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Jordan Peterson-izing The Ben Op

The Benedict Option is not a defeatist tract, but an empowering one
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I was in the “look inside” mode of Amazon’s page for Jordan Peterson’s upcoming book 12 Rules Of Life: An Antidote To Chaos (to be published next week), and found this passage from his first chapter. The chapter is about hierarchy and assertiveness, and how these are hard-wired into us biologically. In the chapter, Peterson advises his readers to stand tall and be confident, because that will improve your chances of succeeding in your tasks. Excerpt:

Note that line: “To stand up straight with your shoulders back means building the ark that protect the world from the flood…”

This gives me an idea why The Benedict Option might have had trouble with some Christians who would ordinarily be sympathetic to it: they perceive it not as a spur to meet the immense challenge of our times constructively — building arks — but rather perceive it as a defeatist project. If you read the book, you’ll see that I’m urging fellow believers to be what Pope Benedict XVI called “creative minorities,” and build “arks” within which the faith can endure through the long Dark Age upon us.

But if you never pick up the book because you think it’s a defeatist tract, then you won’t know that. And I have to own up to some responsibility here. I have worked so hard to wake up small-o orthodox Christians to the very real catastrophe posed by liquid modernity that I have probably oversold the “brace for it” aspect of the Benedict Option, and undersold the “let’s rally to meet the challenge of our time” aspect.

To use Peterson’s terms, the “order” that we Christians have been living with, and have depended on to understand our world, is dying, and is quickly going to be dead. To the extent Christians today identify with this order and its values, Christianity will cease to exist. I explain why in the book. We who wish to hold on to the faith have to withstand the uncertainty, and establish a better, more meaningful and more productive order. This is what the Benedict Option calls for!

It does not speak of an order for everyone — a universal plan to replace an unsustainable liberalism. At this stage, it only talks about an order for Christians (an internal order, a church order, a local community order). In his forthcoming book, Peterson has a chapter whose title urges readers to get their own house in order before they start telling others what to do. From  a Ben Op perspective, I endorse the sentiment as applied to conservative Christians like me. The Benedict Option is primarily inwardly focused because we Christians live in so much internal disorder. That has to change before we can be for the world who Our Lord calls us to be.

Here are some screengrabs from that particular chapter of Peterson’s book, via Amazon’s “Look Inside” feature:


Peterson goes on to say:

Don’t blame capitalism, the radical left, or the iniquity of your enemies. Don’t reorganize the state until you have ordered your own experience. Have some humility. If you cannot bring peace to your household, how dare you try to rule a city?

You can easily imagine the kinds of questions the Benedict Option would pose to Christians, along the lines of that “Consider your circumstances” paragraph above. And more: if we can’t even keep our own hearts, our families, and our churches stable, ordered, and faithful; and if we can’t even pass on the faith to our children, what makes us Christians think that our ideas for how the state ought to be run are the thing we should focus our passion on?

If you know anything about Peterson, you know that he strongly believes that identity politics are poison. What he’s trying to do here is to empower his readers. That’s exactly my intention with The Benedict Option. We can’t begin to do better for ourselves until and unless we take honest, unsparing stock of where we are, and how we got there.