Recently I drew parallels between the apparent decline of our nation and the decline of Christianity’s influence within it. I opined that in order to restore true American greatness, not simply economic and military power, Christianity needed to be fixed as well. How to do so is a big question. I suggested that some changes in how we “do” Christianity institutionally were in order. I am not the only one thinking along those lines and there are lots of ideas about what to do.
One of the most discussed, and I have discussed it here as well, is Rod Dreher and his so-called Benedict Option. All my discussion of Dreher and “the Option” has been based on his blogged thoughts and/or discussion thereof. I have not yet had the opportunity to read his book on the matter. The May 1 issue of The New Yorker carries a profile of Dreher and discussion of the book by Joshua Rothman that spurs further thought while I continue to attempt to clear my reading list sufficiently to get to this particular book. Rothman summarizes the Benedict Option a bit differently than I have previously seen it summarized and it bears examination. Essentially he describes the Benedict Option as a return to personal piety developed through accountability as created in small, close and relatively cloistered communities that may or may not be set in the context of a larger community. This actually is a form of “crafting” a Christian that I proposed in the post I linked in the preceding paragraph and therefore I found the summary quite intriguing.
The nit that I would pick with the Benedict Option as summarized by Rothman, I assume with some reasonable accuracy, is the hopelessness it carries with it. Says Rothman of the book:
It asks why there aren’t more places like St. Francisville—places where faith, family, and community form an integrated whole.
Dreher’s answer is that nearly everything about the modern world conspires to eliminate them. He cites the Marxist sociologist Zygmunt Bauman, who coined the term “liquid modernity” to describe a way of life in which “change is so rapid that no social institutions have time to solidify.” The most successful people nowadays are flexible and rootless; they can live anywhere and believe anything. Dreher thinks that liquid modernity is a more or less unstoppable force—in part because capitalism and technology are unstoppable. He urges Christians, therefore, to remove themselves from the currents of modernity. They should turn inward, toward a kind of modern monasticism.
I do believe our institutions of faith should be capable of standing against the forces that surround them, but their reason to do so is not to hide but rather to provide a place for rest and resupply from which can sally forth the forces of Christianity. I would draw an analogy to the cavalry forts of the Old West rather than the monastic cloisters of medieval times. I do not think modernity any more or less relentless nor evil than other opposition the church has faced in its long history. We need hide from nothing. We need rather to be of sufficient strength and capability to tame these forces as we have so many in the past. (Rom 8:31; Rom 8:37-39)
I have been forming a hypothesis in recent weeks into which much reading is necessary to bring it to maturity and the time for such exploration has begun.