The Benedict Option by Rod Dreher

About the time I finished writing the essays on A Conservative Christian Declaration, Rod Dreher published his book The Benedict Option. Dreher’s book caught my attention because Dreher mentions two of the authors of the Declaration by name, Scott Aniol and Ryan Martin. Out of curiosity, I borrowed the book to see what he had to say. It is the first book of his that I have read, and I found it complementary (though not exactly the same) to the Declaration.

Rod Dreher is a senior editor for The American Conservative where, according to his bio, he “focuses on social and cultural conservatism, with a particular interest in religion in the public square.” He belongs to an Orthodox church in Louisiana, and his definition of Christian is broad enough to include Roman Catholics and Protestants.

Because quite a few people have written reviews on The Benedict Option, I will not add another one. I will, however, summarize Dreher’s argument in terms of conservative Christianity. I think his book could be distilled to pleading with conservatives to be conservatives no matter what. I define a conservative as one who receives a tradition, preserves it, and perpetuates it to the next generation. Dreher is not so much concerned with what is specifically being conserved as long as it fits within a general rubric of “Western Civilization.” Modernism has begun to erode civilization because it fragments people, especially noticed in city life. How many people in the city have no interaction with the people who live next door. And, unless the postman makes a mistake once in a while, they would never even know their name.

Thus, preserving and perpetuating a certain set of values becomes monastic within our fragmenting society. The term monastic literally means to stand alone. And that is what happens–a group of people stand alone because of the values that unite them. At the same time, however, they interact with others who do not share those values. They work with them, eat with them, drive with them on the highway, do business with them. As long as these interacts share a mutual value of some kind, such as, be kind to strangers, society can survive. But what happens when one set of values are hostile toward another? This question is more to Dreher’s point, and the reason for the urgency expressed in his book.

The Benedict Option can be summarized by this statement of Dreher’s, “[We need] a way to live the tradition in community, so that it can survive through a time of great testing.” When one value system oppresses another by means of hostility, will the conservatives preserve and perpetuate their values? Will they persevere or will they succumb to the pressure? Dreher gives options how conservatives might persevere, and he draws from “The Rule of Benedict” for guidance.

James Matthew Wilson, “Christian Politics Is the Benedict Option Now
Thomas Ascik, “Fearing Dreher: What Many Critics Ignore About the Benedict Option
Edmund Waldstein, “The Mirror of the Benedict Option
Scott Aniol, “The Benedict Option: The Christian Option

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