"The Benedict Option" by Rod Dreher. A Review
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
The first eighteen years of my life I grew up with those weekly siren blasts; it’s the Oklahoma way. Every Saturday at noon the storm sirens kick off and wail for five minutes. Truly it’s the “song of my people”. Though the weekly alerts blaring out can be annoying, they are helpful in familiarizing yourself with the sound and reminding you that you are in Oklahoma, and if you hear them blasting at any other time, it’s real and you best take cover. The 272 page hardcover, “The Benedict Option: A Strategy for Christians in a Post-Christian Nation” is something like those weekly sirens. As the author, Rod Dreher, senior editor at “The American Conservative” and accomplished writer, states in several places in the book, he is sounding the alarm! This volume is a readable resource, and stuffed full with stories, anecdotes, ideas and strategies.
Since there are loads of other reviews that will walk the interested observer through the sinews and ligaments of “The Benedict Option” I will simply jump to my main concern with the book, and then what I found helpful. My main concern comes in two parts. First, though Dreher rightly points out the “Post” aspects of the world we presently find ourselves in – this liquid modernity – yet his approach comes across as a doom-laden dystopian work. If we make the author’s exegesis of the modern moment our own tale, our primary narrative, then we could easily create a Pygmalion effect, a self-fulfilling prophecy. Second, Dreher’s romantic description of the Benedictine monastery in Norcia, Italy, struck me as rather quixotic in its idyllic portrayal.
The constructive aspects of “The Benedict Option” that I found helpful are the strategies for reassessing our place in history and how to establish ourselves for the future come what may. For example, we need to recognize how we, Western Christianity, have been “content to play the chaplaincy to a consumerist culture” (2). Similarly, we need to reclaim the importance of plugging into a local church, a church that is concerned with fidelity rather than fame, a congregation committed to Christ rather than to being consequential. Also, the author stresses “a radical new way of doing politics, a hands-on localism” (78) that takes its cue from Eastern-bloc dissidents during the Cold War. Further, we need to re-engage with our neighborhoods to build community, learn trades instead of always looking to send our kids to college, and map-out better ways to restore classical types of education. In other words, we “are only trying to build a Christian way of life that stands as an island of sanctity and stability amid the high tide of liquid modernity. We are not looking to create heaven on earth; we are simply looking for a way to be strong in faith through a time of great testing” (54).
In the end, “The Benedict Option” is not espousing that we set up God-ghettos, but that we Christians do what we were supposed to be doing all along. As Dreher explains in his tenth chapter: “The Benedict Option is not a technique for reversing the losses, political and otherwise, that Christians have suffered. It is not a strategy for turning back the clock to an imagined golden age. Still less is it a plan for constructing communities of the pure, cut off from the real world. To the contrary, the Benedict Option is a call to undertaking the long and patient work of reclaiming the real world from the artifice, alienation, and atomization of modern life. It is a way of seeing the world and of living in the world that undermines modernity’s big lie: that humans are nothing more than ghosts in a machine, and we are free to adjust its settings in any way we like” (236). Even with my stated concerns, I highly recommend the book.
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