The Benedict Option, by Rod Dreher

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Europe’s abandonment of its Christian roots is self-evident when its constitution framers abjectly omit Christianity’s role in its history. Europe not only rejects the Christian church for its future but also excises its significance from its past. The Benedict Option, by Rod Dreher of the “The American Conservative” journal, excoriates that the new world has gone the way of the old world and offers “a strategy for Christians in a post-Christian nation.” His title is from St Benedict of Nursia, a sixth century priest, who left society to found a network of monasteries that inspired generations of monks for the contemplative life.

Dreher urges Christians to abandon their societal participation for the Benedict option. He resigns that the cultural war against secularism is lost by an enfeebled church. Many Americans have been seduced by a deistic, therapeutic, sex-obsessed culture. Political involvement or social resistance will not save a decadent society. Instead, Christians should collect their resources and cultivate an infrastructure for faith conclaves. They should transform their homes into a kind of “domestic monastery,” that includes home schooling and an exclusive commerce that sells and buys only “Christian.”

David Brooks of the New York Times considers The Benedict Option the most important religious book of this decade. Doubtless, Dreher’s intriguing notion is worth a considerate read. As a cleric in the Christian church and its educational institution, I am also troubled by Christianity’s precipitous decline in American life. However, several reservations emerge as I engage this thin book. One, although this is not his first offer, even in a book form, Dreher’s preachy simplicity oscillates between implacable polemics and myopic practices. Much is shallow delineation that ignores the option’s profound cultural, social and economic implications for sincere families. Two, he also overlooks the church’s contribution to America’s moral collapse. Studies show again and again that there are little moral differences between the life styles of Christians and non-Christians. Pushing the Benedict’s Rules aside, too many church goers may be professing theists but are practicing deists. Three, there is no denying that the sexual revolution has morphed the normalization of abortion, homosexuality, same-sex marriage and pornography. If taken in their historical contexts, are they sure signs of irreversible cultural collapse? Perhaps not. America has perpetrated similar moral deviants before – slavery, Native American genocide and women’s suffrage. Yet the church experienced revival from epoch to epoch. Four, the gospel calls for Christians to vitally engage society, not abandon it. It seems self-contradictory professing a living witness for Christ in the world while advocating an exclusion from society. The Essenes of first century Judaism abandoned decadent Jerusalem, headed for the hills and nurtured their own “Benedict option.” In their disengagement from society, they missed the advent of Christ. Living faith can only be potent when its faith community practices its faith dynamically in any given contexts.

A better alternative in this dark moment is for the church to pause and search its own soul. If dominant culture has failed Christians, then as witnesses of Biblical truths, Christians have also failed society. To uncover its “saving faithfulness,” (Psalm 69.13) the church needs to recover its identity as God’s presence in society. Quoting Robert Louis Kenan, professor of history of Christianity, when the church lives God’s call culturally, socially and spiritually, then others will “know that there is another city in their midst, another commonwealth, one that has its face, like the faces of angels, turned toward the face of God.” (italic mine)