June 5, 2017

The Benedictine Options

Regarding Rob Dreher’s The Benedict Option I’m inclined to think the plural ought to have been invoked. The option Dreher offers is more or less a standard “flight from the world” model in which like-minded Christians edge away from wider secular society (rather than completely walling themselves off from it), clustered near each other and their churches in what amounts to abdication of the possibility of redeeming the rest of the fallen world. They gather together to live a more perfect life, in accord with their beliefs, having lost the fight to impose their views in the public square.

There is nothing new in that model. Groups of Christians (and Jews, Buddhists, Muslims, and probably many others) have followed just this course of action, forming just this sort of community, down through the centuries. Some of them have been Benedictine.

But I would argue that this is not the only, nor the principal, model for Christian religious community, Benedictine or otherwise. From a Christian perspective, Dreher emphasizes the “work out your own salvation in fear and trembling” model rather than the gospel call to bring a saving message to the world — a world already saved but in need of waking up. (Perhaps he follows a more Calvinist model in which salvation is partial rather than universal?) And from a community perspective, there is a difference between gathering a body of like-minded believers in contempt of the world, in pursuit of purity and perfection, and gathering a group of penitents who know their imperfection and need of support in order to do any good at all — between those who see the community of the church as a society of the elect and perfected, and those who see it as a clinic for sinners, the wounded healers gathered for comfort and strength not as an end in itself, but in order to be sent back out in witness to the power of God's love.

There is more than one option, including for Benedictines.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG