 Comment By Prof. Woland On May 9, 2017 @ 6:21 pm

With regard to your final paragraph and claim about being prideful and wanting to tell everyone how to live their lives:

1) What makes the Benedict Option not a matter of prideful lectures telling people how they should live? I guess I should read it when it comes to our library to see about its tone–but as someone who doesn’t agree with much of Christian Doctrine–esp. the version you follow–isn’t the very nature of stating that you have THE TRUTH to be a kind of moral boast? I mean–I agree with a number of aspects of the catholicism I grew up with (e.g.–to be good–you have to do good/act in a positive fashion–not just believe in something..)–but I don’t believe in others.

I’m no moral therapeutic deist. I don’t just believe in my own pleasure or that religion should serve my own selfish pursuits. I believe that the core of a good life involves helping others and sacrificing for making the lives of others around me–and the world overall–better.

I do this without needing some sort of belief system grounded in supernatural entities.

Anyway–I don’t expect anyone else to believe what I do–and I don’t think of them as less than me if they believe something different.

2) What if there are those of us out here who aren’t telling people how they should live, who have found our way in the world without religion, and who generally would just prefer that people stopped trying to claim absolute certainty for their own beliefs and showed some cautious tolerance for others while doing the hard work of living a good life in the Aristotelian sense of pursuing eudaimonia.

More than anything else–it is these two points that I find myself constantly at odds with the notions you often espouse.

Perhaps I’m just not your audience and I should accept that–but I have kept coming back here to see what you say–because you approach the world SO INCREDIBLY DIFFERENTLY than I do.. and I believe it important to understand the diversity of beliefs and perspectives out there.

Anyway.. I’ll go check my library catalog now to see if your book is there yet.

[NFR: Look, all religion, and all political claims, are claims about the way the world is, and how we should live in it. There is no such thing as a neutral public square. The question is simply, where do we draw the lines? Christianity, in its various versions, does prescribe rights and wrongs — but so does secular liberalism! How willing are we to tolerate the right of our neighbors to be wrong? Not everything that is morally wrong requires legislating against, and indeed passing laws against certain things may create a greater evil than the practice the laws intend to prevent. What you believe is “making the lives of others around me — and the world — better” depends on what you consider to be Good. I watched a Season 4 episode of “The Americans” the other night, and heard a KGB spymaster reflect sentimentally on “what we sacrifice for the good of the world,” re: the hard life of Soviet spies. He wasn’t being cynical. This man is a true believer. Yet he serves evil, and does evil in the service of evil. If there is no transcendent truth, or source of truth, how can we judge that man and his beliefs evil? Point here is that you are smuggling in a morality and a metaphysics in under a neutral guise. What the ISIS true believer calls “good” and what the kind-hearted atheist librarian in a small New Jersey town calls “good” are two very different and no doubt antithetical. Who’s right? And at what point can a society say, “We’ll never solve that, but we can tolerate both?”, versus saying, “We may never be able to solve that, but we cannot tolerate people who believe X is good”? — RD]

#13 Comment By Eric On May 9, 2017 @ 6:24 pm

On the one hand, we are told that the Benedict Option is unnecessary, bizarre, and anachronistic.

On the other hand, there are perhaps a dozen secularists who are capable of understanding your argument.

These are two ends of the same thread. And it’s the same point MacIntyre made in After Virtue. We don’t speak the same language, especially when it comes to morals.

The last administration was sued by the Little Sisters of the Poor. What can satire add to such an absurdity? Yet secularists still wax incredulous when anyone points out that Christians are being attacked.

I appreciate your willingness to go on these sorts of programs, but the futility of these conversations demonstrates the veracity of your book’s thesis almost better than the book itself (which I am enjoying by the way).

#14 Comment By Charles Cosimano On May 9, 2017 @ 6:54 pm

“Pre-modern Christianity is about conforming to a divinely mandated way of life according to standards beyond the self.”

That is why you are in a strategically untenable position vis a vis the culture. If you start talking about people conforming to x way of life you run into the response, “Make me!” How does divine mandate deal with defeat?

How do you effectively respond to, “There are no such standards. There is nothing of value beyond the self.”

You don’t. Your words no longer persuade and any attempt at coercion will end in failure. (Remember the Moral Majority and the loud squishing noise it made when it was crushed?)

So now you have a problem. You have a divine mandate but no one outside your satrapy is following it and you cannot make them follow it. Your only option is retreat. The question is not that the retreat will occur. The question is what form will it take.

#15 Comment By Dale McNamee On May 9, 2017 @ 7:25 pm

Alex Curbelo,
You are absolutely correct in what you wrote!
While we are to treat everyone with decency and dignity…We, as faithful Biblical Chrisitians aren’t to tolerate or “love” the sins ( homosexuality, lesbianism, transgenderism, pedophilia, or any other “paraphilia”, gende fluidism, etc. which are abominations to God.
And you are right in how to deal with mental illness by not supporting delusions and trying to keep the person based in actual reality…not what they perceive as reality…
If we “Ben Oppers” don’t forget this, we are no better than the “rotted” culture and its “rotted” churches.

#16 Comment By Bernie On May 9, 2017 @ 7:51 pm

Rod, thanks for your note to my comment – I completely agree with you.

@ Jesse – I wholeheartedly agree with Rod’s answer to you. It is not given to everyone to marry. Even if heterosexuals marry, they are expected to be chaste and celibate until they marry…and after their spouse dies…until and if they marry again. For many heterosexuals, this is the majority of their life span, covering many years prior to and after marriage(s).

#17 Comment By Mark On May 9, 2017 @ 7:54 pm

To live in the world and not of it will mean to adopt a liturgical life that sanctifies time itself. There has been this tendency to think monastic life is different and separate from the life of a lay person. It should not be. A lay person maintains the liturgical life too, or at least should try, in order to bring a seasonal rhythm back to daily living.

I am going to do this. We sold our home in what was formerly the country, but now suburbia. We are moving two blocks from Church in the heart of the city. We will live in a condo one door away from our dear church friends and six blocks from other church friends. The priest and I have already discussed possibly using the Benedict Option as a study and reference for our church community. I don’t have a clue right now what will happen or where this will lead. Rod, I am willing to give it a shot! For the sake of our faith and an example to our children, I am willing to give it shot.

[NFR: May God bless your faith and courage. Keep us updated about how it goes. — RD]

#18 Comment By MH – Secular Misanthropist On May 9, 2017 @ 9:51 pm

I am on Podcast Savings Time, so I have downloaded it and will listen to it after listening to the others in my queue. Which means you will be on to another topic.

#19 Comment By Mikew On May 9, 2017 @ 10:13 pm

Npr….ugh. You could listen to them in the 80s or 90s and it would sound a lot like what they report on today. They just regurgitate bulls×÷t. You wasted your time.

#20 Comment By Gerald Arcuri On May 9, 2017 @ 10:17 pm

I am currently reading The Benedict Option, and now reading this article, two thoughts have occured to me:
1. How is Rod Dreher applying the Benedict Option in his own life and circumstances? I am curious about the specifics, and whether or not he is achieving the desired ends of applying the Rule of St. Benedict in whatever way he is doing so.
2. One example of a Christian being “in the world, but not of it” is right here in Rod’s experience with NPR. I, myself, gave up long ago on public broadcasting as being anything other than an outlet for promoting secular humanism. I am not saying that NPR and PBS don’t produce some quality programs – they do. But traditional ideas, both cultural and religious get short shrift by the producers of the content for public broadcasting. And yet, here is Rod trying his level best to explain The Benedict Option using a medium and with an audience hostile to most everything in the book, and everything he believes. Interesting…

[NFR: I listen to public radio and am a financial supporter of my local NPR station. I will accept most requests for interviews, if I have the time and I think I can get fair treatment. “Fair treatment” doesn’t mean “uncritical” or “unbiased.” I have only turned down one interview request during this entire book promotional period, and that was for a major national outlet that is known for being particularly nasty to conservatives. If somebody from, say, The Nation wanted to interview me, I would do it, even though they are pretty far to the left; I trust the Nation’s editorial standards. Not everybody’s. — RD]

#21 Comment By Pat On May 9, 2017 @ 11:11 pm

Whenever I see orthodox christians asked what the faith is for in a forum such as this, they immediately trot out the catechism answers about god. But as soon as people have finished asking that direct question, the discussion returns to the failings of society, the impending death of the church, the virtues of Tradition, etc. etc.

What’s the point of making a big deal of traditional religion, if one is not particularly interested in god?

#22 Comment By jz On May 9, 2017 @ 11:25 pm

Regarding the question from the transgendered woman. If I were able to think on my feet, I would reply “would a committed Orthodox Christian have a place in your community?” as a rhetorical and then say “at some point we have to stop asking gotcha questions and start searching for Truth.” At that point you’ve laid the foundation to say similar to what you said in the article – yes everyone is welcome in the Christian community, but that community by definition makes demands on how you live your life just like EVERY community does, including the transgender community.

#23 Comment By Mark VA On May 9, 2017 @ 11:36 pm

To paraphrase Jean-Jacques Rousseau:

We, the American Christians of all denominations have been swallowed – we must now ensure that not all of us are digested.

I think that anyone with a modicum knowledge of world history, should see that the Benedict Option is sound advice for our current situation.

#24 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On May 9, 2017 @ 11:52 pm

There is no reason whatsoever that anyone and everyone should be welcome absolutely everywhere. Diversity means people are different and things will be different for different people in different associations.

What is important, emerging from the various ebbs and flows of American history, is that a diverse variety of people all have common CIVIL rights, which is not a code word for “racial equality” but is a basic principle that all the differences among us do not give anyone greater or lesser access to basic civic duties and rights, legal protections, or participation in commerce.

If a transgender person finds an Orthodox Church’s doctrine and requirements onerous, burdensome, uninspiring, and makes such a person feel unwelcome, then go elsewhere. Your right to vote, own a business, live in your home, plant a garden, is unimpaired.

No establishment of religion, no infringement on free exercise. Keep it simple.

What makes the Benedict Option not a matter of prideful lectures telling people how they should live?

Because Rod is not preaching it as THE WAY for everyone. He is not following in the footsteps of either Savonarola or Torquemada, or even of John Calvin or John Knox. The religion clauses of the First Amendment presume that some religious doctrine MAY BE the Truth, but that government is incompetent to establish which, if any, actually is. So, people are free to pursue that Truth as they perceive it. What is Professor Woland complaining about, as long as he is not fined for failure to attend Orthodox services, nor barred from voting or running for public office?

#25 Comment By Charles Cosimano On May 9, 2017 @ 11:52 pm

“What the ISIS true believer calls “good” and what the kind-hearted atheist librarian in a small New Jersey town calls “good” are two very different and no doubt antithetical. Who’s right?”

Who has the power to enforce their view has the view that is right.

#26 Comment By Philly guy On May 10, 2017 @ 12:13 am

The commenter supposes the greatest threat to the Ben Op is secularism. Reading these posts it seems to be other Christians.Which is the greater threat to the Ben Op, secularists or other Christians?

#27 Comment By Durin On May 10, 2017 @ 12:55 am

“But Rod, Christian’s don’t expect heterosexual Christian’s to be celibate for their entire life.”

An observation – the largest Christian Church (or denomination if you prefer) in the world tasks its clergy to teach celibacy outside of marriage and also requires the clergy themselves to not get married and to be celibate. (I am assuming the commentator counts Roman Catholics as Xians.)

#28 Comment By Fran Macadam On May 10, 2017 @ 1:17 am

“It occurs to me that the BenOp is perhaps the most prominent prescription for following these orders, and it’s instructive that it is still unacceptable to secular culture. Does that make sense?”

A lady in our former church, as to why those who won’t celebrate homosexuality are unacceptable even if they say nothing, explained, “I cannot abide the thought that sitting next to me might be a person who secretly disapproves of my daughter’s lesbian lifestyle.”

The spirit of Sodom, in the end, demanded participation. That’s why little children in public schools are now being taught how to perform sexual perversions.

#29 Comment By Fran Macadam On May 10, 2017 @ 1:19 am

“some religious doctrine MAY BE the Truth, but that government is incompetent to establish which, if any, actually is. So, people are free to pursue that Truth as they perceive it.”

In other words, error does have rights.

#30 Comment By Hound of Ulster On May 10, 2017 @ 3:40 am

Other Christians…don’t be surprised Rod, if the implosion you predict comes true, that the great threat to orthodox/BenOp communities is not from an aggressive secular anti-Christian state, but from ‘throne-and-altar’ type reactionary Christians of whatever theological flavor.

Your worst case scenario is The Handmaid’s Tale, not 1984.

#31 Comment By DavidM On May 10, 2017 @ 9:59 am

I thought you did well in a tough spot, Rod. One barrier you kept running up against: the host’s total incredulity that the present state of world should require any kind or degree of Christian withdrawal from it. Mr. Ashbrook found the insinuation not merely incredible, but also offensive — as offensively judgmental as he might have found an old-school Religious Right blast about “taking our nation back for God.”

In some ways this is simple incomprehension, but Mr. Ashbrook’s intuition is accurate in this respect: “wipe the dust of that town off your feet” is a judgment. That the Benedict Option isn’t a call for total withdrawal doesn’t mean it isn’t equally radical in its own way. It is a form of judging the world.

#32 Comment By EdR On May 10, 2017 @ 11:20 am

This discussion reminds me a lot of a conversation I once overheard about why battles become so fierce (to the point of cheating or worse) in places that hold relatively little of the public’s attention and involve relatively small amounts of money (academics – non-profit work – less popular sports). I think common sense would suggest that these are the places where we would expect the best of collaboration and some form of meritocracy to emerge. However, we often are surprised to find the opposite to be true as the more marginalized a group becomes the fiercer the battles becomes as that is all there is. There is no margin within the group to absorb or ignore arguments.

All this is to say, I think the reaction to this book in particular represents a similar phenomenon and I think provides compelling evidence for why you are right Rod. The collective “you” has lost the culture wars (probably for a long time now) and the intensification of the reaction to the Benedict Option highlights how marginalized (for the lack of a better word) this kind of thinking and the community around it has become.

I think the biggest risk then becomes you spend so much time clarifying and defending the idea of what the BenOP is that you can’t keep moving forward, and worse, you stop looking for the parts of it that are in fact wrong. You need to take the BenOP out “into the field” – this is where you will learn where you were right and where you were wrong (assuming you are honest enough to look). And, when you do, I strongly suggest you look to work in complexity science and collective impact as they tackle this issue. Admittedly, the fit might be tough as the communities they strive to build would not use Christianity as a moral/spiritual pillar. They are, however, good people that I think provide an amazing window into how difficult this work is and provide a framework for how to start – regardless of the type of community you wish to establish.

#33 Comment By AnnaH On May 10, 2017 @ 1:07 pm

I can speak for Catholics, but I suspect all faithful Christians are called to be chaste even within their marriages. Boom!!! Part of it is to be chaste in thoughts. Then it also means abstinence at times. You can be unchaste even if not technically unfaithful to your spouse. These are things we do not really want to talk about these days (let alone contraception, and the fact that the sexual act must be open to conception at all times). Hard? Yes. Doable? Yes. We are all sinners though, and extremely weak and often fall through even with the best of intentions. The important point therefore is, to my mind, to at least acknowledge sin as sin, and not pretend otherwise.

#34 Comment By JonF On May 10, 2017 @ 1:17 pm

Re: In other words, error does have rights.

No, Fran, people have rights.

#35 Comment By JonF On May 10, 2017 @ 1:27 pm

Durin,
It’s a regular pet peeve of mine here (you may be new) but the word “celibacy” is routinely misused in these parts, and Rod himself did so above. Celibacy is a form of rigorous asceticism that involves remaining unmarried by choice for one’s entire life (no sex is only a part of it) . It is practiced by vowed monastics and by some orders of the clergy, depending on which church we are talking about. It is not, and has never been, a practice intended for the great mass of Christians any more than poverty and pacifism are. To be sure all three of those are higher and heroic virtues– but they are not possible for most of us and we do not sin insofar as we do not practice them (though we may put ourselves in danger of sin if we are not very careful with wealth, violence even in self-defense, and sex and the other fleshly pleasures). The word for Sexual Virtue, the kind that is for everyone, is “Chastity”. I don’t understand why this word is such a non-presence in these debates.

Charles,
one can chop off heads until the whole planet stinks like an charnel, but two plus two will still equal four, the Earth revolves around the sun, and the speed of light remains a constant. Might does not necessarily make right.

#36 Comment By ginger On May 10, 2017 @ 3:05 pm

” You can be unchaste even if not technically unfaithful to your spouse. These are things we do not really want to talk about these days (let alone contraception, and the fact that the sexual act must be open to conception at all times). Hard? Yes. Doable? Yes.”

Indeed, contraception is unchaste, as is oral sex, mutual masturbation, etc. It would appear a very tiny percentage of Catholics are actually chaste with their spouses. When you dig down, even the small percentage of those who say they use NFP not infrequently admit they pleasure each other sexually in other ways during the fertile period. (The Kippleys are really down on many forms of NFP for not being explicit enough with couples about how evil these acts are. Apparently they often run into couples who thought they were using Church-approved NFP only to find out they had been committing instrinsically evil acts for years. I’ve known a few couples like that myself). Add in the fact that even looking at another woman with lust in your heart is adultery, and the numbers probably shrink even further.

When you boil it down, the percentage of chaste Catholic married folks my even be smaller than the percentage of chaste Catholic single folks.

#37 Comment By JonF On May 10, 2017 @ 4:29 pm

rE: Add in the fact that even looking at another woman with lust in your heart is adultery, an

“Lust” is not a synonym for sexual desire any more than “gluttony” is a synonym for “appetite”.

#38 Comment By ginger On May 10, 2017 @ 7:35 pm

JonF: “Lust” is not a synonym for sexual desire any more than “gluttony” is a synonym for “appetite”.

I never said it was. But given the high number of even so-called orthodox Catholic men who masturbate to porn on a regular basis, it would appear plenty of these men are looking at women (or images of them) with plenty of lust in their hearts.

#39 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On May 10, 2017 @ 7:41 pm

“I cannot abide the thought that sitting next to me might be a person who secretly disapproves of my daughter’s lesbian lifestyle.”

Tough. The world is full of people who might secretly disapprove of your daughter’s lesbian lifestyle. Get over it.

No, Fran, people have rights.

Oh what am I to say, when Fran agrees with my earlier comment and JonF corrects her with an observation I think is on point?

(I’m not good at emoticons in this context, but big warm smile, OK?)

“Error has not rights” is a slogan used explicitly by the Roman Catholic Church, and implicitly by the present-day infantile disorder (formerly known as SJW), to infer that while certain rights are universal, certain people forfeit those rights because they are sooooooooooooooo wrong.

So, “error does have rights” is a reasonable refutation of the irrational slogan “error has no rights.” But, its true, people have rights, and their rights are not diminished because someone else believes that person’s exercise of their rights advocates error.

E.g., the producers and funders of the Creation Science Museum do not need my permission, or Donald Trump’s permission, or Richard Dawkins’s permission, to arrange their exhibits and open their doors. They are, however, factually wrong.

#40 Comment By Steve B On May 11, 2017 @ 1:32 pm

Rod, I want to echo the sentiments of the reader who commented on your appearance on Tom Ashbrook’s show. Like you, On Point is one of my favorites on NPR. It was nice to hear Christianity presented as you presented it. It doesn’t happen often on that show. Thanks for your courage and faithfulness.

#41 Comment By Skip R. On May 11, 2017 @ 7:10 pm

Rod, your summary of “pre-modern Christianity,” captures perfectly why some of us evangelicals, who are otherwise Ben-Op fans, want to pull our hair out when you presume to describe the essence of the faith. I don’t know if you are purposefully poking us evangelicals in the eye, or if you are unaware of how much we disagree with statements such as this one: “Pre-modern Christianity is about conforming to a divinely mandated way of life according to standards beyond the self.” Many evangelicals find such a statement to be a half-truth at best and dangerously misleading at worst.

The “pre-modern” Christianity documented in the New Testament is centered around the gospel, that is the “good news” concerning Jesus Christ, the Son of God. The emphasis is first on the good news that God has entered this world in the flesh to save sinners, indeed to deliver the entire creation from death and corruption. Jesus has accomplished this by his life, sacrificial death, and resurrection. He has ascended to the Father where he intercedes for us and he will return to judge the living and the dead and to establish the new heavens and new earth. This is “news” not “a mandated way of life according to standards beyond the self.”

Of course, it absolutely is true that the the Good News implies a “mandated way of life according to standards beyond the self.” But, attention to Christ-like and Christ-mandated way of living must follow attention to the Good News. Evangelicals read the New Testament giving primacy of place, not to what we are called to do, but to what God in Christ has done for us.

Only after laying the foundation of the “news” concerning Jesus, can we Christians successfully hear and take up the calling of Christ-like, holy living.

Describing the essence of pre-modern Christianity as a “mandated way of life according to standards beyond the self,” runs the risk of promulgating Christianity as just another noble religion. Can’t Judaism be described as a “mandated way of life according to standards beyond the self”? The Pharisees of whom we read so much in the Gospels were definitely pursuing a “mandated way of life according to standards beyond the self.”

In fact, isn’t that also an accurate description of Islam, and of most other religions that are concerned with ethics?

What makes Christianity of any era (pre-modern, modern, or post-modern) or church (Orthodox, Catholic, or those arising from the Reformation) different from other religions is the degree to which it emphasizes first and foremost what God has done in Christ. That emphasis is the prerequisite foundation for the blessing that follows, namely learning and obeying the commands of Christ and his apostles, which, of course is the “mandated way of life according to standards beyond the self” to which we are called.

#42 Comment By hstromj On May 12, 2017 @ 3:11 pm

If I had to summarize Christianity I would think along the lines of propitiation, atonement, redemption and maybe best – forgiveness.

And I think that is what really sets us apart as a country. We’re not really forgiving in a lot of ways that we should be. We are so concerned about our own value and worth that we often lose perspective.

We talk about the rule of law, and there should be a rule of law, but it seems that our rule of law is increasingly designed to preclude forgiveness.

Everything we do seems to follow us – and that is not what happens with Christianity. Our sins and mistakes are forgiven and the Bible says that it is as if they never occurred.

But in our country if you have a credit issue, it will follow you everywhere, even employers are legally allowed to judge you based on your credit record. If you make a mistake legally, it will follow you always. Regardless of whether if affects you it will always be on a record somewhere for someone to access.

When some of these people get out of jail in their mid-30s, 40s or whatever, they have so much against them still to overcome, that it is as if they never “paid their debt” to society. Now employers, landlords and any number of other people and legally allowed access to the history of their lives.

If you think about it there are so many examples in our day to day life beyond these examples that show that our society is more oriented toward law than forgiveness.

I don’t know what we can about it, but it wasn’t always so. There has been a proliferation of Talmudic type analysis of laws and legalities and lawsuits that forced us into some type of society that is at odds with the fundamental objective of Christianity and the Cross.

#43 Comment By Kelly M. On May 12, 2017 @ 4:27 pm

This caravan has passed—I haven’t been reading your blog for a few days—but, a comment.

I really like “On Point” for the issues addressed.

I really dislike Tom Ashbrook for how he handles those issues. He seems to be some kind of narrow-escape Christian (rescued from biblical foundations by the enlightened). In any case, he is doggedly biased in any argument, always taking sides, always misrepresenting his opponents.

So don’t be hard on yourself. The man wouldn’t give you a fair hearing.

#44 Comment By Dr.Diprospan On May 14, 2017 @ 2:47 am

Benedict option is a project to preserve Christian values. Although I am convinced that the American conservative is a broader concept. Anyone who wants to preserve some part of America is close in spirit to each other. The symbol for the Benedict Option is a cross over the old monastery. I would have liked the emblem for the American conservative as picture of a male and female turtles who ride on a harnessed cart of American settlers along the endless prairie to the horizon. It seems to me that not a conservative Christian, but a conservative American, is able to unite the most diverse layers of conservatives on the planet. Then perhaps conservative Christians will not have to hide in monastic communities. That’s why I liked the words Steve Thorngate when he said I still hope for something even more outrageous: that we may all somehow be one.

#45 Comment By a commenter On May 14, 2017 @ 2:23 pm

“But when host Tom Ashbrook said that “there is no place for her in your country,” or words close to that, I did not really know how to respond. It’s not true, but by the time I understood the claim, the moment had passed. I think that many well-intentioned liberals simply cannot stand the thought of diversity unless they set the terms.”

First of all, I don’t know about this particular interviewer, but I think many of the liberals are not well-intentioned. When people refer to God as “god”, I know that they are not approaching the conversation in good faith. Would you say, “jane eyre is a fictional character in a book?” No, because even though Jane Eyre is a fictional character, her name is still a proper noun so the first letter is capitalised. They disrespect Christianity so much they can’t even bring themselves to use grammatical conventions when referring to God. So, let’s dispense with the fiction that they are well-intentioned. They aren’t. Their goal is to find some sort of gotcha with which to humiliate you on-air, usually using whatever argumentative fallacy is stylish in progressive quarters this week. Don’t lose confidence because people who won’t hear don’t hear.

As to the substantive issue of the Church’s expectation of chastity practiced by sexual minorities. I know why people have a hard time with this. It’s because we have lost the willingness to accept the cross. We expect to live happy and fulfilled lives and if we are asked to make sacrifices, we expect that such sacrifices will be carefully titrated so as to not actually demand anything too strenuous of us. In reality, the Church asks all of us to pick up our cross and for some it will be harder than for others. Some people get healthy children and others get children who suffer terribly and die early. Some people have long, happy marriages and others get abandoned and left to live out their lives in loneliness, or have a spouse who becomes chronically ill and sexually unavailable for years. I can understand gay or transgender people asking why they alone should carry the burden of maintaining church tradition on sexuality if all the married people are divorcing and remarrying and doing other improper practices to maximise their own sexual satisfaction. But in fact, it’s not that married people are allowed to rejigger theology to their own benefit while transgender people cannot. Rather, no one is meant to be manipulating the theology for personal benefit, including married people and everyone else too. But in terms of the amount of suffering expected, theology doesn’t work like an algebraic equation where the amount of suffering must be held at a constant value or brought to zero.

In any case, in Christianity we believe in the communion of saints, so our unavoidable suffering doesn’t go wasted, but is a conduit for God’s grace to ourselves and the rest of the faithful. The last shall be first etcetera etcetera.

#46 Comment By JonF On May 15, 2017 @ 9:20 am

Re: So, let’s dispense with the fiction that they are well-intentioned. They aren’t. Their goal is to find some sort of gotcha with which to humiliate you on-air, usually using whatever argumentative fallacy is stylish in progressive quarters this week.

How much did that broad tar-brush cost?
By the way I have never seen anyone write “god” when they meant “God” except perhaps by way of typo. I have seen the circumlocution “the Christian god”, which, although needlessly wordy, is not grammatically incorrect. And of course some Christians do something similar when they refer to “The Muslim god”.