“When a man first comes to the monastery, the first thing he notices is everybody else’s quirks—that is, what’s wrong with everybody else,” said Father Martin. “But the longer you’re here, the more you begin to think: what’s wrong with me? You go deeper into yourself to learn your own strengths and weaknesses. And that leads you to acceptance of others.”
OK, this time it is a review. I read The Benedict Option, by Rod Dreher.
I won’t lie to you–I didn’t want to. I had a pretty good idea what this book would be—a depressingly realistic appraisal of the current, radically changed situation in which orthodox Christians find themselves. Plus a series of suggestions for dealing with the new normal—all of them uncomfortable.
I was correct.
Dreher describes how the situation of the (small “o”) orthodox church in America (and in the west as a whole) has changed, suddenly and (apparently) for the foreseeable future. Thanks to the cultural earthquake that the Gay Movement brought forth, Christians who had been ensconced, relatively comfortably, within our culture just a decade ago are now an isolated, and increasingly threatened, minority.
Dreher sees no chance of altering that situation through politics or public relations. All we can do, he believes, is what Saint Benedict of Nursia did in the 6th Century, after the fall of Rome. Benedict founded western monasticism, creating communities of committed believers who cared for one another, cared for their neighbors, and preserved the wisdom of the Classical age for the future. Little Noah’s Arks in a sea of barbarism.
Dreher, a former evangelical who converted first to Roman Catholicism and then to Eastern Orthodoxy, takes monasticism as his primary model, though he also provides examples of modern efforts, many of them educational, from contemporary groups of various Christian confessions (plus Orthodox Jews). My friend John Mark Reynolds, formerly of the Biola Honors Program and now of the Saint Constantine School, is cited multiple times.
Beyond education, Dreher exhorts today’s Christians to develop more intense, personal communities within their local churches. Like the Amish (to some degree) we will have to increasingly rely on one another as our economic opportunities diminish. We must expect to be barred from the professions, and we will have to learn to find our vocations in blue collar and manual work.
One problem he doesn’t really address—though he does mention it in passing—is that even those initiatives may be closed to us. Depending on the political and legal future, we may see our educational institutions seized and closed down, and will be forbidden to start new ones, however humble. In that case the future may be more similar to that of Eastern churches under Communism. Dreher does devote some time to their experience.
This is not a fun book.
The hardest part for me was the emphasis on closer relationships in the local church. But that’s just my personal neurosis.
The Benedict Option is an important book that demands study and discussion. Especially if you’re a Protestant, you won’t agree with all of it. But you’d do well to read it. Recommended.