On My Bookshelf: The Benedict Option

I’ve discussed the premise behind this book online and off for some time. Rod Dreher’s ideas on Alasdair MacIntyre’s “option” are not new to this book. It reads like the blogger with whom I’m familiar, and turning the pages (this is indeed a well-written page-turner) is like checking in with an old St Blog’s friend.

People on both sides of the Right/Left divide have suggested I read before engaging this issue more deeply. After two months of waiting for the library line to clear, I  have the book in hand. As of this writing, I’ve gotten through the first fifty pages.

I think Mr Dreher gets it almost half right so far. He jumps on the anti-MTD bandwagon. He levels criticism at ideological friends and foes alike. He pines for an existence in which he and others like-minded can be surrounded with virtue, support, and discipline.

He pens a few pages of biography on Benedict of Nursia, but count me a skeptic on the premise that the ancient monks left a corrupt and falling civilization to escape other people’s sin. My reading of the desert tradition, and of monastic ideals through the ages, was that they entered the wilderness to find sanctity and draw closer to God. If they modeled their lives on the Lord, they would probably say they were drawn by the Holy Spirit. Other saints made Benedict-like impacts on faith and civilization and they stayed with the prostitutes, the thieves, not to mention the sick and the dying. These were no less countercultural in times and places where the culture needed some counter.

Rod Dreher’s biggest blind spot is his political ideology. I don’t see that being a “traditional conservative” is necessarily more godly than a godly “modern progressive.” There’s a lot of complaining about sex. In glossing over the “conservative” Ike-Nixon SCOTUS that decided Roe v Wade (decriminalization was a Republican notion first, after all), he leaps into the 90’s on p 44, with a rebuke of Justice Kennedy for his opinion on Planned Parenthood vs Casey and the jurist’s regard for the “autonomous, freely choosing individual.” I’m not so sure that the exaltation of the individual is really done at God’s expense. My take on it is that women, people of color, the poor, and others are dissatisfied by the self-proclaimed vicars of an orthodox God. It’s not that they don’t want God telling them what to do. They don’t want to hear it from wealthy white male elites.

An interesting credo:

The church … cannot withstand a revolution in which each member becomes, in effect, his own pope.

Cute. I think not only of the anti-Francis magisterium of the past few years, but the numerous self-actualized gurus of the Catholic internet emerging around sixteen years ago. Think about this one: the printing press is to Martin Luther as the internet is to … some ecclesiastical development unfolding. The author and his confreres have been in the thick of it. At their worst, little e-popes, all.

One other discussion perked my interest–Mr Dreher’s description of science setting aside enchantment and wonder for reason and progress. I’m not totally sure I see this side of the history of science. I think it is possible to apply the principles of the scientific revolution to the puzzles and wonders of the natural world and not lose a sense of awe. It’s not an either/or kind of thing.

Conservatives have been as colored and affected by the modern world as any other grouping on their own hill. I was thinking with amusement about a facebook discussion I had the other day about DACA. I was accused of having political motives. I countered that my interest was primarily moral. I was then lectured on how morality is a relative thing. And I thought I had slid into some looking glass dictatorship or something.

So far I like The Benedict Option. Makes me think. Keeps me on my toes. I still think Rod Dreher is fighting the culturewar on one foot with one arm tied behind his back. If I were inclined to head for the hills with a group of people, I’d sure want some diversity variety to keep me honest. Do you think Mr Dreher would give me a cottage on his Benedictine compound? Would you? Anybody else reading this book these days? Finding anything interesting?

More on this review in the days ahead.

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in Minnesota, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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1 Response to On My Bookshelf: The Benedict Option

  1. Pingback: On My Bookshelf: The Benedict Option II | Catholic Sensibility

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