If we wish to right the wrong that the Supreme Court has done, then, we must do more than change the law. We must change the culture. That’s no easy task, and again it is not obvious how we should begin.
That’s one of Phil Lawler’s observations after the Court’s recent decision on same-sex marriage. One way to change the culture, I know right off the top of my head, is not the Benedict Option. The Benedict Option literally means no sex and no kids. And the one way that heterosexuals could change the culture in a heart beat is out-reproduce homosexuals. Think about it (but not to long). What’s so hard about that? One kind of sex results in kids, the other doesn’t. Birth rates alone will change demographics and all sorts of cultural bi-products follow. Think of all the weeping and gnashing of teeth over Europe being overrun by Muslims who out-reproduce
Christians Europeans and think again how those changing demographics are supposed to transform Europe.
It could happen here — families overwhelming singles.
Caleb Bernacchio and Philip de Mahy think that the Benedict Option still has possibilities but not the way that Rod Dreher frames it:
The question facing Dreher and other proponents of the Benedict Option is how it is possible to recover not only the Benedictine vision of prayer but also the Benedictine vision of work as prayer, under the conditions of advanced modernity. Work shapes one’s character; it will either be a school of virtue or, all too often, of vice. Modernity largely understands work as instrumental. To become anti-modern in a constructive manner, we must challenge the way that modernity diminishes the importance of work as a means of character development.
St. Benedict’s solution was revolutionary for its time because it recognized that neither the life of work nor the life of prayer can be pursued independently of the other.
I still don’t see room for sex. I am still left wondering what happened to these Benedictines once they die. For the Benedict Option to succeed, don’t you need to have kids and pass on your faith and “values” to them? And where do you see sex or kids in a monastery?
Dreher himself is pondering his critics and has recently come up with this as a better formulation of the Benedict Option:
The early Benedictine monks followed the Rule of St. Benedict, which directed how they were to organize their monastic communities to serve God. Benedict taught that they were to focus on prayer and work, and the common life. The five principles I have discerned from reading the Rule are:
It should go without saying that a method for living out these principles is going to look very different for lay people living in the world than for vowed religious living in single-sex communities behind monastery walls. I think whatever forms the Benedict Option takes, we have to understand that it’s going to be diverse, depending on local needs, and particular religious traditions. How Catholics live it out won’t look exactly like how Southern Baptists live it out. How urban Christians live it out won’t look exactly like how rural Christians live it out. The ultimate goal, though, is developing communities that can be islands of stability, sanity, and goodness in a fast-moving and chaotic culture that works against all of those things.
Fine, but weren’t families islands of stability, sanity, and goodness in a fast-moving and chaotic culture? And weren’t congregations also there to produce some of those same cultural goods? What happened to family and church? One answer is that families and churches didn’t do that great a job of passing on strict codes governing sex, marriage, and ambition? Did the pursuit of a Republican president in the White House and overturning Roe v. Wade also bring some strong winds and heavy rains to those islands of stability? I think so.
But those islands are still there. Climate change hasn’t obliterated them. Be fruitful, multiply, and catechize (but not that doorstop of a catechism produced by John Paul II — Luther’s Small, Heidelberg, or the Shorter Catechism should do).
Tommie Kidd gets the last word on what was the Adam (okay, ladies) the Adam-and-Eve Option:
How different, then, are the traditional Christian practices of family life? (None of the following are exclusively for Christians, nor do all professing Christians practice them.) Marriage between a man and a woman, marital vows before sex, viewing children as a blessing from God, and a responsibility to raise those children in the fear of the Lord. Limits on “screen time” which allow for more reading, more outside play, and more sleep. Family dinners and prayer, church attendance, reading in the Bible and other edifying, educational books.
These and countless other small counter-cultural aspects of Christian family life today may not strike us as “retreat,” but they are conscious decisions not to assimilate to the patterns of mainstream culture. We may even find it hard to maintain these standards in the context of church, where many of the parents of our kids’ friends are not choosing the counter-cultural path. Nevertheless, for “paleo” evangelicals the Benedict Option is unquestionably the route we’ll need to take in the coming days. It is the way of fidelity for Christians, as the world around us sloughs off what remains of our quasi-Christian culture.