Friday, March 14, 2014

What does the so-called "Benedict Option" mean for Catholics?

Yeah, I thought that might get your attention. Serious post time. Put aside your FreeOCR translation of the book I got at a garage sale till next week and let's think this through.

Once again anonymous commenter Anonymous has pointed us to a topic for consideration, namely, what does the "Benedict Option" mean - apart, that is, from being a content-free marketing meme to lure rubes to line up at the booth to win a bear.

Now, as I've mentioned before, I'm not Catholic, just a bad Methodist who tries more often than not. And I'd just as soon as one of the faithful Catholics here had written this. But I don't think I need to be Catholic to think through what Rod Dreher's "Benedict Option" means. He "came up with the concept"; for better or worse, now, like Obama's Obamacare, he owns it, regardless of what it turns out to mean and how it may necessarily really turn out to work.

Let's start by asking the obvious questions: what does the "Benedict Option" seek, and when and under what conditions can it be realized?

To answer the first, the "Benedict Option" assumes we live in a time so fraught that a certain self-defined class of individuals - let's call them the BOs for short - cannot make common cause with the world they live in: in crucial ways, it fails to supply them with what they need. They therefore seek a different world, a world somehow beyond this current substandard one, a world in which what is missing now can one day, beyond today, finally be supplied or realized.

Implicit in this "Benedict Option" yearning is the projected assumption that the current world will collapse in some way, maybe apocalyptically, and thus with the current, unsatisfactory world broken and no longer resistant or a threat, the BOs will then function as carefully husbanded world-seed of whatever variety (morally better, religiously better, better beer makers, whatever) and re-sow the world into their own more appropriate fruitfulness.

The problem is, there are a whole host of implicit assumptions, many of them psychopathic, poking out like fractured bones sticking out of a rotting corpse which can't help but give us pause.

Set aside just the implicit schadenfreude, worthy of Dr. Evil himself: once the world is destroyed, the Master Race can repopulate it anew. How charitable of them.

What just happens to be already filling up the current morally/religiously/tastesnotgreatenough-toofilling world which first must pass away for the better, "Benedict Option" world to be realized?

Huh...let's see...a Vatican...oh, and a Pope and his Magisterium...and an entire catechistic world order...and a billion or so Catholics, give or take. They're all part of the deeply unsatisfying inertia of the currently deeply unsatisfying world which implicitly, necessarily, gets in their way and which must pass away before the happiness of the BOs can finally be realized.

Or forget the Catholics, if you want. You can run the same analysis on the Orthodox Church, or the Anglicans, or the Episcopalians, or even the constitutional republic of the United States. All must first pass from the scene.

The point is, implicitly all these institutions, their values and their rules and their communicants, implicitly all this current order fails the yearnings of the BOs.

All of these impediments must pass away before the BOs can satisfactorily have things the right way.

Their particular, customized way.

This is, pure and simple, collective infantilism; or, if you believe as I do that Dreher is the wannabe-guru I mock him to be, the infantilism of a wannabe shepherd and however many unfortunate sheep he can collect to sheer on the journey.

This is the petulant adolescent who can't wait till his daddy dies so that finally he can get things his way - without having to deal with all those tiresome things like growing up, becoming mature, engaging the world on its terms and prevailing within it.

But, even assuming this is the sort of petulant adolescent inability to deal with the adult world I describe (and even with a juggernaut like the Catholic Church rolling with you), what signs should we also look for to reveal it as a predatory psychological hustle as well?

A repeated insistence on urgency and need, to be specifically satisfied by what the vendor is selling. You can move shrink-wrapped pallets of freeze-dried foods and 5-gallon buckets of dried pinto beans only as long as you can keep your potential customers constantly anxious about a need to constantly be "prepping" for Armageddon.

This is standard Gold Rush marketing: the only ones sure to get rich are the map sellers and suppliers, the ones that sell the picks and shovels and provisions and the mules and wagons to move them; after that, whatever gold there may be is between you and God.

So to broker the goods of a "Benedict Option" - that is, to accomplish the only really important part, convincing others that your picks and shovels and provisions and the mules and wagons to move them are the only thing that will get your pilgrims to their future salvic "Benedict Option" - you need to repeatedly be harping on the unsatisfactory dirt hereabouts and, by comparison, the gold in them thar hills beyond, which they can only get to by buying your picks and shovels and provisions and the mules and wagons and following your special secret map to get there.

And, whatever you do, make sure your rubes pay no attention to existing means to achieve your moral/religious/hoppy satisfaction - like, oh, say, the Catholic Church there on the corner: that's the competition, pure and simple - or, if they do, you point out all the little ways it fails them. There's only one agency they can really depend on: the BOG.

So when it finally comes down to it, what fierce little cosmic ember burns in the heart of the "Benedict Option" Guru, hoping to one day fan itself into the flame of a grownup star?

A fierce psychopathic dissatisfaction with all that currently is, born of a congenital, defective inability to function as a mature adult within the world and the perfectly functional institutions of his time.

And above all - the eclipsing need to replace them with his own. To push Daddy out of the way and take his place. To push the Vatican out of its way and take its place. To replace existing institutions with his own, superior ones. To replace existing patterns of faith and morality with new, superior ones of his superior design and craftsmanship, even if they are built from the bones of the old.

Not just narcissism - solipsism.

To run the story of Genesis in reverse: out of the world, back through the Garden, back before there was a Garden, back to the only point that matters: back to where there is only his word, and the "Benedict Option" Guru finally sees that his word has become the new, replacement Good, give or take a vowel.

Now if it was me, I'd stick with the original options guy, the one who died on the Cross 2,000-plus years ago. But that's just me - because I've been to the carnival before.


  1. If you wish to consider the natural outcome of the so-called "Benedict Option" consider the fate of any one of these groups:

    The Shakers
    The Bishop Hill Colony (IL)
    The Oneida Colony (NY)
    New Harmony (IN)

    I could easily add more to this list, but I suspect you get my point. What Dreher seems to be advocating for is no different than what Erik Janssen called for when he brought a group of Swedish folk to Illinois and formed the Bishop Hill Colony. His efforts ended with his murder and the disbanding of the colony in less than 15 years.

    It is telling to me that Dreher admits that he does not know what he truly means by the term "Benedict Option". That seems to be the hallmark of his entire career...advocating from the position of ignorance, then complaining when people call him on it.

    I'd rather go back in time and take my chances with Jansson. At least he had a clear idea of what he was talking about, even if it was destined for failure.

    1. Wow, didn't know about this Jansson guy. Definitely put his money where his mouth is moreso than Dreher. But there are definitely similarities. Experienced so-called "miracles", built his own Church, holier-than-thou, etc.

      I have a lot I'd like to say but no time to say it. Dreher is trying to get out of the hole by continuing to dig. He should shut up about the BO just to somewhat salvage his cred on the Christian religion. Saint Benedict is rolling his eyes at this.

      The false dichotomy is that you can either be totally worldly and lax or you can withdraw completely. And those are your only two choices. Which one do you want, man? You can't do ANYTHING else. If you even own a television you're going to hell, man.

      It's just ridiculous. I suppose I could once again link to this as a general corrective response.

    2. I think it's crucial to note that St. Benedict dealt with the hand he was given - real time civilizational collapse - using the institutions available to him - including his own Church.

      He didn't simply assume the romantic, petulantly distempered hipster role of "playing St. Benedict" out of some anomic "cultural dislocation", or because his porridge was too cold, or WTF ever else.

      Dreher and his BOs are effectively playing Dungeons & Dragons with religious culture - and implicitly pissing on any religious alternatives to their personally tailored, individually therapeutic ones in the process.


  2. Don't miss the comments by Harrison Brace on the "Sullivan Calls Dreher A Coward" thread. In a word: WOW.



  4. And take a look at this old photo (both versions of the caption) posted by Brace in 2009:

    1. But...with all due respect...this just looks like a bunch of high school kids hanging out. Straight people hang out with gay people all the time. (I'm in the apparel me. ;)) I am not saying Rod may not have a few issues in that area, but I'm not sure these pics underscore that.

    2. I think what these pics underscore is simply that Harrison Brace didn't just make up his claims of high school friendship with Rod yesterday. In fragmentary but consistent little bits and pieces like these, he's been laying out the same account online for years.

      Oh, and here are a few more finds that a quick google turned up:

    3. Rod's latest post. No comment required.

    4. Oh, I agree, Anonymous. I agree 100%. It never even crossed my mind that Harrison might have been making any of this up. Nope. I am sure he is telling the truth. Seriously!! And yes, I agree, the photo is corroborative.

    5. I am exactly Rod Dreher's age and in the 80s I was friends with a lot of spikey haired adolescent males. I can safely say that repeated voluntary recreational exposure to public male homosex was not a feature of their adolescence, even in the Sodom that was NYC. Really. not.

    6. Kathleen...I was commenting on the photo, period. No one looking at that photo would think, "Gee, those kids look as if they voluntarily and repeatedly expose themselves to homosex." It just looks like a cute picture of a bunch of smiling fresh-faced teens, boys and girls. Yes, I totally get that the photo corroborates that Rod and Harrison were buds. But, in itself, it doesn't indicate anything beyond that. Does it depift "recreational exposure to homosex"? No. It's just a group shot of some kids.

      Do I believe what Harrison says about Rod's erstwhile escapades? Yes. But do I believe this based merely on that innocuous photo? No.

    7. And for the record...simply being friends with gay people doesn't mean anything one way or the other. All but one of the guys I work with is gay, and I've been known to hang out with them. That does not mean that I've exposed myself to homosex. I think this is a fairly crucial distinction.

      Again...I do believe Harrison's testimony. But I don't believe that the mere fact of a friendship with a gay guy meansb anything or proves anything in and of itself.

    8. Diane, I'm a little puzzled that you're addressing me because don't think anyone is arguing these points with you in the first place.

    9. Sorry, Kathleen...I mistakenly thought you were addressing me. I apologize for being touchy! ;)

    10. I still think there's a great deal to be mined here from these Harrison Brace revelations, which are new to me at least.

      We know that, while Dreher has fertilized at least 3 human eggs (what male couldn't eventually, even only thinking of England or not?), he continues to this day to traffic in sex online at an arrested adolescent level we could characterize as Beavis-and-Butthead-crash-a-tween-sleepover journalism. Now we have a much better context of understanding that. Whether he was ever actively bisexual or not, he remains very much the boy of Harrison Brace's picture and period.

      Re: periodically escaping Mrs. Dreher for the more carefree Netherlands. Now we have a much better context of understanding that.

      Re: Brace's references to past Dreher psychotic episodes/acid trips & Dreher's current Voyager journey through the doors of perception and beyond the theological Solar System into his own personal intramystical space. Now we have a much better context of understanding that.



  5. Well, it's been even longer since I read St. Thomas More's Utopia than Divine Comedy, but two things that I remember from it is that:

    1) Funny thing about utopias is that they are only utopia for whoever is Boss. An essential feature of utopia is that liberty is absent. If the subjects were able to make their own decisions, some decisions may be have an unfortunate result, and then it wouldn't be utopia anymore. So the elite (i.e., the elite One) must make all decisions.

    2) Which leads to another funny thing about utopias: nobody wants to live there (except of course the Boss). Raphael in More's Utopia travels the world telling everyone about how great it is, but he himself hasn't been there for years (if ever). John Lennon wrote Imagine, but he lived on the Upper West Side.

    Dreher writes like a Raphael wannabe -- talking about how attractive a BO-Town would be, but of course not lifting a finger or otherwise putting in some skin.

    And the BO as he describes it is definitely un-Christian. Christ left the world giving us a task : to make disciples of all nations. He didn't condition it on those nations maybe being receptive to the message. We have to try regardless.

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  7. Pikku's right that Dreher's conception of the Benedict Option is un-Christian. It's an old complaint, going back quite a few years now.

    "Indeed it is wrong for Christians to become indistinguishable from the world; we should be ashamed that our divorce rate is identical to those who do not profess faith in Christ. But it's also wrong for Christians to isolate ourselves completely from the world. We must be in the world but not of the world if we are to be effective conduits of God's love to the world."

    About Brace and other subjects, I'm not sure how charitable or profitable it is to speculate that much about Dreher's personal life, but from his writing, I can't discern a single subject about which he's NOT neurotic.