Thursday, July 30, 2015

Is the Benedict Option Islamic?

Diane beat me to the BINGO buzzer on Tom's insightful comment (RTWT) and so I decided to do a whole post on my thoughts. The key point to me was the so-called Benedict Option as “an application of the emotion of fear to today's circumstances”. After pondering this, Pikkumatti rhetorically asked “Hasn't ‘fear of the modern world’ been the prime source of conflict in the Islamic world over the recent past?”

That sent my mind racing back about seven years ago when Daniel Nichols made an interesting prediction – somewhat humorously – about Dreher’s religious future. I consider Nichols to be very intelligent and possessing a keen insight into the nature of spiritual things, although I disagree with him about mostly everything touching political matters. His prediction was Dreher’s next step would be to convert to Islam out of frustration at the state of evangelical Christianity. At first I frowned at this as being over the top and unlikely, even as the vehicle to make an intended point. But it seems to me now like he might have been onto something.

Muslims practice a form of colonization as part of their living out of the hijrah when they emigrate. So you will see places where Muslims are overrepresented like Dearborn, for example, or even my old nabe in North Olmsted. It’s about more than just safety in numbers; they actively resist assimilation and start pushing for the acceptance of Sharia law. You can see that happening big time in England, and it's starting to happen here. They are masters at this, and polls show that a majority of Muslims in America would prefer to be under Islamic law.

Do Christians – or Catholics in particular – want to live under a theocratic system? Obviously not, since many Catholics don’t even listen to the magisterium on moral issues. Protestants don't because “look what happened in the middle ages,” a sentiment with which I provisionally agree. So liberal Catholics get involved in social justice concerns, Conservative Catholic join pro-life groups and religious freedom defense funds, American protestant Christians proliferate new, exciting, democratically-run denominations. But all of this represents reaching out, not erecting barricades. Very few members of any of these Christian subgroups are interested in establishing gated ghettos. Why not? They aren't scared enough to circle the wagons. Fear is noticeably missing from Christianity.

Islam is different because of the motivation of fear.

In what is arguably G. K. Chesterton's greatest book, The Everlasting Man, he mused that the cross as “a thing at right angles pointing boldly in opposite directions” was an apt symbol of Christianity, the circle or wheel was the symbol of the eastern religions, symbolizing a closed world at the mercy of cyclic impersonal forces, and the swastika was like a cross turning back into a wheel. It can be seen that the crescent and the scimitar have replaced the swastika in the 21st century, and so the Islamist move back toward the circle of violence and fear is succeeding where the Nazis failed.

So when the Benedict Option is seen to be a circling of the wagons I think there is at least a hint of the motivation of fear. When the objection is made by proponents of the Benedict Option that it's not a retreat from public life, well, neither is the hijra, although it might appear as one to the ignorant observer. It is a waiting game. It is a resettlement as Ann Corcoran argues in the book I linked to. I'm sure there would be even stronger objections to the suggestion that the Benedict Option would be a Christian version of a no-go zone, but there is sort of a compound-ish, commune-ish vibe hidden beneath all the “strategic withdrawal” veneer.

I don’t believe that Dreher will convert to Islam and I definitely would never predict that. But I do think he wishes, perhaps earnestly, that Christians would be more like Muslims especially in the fear department. Si vis pacem para bellum, of course. But the question is how does one prepare? If Christians were determined to resist by actively not being part of society rather than keeping themselves “unstained by the world”, there would be a lot more acceptance of a need for the so-called Benedict Option on their part.

Tom Tommorow's artist conception of Rod Dreher

[Here is some recently-published related reading material which readers may wish to read and comment on.]


  1. Just as Tom raised the component of fear critical to promulgating Dreher's project, you're now exposing another element always at the heart of such emperorograhy as the Benedict Option: eventually it must realize itself as something if it's not to simply melt away as if it had never been.

    Now of course the best course for Dreher and his BO is to make like an albatross and remain airborne, for years if possible, "brainstorming", Benedict-talking about Benedict-talk, like a radio station identifying itself every five minutes ("and you're listening to Rod 95, your Benedict Option station. Benedict Option caller number three, you're up. What's your Benedict Option question?").

    But eventually, eventually, it must become something. What are those options?

    - not doing the Benedict Option at all. This is what Rod Dreher himself is currently engaged in. Actually doing what he wants others to buy his book about doing remains completely optional.

    - doing something people have always been doing, which now puts the BO in the position of defending itself from charges of arrogation and appropriation merely to slap its brand on other peoples' endeavors. It will triumph in a disappointingly large number of these cases against people too timid to punch back.

    - trying to actually be monastic, which is of course a permissible BO option (see optional options, above)

    - really turning one's back on the post-Enlightenment world as a terrifying idea, not merely as a romantic, sophomoric intellectual affectation. Now one is effectively either Islamic or Hasidic in one's fear and loathing of the world.

    Always best to be an albatross, soaring, soaring, always becoming, never being.

  2. On a zig to realign himself with TAC's isolationism (next: how the BO dovetail's perfectly with Allison's New Urbanism) in which citizen of the worl Dreher declares

    That said, I no longer hold the view that America is a nearly unambiguous force for good in the world. In fact, I think American culture is in many ways poisonous, and a force for evil.

    this priceless comment

    Orin Scrivello, DDS says:
    July 30, 2015 at 1:52 pm

    Perhaps some sort of nomadic/caravan lifestyle might be an option?

    It hugely cuts down on living expenses too, so you might not have to work 40 or even 20 hours a week to support yourself or your community. At the same time you don’t have to depend on the government and are not tethered to a particular location.

    Look up “minimalism”.

    So, see, Gabriel Sanchez? There is too BO hope, for anyone with a mini-van.

    1. "The Day Rod Was There!" resurfaces:

      Having been a New Yorker on 9/11, and smelling the sweetness of burning flesh from the pit, traumatized the sh*t out of me, and cracked my judgment. — RD

    2. Where was Rod on that fateful day?