The Benedict Option, by Rod Dreher, originally published in 2017.
I decided to read this book after about six months of regularly reading Mr. Dreher’s commentary over at his blog on The American Conservative. As such, I approached this entire discussion and exploration of his ideas from a novice perspective. As such unaware that he had been promoting his idea in various forums and its interpretations have undergone various iterations over the past few years.
I am actually quite partial to the virtues of seeing a thing through new eyes. It was after all, my husband’s novice, unchurched, untainted conversion to the Christian faith which invigorated my own and showed -embarassingly so- how little I knew the Bible that I thought I knew so much about.
In the time since I have begun reading Mr. Dreher, I have come to learn that people whose opinions I hold in some regard find the sum total Mr. Dreher’s commentary and prescription problematic. However, I am going to review this book the way I originally approached it; as a novice to Mr. Dreher’s ideas and solely on the merits of what he offered within its pages.
I begin this review with the same caveat I offered to my Protestant friend before she began it. Namely that Dreher is “big O” Orthodox, and it is important for Protestants to appreciate this distinciton as they begin his book. There are points and assertions Dreher makes which spring from this base and which no doubt would turn off many a Potestant who is unprepared for some of his points.
Overall, however, I think Dreher’s book and his idea is worth a look. I suspect many Christians are probably already living loose versions of his idea in their own lives if they aren’t trapped in an ideologically driven quarantine from other believers.
In sum, Dreher -in his book at least- porposes that Christians build intentional and separate communities from the larger culutre as the national and cultural trajectory grows increasignly hostile to Christian values and the faith. It is probably best for the reader to do his or her own homework. However, eben with a few quibbles here and there, I agree with the heneral tone and proposal Dreher puts forth. After all the BIble does implore us to come out and be separate, calling us a peculiar people.
Relearning the lost art of community is something Christians should do in obedience to the Apostle Paul, who counseled the faithful to do their parts to grow the Body of Christ “for the building up of itself in love” (Ephesians 4:15). But there are also practical reasons for doing so. Building communities of believers will be necessary as the number of Christians becomes thinner on the ground.
In the book I did not gather that Dreher was advocating total isolation from the larger culture, which was a good thing. On technological advances:
Benedict Option families and communities who remain apathetic toward technology inadvertently undermine nearly everything they are trying to achieve. Technology itself is a kind of liturgy that teaches us to frame our experiences in the world in certain ways and that, if we aren’t careful, profoundly distorts our relationship to God, to other people, and to the material world – and even our self-understanding.
When we abstain from practices that disorder our loves, and in that time of fasting redouble our contemplation of God and the good things of Creation, we re-center our minds on the inner stability we need to create a coherent, meaningful self. The Internet is a scattering phenomenon, one that encourages surrender to passionate impulses. If we fail to push back against the Internet as hard as it pushes against us, we cannot help but lose our footing. And if we lose our footing, we ultimately lose the straight path through life.
I liked the book. I think Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Life Together is infintiely better (hello? It’s Bonhoeffer!), but because he deals at length with the changes in the sexual culture and the inducement of technology into every phase of life, I think the book is worth a read.