Bags of Bran

The Benedict…Impulse?
July 9, 2015, 3:37 pm
Filed under: Bible, Biography, Destined to get me in trouble

I have been intrigued by and cautiously sympathetic with the notion of a “Benedict Option” since I first read about it a few months ago on some website or another. The proposal goes like this: as Christianity wanes in the West, Christians who wish to remain faithful will have to retreat from their involvement in the broader culture. While not a full-blown (read: Amish) retreat, the point is that we will attempt to preserve and cultivate a distinctively Christian culture as the broader culture succumbs to its own brutality. The big name you will often encounter in this as-yet-theoretical movement is Rod Dreher. Others are beginning to contribute to the discussion as well.

The name “Benedict Option” comes from a fellow named St. Benedict of Nursia, who wrote a thing called “The Rule of St. Benedict.” This was a document with a list of guidelines for living in a monastery under an abbot, away from the pollution of the broader culture. Benedictine monks lived and labored in these austere conditions, but they were able to preserve literacy and learning for centuries within the walls of their monasteries. and were ready to emerge as teachers when the time was right.

The term ‘Benedict Option’ will predictably become, more or less, another piece of spiritual marketing tofu (see ‘Calvinism’), so one has to be careful to look for the terms and conditions when one comes across the words in written works. For example, one evangelical fellow, clearly feeling in tune with the whole monastic thing, wrote that we might have to “monitor screen time for our kids more closely”  under exilic-type circumstances. I can vividly picture St. Benedict himself saying “Let’s not be zealots, now…” at such a wildly ascetic suggestion. I wonder how bad things would have to get before he introduced such austerity around the house, and whether anyone would listen in the valley of decision.

Others have been more sincere and thoughtful about the matter, however, and have also been very frank about the fact that they will have to, if you will indulge my metaphor, leave some things behind as they flee the burning building. They are genuinely counting the cost, wrestling with Scripture, and seriously itemizing the cultural artifacts that will fit in their backpacks as they flee to the shelters. I commend them for this, and I commend to them passages like Philippians 1:9-11 as they furnish their cultural survival kits.

The whole discussion evokes a question: does the very question of a Benedict Option validate the Fundamentalist idea after all? Not necessarily the lurching manifestations of that idea, but the idea itself? Was this not what the better minds among the original fundamentalists were advising when they advocated for separation? .

Assuming the similarity between the two frameworks, I realize now that many may have been practicing the Benedict Option for some time already. I grew up in a decent family, but we did not go to church; read classics and history; labor over poetry and philosophy; study art and music; or take pains to distance ourselves from pop culture. When I was saved, I floundered around on the horizon between the church and the world for way too long before Providence slapped me upside the head and told me to get serious. Now I am pushing forty years old and am still having to retrain my own preferences away from the ones I was more-or-less born with. It’s hard, and I struggle, but since nobody has made a compelling case for indulging in Babylonian cuisine as the best way to preserve Christianity during times of cultural exile (Daniel 1), I think it’s the only way to preserve Christian identity. Convincing other Christians of this is even harder.

In my benevolent cynicism, I fear that as soon as word hits the street that there might be similarities between what the Benedict Option proponents are proposing and what the original fundamentalists were proposing, anti-fundamentalist sentiments will assert their anterior-ness to reason and charges of LEGALISM will fly  around the room like startled pigeons. On the one hand, it will needlessly scare those who are weak of conscience: they don’t want to be assimilated into the world, but they’ve been told that it is better to have a church full of worldly people than a church with any hint of LEGALISM in it. On the other hand, that will, perhaps, clear out the pretenders who can’t bear to part with the liberties to which they have sold themselves.


3 Comments so far
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I think the exile in plain sight is the way. Do not withdraw yourselves from sinners, in but not of sort of thing. Seems quite Pauline to me.

Liked by 1 person

Comment by d4v34x

We may have to reinvent a cogent articulation of “in the world” that actually allows for “but not of it.”


Comment by christopheram

True enough.


Comment by d4v34x

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