Rod Dreher Discusses the Need for the Benedict Option
by Rick Plasterer, Juicy Ecumenism:
Living in obedience to God with increasingly hostile law and society continues to be an unresolved and severe problem for Christians in the contemporary West. The need to remember God’s Word and be faithful disciples of Christ, resisting the pressure and allurement of the world to acquiesce in sin has elicited social commentator Rod Dreher’s proposed “Benedict Option,” which he discussed in conjunction with the publication of his book by the same name at a presentation of the Trinity Forum at the National Press Club on March 15.
Cherie Harder, President of the Trinity Forum, began by noting that Christians themselves have largely accepted contemporary cultural norms. In order to regain our integrity as disciples of Christ, should we partially retreat from the world into our own communities?
Dreher responded that advocates of the Benedict Option are not being “alarmist.” One is failing to pay attention if one is not alarmed. “A world is coming to an end,” he said. That world is the Western civilization which was made by the Judeo-Christian religious tradition, and the fragments of that tradition that survive in the wider society cannot be expected to last much longer. As a result, the “West is facing the greatest spiritual crisis since the collapse of Rome” and “signs of spiritual depletion” have become impossible to ignore. For the better part of the twentieth century, America served as a “counterexample” to the progressive secularization of Europe, but this is no longer the case. In the early twenty-first century, Christianity is “flat on its back in Europe,” with America following in its wake. Dreher pointed out that one in three 18-29 years olds claim no religious affiliation – they are “nones.” Many of the remaining young people adhere to Moralistic Therapeutic Deism (MTD), which makes individual happiness the supreme value. Dreher said that MTD has become the American civil religion, but it is not Christian. By 2011, only 40% said that their personal moral beliefs were rooted in the Bible. Western societies have effectively become collections of “atomistic individuals.”
Dreher believes that the Cold War delayed individualism. Without the need to present a united front to a hostile superpower, the pace of social change has quickened, and social cohesion has been stripped away. This can be seen in the different adjectives used to refer desirable qualities in society. In the past, desirable qualities might have been characterized as “solid,” today they would be more likely to be characterized as “flexible.” Thus Dreher drew a contrast between “solid modernity” and “liquid modernity.” In today’s fluid world, there is “no solid ground anymore,” and “no allegiance beyond the self.”
Dreher believes that this situation will get worse, and that believers should “build and occupy an ark.”