‘The Benedict Option,’ by Rod Dreher

The Benedict Option

“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.

7 thoughts on “‘The Benedict Option,’ by Rod Dreher”

  1. Thank you for reviewing this Lars. I know so many people who are reading it, yet yours is the first review I have read.
    I’ll have to read it.
    But I don’t want to.

  2. Me, my wife, her parents, and her sister, are slowly working our way thru this. I’ve been following Dreher for several years now, so there are no surprises, but taken all at once, it’s a brutal gut-punch. Thank you for the review. I believe this is a valuable book for the current age.

  3. Excellent review that seems to actually get what Dreher was trying to say instead of accusing him of retreating. Thank you.

  4. Lars has described a kind of Benedict Option community of the future in his novel Death’s Doors — which I warmly recommend in case anyone here hasn’t read it. (Needs to be published in book form, though!) Another work of fiction relevant to this theme is C. S. Lewis’s That Hideous Strength and its St. Anne’s household — but Lars’s book is more in line with the scenario in Dreher’s book.

  5. In an interview on public radio shortly before his death, Will Durant (author and coeditor of the History of Civilization books) was asked what one development has occurred during the 20th Century that sets it apart from previous centuries. He said it was a very easy question to answer: It was the Decline of Christianity in Western Civilization. Thirty some years later we find ourselves living within An Age of Christian (and non-Christian) Holocaust where people are being slaughtered and/or sold into slavery on an epic scale. Intellectuals are at a loss and are struggling with self- denial over this reality. In hindsight, I realize that the writings of Soren Kierkegaard, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and C.S. Lewis prepared me to face the reality of today in my spiritual journey towards Eastern Orthodox Christianity. I never actually believed that I would see with clarity the coming Apocalypse as I do today. Lord have Mercy!

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