BenOp There, Done That

Alan Jacobs explains why Rod Dreher’s Benedict Option is unobjectionable:

The Benedict Option, as I understand it, is based on three premises.

1. The dominant media of our technological society are powerful forces for socializing people into modes of thought and action that are often inconsistent with, if not absolutely hostile to, Christian faith and practice.

2. In America today, churches and other Christian institutions (schools at all levels, parachurch organizations with various missions) are comparatively very weak at socializing people, if for no other reason than that they have access to comparatively little mindspace.

3. Healthy Christian communities are made up of people who have been thoroughly grounded in, thoroughly socialized into, the the historic practices and beliefs of the Christian church.

From these three premises proponents of the Benedict Option draw a conclusion: If we are to form strong Christians, people with robust commitment to and robust understanding of the Christian life, then we need to shift the balance of ideological power towards Christian formation, and that means investing more of our time and attention than we have been spending on strengthening our Christian institutions.

Jacobs doesn’t understand why anyone would dissent. I largely agree, though I have to admit I’m not willing to give up on HBO or Phil Hendrie just yet. At the same time, I understand that certain — ahem — television shows and Phil’s humor may not be appropriate for children.

The dissent is not with the specifics of Rod’s BenOp. The dissent is with Dreher’s (and Jacob’s) sense of discovery. Some Christians for a long time have thought about American society, the necessity of alternative institutions, and the problem of passing on the faith in ways that Dreher seems only now (after Obergefell) to have recognized. The dissent also includes some frustration over people like Rod ignoring those earlier forms of opting out of the cultural mainstream. For a long time, the mainline Protestant churches, which is where I believe Rod started his Christian journey, thought the fears of fundamentalists about the wider society were delusional, based on conspiratorial thinking or worse. Only once the good taste of mainline church life needed to reckon with homosexual clergy and marriage did conservatives in mainline churches begin to entertain the sort of thoughts that fundamentalists (and some ethnic Protestants) had sixty years (or more) earlier. Even at Jacobs’ former institution (Wheaton College) and probably at his current one (Baylor), fundamentalism is/was something to be avoided. Why? It was separatist, sometimes even — trigger warning — double separatist. But now, not separating is a bad thing? Hello. The train left the station.

Will naming such cultural segregation after a saint and linking it to a moral philosopher (Alasdair MacIntyre) make fundamentalism look more attractive? Probably. But I’d like Dreher to acknowledge those saints who came in between Monte Cassino and After Virtue. They were ahead of this time even if coming after Benedict.

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6 thoughts on “BenOp There, Done That

  1. But would one call fundamentalist counter(non)culture Benedictine in the sense that Dreher de/prescribes? My experience in it was that it was exactly like the mainstream in terms of the amount of “mindspace” to which it had access. I don’t think it’s fair to say that the failures of fundamentalist fumblings invalidate the BenOp Dreher proposes.

    And more on Dreher and the media: https://secondnaturejournal.com/benedict-option-media-ecology-rod-dreher/

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  2. The Ben Op reminds me of a kid who brings a game to play with his friends, but then takes it home abruptly after losing in the game. We notice some hostility around us but our awareness of our contribution to that hostility makes us out to be Sheldon Cooper wannabes.

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  3. Apostasy is drift, a gradual falling away. Protestants in the major denominations tolerated a certain amount of error in the interests of a false unity in the dark. Apostasy, however, only has one direction, rebellion and defiance. The clear Biblical statements, taste not, handle not, come out from among them and be ye separate, come out iof her my people be not partaker of her plagues: these are ignored at our peril as the history of compromise illustrates. The New Testament teaches that the greatest threat to the church comes from within, of your own selves men shall arise not sparing the flock. Evangelical denominations too must take this to heart, they must not absorb all their energy criticising others but keep their own vineyard. Every generation must fight it’s own battles. We must be prepared to identify trends and represent truth even when unpopular. Spurgeon’s heart was broken by the failure of the Baptist Union in England to back him in the Downgrade Controversy. God through history vindicated his servant. His well done is all that counts. Who needs s name like ‘ The Benedict Option’ for what is simple Bible truth.
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  4. d4, I’m not sure what you mean by mindspace. In the petri dish that produce my wife and me, we inherited clear lines between us and the world, us and liberal Christians. The reasons weren’t always great. And yes, we had plenty of nationalism on holidays. Still, it was not the mainstream.

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  5. THIS excerpt is worth a repeat here. From J. Gresham Machen:
    =========================================================
    “But what miserable makeshifts all such measures, even at the best, are! Underlying them is the notion that religion embraces only one particular part of human life. Let the public schools take care of the rest of life — such seems to be the notion — and one or two hours during the week will be sufficient to fill the gap which they leave. But as a matter of fact the religion of the Christian man embraces the whole of his life. Without Christ he was dead in trespasses and sins, but he has now been made alive by the Spirit of God; he was formerly alien from the household of God, but has now been made a member of God’s covenant people. Can this new relationship to God be regarded as concerning only one part, and apparently a small part, of his life? No, it concerns all his life; and everything that he does he should do now as a child of God.

    It is this profound Christian permeation of every human activity, no matter how secular the world may regard it as being, which is brought about by the Christian school and the Christian school alone. I do not want to be guilty of exaggerations at this point. A Christian boy or girl can learn mathematics, for example, from a teacher who is not a Christian; and truth is truth however learned. But while truth is truth however learned, the bearings of truth, the meaning of truth, the purpose of truth, even in the sphere of mathematics, seem entirely different to the Christian from that which they seem to the non-Christian; and that is why a truly Christian education is possible only when Christian conviction underlies not a part, but all, of the curriculum of the school. True learning and true piety go hand in hand, and Christianity embraces the whole of life — those are great central convictions that underlie the Christian school.

    I believe that the Christian school deserves to have a good report from those who are without; I believe that even those of our fellow citizens who are not Christians may, if they really love human freedom and the noble traditions of our people, be induced to defend the Christian school against the assaults of its adversaries and to cherish it as a true bulwark of the State. But for Christian people its appeal is far deeper. I can see little consistency in a type of Christian activity which preaches the gospel on the street corners and at the ends of the earth, but neglects the children of the covenant by abandoning them to a cold and unbelieving secularism. If, indeed, the Christian school were in any sort of competition with the Christian family, if it were trying to do what the home ought to do, then I could never favor it. But one of its marked characteristics, in sharp distinction from the secular education of today, is that it exalts the family as a blessed divine institution and treats the scholars in its classes as children of the covenant to be brought up above all things in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.

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