Opting Out of the Benedict Option

Opting Out of the Benedict Option

Opting Out of the Benedict Option. If there was someone who did not exercise the Benedict Option, it was Saint Benedict himself.

No one disputes the attractiveness of living outside the liberal and politically correct society that dominates American life. To the degree possible, there is even an obligation to keep some separation from today’s decadent society. Hence, all this explains the controversy around the so-called Benedict Option.

The Benedict Option is the brainchild of author Rod Dreher who, in his book of the same name, claims the Culture War is over. Rather than battle the waters of a decadent mainstream, he claims it is better to build arks to ride out the flood. Small intentional ark communities, not necessarily physically separated from society, will provide the means to carry this out. Just as Saint Benedict of Nursia supposedly left decadent Rome in the sixth century for the wilderness (he didn’t), so also concerned Americans should “secede culturally” from a rotten mainstream that is lost.

Learn All About the Prophecies of Our Lady of Good Success About Our TimesOpting Out of the Benedict Option

A Postmodern Proposal

There is something very postmodern about the proposal. It is indeed suited to virtual times in which negative relationships with communities can be defined by unfollowing and unfriending and positive associations signaled with “likes.” A Benedict Option assumes one can unfollow the mainstream, unfriend those that threaten family life, and “like” those who hold similar views. It seems the proposal is much better suited to a Facebook page than a cultural blueprint for communities of believers.

And that is one of the problems with the Benedict Option. It is Benedict lite. It does not have the substance, unity, and goal of the Benedictine ideal that set the world on fire with the love of God. It does not aspire to the grand objectives that made the Benedictine model the center of culture and the foundation of Christian Europe. It is merely an option, or rather many options, one can entertain inside the storm. In postmodern terms, it represents the unraveling of a dominant metanarrative into many fragments and shards.

Opting Out of the Benedict Option

The Option can be reduced to a merited discontent with the modern world and a legitimate desire for alternatives. However, the Option does not specifically define what the goal or goals should be or how they are to be pursued. Rather, the goals and methods are left to whatever members decide them to be.

Benedict Lite

This is why the Option is Benedict lite. The Option takes those things that defined Saint Benedict and deconstructs them to adapt to postmodern times even to the point of contradiction. Thus, whereas Saint Benedict unified and melded a chaotic jumble of primitive monasteries into Western monasticism, the Option scatters households into “domestic monasteries” of different beliefs. Saint Benedict’s rules were very specific, flexible and ordering; the Option has no rules and leaves everything vague and ambiguous. Saint Benedict was Catholic and therefore universal; the Option is ecumenical and thus fragmenting and particular.

Unfortunately, the book does not enter or want to enter, into details about leaders and structures of authority inside the Option. This is a vital issue since it is the bane of intentional communities. The American sociological landscape is full of the ruins of intentional communities that failed after the death of their founders or because of internal quarrels. If some community is to be founded, it will need strong leaders like Benedict. More importantly for today, it will need Saint Benedicts. That is to say, these leaders will have to be virtuous, long-suffering, and prudent. They will need to be what sociologists call “representative characters” who know how to unify, set the tone and sacrifice themselves for the common good.

That is what gives the Benedict Option its Facebook feel. Membership appears to be almost an opt-in. Its intentional communities are presented as associations of co-equal members with few governing structures. Such a social arrangement is not a community but a cooperative, in which members join and leave as it suits their fancy. Ironically, such options mirror the modern individualistic institutions and corporate structures that brought on the present crisis. It also resembles the Facebook page which serves as a shallow yet helpful point of unity for a group of individuals who friend and unfriend at the click of a mouse. While a page might supply news and updates, it can also project distorted images of reality. The danger of Benedict Lite is that people might think it is the real thing.

The Real Thing

Saint Benedict was the real thing. He was not afraid to engage the culture and understood well the struggle between good and evil. He finally settled not in the wilderness but on an estate of the father of one of his disciples. He could be seen overthrowing the idols, burning the sacred forests of the pagans, and preaching to those near his monastery. If there was someone who did not exercise the Benedict Option, it was Saint Benedict himself.

Opting Out of the Benedict Option

More importantly for today, we need Saint Benedicts. That is to say, leaders who are virtuous, long-suffering, and prudent. They need to be what sociologists call “representative characters” who know how to unify, set the tone and sacrifice themselves for the common good.
Photo: Totila, King of the Goths, kneels before Saint Benedict of Nursia.
“Totila e San Benedetto,” by Spinello Aretino.

Saint Benedict had defined goals, established doctrines, and governing structures. In his famous manual called The Rule of Saint Benedict, he left nothing to chance. He established the fundamental principles, offices, and procedures that allowed his communities to prosper inside the ordered liberty of his flexible rule. He understood that this world is not made to be a material paradise and that man must embrace the Cross of Christ that is at the heart of life in this vale of tears. The saint understood the role of God’s grace in helping people and communities to practice virtue and reach perfection. Christendom was the result of his vision and labors.

In the Culture War, This Is No Time to Abandon the Trenches

In today’s shallow Facebook world, people are tired of hollow options. They are exhausted by the frenetic intemperance of undisciplined lives of instant gratification. The real Saint Benedict speaks to postmodern man because he addresses longings for order, authenticity, and temperance. Saint Benedict cannot be reduced to an Option or made Lite. Rather, he must be presented as he truly was. The restless hearts of postmodern men demand the real thing.

 

As seen on The Imaginative Conservative

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  • Aint So

    These are all points well taken and the author is entirely correct in his conclusions. With the understanding in mind that the author’s intent was only to reveal the shortcomings of the so called Benedict Option, there is an additional aspect which should to be addressed in the establishment of such a community if it is to be successful.

    In addition to taking upon the organization a strong leadership, the community must first embrace a consummate personal vulnerability to God. The author states that Benedict “left nothing to chance”. In fact he left the one overriding aspect of his monastic life, which would either make or break him and his community, entirely to the mercy and discretion of God. It is by no means a good assumption to make that this step is counter-intuitive and always occurs when such communities are established. I have seen first hand of the disastrous result which will occur over time if sustained personal vulnerability to God is ignored in the establishment of a religious community. Benedict’s success did not arise from his skill and astute determination to make his community a socially and spiritually viable entity which would survive the test of centuries. It was his, and his community’s sustained vulnerability to God which made this possible. Failing this, even his strong leadership would shortly have become one of manipulation and coercion and his community would have soon fallen into discontent and ultimately corruption. His community adopted his strong leadership and his very precise rule but the life of the community was defined and enabled by Benedict’s determination that God Himself would provide His life for them and would care for them. The ultimate success of their life together was the result of one thing only which was their entry into an intimate communion with Him. It was that intimate and personal communion with God which defined all else including the nature of the leadership and the execution of the community rule, making their community alive with the life of God Himself resident with and within them. Interestingly, it is this very failure which has rendered the Catholic Church so frequently ineffectual and enabled the current state of spiritual confusion and disarray within it because it has surrendered its pursuit of the person of God and therefore true knowledge of Him. At worst our Church promotes personal vulnerability to itself and at best, co equal vulnerability to God and itself, neither of which will lead the faithful into sanctity and will most often render them the disillusioned victims of scrupulosity. Every expression of our faith, to be entirely genuine, must rise from our taking upon ourselves a consummate disposition of vulnerability to God. This is equally and especially true of the expression of our faith which rises from within our Church. That expression must be defined, not by the Church alone, but by God Himself and our worship must become defined by our communion with Him. Otherwise our expression, instead of being a participation in the entirely selfless surrender to the Father of our Savior and an expression of our desire to exist as Jesus does at the pleasure of the Father alone, will instead become or remain entirely self serving.

  • Nancy Johnsen

    I am reminded of the words of Christ himself who said, “And because iniquity hath abounded, the charity of many shall grow cold.” –Matthew 24: 12 (DRA) May God grant us hearts on fire with charity in these evil days.