Monday, May 11, 2015

Martyrdom Is Not Optional

Martyrdom is not optional, but it comes in several colors.

The word "martyr" is Greek for witness. The early Christians gave witness to Christ through their death, hence they were honored with the title of Martyr. But every Christian has to give witness; that's why Pope Francis recently said this:

He encouraged Christians to turn to the Holy Spirit to remind them of Jesus' words, and guide them in preparing to be witnesses “with small every day martyrdoms, or with a great martyrdom, according to God’s will.”

So, red or white. But not both. And unlike wine choices, God makes the call.

When I first read this I thought "Huh. This fits in with something Diane and I were discussing on her Facebook page. So the Pope must want everyone to read my blog!" Actually I didn't really think that last thing. But one of Diane's friends wrote something which I thought was pretty good:

The problem with the Benedict Option (whatever it may mean as a withdrawal from general society in order to preserve the Church and the culture and society that springs forth from Her) is that it is a fundamentally incorrect analogy to apply to the societal problems of post-Christian cultures.

The Benedict(ine) option, and monasticism in general, developed as a *response* to the CHRISTIANIZATION of culture. No longer able to pursue a martyrdom of blood, Christians pursued spiritual martyrdom alone, in the desert, and eventually, with other ascetics in community. Monasticism started in Egypt, and eventually spread throughout Christendom. It did not develop as a result of the loss of faith, nor did it develop as a response to the fall of Roman civilization.

Just as the Church within a society that has become Christian creates monasticism, likewise the Church will no longer produce many monastics within a society that de-Christianizes. Small parishes, house churches, and underground churches will be the places that the faith survives, and saints are made. Monasticism will become less and less necessary, because martyrdom and ascetic challenges will no longer have to be sought out in order to be found.

Benedictine monasteries, of course, did thrive, survive and preserve culture in a West being ravaged by Pagan invasions and piracy, but to try to apply the lessons learned from "Paganism vs Christianity" to "Christianity vs post-Christianity" is to fundamentally misunderstand what post-Christianity *actually* is, how it relates to Christianity, and how it will need to be endured.

The fundamental difference, of course, is that Pagans can be converted.

"Christians and Pagans had much more in common with each other than either has with a post-Christian. The gap between those who worship different gods is not so wide as that between those who worship and those who do not…” - C.S. Lewis

The Church will return to something closer to what She was in the earliest days. Branding it the "Benedict(ine) Option" may make the future more palatable for some Christians, and it's got a nice ring to it, but as a concept it is essentially, well, pointless.

If the person who authored this wants attribution I can provide it, but I'm starting off by just stating that it didn't originate with me. I think he makes a strong argument for why there is nothing really Benedictine or monastic about this thing we keep hearing about called the Benedict Option. In fact, the very absence of any type of rhyme or reason—never mind a rule—in the chaotic descriptions of the Benedict Option by those who claim to favor it demonstrates it's dissimilarity to anything Benedictine. They are called Orders for a reason, you know.

We've pointed this out again and again but I am convinced there is no reason to stop. This is reinforced constantly; there were other people chiming in on the thread who were obviously serious, educated Catholics but who were utterly unable to explain what was even meant by the Benedict Option. They did, however, display some classic behaviors of people who are losing an argument:
  1. The first reflex was to call Diane a "hater". So the conclusion is that Diane hates the Benedict Option because Dreher preaches it rather than considering that maybe Diane has contempt for Dreher because ideas for which he is responsible—like the Benedict Option—are so incoherent and cockamamie. *
  2. Then there was a classic line from the Benedict Option defenders: "If you've home-schooled your children then you've used the Benedict Option." Wow, so that makes me an idiot or a hypocrite or both for ever criticizing the Benedict Option since I also home-schooled my kids at one point. I might as well be saying "hands off my medicare!" It's also sort of daunting to realize that Adam and Eve, Noah and many other Bible personages were practicing the Benedict Option thousands of years before the birth of St. Benedict. I guess they kind of got us there.
  3. Then I was accused of possessing a "deep ignorance of what the Benedict Option is" because I pointed out that whenever someone mentions some example of Christian virtuous practice the Benedict Option people claim it and say "Yeah, Benedict Option! Benedict Option!" Because, well, they do—see point number 2. But actually I won't doubt my ignorance about something that no one can define.
  4. Then Diane tried to order up a short overview summary of the Benedict Option and was told that there was no such thing since the Benedict Option is "merely an ongoing conversation among Christians about strategies for withdrawal from an increasingly hostile liberal society and state." So while it might be that coming up with a explanation isn't too difficult a task for their communication skills, it is too condescending an undertaking for their powerful minds.

Diane can provide other highlights from the exchange. Others added remarks which were insightful and, in Maclin Horton's case, borne out by experience. There is still the need to correct a knee-jerk proposal of the nebulous Benedict Option as a panacea in holier-than-thou circles and possibly in more sincere circles.

The man who wrote the passage I first quoted later stated this: "Saints have been made in many places throughout history - but arguably the majority have come from the ranks of the monastics since Constantine." Well, that's where people were paying attention the most—that's where they were looking for saints. It is well to familiarize one's self with a 1988 writing by JP II titled Christifidelis Laici which undertakes the hard task of describing "The Vocation and the Mission of the Lay Faithful in the Church and in the World." It's an actual blue-print to follow. Once you read it you realize that you don't need a "Benedict Option".

* - Yes, I know who Alasdair MacIntyre is. That was one of the questions thrown at me. But Googling Benedict Option produces one name over and over again and it isn't MacIntyre's.


  1. But Googling Benedict Option produces one name over and over again and it isn't MacIntyre's.

    Haven't you just defined the singular purpose of this so-called "Benedict Option"?

    1. Ha. There you have it.

    2. I certainly have defined it, but these people are blissfully ignorant about that, or they are darn good at feigning ignorance.

    3. I've also seen martyrdom divided into red (death), white (giving up everything for Christ), and green (the daily death to self of ordinary Christian life). It's probably true that martyrdom is a full-spectrum phenomenon, with each Christian's witness adding their unique frequency.

    4. I like it! Let's steal the rainbow back from the homos.

  2. Now we are romping through King Lear territory, pleading for relevance.

    BTW, in any environment where a BO would conceivably be a necessity rather than a fashion statement:

    The first rule of Benedict Option is: You do not talk about Benedict Option.

    The second rule of Benedict Option is: You do not talk about Benedict Option.

    If one's goal is to keep one's head down to survive...dud...STFU.

    But because, as the lawn mower of persecution ostensibly closes in, the command from dear leader is instead that all gophers should stand tall in their holes and chatter about the Benedict Option among themselves, we know incontrovertibly that the BO is at best no more than another superficial, transient epiphenomenon feeding on Christianity like a mange, or as Pauli so aptly identified, like praise rock.

    Or, at worst, as others of us suspect, Dreher is cynically selling off Christianity and true Christians for a chance to iron David Brooks' trouser creases.

  3. The first rule of Benedict Option is: You do not talk about Benedict Option.

    LOL. Love this.

    More later. This is gonna be one of those days.