The Benedict Option

I typically stay away from politics and current events, however, when Sentinel Publishing reached out and asked if I wanted to preview Rod Dreher’s new book ‘The Benedict Option’, I decided y’all would just have to deal with a slightly controversial review to satisfy my own book lust. If just the mention of the American Conservative’s Senior Editor makes you cringe, then please, skip to the bottom, link up your post and read other light-hearted Takes with no hard feelings on my part.

I came across Dreher’s first book ‘Crunchy Cons’ back when I had a very obscure blog focused on distributism and Dorothy Day. I was a homesteading wannabe, growing in faith, discovering new ways to break from the mainstream, and his work hit a nerve. I’ve followed his blog on and off since then, always keeping his ongoing discussion of the Benedict Option in my periphery. To read the finished product was a joy, however I’ll be the first to admit that in my case, this book preached to the choir. I cracked it open already a believer in the mission, and closed it reaffirmed in my own beliefs.

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In many ways, my family is already living the Benedict Option, so Dreher’s plan doesn’t seem that radical to me, a homeschooling, orthodox Roman Catholic; however, I know how radical I seem to my Methodist family, my husband’s cradle Catholic family, and to our Protestant and secular friends. We walk the fine line between protecting our family from the ill effects of a post-Christian culture without cutting ourselves off entirely. It’s a difficult necessity that I don’t think many people are willing to accept. I believe many people who consider themselves good ol’ God fearing orthodox Christians will not like Dreher’s message; it will make them uncomfortable. And right now, I believe it will take a whole lot more discomfort for many Christians to make the necessary sacrifices to ‘save the seeds’ of Christian culture in the West, if they can do it at all. Ā Our churches have not taught us how to suffer for the greatest good, and so we will rationalize our capitulation to the gods of modernity up to the point of losing our souls.

So yes, an uplifting and cheerful read all around. If you agree with Dreher’s premise, that our society is fighting a barbarian invasion from within itself, you’ll see he outlines a wonderful option that, while not easy, provides the necessary steps to pass on our Christian tradition to future generations, with brutal honestly, yet hope. If Christians can survive the collapse of the Roman empire, barbarian invasions, war, plague, the Reformation and more, we can manage to outlast a society who’s highest ideal is the complete satisfaction of the self.

Should you choose to accept your mission, here are a few of the non-negotiable steps of The Benedict Option:

–According to Dreher, what we can’t rely on is our political system. Orthodox Christians don’t have a home in either party. “Losing political power might just be the things that saves the church’s soul,” he writes. Instead, Dreher recommends on working at a local level to protect religious liberty so we can continue to practice our faith unhindered. I agree with him. We can influence more locally than on the national level of the government. Dreher has strong words for those who still feel hope that the Republican party can somehow turn back the hands of time. “Trusting Republican politicians and the judges they appoint to do the work that only cultural change and religious conversion can do is a big reason Christians find ourselves so enfeebled. The deep cultural forces that have been separating the West from God for centuries will not be halted or reversed by a single election, or any election at all.”

–We must refuse to assimilate through acts of defiance to the status quo. We must not allow modern culture to strip us of our beliefs, moral values and traditions. It doesn’t have be huge. The way our family celebrates Advent and Christmas is a good example. We observe Advent as a penitential period, rather than a celebratory one. When Christmas arrives, we live it up for 12 days; long after the secular world has tossed their trees. We’re going to keep celebrating Holy Days the way the Church always has, rather than give into the secular holiday centered around materialism. Living by the liturgical calendar is one of the ways we push back against the system.

–We don’t feel alone because we are blessed with a Church community filled with families who choose many of the same acts of defiance. Society wants to make us feel like we are alone in opposing the downward spiral. Dreher argues that by living in or near a community of like-minded Christians, it’s easier to choose rightly, to not give up the fight and to find joy. I would definitely agree. We are part of a community that fasts and feasts together for the benefit of all involved. Ā Admittedly, we are very lucky to have stumbled upon such a community. If families do not have a similar support system, it may not be easy to create one locally or move and find one. On one hand, Dreher mentions the importance of stability and having roots to an area, but on another, after stressing finding employment that won’t violate one’s conscience, suggests moving to a remote area of the county where a faith community is growing.

Ideally, I guess we can hope to find employment, a faithful community of believers and roots right where we are. That is what my family has right now. We are close to extended family and a wonderful Catholic community, however, the cost of living is exorbitant. I worry our children might not be able to stay locally as they enter the work force. Do we force them to stay here, where we’ve put down roots or send them off to growing communities where there’s lower taxes and cheaper houses? I suppose as faithful Christians, we will continue to get pushed to the margins and should be prepared to move in search of whatever jobs will be left to us, whether that means into less desirable neighborhoods or towns in the middle of nowhere. Unfortunately, stability, as a Benedictine ideal, may not really be an option.

–We need to take more responsibility to educating our children. Yes! Dreher gives us two options: enroll our children in Classical Christian schools or homeschool. Wait, what? It’s a nice plan that even I as a classical homeschooler realize is out of reach for a lot of people, even orthodox Christians. I realize public schools aren’t working for many children and that many private schools offer nothing more than prestige, however as much as I’d love to see more people try homeschooling or opening Classical schools, the Benedict Option needs a third way to help the disadvantaged who cannot reach this ideal, at least until millionaires are funding tons of classical schools to meet the needs of poor families with two working parents, single parents, those living where homeschooling is illegal or heavily restricted, and parents of disabled children who require special education (among others). We can’t make orthodox families feel less holy because they choose the only education available to them. And I think living out the other aspects of the Benedict Option faithfully would bolster families who need to use public education.

—We must stop trying to be relevant. God’s message doesn’t need to be updated to reach Gen Xers or Gen Yers or Millennials or whomever. Each generation needs to change itself to God’s timeless message. That includes immersing oneself in a beautiful orthodox liturgy rooted in your church’s tradition. When we water down the Christ’s teachings, or the liturgy, people don’t care more about either; they tend to care less. For my family, attending the Latin Mass is the spiritual cornerstone of a deeply liturgical life, so Dreher’s chapter on ‘A Church for All Seasons’ makes perfect sense. But if you enjoy pop music for your Offertory, you will probably disagree. In an age when we can seemingly get anything we want instantly on our phones, siting for an hour and a half Ā (with antsy children) to receive Our Lord is just one more way we’re rebelling against an instant gratification society.

Dreher also recommend asceticismĀ to strengthen Christians for difficult times. You won’t find talk of fasting and penance at anything but orthodox Christian churches. Being a faithful Christian is hard work, and it’s only going to get harder. You won’t be prepared for martyrdom, or even a rude atheist in the combox, if your faith formation is based on Joel Osteen books. While learning not be a slave to our desires is actually freeing and builds fortitude,Ā I do wonder how many people will consider asceticismĀ that do not already practice it to some degree (considering I recently read a post by a Protestant about how one should give up Lent for Lent). Although Dreher’s book is aimed at all orthodox Christians, many suggestions are heavily influenced by his Orthodox and Catholic background and I think will rub Protestant readers the wrong way. I hope those readers can move past any knee-jerk reactions and consider practices outside their church’sĀ norm.

All in all, I highly recommend the book. It has made me think about ways to pass along our faith to our children, and their children, in new ways that don’t completely cut us off from society (which was my original plan), but allows us to become a welcoming beacon in the growing darkness.

Have you read any good books lately? Share a book you love and you don’t need to keep it to Seven (in honor of this post). Just write it down then link it up below. Be sure to include a link back to this post so your readers can find the rest of the Quick Takes. I look forward to reading your posts!!


  1. Thank you for your balanced review. I have the book right here, ready to read. I have to admit that after reading the WSJ article about the Benedict Option, I bristled.. Christians can’t hid under bushel baskets and all that, but then Archbishop Chaput endorsed the book. So I am looking forward to reading it!

    1. Another reason I am reading it is that I LOVED Dreher’s book The Little Way of Ruthie Lemming about his sister who died of cancer!

  2. Thank you for this review! My book just arrived yesterday and I am looking forward to reading it. My husband and I listened to the panel discussion last night with Rod Dreher and four other prominent Christians discussing the Benedict Option. It was a really interesting talk. We have come to a similar conclusion as you and your husband. It is a challenging tightrope to walk: balancing living out orthodox faith while at the same Not retreating from the world! We have also found a Latin Mass community very beneficial!

    Thanks for this review.

  3. This is a wonderful review. I read a piece in The Publuc Discourse on this book and Esolen’s new book and now I want to set aside all my current reads and buy them instead. I want to read all the things!

    I loved your last line, ” It has made me think about ways to pass along our faith to our children, and their children, in new ways that donā€™t completely cut us off from society (which was my original plan), but allows us to become a welcoming beacon in the growing darkness.”. Maybe we could get a quick takes list with some of these ideas you’ve been brainstorming:)

  4. I entered the Church in 2015, in Lincoln, Nebraska. I received a very thorough and orthodox RCIA through the diocese and when I started reading about the Benedict Option at the time, I didn’t really see a need for it. Then I moved to a far more lax diocese. I realize know that I was partially living in a Benedict Option community in Lincoln. The traditions and community I currently lack: 24 hour adoration chapels, daily Latin Mass, veiled religious sisters and even a cloister in the heart of the city, daily confession at every parish, daily Mass at multiple times of day, Catholic schools that cost only $500 a year, Catholic schools that had daily Mass, sacred art and music, active liturgical living, content rich homilies, churches filled with priests not deacons, and the list goes on. And I miss it so very much. It is incredibly hard bringing my children to the faith in my current environment.

  5. Interesting.
    I have heard a lot about the Benedict Option but I haven’t read it outlined like this.
    I agree with some points, I strongly disagree with other points (probably the hardest to swallow was that we shouldn’t try to speak to our culture- I don’t think Jesus agrees)-
    Good stuff and great food for thought.

    1. I didn’t think my review indicated that Dreher’s book says we shouldn’t try to speak to our culture. Do you mean my point about not trying to be relevant? I think we can talk to our culture and live amongst non-believes without sugar coating any of the truths of the faith. Dreher makes the point that too many churches either don’t talk about important issues (like sexuality), water down the truth in order to try to appeal to more people or, on the flip side, only present a list of strict ‘thou shalt not’ without any deeper meaning. I think the Benedict Option means first educating ourselves in our orthodox Christian roots and then sharing those truths with the world. I think people need to hear the hard truths in their fullness rather than the typical feel good brand of Christianity that is passed off in many churches today. Just like the monks in Norsia who Dreher interviews extensively, we live a life rooted in tradition but we go out joyfully into the world, offer hospitably to those who come to us, and hopefully in the process we can share, and attract others, to a life far greater than what they already possess.

      1. I couldn’t agree with you more. I think the public sphere has Christians so cowed that we tend to back peddle until we don’t even seem Catholic anymore.

      2. I guess I think we can (and should) speak to our culture in a relevant way, without watering down our message. The idea that being relevant somehow means we aren’t talking about real things? I just don’t get it.
        I think we can, and must, figure out how to relevantly speak to our culture… it’s so hard, but it’s worth the challenge.

  6. I read and enjoyed Crunchy Cons many years ago and followed Dreher’s writing for a while. It sounds like we also pretty much live this,although just from the little bit you’ve covered here, I’d probably agree with Mary Wilkerson above that we should be speaking to our culture. And I’m not aware of any Catholic community anywhere remotely close to here although there is a Catholic culture among parishes. At any rate, Dreher’s book sounds interesting.

  7. Thank you for the review! A lot of things get tossed around as “the Benedict Option” ‘so I am very intrigued to see manifesto.

    Do you think it would be good on audio? I have an audible credit to burn.

  8. What was the obscure blog with followed/follow?

    I am only just coming across the idea of The Benedict Option, but it sounds like I’m already living it. Was there just a presentation or panel discussion that was going on? Can you fill me in if you know?

    1. Kelsey, I watched a panel discussion through the plough website. Try looking there. I’ve also ordered the book to read.

  9. Having never home schooled any children I may be way out of line here, but how come the mothers doing the home schooling don’t join up with each other and do it together? Am I out of line? I mention it because it from what I’ve read it seems that it can be a lot of work and everyone seems to try to do it on their own. Couldn’t a mother help out one of those urban families by adding the extra children? Or one day out of the week a one mom could do her family and anothers, and the other mother would do the same for her on another day?

    1. I like that idea, but I think there are some states that have rules on who can do the teaching in homeschooling. So if you take your kids to someone’s house, they may have to be certified as a tutor or something. I don’t know the details of it, but I do think people can run into traps like that. But there are a lot of “co-ops” and at least in my state those seem to be legal and great.

  10. It’s hard to find the right balance between ‘in the world’ and ‘of the world,’ isn’t it?

    One reason I like my kids’ public school is that I feel like it helps us strike that balance. Of course they aren’t receiving their religious education there, that’s all through home and church. But in the public school environment I feel like that’s their chance to be like the “leaven” or the “salt” as the Bible says, and be an influence for good. I also like how being exposed to different people with different beliefs has led to some great conversations about why we do and believe XYZ. I think their faith is deeper for it.

    (Also, living in New England as well I’ve had the exact same thoughts about cost of living and what it will mean for my kids in the future!)

  11. I need to get around to reading this book! I actually knew the Dreher family back with they were Catholic. They attended the same parish as us, and my family had a surprise cameo in Crunchy Con.
    The Benedict Option came up in the RCIA class I help teach a few weeks ago. I can see how a lot about it comes off badly, but I do think at least some aspects of the Benedict Option are probably needed. Since it’s such a hot topic now I need to read up so I can be of help to my baby Catholics!

  12. Kelly, thank you for this. Moving it from wishlist to cart now. We are very blessed to be in a strong parish, a strong archdiocese and have a beautiful classical Catholic school we can send our kids to but…the cost of living is intense. I guess looking at it this way, it’s our sacrifice. We get to be nourished at our church and with the families in our school community, but it means paycheck to paycheck and not doing the planning for the future that common sense tells us in a non-negotiable. But the way you put it, now I realize that it is our particular privilege to make *this* sacrifice. Other Catholics are asked to sacrifice by homeschooling, by living in a remote area or a gross climate, etc. I really like that take on it.

  13. I’m definitely going to read this book, Kelly! Maybe it’s because our family is kind of doing this already, but I get nervous because I’ve met people who want to live something much more extreme, like in a catholic commune, and call it the Benedict option. Are we supposed to move away from dioceses that aren’t strongly orthodox? I get not staying at a parish that preaches heresy, but are we supposed to move to an area solely based on the orthodox catholic population? How can we be sure they’ll stay that way? I am interested in reading more!

  14. I am pretty much doing the Benedict Option as outlined, too, as best I can anyway. Homeschooling, liturgical seasons, traditional liturgy, etc. I confess though to having a really hard time with asceticism. Just making and sticking to the sacrifices I’m already making that make zero sense to this crazy world is a lot. And yet all I’m doing is being a married woman having children and raising them Catholic. Super, super weird, I know. I get angry when I have no support and yet I’m the one doing the right thing. And I’m supposed to make my life even harder on purpose?!? What am I, a saint?!? Haha, obviously not yet. I understand the rationale intellectually. And I know Jesus promised persecution in this world. But I still resent that it’s so hard all the freaking time. I need to learn to “count it all joy.” I suppose that’s one reason community is indispensable.

  15. Kelly – Your review gives me much to think about. This in particular gave me the shivers: “Our churches have not taught us how to suffer for the greatest good, and so we will rationalize our capitulation to the gods of modernity up to the point of losing our souls.” I am a horrible sufferer and think part of that is because I’ve bought the lie that things really just should be easier. Thanks so much for your insights. Now I really need to put this book on my wish list!

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