The Benedict Option: A Strategy for Christians in a Post-Christian Nation, by Rod Dreher. Sentinel, 2017.
The importance of this book cannot be underestimated. Even if one doesn’t accept all of Dreher’s conclusions and proposals, his exposure of the immensity of the problems facing the church are in themselves of vital interest to Christians in the western world.
Dreher covers a lot of ground in 240-odd pages. The middle part of the book, which is American-centric, may not be of such interest to non-American readers. Yet even here the effects of the post-modern world on the Christian faith are symptomatic of western culture in general.
The initial chapters provide a historical background to how we have arrived beyond the crossroads, how major religious and cultural shifts have led us to the current malaise. The author goes on a historical tour, spotlighting the shift from Medievalism to the Renaissance, then on to the Reformation and the Enlightenment, Romanticism, industrialisation and the catastrophe of the First World War with the drift into decadence in its aftermath, thereafter tracing a steady decline. The twentieth-century saw an unprecedented breakdown of social, moral and cultural values, resulting in the current ‘liquid modernity’ based on ubridled freedom, sexual licence and a widespread rejection of religion. The churches have failed to confront the floodtide of liberalism, still less combat it, to the extent that we are left with a faithful remnant of those who see the world and its ills all too clearly.
I use the word ‘remnant’ to define those who have remained faithful to orthodox doctrine and to the moral and ethical tenets of the Christian faith, as opposed to the many churches that have thrown in their lot with modernity to become undemanding quasi-religious adjuncts to cultural mayhem. The author covers this aspect well, along with the overpowering onslaught of the Sexual Revolution and its offshoots, the breakdown of traditional family values and the descent into gender wars.
What does all of this mean for those who wish to uphold orthodox Christian beliefs and values? Where do they stand in a world that is unsympathetic to their beliefs and often openly hostile to them? There are signs of a siege mentality in some Christian circles as the faith is increasingly marginalised and subjected to intolerance in various arenas – in the workplace, in academia, in the media and in politics.
The choice seems to me to be clear: For Christians to stand up to the world and be counted, or to stand up and be counted amongst themselves (which, by extension, results in the same thing). Dreher’s main thesis is that Christians should regroup, recapture the truth and vitality of the faith and form purposeful faith communities. He describes the Benedictine pattern of community as an example of how the faith can be lived in a meaningful and coherent way, subject to a rigid structure and strict rules. Although monasticism is clearly not an option for most Christians, an adaptation is possible for secular living. His example of the Tipi Loschi community in Italy is another impressive ideal for the faithful remnant to emulate, but a choice open to the few.
Dreher uses these examples as a way of saying ‘this is the kind of ethos that needs to be pursued to preserve orthodoxy.’ He is absolutely right. Scattered as they are across the world, orthodox Christians must find a way to preserve the faith. As I see it, the way forward for the majority is through the internet. This kind of ‘virtual’ church is far from ideal but the best we can do whilst we await the final reckoning.
I urge all Christians to read this book, all those who wish to uphold the integrity of the faith and who are concerned about growing assaults on religious freedom.