I have been thinking about what is called the Benedict Option for a while. It is Rod Dreher’s proposal for Christians to strategically withdraw from the political culture wars. Last August in the midst of America’s train-wreck of an election, I wrote about it. I suggested a “Jeremiah Option” instead, referring to Jeremiah 29:5-7.
I pointed out that, beginning with their exile in Babylon, the Jews have had more experience being a diaspora community than have Christians.
Rod Dreher’s new book on The Benedict Option is out and generating much discussion.
Rod has been complaining that some of the early reviews read ideas into his book that are not there. He likes Scot McKnight’s review, though. So, if you aren’t going to read the book and want an idea about it, I would start with McKnight.
One of the things about the Benedict Option is that it requires the forming of a new kind of Christian community. The original St. Benedict founded monasteries. Dreher doesn’t propose that for most people. He is talking about enclaves that create within our culture networks that deal with the issues of sexuality, consumerism, individualism, and divisiveness in a distinctively Christian way.
I do see the problem of how our participation in society tends to compromise faith and virtue. Many have seen how participation in the public education system does this. So home schooling networks came into existence.
It is not so easy to see how we can separate out from many other systems: healthcare, entertainment, political parties, and higher education. Do we really want these to be separate for Christians? Not Rod is proposing quite that.
Marriage and family is probably the most pressing issue. Recent events have highlighted the secular nature of marriage. It is seen as a civil right and not necessarily as something having anything to do with bearing and raising children. I had a strong critique of civil marriage long before gay marriage was the issue. No fault divorce it seemed to me–with its lack of any sanctions to enforce the vows–forced us all to have de facto open marriages.
Some have proposed a separate faith-based system of “covenant marriage”. Others have proposed that clergy stop signing civil marriage licenses. But so far we really haven’t found a way to–so to speak–repeal and replace marriage.
Rod Dreher is Eastern Orthodox. He already has a counter-cultural community that is over against the individualism of society. I was thinking about this during Lent. One of my sons and his family are Eastern Orthodox. During Lent they fast as a community, and they break their fast as a community. I, as a mainline Protestant, can decide to fast or give something up during Lent. But it would be an individual decision and action. I would not do it in solidarity with a community, but as an individual expressing my personal spirituality.
And, I confess, I am a little afraid of submitting to a larger community. I am too attached to exercising my critical judgment. A community is not necessarily more correct than an individual. Sometimes communities impose doctrinal and behavioral standards that I would not be able to live with.
Michelle Van Loon has a thoughtful post about this asking, “Is it Possible to Think for Ourselves AND Pursue Spiritual Community? She brings experience of having come under pressure toward group-think when she was part of the home schooling movement.
I could go on and call into question the value of the contemporary emphasis on networking. For the most part I opted out of networking even when I was told it would help my career. And I blame networking for the fact that people are so divided today. The people who say, “I don’t know anybody who voted for Trump” or “I don’t know any immigrants” are probably victims of networking. Networks are not very catholic. They tend to limit our experience.