Monday, March 20, 2017

Is "The Benedict Option" Authentically Benedictine?

I have been reading Paul Baumann's article, "Detachment Plan", in the current issue of Commonweal, in which he reviews Rod Dreher's book, The Benedict Option: A Strategy for Christians in a Post-Christian Nation:
Rod Dreher more or less advocates in his book that authentic Christians withdraw from the wickedness of the world and form their own culture.

In Paul Baumann's words: "In response to the collapse of Roman civilization in the sixth century, St. Benedict established monasticism, preserving the faith from the barbarian hordes. Dreher thinks proponents of liberalism, moral relativism, heedless consumerism, and of course “political correctness” are the new Visigoths, and pose a similar threat to the faith today. He goes further. It is time for “orthodox” lay Christians—and he won’t tolerate much shilly-shallying about what “orthodox” means—to form intentional communities that are separated in significant ways from the moral contagion of the larger culture. These communities will be family-centered (naturally) and presumably in some cases economically self-sustaining (good luck with that). They will most likely be anchored to a church or perhaps gathered around a monastery. (Dreher is smitten by monks, whose sage prophecies of doom he seems to take at face value.) Traditional Christian practices of worship and communal cooperation, based on St. Benedict’s Rule, will structure everyday life. Children will be homeschooled or sent to Christian academies, and thus protected from our toxic popular culture and the state’s malign meddling regarding sexual morality. This is necessary, Dreher writes, because American society has abandoned, and the federal government is now openly hostile to, biblical Christianity and especially traditional sexual morality. Drastic action is required."

Coincidentally, I spent this past Saturday at a Benedictine monastery.  Our parish's RCIA team, of which I am a member, had their day of recollection there.  I don't pretend to be any sort of an expert on Benedictine spirituality, but I have spent quite a bit of time at Benedictine houses of one sort and another. I have been to many events at this monastery over the years. And when my husband was in deacon formation, the classes were held at a Benedictine convent (actually the motherhouse of that congregation). The thing which has impressed me the most about the Benedictines is their charism of hospitality. Their moto is "Let every guest be received as Christ". I never had the sense of them turning their back on the world, it was more of a loving welcome to all who came.  The priests, brothers, and nuns whom I know are actively involved in the mission of the Church outside their walls.  Which is why I don't agree with Dreher's take on a so-called "Benedictine option".

I find this statement disturbing:  "The hour is late, and the open persecution of Christians not far off. Dreher looks to the “hands-on localism” pioneered “by Eastern bloc dissidents who defied Communism” as a model for today’s Christian resistance."  Is this attitude paranoid, or am I just being na├»ve; and Dreher knows something I don't? This fear of persecution seems to be an undercurrent common in Christian circles now.  Nevertheless I agree with the last sentence in Paul Baumann's article, "...I think a church that often (not always!) looks and talks and sounds like the world has its place. After all, when Christ was born into the world, it was not into a gated community."  


  1. Yes, he sounds paranoid to me too. "when Christ was born into the world, it was not into a gated community" ... yeah, and Jesus didn't spend his life apart from the world and its ways like the Essenes, he engaged it and was part of it.

    There's a conservative theme that looks back to the middle ages as the golden time before the world became "disenchanted" by secularism but it doesn't honor the NT and Jesus, it honors medieval scholasticism and Aquinas.

  2. A saint in heaven is a saint in glory; a saint on earth is a different story.

    "From sour-faced saints and silly devotions, good Lord, preserve us!" St. Theresa of Avila