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.
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. 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. 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 (with antsy children) to receive Our Lord is just one more way we’re rebelling against an instant gratification society.
Dreher also recommend asceticism 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, I do wonder how many people will consider asceticism 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’s 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!!