The Benedict Option: A Strategy for Christians in a Post-Christian Nation by Rod Dreher

The Benedict Option: A Strategy for Christians in a Post-Christian Nation

In a radical new vision for the future of Christianity, NYT bestselling author and conservative columnist Rod Dreher calls on American Christians to prepare for the coming Dark Age by embracing an ancient Christian way of life. The light of the Christian faith is flickering out all over the West, and only the willfully blind refuse to see it. From the outside, American chu...

Title:The Benedict Option: A Strategy for Christians in a Post-Christian Nation
Author:
Rating:
ISBN:0735213291
Edition Language:English
Format Type:Hardcover
Number of Pages:262 pages

The Benedict Option: A Strategy for Christians in a Post-Christian Nation Reviews

  • Jeremy
    Mar 13, 2017

    Katelyn Beaty's

    at

    . James K. A. Smith

    it in

    , lasering in on Dreher's alleged alarmism. Smith says something similar, and harsher, at

    , and Dreher

    (although the pun is irresistible). Dreher and Smith have clashed over this

    .

    Here's

    interviewed by Tucker Carlson in mid-March 2017. Here's

    , and here's

    . Doug Wilson invites people to read the book with him: see his posts on the introduction and first chapter

    ,

    Katelyn Beaty's

    at

    . James K. A. Smith

    it in

    , lasering in on Dreher's alleged alarmism. Smith says something similar, and harsher, at

    , and Dreher

    (although the pun is irresistible). Dreher and Smith have clashed over this

    .

    Here's

    interviewed by Tucker Carlson in mid-March 2017. Here's

    , and here's

    . Doug Wilson invites people to read the book with him: see his posts on the introduction and first chapter

    , the second chapter

    , the third chapter

    , the fourth chapter

    , the fifth chapter

    , the sixth chapter

    , the seventh chapter

    , the eighth chapter

    , and the ninth chapter

    . Here's a

    (a roundup of comments) regarding the book, along with Dreher's

    . (He also includes a response to Alan Jacobs's

    .)

    RHE didn't like the BenOp, but Dreher

    . Dreher appreciated the

    by Crouch and Prior. Here are more reviews at

    ,

    ,

    (and a

    ).

    Before this was a book, Dreher had written some posts on the subject. (

    ) Marvin Olasky at

    prefers the

    , and some prefer the

    (named for William F. Buckley, Jr.), whereas other prefer the

    . There's also the

    , the

    , and the

    (from an Australian theologian). One Kuyperian

    , "I see Rod Dreher's St. Benedict and raise him St. Boniface," but Kuyper vs. Boniface doesn't need to be

    . Here are some

    based on Tolkien's characters (Boromir, Bombadil, and Gamgee).

  • Melanie
    Apr 23, 2017

    I was looking forward to this book for quite awhile. I wanted to like it, but it was just ok. Maybe because I've read a lot of Dreher's thoughts on this topic on his blog and there wasn't much new. Chapter 3, about the Rule, was the chapter I most enjoyed - it made me think of ways I could imitate monastery life in my own family life.

    Esolen's "Out of the Ashes" has a similar message, but is better written and gives more practical suggestions.

  • Calvinist Batman
    Mar 17, 2017

    This book was quite thought provoking. It's one of those books everyone needs to read. I don't agree with *everything* he says, but I agree with way more than I thought I would. Some may see this book as extremely alarmist, but I don't think those people have their feet in reality as a Christian.

    I enjoyed the second half of the book more than the first, though it was all really good. The sections on education, liturgy, and work were some of the best. I heartily reco it.

  • Charles
    Mar 14, 2017

    "The Benedict Option" is, as I expected, an outstanding book. Rod Dreher has definitively shown that he is the Pope Urban of a new and dynamic movement, and this book has occasioned much commentary in the mainstream press. Unfortunately, the main point of Dreher’s book—to make a countercultural call for individual and group Christian renewal focused on communities of believers—has been somewhat lost in a subsidiary point, the real and growing persecution of Christian believers in mainstream soci

    "The Benedict Option" is, as I expected, an outstanding book. Rod Dreher has definitively shown that he is the Pope Urban of a new and dynamic movement, and this book has occasioned much commentary in the mainstream press. Unfortunately, the main point of Dreher’s book—to make a countercultural call for individual and group Christian renewal focused on communities of believers—has been somewhat lost in a subsidiary point, the real and growing persecution of Christian believers in mainstream society. This was inevitable, I suppose, because persecution is more interesting to outsiders than a call to holiness, but unfortunate, because it caricatures Dreher and tends to erode receptivity to his message.

    On the other hand, I also think that Dreher tries to wholly separate those two things, when they are necessarily intertwined. If I were forced to produce a criticism of this book, it is that Dreher is too optimistic about the continued existence of a private religious sphere in the world of, and opposed to the core beliefs of, a technologically advanced, all-intrusive Leviathan state. He makes a few nods in the direction of this concern, but no more (though those nods are aggressively enough phrased to make the reader wonder if Dreher is merely holding his fire). Second, if I had to produce an addition to this book, it would be that I think there is a key distinction to be made between Christianity as religion and Christianity as the mainspring of Western civilization, but that both must be renewed, for they are the warp and the weft of any decent future that Man has. Third and finally, I think that this criticism and this addition require the same response, which will help bring Dreher’s vision to life. Namely, the extension of Dreher’s call to, or an incorporation within Dreher’s call of, the expansive and outward-directed faith of the medieval military orders, or, for those not inclined to weaponry, the spiritual militancy of St. Ignatius (not the desiccated, impotent heterodoxy that passes for “Jesuit” today). For in these latter days, everything old is new again, and sometimes the old answers are necessary to complete the new answers.

    Oh, I can hear you saying, “What an unrealistic fool! Dreher shows us that the wolf is at the door, and your response is to take the fight to the wolf, and to the wolf’s kin?” Yes, to an extent, but hear me out. After all, that approach worked for the Three Little Pigs, who, like the characters in all great fairy tales, embody timeless truths about humanity.

    Dreher’s main focus is on the necessary renewal of orthodox Christianity, its rescue in the West from the morass of Moralistic Therapeutic Deism. (He also notes and cites, in several places, Orthodox Judaism, though that is not his tradition and he has less to say on that topic, but presumably what he would say is not substantially different.) This is a personal call to each of us. He demonstrates with efficiency and without possibility of meaningful contradiction that the number of American Christians who understand, much less believe, and even less practice, orthodox Christianity, doctrines that have been held to be central requirements of Christian faith for millennia, is vanishingly small. And in tandem he convincingly demonstrates that the modern American state (consisting not only of the government but also of the oligarchy of the powerful), which state is the armed herald both of absolute liberty and of denial of the telos of man based on the logos of God, is locked in irreconcilable conflict with orthodox Christianity. Dreher approaches this as a religious question, which it is, and places most of his emphasis on how orthodox believers can preserve, strengthen and carry on their faith. But, of course, this is also a civilizational question—what does it mean for our civilization that orthodox Christianity, on which it is based, is being squeezed out of existence?

    Before we get to the civilizational question, first, on the Leviathan state. “Leviathan” is really a misnomer—the term conveys size and power without an ideological component, and it is redolent of the 17th Century, of the famous image on the cover of Hobbes’s book. Perhaps “Cthulhu state” would be a better term, after Lovecraft’s otherworldly creature of subterranean horror, multi-tentacled and capable of reaching into the souls of men. And also unlike Hobbes’s Leviathan, in the West today the Cthulhu state has a very specific ideological vision, not merely a lust for power. Its vision is of man as malleable and infinitely perfectible machine, rather than a created being ordered by something outside himself and containing inherent qualities and limits.

    As Dreher says, what Christianity means is “the discovery of the order, the logos, that God has written into the nature of Creation and seeking to live in harmony with it. It also implies the realization of natural limits within Creation’s givenness, as opposed to believing that nature is something we can deny or refute, according to our own desires.” And, “Over the past six centuries, Western man has come to reject the idea that there is intrinsic purpose built into Creation, and instead come to see meaning as something extrinsic—that is, imposed from outside. . . . Poet Wendell Berry responded to techno-utopian scientism with the observation that civilization must decide whether we see persons as creatures or as machines. If we are creatures, he argued, then we have purpose and meaning, but also limits. If we see ourselves, and the world around us, as a machine, then we believe the Faustian myth of our own limitless power to recreate ourselves.” Thus, since the Cthulhu state embodies this modern vision, it and Christianity necessarily are embroiled in a conflict of visions, and there can be only one victor, for the two visions are incompatible. Christianity may co-exist with Leviathan; it cannot co-exist with Cthulhu. There can be only one.

    Dreher, of course, draws an explicit analogy between today and the time of St. Benedict. His reference to St. Benedict originates in Alisdair Macintyre’s call for a “another—and doubtless very different—St. Benedict.” The flaw in this analogy as applied here is that in St. Benedict’s time, there was no government to notice what Benedict did. The tottering Empire cared nothing for what happened in rural areas of the lost Italian provinces. The only extant government of the time (other than the distant Visigoth overlord in Ravenna), local government, was either indifferent, or, more likely, favorable toward monks who caused no problems, enhanced the stature of the local lord, and prayed for his soul when he was dead. For after all, the local lords, and the local population, were Christian, even if the lords were often religiously indifferent, in the manner of most men of power.

    But today, all levels of the Cthulhu state care very much what we, Dreher’s proposed inheritors of the new Benedictine way, do. Our Empire is an empire in the full and poisonous flower of decadence, violently opposed to the thought crimes of adherents of the Benedict Option, since they deny the core ideological foundation of the Empire, which in its service commands power and reach undreamt of in any past age. Our government may not control the Mark of the Beast, withdrawing power to buy and sell, but it is not far off, for it controls whether a man may earn his daily bread, and whether his children will be snatched from him by masked men wielding guns, for teaching them that a man is a man and a woman a woman.

    Dreher has a beautiful vision. He returns again and again to scenes of the present-day monks of Norcia, and communitarian groups raising olives in sunlit groves. Of course, these are exemplars, metaphors, for his vision of groups of normal people leading normal lives in average places, but organizing them around renewed orthodoxy and community with others of like mind. Dreher sees challenges to this, among them that, in his view, persecution is possible, but the largest one is that renewed orthodoxy in a time of material plenty, alienating yet seductive technology, and spiritual anomie is not attractive to most.

    But Dreher fails to project the future adequately. He errs, as Orwell said of James Burnham, in predicting “the continuation of the thing that is happening.” Not wholly, of course—he predicts, or at least hopes for, that faithful Christians will heed his call, and make a change in the arc of history. At the same time, he predicts that powers opposed to the orthodox will continue much as they are, or perhaps become mildly worse, and that Christians should remain politically involved to limit the damage. But they will in fact become much worse, and Dreher himself identifies that orthodox Christians today lack all traditional political power, so limiting damage is a false hope (and Dreher does quote a modern Benedictine that “the best defense is offense” and “we have to push outward, infinitely,” but he does not pursue the point). The ideology of the Left commands no deviation from the path to atomistic individuality enforced by the iron will of the state, and no quarter for deviants. You may be allowed to fast on Wednesdays and Fridays, if you keep it to yourself. Sooner rather than later, no matter how you humble yourself before the state, you will no longer be allowed to teach your children truths that contradict the premises of the state, or to do anything else that may preserve and maintain your vision of the good. There can be only one.

    Thus, whatever happens with Trump (and Dreher puts no faith in him, nor should he), soon enough the harpies will return on the wing, as always, to advance their vision of the world, as if Trump never was. One step back, two steps forward, always and forever. For them, there can be no rest from the need to impose ideological uniformity to pave the road to Utopia. It is of no matter, to them or us, that as ever, in reality Utopia will never arrive and at the end of the road lies not a shining city but yet another sprawling delta of blood and pain. To avoid this, reordering our lives and communities is necessary, but not sufficient. We must dynamite the road to the chimerical Utopia, salt the earth, and leave the harpies’ corpses to rot on the lone and level sands. Only by this act of overwatch can Dreher’s communities of virtue survive.

    Second, on Western civilization, or what is more accurately called Christendom. Dreher focuses not on civilization but on explicitly local communities and how Christians are failing to maintain and pass on their religion at the local level. In essence, Dreher writes civilization off. Perhaps this is correct; a Toynbee or a Spengler would say that civilizations rise and fall in rhythms not amenable to repair. And perhaps it does not matter; one possible Christian response is that since we are assured Christianity is forever, our civilization is of no consequence, and that Christianity will be the leaven of a new civilization, if ours is doomed. In this case, the Benedict Option, in the long term, serves primarily to form seeds that can regenerate Christianity in the new world as it arises.

    But this is the counsel of defeatism. Our culture is wholly based on Christianity. It is the common inheritance, and the common framework, of the West. Every moral virtue and aspiration we associate with civilization; the core values that even the minions of the Cthulhu state pay lip service to, is a Christian value. We forget that life for any but a select few before Christianity, even in advanced civilizations such as Rome, was extremely unpleasant and based on domination of the weak (as shown in detail in Sarah Ruden’s excellent "Paul Among the People"). We forget that the same is true for any other civilization before or since the rise of Christianity, except for ours (and except for the civilization of Islam, which is, after all, just a distorted vision of Christianity, containing some of its good points with an admixture of new bad points). It is not likely that a new civilization, with a new religion (for the ideology of the Cthulhu state, being based on denial of human nature, could never survive a civilizational collapse, thus some religion will rise, which could be Christianity again, but we cannot be certain of that), will embody any of the tenets of Christianity which ennoble our civilization. Thus, we should strive to maintain and rebuild Christendom, not just our local communities.

    So we must renew this civilization, or face an eon of darkness. No civilization but ours has ever tolerated Christianity, for that religion fundamentally undermines the power of any state that does not respect the telos of man, and that undermining cannot be tolerated except by a civilization in which the rulers are themselves civilized by Christianity. Again, as Dreher says, “[H]owever far any given society in Christendom has been from the ideal—and every one has—there was a shared understanding that there was an ideal outside of ourselves to which we must aspire.” Christendom is the last, best hope of mankind; it is unique, not just another civilization. Our future if we do not renew this civilization is likely to be similar to the far future depicted in the epic science fiction cycle of Cordwainer Smith (the pseudonym of Paul Linebarger, mid-20th Century US diplomat to China, godson of Sun Yat-Sen and confidant of Chiang Kai-Shek). His stories take place thousands of years in the future, when the worlds of humans are run by the Instrumentality of Mankind, an oppressive, yet not evil, oligarchy which forbids the export of religion. Nonetheless, the Lords of the Instrumentality face the survival and slow spread of Christianity, religion of the oppressed half-human Underpeople, known as the Old Strong Religion with its tokens of the God Nailed High. Such is the long-term fate of Christianity in a civilization that is not itself Christian. It is not nothing, but it is not enough. Therefore, we cannot be indifferent to the fate of this, our, civilization.

    I have above offered two points in response to Dreher’s carefully tailored recommendations for Christian renewal. Both of my points came with vague prescription of some form of unspecified resistance, which on the surface seems wildly unrealistic, to stand against the might of a powerful state and the currents of civilizational history. But perhaps we are not just waiting for a new, and doubtless very different, St. Benedict. Perhaps we are also waiting for a new and very different St. Francis, an unforeseeable and unknown quantity, a man (or woman) who arises unexpectedly to lead us and to fight the future. After all, we are assured that nothing is impossible with God. If we truly believe that, it is our responsibility to do what is necessary to make straight the way, that we may have clean earth for our children, and our children’s children. And to wait, armed with the necessary spiritual and physical weapons, for the time to present itself.

    Fine words, but as they said in Hobbes’s time, fine words butter no parsnips. So what does this mean in practice, beyond Dreher’s own prescriptions, which, as far as outward direction, center on largely passive witness? That is hard to say at this moment, for we also should not make the error of merely predicting the continuation of the thing that is happening. It certainly means being aggressively uncompromising, for any compromise is merely seen as weakness and taken as the new starting line for further attacks against us. And it means, for every action, a reaction. But it means more. It means aggressive proselytization of the heathen, perhaps with a new set of Jesuits, with the heathen as our neighbors, not primitive tribes in the jungle or the educated mandarins of an alien civilization. In a future time, it may mean defending against, or even prophylactically instigating, violence when and where violence is proffered to us, either by the overweening state or as a result of the fragmentation of the state’s authority. Without thorns to repel those who would do it and its people harm, if the Benedict Option gains traction, it will be attacked and destroyed. In that time, we would need a new and very different set of Templars.

    But if, as Dreher says, orthodox Christians are a tiny minority who must band together more tightly for survival, what possible chance does aggressive action have? Perhaps so, yet orthodox Christians have always been a minority; they just need to always be enough to offer the true path to those who have ears to hear, and to form the framework of a civilization in which most people try, to a greater or lesser degree, to adhere to the tenets of Christianity, often failing, but structuring their world around it. The reality is, as the Jesuits once knew, that sending messengers to the heathen, even if some of the messengers are killed, brings people to Christ in a way that mere lived example and passive witness does not. Nobody is rushing to join the Amish and they have no influence on the larger world, for they offer nothing but their example, hidden largely away. The truth is out there, but it must be advertised, as when a lion roars.

    Who can say what the future holds? It is a great error to divine the precise outlines of the future and then to base one’s action upon the vision. Not only will the vision never exactly match the future, but when the two diverge, the impulse is to try to force reality into the vision, which can only cause harm. Rather, we should make ready for the uncertain future, both through following Dreher’s wise prescriptions, and by realizing that on the basis of what we thereby create, supplemented as necessary with the tools of evangelization and of war, each used as an embassy or a spear, we also make possible the maintenance and renewal of all things.

  • Bob
    Mar 26, 2017

    The idea of "the Benedict Option" first came to my attention last summer when I was writing decrying the poisonous discourse, and what I felt was the lack of real choices in our presidential and some other races. A friend pos

    The idea of "the Benedict Option" first came to my attention last summer when I was writing decrying the poisonous discourse, and what I felt was the lack of real choices in our presidential and some other races. A friend posted a comment pointing me to the writing of a conservative commentator, Rod Dreher, and articles he had written about "the Benedict Option," inspired by the ideas of philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre. Subsequently, I wrote a post asking the question, "Is it Time for the 'Benedict Option'?" My own opinion at the time was that while Dreher raises some critically important issues to which I believe churches must address themselves, I argued for an alternative sociologist James Davision Hunter calls "faithful presence."

    Now Dreher has published a fuller version of his argument in the recently released The Benedict Option. While I stand by my earlier opinion about the proposal, I have a deeper appreciation for the concerns that motivate Dreher and the value in what he proposes. Reading this fuller statement of the outworking of his ideas raised some additional concerns both about what he proposes and what he fails to address.

    First of all, critical to understanding Dreher's proposal is his assessment of the state of our culture in America. He opens the book likening the situation to a catastrophic flood in which the most strategic option of the survival of the church is the build an ark. He cites the failure of political "culture wars," culminating in the legalizing of gay marriage, and the morally and theologically compromised state of conservative, mainline Protestant, and Catholic churches alike, typified in what Christian Smith has called "moral therapeutic deism". He contends that it is time for the church to consider a strategic withdrawal along the lines of St. Benedict, who found Rome after barbarian invasions both in ruins and decadent. It is important to read Dreher closely here or one will simply hear him as saying we need to "head for the hills" or all become monks. Perhaps his choice of flood imagery is unfortunate here. Many of his examples in subsequent parts of the book suggest rather Christians who are part of counter-cultural communities that form people in Christ in the midst of an increasingly and more radically secular environment.

    What does Dreher draw from the example of Benedict (and modern day Benedictine communities which he visited)? Fundamentally he argues that Christians need to be in a community with a rule of life that forms character, informs behavior, and educates for orthodoxy. Such communities reflect a God-shaped order, life of prayer, work, ascetic practices, stability, hospitality, and balance.

    After making the case for the need for the Benedict Option, including a history of the decline of western culture, and describing what may be drawn from the Benedictine example, Dreher discusses what this means for a number of areas of life:

    Dreher contends efforts of "values voters" to shape a national agenda around Christian values has failed. He calls for a localism that begins by re-establishing bonds of substantive community both within local congregations and in one's local setting.

    He argues for rediscovering how Christians prayed, lived, and worshiped in the past. This includes recovering liturgical worship that involves the whole of one's body, fasting and other ascetic practices, church discipline and witness through the arts.

    Dreher thinks not only the family but also "the village" has an important impact on our lives, and particularly those of our children and strengthening our social networks within churches and between orthodox churches should be a priority.

    Dreher's concern for children comes through in many chapters, and particularly here. He argues particularly for pulling children out of public schools and for "classical Christian education."

    He argues that Christians should be prepared to lose their jobs in many fields where choices of conscience may mean being fired. Christians may need to be entrepreneurial and start their own businesses, be prepared to work in trades and do physical labor, and support one another.

    The church needs to recover a vibrant message about sexuality rooted in creation and incarnation that supports chasteness and marital fidelity between men and women, particularly stands with those who are single and recognizes the scourge of pornography.

    We need to recognize how we've allowed technology to take over our lives, through the internet, smartphones, and even reproductive technologies and that technology is not morally neutral. Dreher would withhold smartphones from teenagers.

    I think the most compelling part of Dreher's argument is that American culture is eating the church's lunch, so to speak. At best, churches provide a thin, spiritual veneer over beliefs and behaviors that contradict church teaching and reflect secular culture rather than vibrant Christian belief and practice. The most important part of his argument is his call for learning from Benedict about the value of a communal rule of life that shapes character, belief, and practice. Dreher has a positive, supportive view of the arts and a vision for the attractive value of cultivating beauty in our communities. I affirm his concluding call that the Benedict Option be embraced out of love, not fear.

    Other parts of his argument rest heavily on whether you accept his assessment of the culture, and the remedy of radical withdrawal. With politics, I think there is something to be said for a greater focus on localism and a disengagement from national political efforts. I disagree that we should do so because of "failure" but rather that the church's "captivity" to particular political parties was never a good idea. His discussion of withdrawing from schools was particularly troublesome to me as a sweeping recommendation (I realize this may be necessary in some contexts). Christians who come together to pray for, volunteer with, support, and engage their local schools have a great impact in many cases, support Christians teaching in the schools, and can teach their children how to think critically about what they are hearing and engage appropriately.

    I'm also concerned for what I do not hear. Apart from one or two statements against racism, this felt like a very "white" book. It did not seem rooted in conversations with people of color or the ethnic churches of which they are part. Education proposals that focus on classical education in the western tradition ignore the realities of ethnic minorities who bring other rich cultural and intellectual traditions with unique insights into the Christian faith into our communal life. The book appeared to me to assume an audience that is conservative and college educated. While focusing heavily and repeatedly on sexual politics, the book had little to say about solidarity with Christians across racial lines, addressing issues of income disparities (apart from some ideas of distributivism and "helping each other out"), or caring for the creation (something the Benedictines do both in living close to the land, and with their focus on poverty which takes just enough to live from the land).

    Dreher's proposal has provoked a national conversation, including reviews and discussion in major media outlets and even an op-ed by David Brooks in the New York Times. It is a book that deserves the attention of church or ministry leaders who take seriously their responsibility for the formation of those in their care. It is worth a read by public educators to understand the concerns (whether warranted or not) many thoughtful religious people have about the current state of public education. I hope this book brings Dreher into a wider conversation beyond the conservative constituency for whom he typically writes, that they will engage seriously with his central contentions, and in turn, that it might lead Dreher into a greater "communion with the saints" that includes Christians of other ethnicities and political commitments.

    _____________________________

    Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

  • Catherine
    Apr 08, 2017

    no one needs more opinions on this book; i will endeavor to live my answer to it

  • Simon
    May 11, 2017

    In the interests of transparency: I was a Benedictine monk for nearly four years, have spent my working life (43 years) at the college run by the Benedictine monks of my former abbey. So I have some experience in living as part of an intentional community, and not only as a monk. The ethos of Benedict is supposed to permeate our larger academic community, as well as have an impact upon the surrounding area (which it does, and has done since the abbey's inception in 1876, both with the Catholic p

    In the interests of transparency: I was a Benedictine monk for nearly four years, have spent my working life (43 years) at the college run by the Benedictine monks of my former abbey. So I have some experience in living as part of an intentional community, and not only as a monk. The ethos of Benedict is supposed to permeate our larger academic community, as well as have an impact upon the surrounding area (which it does, and has done since the abbey's inception in 1876, both with the Catholic population and those of different allegiances). I also trained in medieval history.

    So. Why the lack of love for Dreher's book?

    Part of it stems from the race through western history that opens

    , nearly all of which he gets wrong. This section was unnecessary if one assumes, as many do, that historical context is irrelevant in the examination of "great" books and ideas. But Dreher simplifies

    into a sort of "How the Monks Saved Civilization" narrative that ignores a great deal of factual evidence dealing with "How the Monks Opposed the Institutional Church" or "How the Intentional Mission of the Monasteries May Have Departed From Benedict's Intentional Mission Pretty Damned Quickly". Moreover, he is so concerned with the idea that the West is collapsing that he romanticizes the period before the Reformation/Enlightenment/Industrial Revolution out of all recognition for anyone with even a working knowledge of it. And that's the problem. His historical analysis is an echo chamber of thesis, so it comes as no surprise that Dreher looks at the monastic withdrawal from the world that St. Benedict proposed as a workable solution for the laity.

    Except it really isn't. Even Benedict --- assuming he actually existed as the man described in Gregory's

    --- did not see the monastic vocation as something possessed by every Christian as a tangible mode of living. Aspirationally? Yes. The goal of the monk is union with Christ through the humility practiced by obedience to the Abbot and his fellows. The goal of all Christian life is union with Christ, so no problem so far. But Benedict has nothing to say about the marital vocation (where are all the next group of monks coming from, after all?), which also requires humility and intentional living. So does the single vocation. Which is all well and good, but how exactly does Dreher propose married Catholics live? Here's where the book falls apart.

    He instances Hyattsville, Maryland, where a group of conservative Catholic families took over a failing Catholic school, transformed it with a curriculum that spoke to their needs, and then had several other families move in until hey, presto! an intentional Catholic community formed. But the obvious flaws of 21st century life remain: unless they are willing to go to jail to make their point --- and don't laugh, Daniel Berrigan and Dorothy Day were --- they still pay taxes to a government that legally allows things that directly contradict the teachings of the Church, no? Is withdrawal from the larger American polis to mean that the Benedict Option Catholic ceases to vote? Never mind the fact that 52% of us voted for Donald Trump (which I suppose means 48% voted for Hillary Clinton or the truly execrable Jill Stein, neither of whom represented anything like orthodox Catholic concerns), surely a withdrawal from the intentional American community means that the worst will be empowered? And how are the members of Benedict Option communities to feed their families? Writing a blog and publishing books like this is a nice solution for those as can, but what about the auto worker? Or the migrant? I am a little old to do anything but teach and direct plays, and I have no capacity for homespun crafts at all. Should I keep my day job and live in an intentional community by night?

    The solution is so obvious that only Dreher --- who is surprised that his sister had a support system in place during her final illness, and why wouldn't she? She was not a gyrovague, a word Mr. Dreher's personal journey illustrates beautifully --- can miss it.

    . There. Easy-peasy.

    Except it

    , as Catholics, Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, and probably even ethical atheists can testify. But it is our common vocation not only as believers, but if we are members of any community, even one as small as our nuclear families. So the end product of the book is the end product of Benedict's Rule. Live as though you are a Christian. Forget the Rule. Try the New Testament.

    I have only read this book by Dreher, and many people I respect like his stuff quite a bit. But the whole "siege mentality" evinced by his particular brand of orthodoxy is getting tiresome. We are not put on the Earth to ride anything out, Rod, so eat something sweet, feel better, and get back to work. Feed the hungry, welcome the stranger, shelter the homeless, you know the rest of the drill. And yes, Mary chose the better part. But Martha didn't get kicked out of the house.

    Not recommended for his understanding of Benedict or history. Ok as a ferverino, but you would do better with

    .

  • Douglas Wilson
    Jun 13, 2017

    Strong on diagnosis. Strong on exhortation and commitment. Weak on strategic response. A worthwhile book overall.

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