The Benedict Option Clarified?

A large project of sorts has been keeping me away from web-logging, but I did want to call attention to Rod Dreher’s latest American Conservative entry, “Critics of the Benedict Option.” Why? Because despite my deep misgivings about the “options” fad (see, e.g., here, here, here and here), I want to believe that the so-called Benedict Option (or any other “option”) can be something more than a marketing ploy. This is not to say that I believe Dreher is acting in bad faith, only that the realities of publishing often demand tag lines, catch phrases, clever wordplays, and so forth. Moreover, there is a more fundamental question to consider that Dreher still seems to struggle with, namely, “What is the Benedict Option?” He rejects narrowing it down to a formula, a move that is incredibly unhelpful. Granted, perhaps the Benedict Option could or would manifest itself in different ways in different concrete circumstances, but surely it needs at least some minimal unifying elements, yes? I pray that we don’t have to simply “wait for the book” to discover what they are.

13 comments

  1. What??? You’re not castigating Dreher and anything he says simply because he is getting more attention than yourself?? What kind of blogger are you?

  2. Let’s imagine for some reason that, out of the blue, a rogue virus struck only Christians, afflicting them with a spreading mass-psychosis wherein, like Tourette’s patients, they suddenly began blurting the phrase “Corn Hat!”, like a Twitter hashtag campaign, but where the Christians themselves had now become the Twitter accounts.

    “Everyone is talking about Corn Hat!,” they remark one to another. “How do you feel about Corn Hat!?” “I don’t know. Perhaps it would be good for us to have Corn Hat!” “But what is Corn Hat!?”

    “There is no formula for Corn Hat!,” the wise ones among them explain. “Every Christian must seek Corn Hat! in their own way. It may be crucial to our understanding of Corn Hat! if one of us were to write a book about it.”

    “If everyone is seeking Corn Hat!,” ordinary Christians mused, “perhaps we are placing ourselves at risk for not seeking it, too.”

    “But what is Corn Hat!?,” some stubbornly persist, “how will we know if we are seeking it correctly?”

    “We must obviously continue discussing and sharing Corn Hat! among ourselves,” their fellows replied. “In this way our wise ones can guide us to a more perfect understanding of Corn Hat!, and from there we can seek it most correctly.”

    “Corn Hat!,” they therefore responded, one after another, nodding. “Corn Hat!,” their fellows nodded in turn.

  3. I have been following this whole Benedict Option thing with great interest, to the extent that I have even gone back and read my MacIntyre. The concept has certainly struck a chord with many people. The discussion and debate is ongoing, with no sign of fading away. I too hope that it is more than just a marketing ploy for the next book, and I truly do not think it is. Dreher’s books are becoming progressively better. The last one, on Dante, was actually quite good. So the potential is there, at least, for the BO book to be of some significance. I agree with you, however, that there must be more clarity about the “minimal unifying elements.”. At some point, there simply has to be. One of the most insightful observations I’ve read is something you said a while back:

    “A more thorough reflection on the role of true asceticism in the battle to preserve Christian culture, to say nothing of the need to condemn both modern materialism and consumptive excess as perverse outgrowths of economic liberalism, has yet to happen. Exercising a legitimate “Benedict Option,” or any option which rejects the liberal ordo to its face, without such a reflection continues to strike me as pointless.”

    1. I have not read the Dante book, nor any of Dreher’s books for that matter. I have confined myself to what he publishes over at AmCon. The “buzz” surrounding the BO strikes me as being a bit much, especially when the concept hasn’t been fully clarified (yet). I may have mentioned it on this blog before but I am surprised more attention hasn’t been paid to groups which seem to have exercised something like the BO a long time ago.

      The obvious Orthodox example are the Old Believers. However, they seem to have mostly forsaken evangelism in favor of walling themselves off from the wider world in an effort to preserve their “way of life” — one which is becoming increasingly difficult to maintain.

      The best Catholic example I can come up with is the Society of St. Pius X. Their not nearly as walled off as the Old Believers, but they have created their own distinct Catholic sub-culture intended to preserve what they believe is the authentic Catholic tradition (one which reached its “high point” in the early 20th C.).

  4. There seems to be something of a brouhaha growing over an article this week critical of the Benedict Option by Noah Millman at the same online publication Rod Dreher works for having been deleted shortly after publication either by Dreher himself or by someone acting upon his orders. Google “Noah Millman Benedict Option” to find both Millman’s original article and discussions about it. Dreher in turn has made a subsequent post answering unnamed critics by interviewing himself.

    Needless to say, minimal unifying elements will take longer to arrive at if questions probing and testing those principles keep mysteriously disappearing.

    1. Dreher has a habit of censoring critics. That sounds like a bit much. Still, if true, that’s very unfortunate.

  5. To date, no one’s lost money putting ordinary tap water in designer bottles and giving it compelling names like “Benedict’s Tears”, and there’s no reason to think Rod Dreher will either.

    Like the man said, there’s a sucker born every minute and, statistically, a certain percentage of them must unfortunately be Christian. If you get enough people talking about something, whatever it is, even if there’s no reality to it beyond the words referring to it, a certain number of people will pay their money to find out one way or another.

    And, lo, and behold: you’ve just created a market.

    Call now. Operators are standing by.

  6. I think it might be extremely useful if Mr. Dreher simply to tell us what he’s doing in his own life to achieve the Benedict Option. Not everybody would be able to do it probably, but at least we’d have an idea of what he’s talking about.

    Also I can’t help but think of this. Those people in South Carolina where those poor people were killed. The church they belong to. That African Methodist Episcopal church. Can they still belong to that church and have the Benedict Option, or would they have to convert to Orthodoxy like Mr. Dreher? I think these are the sorts of questions people would really like answers to.

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