One approach to living in a post-modern culture is to withdraw from it. That is basically what Rod Dreher recommends in his 2017 book The Benedict Option: A Strategy for Christians in a Post-Christian Nation.
Dreher declares, “I have written the Benedict Option to wake up the church and to encourage it to act to strengthen itself, while there is still time. If we want to survive, we have to return to the roots of our faith, both in thought and in practice. We are going to have to learn habits of the heart forgotten by believers in the West. We are going to have to change our lives, and our approach to life, in radical ways. In short, we are going to have to be the church, without compromise, no matter what it costs.”
His basic model is the recently renewed Benedict order for living a monastic life. Benedict of Nursia founded the order in 529 in Subiaco, Italy. Just a few years later he founded the Abbey of Monte Cassino, which gained fame in World War II.
The recent Pope Benedict XVI chose that name, like fifteen popes before him, to honor Benedict and the movement he started. Dreher is attracted to the Benedictine order because it is less rigorous than the many others, like the Franciscans, Dominicans, Augustinians, and Carmelites. Unlike the founders of other orders, Benedict wrote the Rule of Saint Benedict, which discusses the purpose behind various parts of the monastic discipline.
Dreher’s basic assumption is that the Benedict Option can be applied to families raising children who will not succumb to the basic tenets of MTD (Moralistic Therapeutic Deism). These are: 1) a God exists who created and orders the world and watches over human life. 2) God wants people to be good, nice, and fair to each other, 3) The central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about oneself, 4) God does not need to be involved in one’s life except when he is needed to resolve a problem, 5) Good people go to heaven.
People today who choose the Benedict Option know that if believers don’t come out of Babylon and be separate, their faith will not survive for another generation or two. They recognize an unpopular truth: politics will not save us. Instead of looking to prop up the current political order, they recognize that the kingdom of which they are citizens is not of this world and have decided not to compromise that citizenship.
Those living the Benedict Option will draw on the authority of Scripture and the wisdom of the ancient church to embrace “exile in place” and form a vibrant counterculture. They will look to Scripture and to Benedict’s Rule for ways to cultivate practices and communities. Such communities will recognize that the new political order is not a problem to be solved but a reality to be lived with. It will be those who learn how to endure with faith and creativity, to deepen their own prayer lives, and to adopt practices focused on family and communities. They would go on and build churches, schools, and other institutions within which the orthodox Christian faith can survive and prosper.
Those who follow the Benedict Option might choose to follow updated practices like: Take on digital fasting as an ascetic practice, Take smartphones away from kids, Keep social media out of worship, Do things with your hands, and Question progress.
Taking the Benedict Option is one way to live as conservative Christians in our current Post-Modern culture. Will much come of this approach? It might in small clusters of believers who choose to maintain relationships within the same congregation where they worship together. This might happen especially among those families who choose to live in the same neighborhood.
It’s hard to imagine this happening, though, among families who adopt rigorous practices that cut their children off from the digital world still emerging. Limit screen time, certainly. But maneuvering the internet will be a basic skill for surviving in the business world.
Do you agree that the Christian’s best option is to withdraw from the Post Modern culture? What do you think of Rod Dreher’s claim that if believers don’t come out of Babylon and be separate, their faith will not survive for another generation or two?