Thursday, 04 June 2015 14:40

The Benedict Option

Written by  Matthew Jordan
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If you’re not reading Rod Dreher, you should be. Dreher is a native Louisianan, a practicing Eastern Orthodox Christian, the author of several books, and a blogger at The American Conservative website. He is a “conservative” in the sense that every orthodox (note the small ‘o’) Christian is a conservative: he believes that we citizens of the twenty-first century have inherited a tradition of spiritual, moral, and theological knowledge that is worthy of being conserved. And he recognizes more clearly than most that such conservation will not happen by accident. Dreher argues that we need to get serious about embracing “the Benedict Option.”

The Benedict Option gets its name from St. Benedict, a sixth-century Italian monk who had an enormous influence on the monasteries of the Middle Ages. Benedict lived at a time of great cultural upheaval, as the old Roman Empire was disintegrating and the need for small communities of Christians to band together and “contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 1:3) became dire. Benedict’s monastic movement was instrumental in conserving Christian faith and classical learning through the Dark Ages.


Dreher believes—and I agree—that we inhabit a cultural moment similar to Benedict’s. If we are going to conserve and pass along the faith to the generations that follow us, we need to do something similar to what Benedict did. We need to form intentional communities with fellow Christians who share our convictions. This means not merely attending church or a small group Bible study, worthy though those activities may be, but actually living life together with people who are committed to a robust, shared vision of the true, the good, and the beautiful. The reality is that we are well past the point at which American culture could be expected largely to reinforce a Christian ethic and worldview.


The default options today are expressed by a host of “isms” incompatible with orthodox Christianity: relativism, scientism, materialism, egoism, hedonism, and the like. The standard picture of human flourishing, which, given the way cultures work, is virtually guaranteed to be accepted by anyone who does not consciously take a stand against it, is one in which feelings of personal satisfaction trump all other considerations. Sexual fulfillment is an unassailable goal, and sex itself has no inherent connection to love, marriage, or family. Being entertained is the main purpose of human life. Every problem has a technological solution. Accumulating data is the same thing as acquiring wisdom. The validity of spiritual practices depends exclusively on the whims of those who practice them, and belief in God is an optional (and increasingly unfashionable) accessory to the well-lived human life. And on and on and on.


This is the world we live in. Choosing the Benedict Option means choosing, in a way that American Christians really haven’t had to choose before, to be “in but not of the world.” In next month’s column, I’ll say a bit about what that might mean in practice. Until then, let me encourage you to think and pray about what the Benedict Option might look like in your life right now.




Last modified on Monday, 15 June 2015 14:43
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