Thursday, March 19, 2015

Oh, dear, what is the Benedict Option?

Let's face it, being a fraudulent hustler of religious culture like Rod Dreher is hard work. It's not easy selling people cutting edge hydrogen oxide when they are accustomed to drinking water. But if you're Rod Dreher you persevere in your emperorography, and then one day

Boom, there it is: the strategy for the Benedict Option. Christians have to play the long game, as our ancestors in the faith did. This is what I mean by the Benedict Option: to figure out how to live, and build the structures of community that make it possible to live, so that we raise generations of Christian families. Historical circumstances have trimmed back the previous growths of the faith down to the roots. Our job is to patiently tend the roots, and nurture them for the day when the long winter darkness ends.

Boom! At least someone else is finally providing Rod with something with which to substantiate the completely cool and at the same time utterly hollow Madison Avenue brand name "Benedict Option" he has been trying to market for the last several years now.

Those who have followed this ad campaign from the beginning know quite well that it started out as a flight-from-corrupt-society religious mutation of his original Crunchy Cons mish-mash, except that no one wanted to buy that product and, as a result, Dreher was forced to wander in the wilderness pretending he knew quite well what he was talking about without, however, ever quite being able to clearly state what he knew.

In philosophical terms, the Benedict Option trade name was forced for a time to revert from actuality back into the less stressful quantum state of pure potentiality while it awaited a new product host and a new consumer base for that new product. Now, though, it seems old, unimproved Tide Benedict Option has actually been officially banned for all consumers:

UPDATE.2: And the next person who repeats the much-denied claim that the Benedict Option is about running off to the hills and building a compound to keep out all the impure people is going to get punched. Seriously, though, I am so tired of repeatedly denying this that I’m simply not going to publish any comments stating this untruth.

Given our working prophet's burgeoning Russophilia, the delicious Sovietness of this edict should not be surprising, but it does raise some ancillary and as yet unanswerable questions. What happens if I do decide to run off to the hills and build a compound to keep out all the impure people while patiently tending the roots, nurturing them for the day when the long winter darkness ends? Am I still licensed by Dreher, Inc. to use the term "Benedict Option"? For that matter, how will any individual or group know for sure whether

  • they are practicing the genuine Benedict Option;
  • got saddled with an old, out of date and previously recalled Benedict Option;
  • are erroneously practicing a faux-Benedict Option (never buy one from the trunk of someone's car);
  • or simply happen to be a sluggard who isn't trying hard enough and is only effectuating some inferior pre- or sub-Benedict Option?

In other words, where can one find the official catechism of the official Benedict Option to ensure one is getting it right?

I’m preparing to undertake a book about the Benedict Option

Ah, perfect. So one will be available for sale.

Still, I remain confused. Some posts back I laid out my thinking as to why everything Dreher must deal with in under-girding his tantalizing trade name "Benedict Option" with actual practicable substance leads with inexorable logic to a terminal secular millenarianism, and, again, if anyone can show me how it escapes this logic trap, by all means do so.

But the "Boom" paragraph with which I led off this whole post suggests something new, something different, something exciting

This is what I mean by the Benedict Option: to figure out how to live, and build the structures of community that make it possible to live, so that we raise generations of Christian families.

To figure out how to live, to build the structures of community that make it possible to live so that we raise generations of Christian families. be Christian. That's the Benedict Option. To be Christian.

But still, to figure out how to live as a Christian, to build the structures of community that make it possible to live as a Christian so that we raise generations of Christian families - with a way cooler new appellation, The Benedict Option.

Not that dull old traditional Zud figuring-out-how-to-live-as-a-Christian option, building the structures of community that make it possible to live as a Christian so that we raise generations of Christian families. No, new, improved Benedict Option figuring-out-how-to-live-as-a-Christian option, building the structures of community that make it possible to live as a Christian so that we raise generations of Christian families.

Now, of course, the whole enterprise will feel more or less new, improved Benedict Optiony as opposed to old, unimproved Zuddite or any other traditional Christianity optiony depending on one's relative hysteria about the putative Dark Ages one is living in compared to other periods in history with other anti-Christian hazards. Wolves. Meanies. People that when you tell them you're a Christian go "Nie!". Disco. Vikings.

Where does this now leave me? Adrift between apocalyptic, dark-agey secular millenarianism and this new gospel of a fascinating new hydrogen oxide, with its own exegetical catechism to be offered for sale some time after the book about how Dante can save my life will finally be offered for sale.

Thanks, I'll just have water. No, really, I'm good, just ordinary, 2,000-year-old water. If it was good enough for Jesus and those who followed Him, it's good enough for me. But, still - way cool brand name, dude.

UPDATE (as they say): Commenter Mike W at the Dreher post linked has questions similar to mine:

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)?

[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]

All great questions indeed, and in most cases the sorts of things one would want to have thought about and have answered before embarking on a great commission to recruit others to completely recreate their lives to suit one's vision.

But, just as with the case of Obamacare, the Benedict Option is nothing more than a political marketing chimera designed only to enhance the reputation of its proponent while dumping the unknown burdens of implementing it - including even the most fundamental question: what is it? - onto the paying marks in the cheap seats.

Here's the litmus test that Rod Dreher's Benedict Option (TM) is nothing more than fraudulent vaporware. If it were a real thing he really believed in for himself, Dreher would have already stated in clear and practical terms,

"Here is what I am doing myself and for my family in pursuit of the Benedict Option as I envision it.

Here is what I am doing:




and here is what I am not doing:




That is the Benedict Option in practice for my family, the Drehers."

But having taken the orders and the down payments, alas, there is no product in the warehouse for delivery.


  1. Gee, I just realized something.

    When I was a kid growing up in Greater Boston, they taught us about this Benedict Option Stuff. They called it the Massachusetts Bay Colony, but now I can see that it was actually the Benedict Option. Of course, it all ended up in a mess of secular liberalism and stuff, but it definitely started out as Benedict Option. Even to this day, every November, we celebrate Thank the Benedict Option Day -- appropriately enough, with a turkey.

    There really is nothing new under the sun,

  2. The locus classicus of "the Benedict Option" is, of course, Alisdair MacIntyre's "After Virtue." In the "waiting for another Saint Benedict" passage, he writes: "What matters at this stage is the construction of local forms of community within which civility and the intellectual and moral life can be sustained through the new dark ages which are already upon us."

    You can decide for yourselves how much development of this idea Rod has done in the nine years he's been talking about it. From the quotations in this post, I'm not sure he's done much more than firmly distinguishing whatever he's talking about from running off to the hills. Since that option has been the only connection I've ever seen between Saint Benedict and Rod's nattering, I'm going to call it the Dreher Option from now on.

  3. No, Diane, our current revised textbooks from the Council of Dreher teach us that your characterization of the Benedict Option is an untruth punishable by having one's comment unpublished. The current edition teaches us that the Benedict Option is learning to live as a Christian and in so doing to raise generations of Christian children.

    Implicit in this difficult to understand concept would be certain functions we might infer and thereafter refer to as prayer or in other languages as worship according to certain formalized patterns we might in turn subsequently refer to in some cases as liturgy while in others contexts we might find ourselves speaking of a broader defining catechism, although we'll have to wait until the official catechism of the Benedict Option is determined by the Council of Dreher and is published for us to then purchase and read for us to be certain. As in many other things, we will have to read the BenedictOption to find out what's in it. For example, oysters may be required as a sacrament in order to fully live as a Christian and raise generations of Christian children, although for those living in arid areas special dispensations from the Council of Dreher may be available to relieve them of an impossible burden.

    Tom and Diane, I cannot stress too strongly that while, for all intents and purposes the Benedict Option is indistinguishable from just living as a Christian itself, certain important differences remain, depending upon the holy judgement of the comboxes as to what is popular and what is not. For example, running off to the hills has now been determined to be a formal heresy punishable by being driven off into the hills and away from the Benedict Option, although that should not be confused with taking a Benedict Option from the Benedict Option, which would be a different heresy altogether. As you can clearly see, Diane and Tom, these matters are not for the untrained mind to try to unravel by itself without a purchased guide book in hand.

    Also, one is more likely to be more specially living as a Christian under the Benedict Option rather than just living as a Christian in common, ordinary ways if one is living as a Christian while also in a dark wood, while Miley Cyrus is twerking, in spite of being not thought of as special by family, after being unfriended on Facebook, or while one otherwise feels persecuted and tortured, such as some readers may be feeling at this moment if they have already made it through this beating of a comment to this point. Again, though, these fine philosophical distinctions between just living as a Chistian as people have tried to do for 2,000 years and living as a Christian under the Benedict Option must await the final publication of the Catechism of the Benedict Option by the Council of Dreher.

    Does that help?

    Then again it all may end up just being secular millenarianism as I originally described and we can dismiss it and go back to just trying to live our lives as ordinary, humble Christians as best we can while trying to raise generations of ordinary, humble Christians to follow in our footsteps, the way our ancestors have been doing for 2,000 years now in order for us to be having this conversation here in the first place.

  4. Bingo, Keith. (Sorry, I meant "Boom!")

    It's just so easy. Follow Dreher, and all you have to do is make one decision to follow the Benedict Option -- buy the cookbook, follow the recipes (while keeping your lip zipped should an impure thought creep in), and before you know it you're Saving the World. All for $19.99, and you don't have to live in the woods!

    If only it were so easy. We wouldn't have to endure figuring out how to live as a Christian so many times every day, each time we are tempted to stray.

    Dreher is such a fraud, as we have pointed out so many times and as he himself proves over and over again.

    1. After an enormous amount of work for which, I feel I must point out, I have not yet been paid one red cent or oyster on the half shell I have developed a super-condensed Benedict Option for busy moms on the go and all others:

      "Nice Christian watch you have there. Would you like to buy it back?"

  5. On an only slightly unrelated note, in his latest post mocking the Catholic Church Bishop Dreher of the Benedict Option strongly suggests praying like a Muslim will be a determining factor separating those gathered into the Benedict Option in good standing from those with too much overly ambitious squat mileage on their knees like me.

    But I'll still wave at those inside from outside the palisade.

    1. Is that the Great Dreher Posterior itself, or is that some other poor schmoe's rear end posted for all the internet to behold in its great humility?

      I should be surprised that he doesn't get that posting braggy photos of your prostrations pretty much undoes them, but this is the guy who spent all last lent bragging about his expensive shellfish dinners, so...

    2. Offhand I would say that is the lesser Dreher fils posterior, given the size of the individual, the hint of glasses and dark hair, the known size of the congregation, the frequency with which Dreher pimps his children to his own ends, and the need for a release of liability for publication. But I am only speculating based on those factors.

  6. Ruh-roh!

    The Council of Dreher is already petitioning itself to determine who will be admitted to separate the Benedict Option-discussing sheep from the Benedict Option-discussing goats:

    Another policy that Greer has, which I also recommend to you, is that any comments, to be approved, must not only meet basic standards of courtesy and civilized discourse, but must also measure up to a minimum standard of intellectual adequacy as well. In other words, any commenter who fails to distinguish between an opinion versus a reasoned argument, or who clearly lacks basic critical thinking skills, doesn’t get put through. That policy, too, keeps a discussion thread on a high level.

    Well, if the Benedict Option does nothing else than to separate communities of the good people - that would be me, of course - from the broader wilderness of people not as good as me - and, if we're really going to be honest here, I'm sorry to say that would have to include some of you, wouldn't it? Admit it. Wouldn't it? - it will have done its primary, formal duty, regardless of how the Chriatian content of either sphere fares thereafter.

    In other words, as I pointed out elsewhere, the ordinary English term previously used to describe the Benedict Option was segregation.

  7. Okay, so here's another awkward question that nevertheless must be answered if we're to understand a) what the Benedict Option is and b) if we're doing it right or risking being banned instead.

    Home schooling.

    I know some of you do/have home schooled and some of you don't/haven't.

    Is home schooling running to the hills of home away from the corrupting influences of Catholic or other parochial schools or from even more corrupting public schools, or is it simply building intentional communities that teach one's children how to live as a Christian and raise generations of future Christians while adroitly separating them from other kids with different parents?

    Or is it something wholly unrelated to the Benedict Option entirely, like Xylitol, and shouldn't even be discussed in the same context.

    In other words, how does one properly phase between multiple dimensions of reality in order to appropriately realize the Benedict Option without over- or under-phasing and ending up in some unapproved pit of reality that will get one's life-comment unpublished?

    Can one be a true follower of the Benedict Option and still send one's kids to the public schools where little Madison wears her skirts way too short and bends over in that inappropriate way while Tyrone punches people in the chest for no reason if one has good Christian kids one has successfully taught to be that way in spite of who they encounter in life?

    Is sending such kids into the public schools effectively missionary work?

    Or is that a logical non sequitur: to mingle with Madison and Tyrone is, ipso facto, not to be building intentional communities of faith but rather just the opposite, to be thoughtlessly surrendering and sacrificing one's kids to Babylon?

  8. Forget the Benedict Option. Or Dreher's "Benedict Option." Embrace the D'Hippolito Option, as practiced and exemplified by The New D'Hippolitonian World Order. (TM)

    We'll get back to you when we figure out what that means. I have minions to hire.... ;)

    1. Speaking of minions, you'll notice that alongside the not yet banned liberals who find Dreher "their kind of conservative", i.e., tuned to what the audience wants to hear, there are ever-increasing numbers of college kids fleeing the political correctness cant on campus and no doubt led there by the increasing numbers of adult university-employed who are just certain they've discovered an oasis of "deep" "cultural" discussion. Milking children as a Pied Piper is not that bad a gig if you can get it.

    2. Keith, how do you know that "ever-increasing numbers of college kids" are "fleeing the political-correctness cant on campus"? Can you post links to stories? If what you say is true, then American society is not yet forgone. Hope still exists.

      Meanwhile, I and my newly hired minions will announce a strategy to monetize The D'Hippolito Option (TM), just as soon as Wisconsin wins the NCAA basketball championship! ;)

    3. I don't know about kids in general, but my son and his friends have had their fill of the Social Justice Warriors. And they're at a fairly conservative campus (Alabama). I can just imagine how it's getting to kids at more liberal campuses.

    4. Joseph, I was speaking of the self-described college kids among Dreher's minions. That's why they're there, running from the liberal fascism of political correctness around them on campus into the arms of the Pied Piper of what they see as ancient "authenticity".

      What we're observing is the hippie movement in ideological reverse: political correctness is now their authoritarian Fifties, with Dreher conveniently positioned to reprise Timothy Leary. Tune in, turn on, drop out with the Benedict Option, my children. Meanwhile, he'll be at Galatoire's hobnobbing with the movers and shakers and by all means eating well.

    5. D'oh!! That's right. I did read your post and I remembered that part...really!

    6. Keith, now I understand what you mean. Exchanging one vapid world view for another isn't the greatest thing in the world. But the more people reject the quasi-Marxist political correctness that permeates elite academia, the better. What we need to do is start teaching the philosophical bases on which this republic rests.

    7. Keith, now I understand what you mean. Exchanging one vapid world view for another isn't the greatest thing in the world. But the more people reject the quasi-Marxist political correctness that permeates elite academia, the better. What we need to do is start teaching the philosophical bases on which this republic rests.