Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Brand confusion about the Benedict Option

I had been meaning to post on this for awhile, but better late than never. I was reading a post from Father Shenan Boquet of Human Life International when another of his older posts caught my eye about Sanctuary Cities for Christians. Immediately I though "Hmmm, sounds kind of Benedict Option-y." And since he invokes the term and links to Dreher's blog, it seems upon a quick, first like he's getting on board the BenOp train. Except:

Still, it’s time we give this a shot before it is too late, if for no other reason than to help awaken those believers who are still sleepily going along with the culture. As one LGBT-celebratory Christian leader has recently argued, the “middle ground is disappearing.” Writer Rod Dreher and others have noted this has been underway for some time. Dreher reports on his blog how a growing number of parents are surprised to find themselves having to pull their children out of grade school as gender ideology has become dogmatic seemingly overnight, and schools are constantly undermining parental rights and privileges.

He even throws in the obligatory Benedict Option "we're not cutting and running" disclaimer which we are used to hearing:

I want to make this perfectly clear: There is a difference between running in fear and trying to escape reality, and a strategic retreat to a place of strong footing, from which a community can act in love and truth and build a real culture again.

Upon a closer reading, however, Father seems to be asking for a greater civic involvement of Christians and other people of good will who respect religious freedom to achieve the goal of justice and spiritual flourishing. The tone of the article is much more akin to "taking the country back" than the building of religious Christians-only safe spaces. One of the reasons it's difficult to see this first is that Fr. Boquet is very careful not to call for any direct political action, but instead uses the illegal-alien sanctuary city concept analogically:

....We need sanctuary cities for Christians.

There is a precedent for this: There are some 200 cities in the United States that have decided, through official policy if not in law, to not enforce federal laws on immigration. In essence, these “sanctuary cities” refuse to cooperate with federal agents when it comes to reporting crimes committed by those in the country illegally, arguing that such reporting would create a climate of fear and would ensure a lack of cooperation between migrant communities and local law enforcement.

There is an insinuation between the lines that in his proposed Christian sanctuary cities, officials would look the other way when someone refuses to sign a same-sex marriage license or break any other ordinance which violates a federal ordinance and yet upholds the moral law. That is his clear intention, yet, as I stated, he is careful not to explicitly lay out this rebellious course of action.

I think that Fr. Boquet is "glomming onto" the Benedict Option because it is a term out there already, but there is a pretty big difference between it and what he is advocating. A Christian Sanctuary City as he describes is would be a place where you don't have to be a Christian to live in or belong to the way a Benedict Option community is described. These cities would become strategic outposts in the culture wars rather than strategic withdrawals from the culture wars.

It has become unfashionable to speak of the "culture wars" due to the scorn of the elite cultural leftists who are claiming victory, those like Dreher who are advocating surrender and those still fighting in the ranks but tempted by war-weariness to cease. But this war is merely a part of the ancient War of good versus evil, and there is no reason to shy away from calling it a war. We didn't start it, and it will never end until Judgment Day. Each Christian and person of good will must fight these battles in the way he sees fit, trying not to rebuke others who fight it differently, at least not publicly.

On the other hand, I will continue to rebuke the Benedict Option because it represents a refusal to fight, withdrawing from the battle to instead hurl inane insults from their towers at those still fighting on the ground like those Frenchmen in Monty Python and the Holy Grail. The rest of us will continue to fight the culture war, even if to many it seems like we're merely banging coconuts together.


  1. Thanks, Pauli. I enjoyed Fr. Boquet's essay. As I see it, here is the key (from the essay):

    But notice that none of this precludes a robust movement to secure our rights and freedoms at the local level, at the level of the city or state whose leaders remain sober enough and have the courage to do what is right. Should the wider political movement succeed, the sanctuary cities and states would be seen as leaders and supporters in this fight as well.

    This requires the active engagement in local politics -- not "strategic withdrawal" as in the so-called Benedict Option (the defining book of which is now under final deadline pressure -- but leaving time for a little Catholic-bashing).

    Unfortunately, what will eventually be needed will be "sanctuary federal judicial districts", considering that the enforcement pressure will be coming from the federal government. Sanctuary cities for immigrants worked only because the sanctuary was consistent with federal disinterest in enforcing immigration law. But when the federal administration is all-in on enforcing "non-discrimination" law, it won't be so easy. State and local officials will be required to call the hand of the feds by refusing court orders -- and when they do so, the media will paint them as Orval-Faubus-Returned-from-the-Dead. Great courage will be required.

    One more thing: unlike the BenOpt, this approach has the potential of changing hearts and minds, making it especially dangerous to the powers that be.

  2. The problem with "Christian sanctuary cities" as with the Benedict Option is that both ultimately depend upon the Teacher stepping in and stopping the Bullies from pulling down The Victim's pants.

    Unfortunately, in either of these if-I-roll-on-my-back-will-you-rub-my-tummy? scenarios the Teacher might decide at any time to turn around and get some himself.

    I know individualism is terribly BO-unfashionable (coincidentally allowing one to dissolve personal responsibility into a larger whole as well), but I remain of the untutored suspicion that God still smiles a little more broadly on those that help themselves. Might have something to do with the whole "in His image" thing.

    1. On the "Teacher stepping in" point, I agree with you on the BO. But I'd say Fr. Boquet's essay is more like the victim refusing to hand over his lunch money, via nominating and electing the right local officials. But you are right, this will require individuals in the form of candidates and supporters to take that responsibility.

      And the responsibility will be heavy. The tough part may actually be refusing the carrot of federal money, ala the states that refused to expand Medicaid under Obamacare.

    2. My main point is to show that normal Christian activists like Fr. Boquet hear about the Benedict Option and co-opt it as a term, but they don't really get the bunker aspect of it at all.

      All I can say is that the whole gay marriage/bakery wars have shown that people really do need legal help to stand up against the lavender bullies. Whether they get that help from elected officials or ADF, ACLJ, etc. they need it. The Benedict Option is to create/withdraw to a safe space where only Christians even know where your bakery is located.

    3. Does anyone remember this from history?

      This is the benchmark contemporary strong tea of religious resistance, albeit obviously not in the Christian tradition. Like you say, Pik, Christians might have bite their lips and forego federal funding or tax exemptions. The Memories Pizza people showed the world how it's done at the grass roots level: live their beliefs. Period. They are the tony advertising concept "Benedict Option", sanctuaries within their own personal wills.

      Yeah, Pauli, I get your point. Dreher has been nothing if not clever about framing his meme seductively - I think I've commented before on the multi-level seductive resonance of the "Benedict" branding - but, at the end of the day, the touchstone question always remains: are Christians taking actions themselves on their own behalfs in the public square like the Memories Pizza people or are they tacitly expecting or depending on others to take action for them, e.g., to provide them safe sanctuary/ghetto spaces? Like animals in a zoo.

      Unfortunately for Fr. Boquet, whom I assume means nothing but well, people who provide Dreher with anything but derisive attention are ultimately conspiring in their own exploitation, exploitation primarily by people like Dreher. Dreher's only writing about Christianity because he got laughed out of writing about everything else and fired from every other job he's tried to hold. People believe Dreher for the same reason losers believe whores are in love with them, because both Dreher and the whores - but I repeat myself - are really good at creating such belief. That's their ultimate skill; that's what they're ultimately selling: the escapist illusion, not the product they're known for.

      Christians looking for any shred of hope will unfortunately buy Dreher's book even as he cheerfully cleans his member in their hair while continuing to surf the Web looking for saucy stories to taunt them with. But Dreher himself won't sacrifice a thing, not the comforts of urban living, or of fine food and drink, or of exotic travel, or of anything. After all, the Benedict Option is, in the final analysis, only slacktivist melodramatic entertainment cynically for sale to the rubes in the cheap seats, nothing more. I'm assuming Fr. Boquet has already figured that out by now.

  3. I think Dreher's attempt to create a larger enveloping BO Gospel of Passive-Aggressiveness in order give his congenital personal passive-aggressiveness greater leverage and Divine luster has been apparent from the beginning. The question is, what other Christians find this approach attractive, knowingly or not, and why?

    I don't think Jesus done it this way.

  4. On a post about nothing other than Madonna's offer to perform oral sex on anyone who votes for Hillary and ending with the benediction "Fleet's in!",

    "Matt says:

    October 19, 2016 at 8:24 pm

    Sorry, I have to ask. How does the gleeful, near-daily reporting of this kind of trash in anyway conform to a life lived within the Benedict Option?

    Turn inward or revel outward. Can’t have it both ways, dude.

    [NFR: My gosh you are humorless. — RD]"

    Remember, Rod's life long modus operandi has always been to humiliate the objects of his concern trolling after dominating them - for example, his own sister. With respect to his current target, Christians, the BO scam stays true to that form.

  5. How the Pigs practice the Benedict Option while awaiting the Dark Ages of the Farmer to pass:

    You sir, you madam, you go to New York and you go to Molyvos and you order the grilled octopus and you thank the Lord.

    You thank the Lord for the sensations on your tongue and in your tummy, lesser horses and donkeys, because that's what He died for.

    I don't think Jesus done it this way.

    1. It doesn't seem that Mr. Wilden has thickened his BenOp life properly: no grilled (not fried, please) octopus.

      Then again, on the BenOp Farm, some animals will naturally be more equal than the others.

    2. Well, yeah. Rights to the image were/are owned by the Lutheran Church, which is by definition NotBenOp (if not the cause of need for the BenOp). Whereas grilled octopus with a very light sauce of olive oil, sweet peppers, and cherry tomatoes [...] and fairy dust is of course VeryBenOp.