16 September 2016
In recent years the term “Benedict Option” has been circulating in certain sectors of the U.S. Catholic Church. For a Benedictine oblate such as myself, this should be a welcome development. After all, the charism of Benedictine monasticism, with its emphasis on faithfulness to flesh-and-blood local communities formed in prayer, liturgy, discernment, and mutual service, can remind all Christians of a basic truth—namely, that no policy we propose for society, no change we seek in the larger culture will be credible unless it grows from the embodied witness of Christian life together. As Gandhi put it, we must “be the change we seek in the world.”
So the Benedict Option, which on the face of it simply calls for an intensification of our commitment to such local communities and to Christian formation, should not be controversial. Yet the phrase has become a rallying cry for something else. Rod Dreher, a prominent blogger at the American Conservative, began promoting the rudiments of the Benedict Option more than a decade ago in his book Crunchy Cons, and will explore it in-depth in an upcoming book on the the subject. The basic proposition is this: American society has become so antagonistic toward Christian values that faithful Christians should turn their primary attention away from the public square, with its fruitless policy debates and doomed culture wars, and instead focus on building local communities, sheltered from the hopelessly fallen larger culture, where Christian values and practices may survive.