“[T]he Benedict Option is a call to undertaking the long and patient work of reclaiming the real world from the artifice, alienation, and atomization of modern life. It is a way of seeing the world and of living in the world that undermines modernity’s big lie: that humans are nothing more than ghosts in a machine, and we are free to adjust the settings in any way we like.” Rod Dreher, The Benedict Option: A Strategy for Christians in a Post-Christian Nation (236).
If you’re a Christian, don’t read this book unless you are truly willing to face the deep realities that Rod Dreher presents within its pages.
But if you are a Christian, you really should read this book.
It will move you to change your life.
And you will find it is not the same book some critics have described.
The Benedict Option is not a call for the faithful to cloister ourselves in a monastery or don white robes and sit on a mountaintop awaiting the Apocalypse.
Dreher calls us to a more focused faith walk, to “be the church, without compromise, no matter what it costs” (3, emphasis Dreher’s).
He calls us to a deeper prayer life. A life steeped in community with other faithful Christians. A life that looks very different from the lives many of us lead–pursuit of consumerism and busy-ness with splashes of church sprinkled between.
To sharpen that focus, he leads us to Norcia, Italy, to a Benedictine monastery, and to the Rule–Saint Benedict’s treatise on “dividing each day into periods of prayer, work, and reading of Scripture and other sacred texts” (51).
That approach is not a new form of legalism, but a new view of freedom. Dreher describes it as containing and directing a flow of water that once sat stagnant and vile.
This flow of water is refreshment to the Church occupying a world that is increasingly hostile.
With this growing hostility in mind, Dreher calls us to a new kind of politics–“antipolitical politics”–to focus our civic efforts on retaining religious freedom and to grasp a broader political view that includes culture. Doing so, he says will produce “opportunities for action and service [that] are boundless” (91).
This book is a primer for how to proceed in and pass along our faith–especially to our own children.
The beginning of the book lays out Dreher’s argument that the culture war is lost. If we hadn’t realized that before Obergefell, the case that legalized same-sex marriage, we should now.
In light of that event and others, the focus of Christians should shift to forming communities and institutions that will allow us to live, in the words of Vaclav Havel, “more freely, truthfully, and in quiet dignity” (97). And this way of living can convey the truth of our faith to those around us.
Later chapters present more detailed ways to develop such communities and institutions–a Christian counterculture. Dreher provides an innovative approach to education, work, and the meaning of success.
The section on education is especially compelling considering the social engineering of today’s public schools–and the actual lack of learning that occurs there.
Dreher presents the classical Christian school as a model for a counter-cultural education. This model embraces Western Civilization–the classics from Plato and Homer, Latin, and logic. The methodology springs from an essay by Dorothy Sayers, who structured classroom practices to optimize learning based on the qualities of each stage of childhood.
This method seeks the goal of a Renaissance education–the pursuit of truth in various subjects, ultimately leading the student to an understanding of truth in the most important field of study, theology.
The goal is the shaping of the individual–soul and mind–and in that order.
My own classroom career began in such a school, and my teaching still reflects what I learned there. My secular students get a good dose of logic. My teaching of writing is enhanced by my exposure to the Institute for Excellence in Writing. I tell students that learning is a lifelong pursuit. Education is about learning how to learn to enrich oneself throughout life.
Sadly, that school closed after a few years. Too few parents understood the idea of education as the formation of a person rather than a launching pad for a career. Dreher effectively refutes that viewpoint.
This portion of the book leads to the discussion of work as Dreher encourages us to consider what kind of employment we and our children will pursue if (when?) society shuts orthodox believers out of some career paths because of our unwillingness to accept the dictates of an anti-life and LGBT agenda.
Dreher encourages us toward meaningful liturgy/worship as well as orthodox ecumenism. He also provides tactics to maintain a positive connection to technology and avoid the bondage of pornography and other ills.
What I expected in the book but did not find was a more developed discussion of social ministry, often referred to in evangelical circles as outreach. That expectation reflects my own evangelical perspective and perhaps the Methodist roots of my mother.
Dreher’s voice hails from a Catholic/Orthodox perspective. And evangelicals like myself will do well to heed his call to draw closer to God as troubling times loom.
Drawing closer to God will give the Holy Spirit plenty of room to lead us to ministry. It will be up to us to follow that lead.
Even so, Dreher states that evangelism is showing “love to others through building and sustaining genuine friendships and through the example of service to the poor, the weak, and the hungry” (119).
Christians are to “abide in [Christ], so that when He appears, we may have confidence and not shrink away from Him in shame at His coming.”
As we abide and wait, The Benedict Option provides a roadmap to a life here that will matter in eternity.
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