Friday, March 17, 2017

The logical impossibility of the Benedict Option

Benedict Option

The logical lacuna at the heart of Rod Dreher's Benedict Option is the same one faced by the architect who would construct a universe on the back of a turtle: what does the turtle stand on? Another turtle? Then what about that turtle?

For our purposes, what Benedict Option protects the Benedict Option?

If secular society has become so intrusive that Benedict Option cult members feel they must withdraw from it, even partially, what Benedict Option technique can possibly insure that that separation will be respected by a force that the Benedict Option inventor defines as demandingly intrusive?

If the Benedict Optioneers can unilaterally disengage from a demandingly intrusive secular culture, it was never really demandingly intrusive; they simply disapprove of it and have converted that disapproval into hysterical pearl-clutching. If, on the other hand, that culture really is so overweeningly and demandingly intrusive, there can be no escape from it. In the badlands, the rapist gets what he wants when he wants it.

Which brings us back to the turtle's footing. So perhaps there is some as-yet unnamed force which will interpose itself between the demandingly intrusive culture and the Benedict Option cultists, a Benedict Option Hell's Angels, if you will.

Whether this Benedict Option Hell's Angels is separate or integral to the Benedict Option cult itself is moot: if it exists, we're no longer talking Benedict Option, we're talking Remote Idaho Christian Militia Option or Ruby Ridge, an alternative which, while nominally Christian, is simply no longer what the Benedict Option author is trying to peddle. It's something else entirely.

But perhaps the interposing force protecting the disengaged Benedict Option cult is not an internal or external Benedict Option Hell's Angels but rather the State of whatever nation in which the option is being implemented, in which, diametrically in contradiction to the foundational claim of the Benedict Option creator, it is precisely politics which will save the Benedict Option cultists: only if their politics are actively and primarily successful will the government protect. If their politics fail, it won't.

Despite the powerful marketing resonance inherent in the word "benedict" itself, literally "good words" or "good speech" in Latin, which, fortuitously for Dreher, flexibly and open-endedly psychologically invokes any Benedict of value from Benedict of Nursia to Pope Benedict XVI, the fantasy upon which the Benedict Option floats is derived not so much from the original Benedict of Nursia as it is from Walter Miller's classic post-apocalyptic science fiction novel A Canticle for Leibowitz, a fiction you may very well enjoy immensely more than Rod Dreher's.

In the Benedict Option author's scenario as in Miller's, the surrounding world collapses into a Dark Age while somehow miraculously not taking down the Benedict Option cultists with it, a prospect now that much more miraculous, indeed, in a world so interconnected that the very inventor of the Benedict Option himself can only make a living by telecommuting as an Internet blogger who seeks out and hypes the most deliciously freakish elements of the culture he disparages such as trannies or cannibals at CNN.

Nonetheless, once you buy, read, and join the Benedict Option cult you will be able to, in ways you are unable to now, disengage from the demandingly intrusive culture while still using the Internet, social media, and mobile telephony in order not to sink into terminal balkanized isolation.

Moreover, that culture you have now tamed by reading Dreher's book will respect your choice, cross its heart.

Then, when everyone else has fallen into Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome - but not you, with your own alternate universe grocery and other support infrastructure - then you will be able to conserve not only your family and loved ones but also the correct traditional version of Christianity, not one which, because of the Apocalyptic Troubles, has now unfortunately mutated through a game of religious-cultural "Telephone" into something idiosyncratically monstrous involving child sacrifice, which you will then be able to reintroduce to those non-Benedict Option cultists who survived the Apocalyptic Troubles by virtue of the Darwinian natural selection such Troubles imposed on their wills to survive and prevail over anyone, at any cost.

And they won't even kill and eat your children for their feast of St. Horrible, even though, dang, do you know how long it's been since fresh pork has been available?

Really, read Miller's A Canticle for Leibowitz. And if one slap in the face isn't enough to wake you up, follow it up by streaming Bone Tomahawk.

Either way, Dreher's Benedict Option future is doomed to be turtles, or maybe alternating Benedict Options and turtles, all the way down.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Early returns for "The New Christian Paradigm"

In the comments I have already pointed out that Rod Dreher, in some euphoric rush of unknown provenance, has most recently elevated his Benedict Option book to the grandiose status of "The New Christian Paradigm".

Here he is last night on Tucker Carlson's show revealing this epochal transformation of Christian civilization to America at large:

Discerning viewers will note Carlson's treatment of the transformational prophet Dreher.

Polite. Solicitous. Charitable. All completely appropriate for a conservative Christian talk show host. Also, as Dreher brings the beige, indistinguishable from Carlson probing either a seven-year-old nephew or Triumph the insult comic dog over the technical workings of a gamma ray burster.

Meanwhile, the Lord God Almighty has determined that one of his n-grandnieces, Stella Bombogenesis, should cover Rod Dreher's week long NYC media launch extravaganza as well.

Benedict Option

As Dreher himself remarks as to the launch of his book on the feast day of St. Benedict: coincidence.

Friday, February 24, 2017

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Go to Canada already

Why hasn't anyone moved to Canada since Trump got elected. They said they would, but then they didn't. Promises, promises. Or empty threats maybe.

Just sayin' they're missing a million miles of fun eh.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Rod, dedicate your Benedict Option book proceeds to Norcia

We shall surely know Rod Dreher as a good and decent Christian man when we hear the monks of the Monastery of St. Benedict in Norcia, Italy give their public thanks to him for having donated all proceeds of his Benedict Option book to rebuild their earthquake ravaged places of worship.

Not only do the monks feature prominently in the writing of Rod's current book for sale, but in his blog posts - heavily labeled with self-promotional "Benedict Option" tags - he informs us just how heartbreaking their situation is, from

Norcia: The Basilica Is Destroyed

Benedict Option


Every Church In Norcia Is Gone

Benedict Option


And yet, with preorders, Rod Dreher is already collecting a rich revenue stream from having used the monks of Norcia as living examples of the thesis he wishes to promulgate in that very same book.

Return their Christian charity and service to you, Rod, and pledge publicly to dedicate all proceeds from The Benedict Option to the rebuilding of Norcia and its churches.

Don't just use them and discard them when you're done with them as you did with Father Matthew Harrington, the Orthodox priest late of St. John the Theologian Mission in St. Francisville, abandoned destitute, penniless and unemployed, with an expensive special needs child to care for.

Do now for the monks of Norcia what you should have done then: instead of offering superficial, lip-service prayers, show you truly mean it by digging deep into the wealth you are piling on top of your million dollar Little Way book advance with the help of a roaring bull market and a savvy financial advisor like Chris Currin:

We most certainly didn’t have a lot of money to invest when we found Chris Currin. In part because of Chris Currin’s wise stewardship of our resources, we have significantly more to invest now.

So now, Rod, when you not only have significantly more to invest but also a new river of book sale proceeds beginning to flow in into that vast lake Chris Currin is husbanding for you, invest for awhile in God's works instead of Caesar's.

Publicly pledge that you will dedicate all proceeds from The Benedict Option to the rebuilding of Norcia and its churches.

This, in turn, can only help your book sales and thus help the monks even more.

Of course, I suppose you could spend it on food at Torchy's Tacos and other delicious things, as is your habit.

Benedict Option

But maybe, just maybe, this is the moment to think beyond your belly and put your money where your mouth is.Or where it should be.

Monday, October 31, 2016

But, Joe, you just did comment on Anthony Wiener

This is a truly, truly priceless video.

He obviously isn't keeping up with what is going on at this point. I'm not sure he ever was. He's nothing more than a Catholic token, hoping to be replaced by another Catholic token named Kaine. This remains my favorite photo of him.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Retread Ted

Haven't heard the word "retread" in a while, but its use on this anti-Strickland site is apropos. I mean, the only way he even has a ghost of a chance of winning is on name recognition.

Love it. Ted Strickland really is a doofus. Lest anyone forget...

...his finest hour!

Monday, October 24, 2016

Benedict Option: The Main Dilemma

I have an acquaintance who is a member of Opus Dei, a very intelligent person and a devoted Catholic. I have heard him on more than one occasion make the assertion "It's a big Church," usually while he was giving an official talk as a member of Opus Dei. I call it an assertion, but measured in membership numbers, it could probably be called an accepted fact. What are we at now? One point two billion, give or take?

However whenever I heard my friend make this statement, he wasn't drawing focus mainly upon the quantitative measure of the souls on board the Ark, or the Bark, whichever you prefer, but on the qualitative ability of the vessel itself to accommodate every type of "creature", if you will. Obviously the birds who survived on Noah's big ship mainly needed a landing pad and a big bag of seeds whereas the camels and lions needed their own living quarters.

Looking both at Christ's analogy of many rooms or many mansions and at Saint Paul's proclamation that there are "many charisms, One Spirit" we can see what he was talking about. There is a place for everyone in the Church, both the activist and the contemplative, both the ardent intellectual and the extroverted charismatic.

All of these Catholic associations, religious orders, groups, subgroups, "small groups", etc. can be seen as the many rooms, the many gifts (charisms), the many colors of the rainbow — choose your analogy. The contexts in which my friend used this line were several. Sometimes it was in sort of a complementary way since many members of Opus Dei are active in groups like Catholic Worker Movement and Knights of Columbus. So it was kind of a "yeah, you can be in Opus Dei and do that also."

Other times it was in a more differentiating way; e.g., "this other group does this thing, we do not, that's okay, after all it's a big Church." St. Josemaria the founder of Opus Dei has a point in one of his writings about those who might seek to make the world into a cloister. On the other hand, the greatest respect is shown to the religious orders in Opus Dei and all Catholic lay groups I've ever encountered. Likewise I've never run into a religious sister or religious brother who dissed the sacrament of marriage or the local parish church even though they were given a completely different vocation than lay people.

A quote attributed to saint Therese of Lisieux is one way to summarize Catholic both/and thinking as it relates to the place of each individual Catholic in the mission of the Church: "Some give by going to the missions, some go by giving to the missions. Without both, there are no missions." Another example of how devoted Catholics are to this "both/and" concept for vocations, check out the Devotion to St. Martha. Even though everyone would agree that Martha ends up looking like sort of a loser compared to her sister in the Gospel story, she gets to kill the Ancient Serpent like St. George and St. Michael, making her kind of the Wonder Woman of the saints.

The Benedict Option, as I see it, has to represent one of two things. It has to represent merely another charism in the Church or it has to represent an absolutely indispensable part of each Christian's life, like prayer, the practice of the virtues, reception of the sacraments and weekly attendance of the Liturgy. There might be a third thing, a return to something which existed in the past within Christendom but which no longer does. However as a practical matter, that would still seem to place it into either the first or second category. Either it is truly only an option or it is a necessity.

Looking at the first case, and let's call it the Subgroup Option, what if the Benedict Option is one of many ways to live out one's life as a faithful Christian? It would mean living in a community with other like-minded people, celebrating the Sacraments together, praying together, eating together and celebrating together. Perhaps working together in a cottage industry and running a school for the children as well. These things exist already for both married and celibate people. It is true, more often these are for celibate people for obvious reasons, but there are groups of families living in close proximity. The forthcoming Benedict Option book could, in theory, become a good — perhaps even invaluable — instruction book about how to achieve life in this type of community for anyone aspiring to it.

What are the problems with this approach? As I can see it the problem is limited appeal which would translate into limited book sales. People wanting to do this stuff might want to have a lot of source material in one place and they might scoop this book up right away. My prediction is that they will. But the normal Joe Six-pack won't really "get" the Benedict Option as something to pursue. If you doubt this, talk to someone in any Christian subgroup about how hard it is to get people involved in existing groups. Add to that the conceptual, I would even say ethereal, nature of the Benedict Option as a separate charism and it is going to be hard for it to compete with concrete established groups like Miles Christi, K of C or Opus Dei in the Catholic world or Intervarsity Fellowship in the Protestant world.

The second case I would like to call the Apocalyptic Option. This is the way I see the Benedict Option marketed and presented most often by Rod Dreher himself, as Keith has noted here. Rod says in the quoted post,

"Sooner or later, religious conservatives will have to take the Benedict Option, or be assimilated. I know of no feasible alternative. The longer you put off the decision to start thinking and moving in the Ben Op direction, the harder it’s going to be."

This definitely presents the Benedict Option as an absolute necessity, and asserts that the results of not doing so are cataclysmic. The problems with this approach are many more and much greater. First of all, why is the architect of this last, best hope for an escape plan Rod Dreher, a man who left the Catholic Church over Papal Infallibility and contraception and who incessantly reacts to the kind of seedy gossip/news that most Christians turn their heads away from? Why has this plan been revealed now rather than during the sexual revolution in the sixties, or in 1930, or in 1917, etc.? Why does all the breathless hype over this still seem more like that around the new Robert Langdon movie, or one of the author's other book releases? I mean he has pretty much done the standard book thing, e.g., thrown out teasers, refused to reveal too much — that sort of thing. Kind of fishy if there really is impending doom around the corner.

(Just a bit of an aside. It always struck me that "prophets" like Harold Camping always predict that the world will end in the near future. I mean, I think Nostradamus was a bit kooky, but I'm not sure he even lived to see half his predictions come true or not. There is a difference in the ickiness factor between pure kookiness from a true believer and kookiness sold for filthy lucre to true believers. I have to believe that there is a difference in the punishments doled out on Judgment Day as well....)

Another question comes to mind when I read all the negative aspersions cast upon those who are skeptical of the Benedict Option. Can you blame any Christian for not "taking the Benedict Option"? Are missionaries who are sacrificing comfort, seminarians preparing to sacrifice married life and Catholic families willing to sacrifice European vacations to have lots of kids really dropping the ball if they don't drop everything to go "take the Benedict Option?" It seems like the Benedict Option entails doing a lot of extra material actions to the detriment of spiritual actions whenever it becomes an absolute necessity. It also seems to superimpose its own authority structure over the normal hierarchy of faith and family for "the normal, average Christian". Plus all the things I mention here are things which the architect of the Benedict Option has refused to sacrifice in the normal, average Christian world. So this Benedict Option seems to be a new way which is on par with celibacy and living conjugal unity.

I admit that most of my questions are rhetorical and that no one is going to convince me that the Benedict Option is any more than what our friend, Tom, stated about it long ago:

If you ever come across the term "the Benedict Option," there's really only one thing you need to know about: It's nonsense.

More precisely, it's a meaningless term, a cypher. The thing it refers to is a non-thing. As such, it can mean anything. And a term that can mean anything isn't worth talking about.

But the Benedict Option has a long and storied history of having rhetorical questions asked about it, and generally, the frankness experienced by Nicodemus when asking his sincere question of Christ about Baptism has been missing from the responses. Keith detailed some over a year ago:

Mike W says:
March 19, 2015 at 12:25 pm

A few questions. As a practical matter, how would the Benedict option look? What would be the general attributes of someone (or a community) following the Benedict option? How would you know if you were actually doing it properly? How do you “modernize” the approach to deal with 21st century pressures such as 24/7 media, etc. Who’s doing it now? How successful are they (and how do they define success)?

And the response...

[NFR: All great questions ... but ones I am not prepared to answer. All of them I have to explore while working on the book. -- RD]

Yes, well, we eagerly await this book and it will be read and reviewed at the time of its release. And lest anyone forget, here are some other questions the author was not prepared to answer from a colleague, Noah Millman who is also, as was Nicodemus, a wise, Jewish man.