On My Bookshelf: The Benedict Option IV

Gaining momentum, Rod Dreher devotes the last three chapters of his book to two favorite topics for everyone: sex and technology. With regard to the former, it’s all the arguments about sex outside of heterosexual marriage from the culturewar. No real news there.

Conservatives (and, admittedly others too) wring their hands a lot over the internet. I doubt Mr Dreher would have as many readers without it. I was surprised he was surprised with the lack of smartphone reception at a monastery.

Online things and devices, like anything else, are a tool. The printing press led to big problems on the faith front in the years 1453-1517 and beyond. Just because something could be easily printed, didn’t mean it was reliable, true, or useful.

Some final thoughts … I admire the option to go Benedictine. Maybe I’m a bit envious of those I know who do. My wife, with her roots in evangelical Christianity, is a lot more suspect of “special communities.” So living apart and intentionally is not likely a working solution for me. I’m not invested enough to be persuasive of my spouse. Plus, I’m not so sure a skeptic like me would fit in one of Rod’s circles. I suspect it would be easier on me than on them. Living in an intentional community was something of a personal aspiration when I was in my twenties. But I’ve lived long enough to see the virtues of being realistic. Living in the world does not preclude good, constructive friendships–influencing and being influenced. I might even suggest that living in the world leaves some Christians more open to others who might need their friendship, guidance, and perspective. Not always, but sometimes. It’s a matter for discernment, not uniformity.

For the large part, Mr Dreher’s book adds to a larger discussion. It addresses questions primarily to lay people: How serious are you about your faith? What do you need to be a better person for Christ and his mission? For my part, I’d ask Rod why his inverviewees and acknowledgement credits are almost all male? He huffs and puffs a lot about sex, but despite going far afield in his conversations, he plays it pretty safe talking to conservative academics, conservative bloggers, conservative Christians, etc.. His book is valuable, well-written, and I’d recommend it if you like the topic, despite its flaws. But as a B-minus work, it just doesn’t go deep enough. For a guy who advocates “preparing for hard labor” in chapter 8, this effort is ideologically lazy. Several idoleogical activists and but one Benedictine monastery. That tells a lot.

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About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in the Pacific Northwest, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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5 Responses to On My Bookshelf: The Benedict Option IV

  1. Liam says:

    An important context for understanding Rod is that he came from a family with a strong sense of family tribal order, and he left it for his professional career (to live in DC, Brooklyn, Miami, Dallas and Philadelphia) and his doing so was interpreted as a nearly unforgivable (and certainly unforgettable) betrayal of that order by his father and now-deceased sister, as Rod was devastated to realize when he decided to return home. (This itchiness, as it were, was paralleled by his conversion from Methodism to Catholicism to Russian Orthodoxy.)

    Benedictines take a vow of stability. It requires a spirit that understands it will have to endure fellow Benedictines for a looooong time, for good and ill.

    America’s civic religion, by contrast, was heavily influenced by people who were ready to move and temperamentally tiled towards socio-historical amnesia.

  2. Todd says:

    Well, wow. I suppose some of my readers can get pretty deep into me, too. Not sure I totally want to analyze the author, even to get into his head. But even I can see the tension between Rod’s wanderlust and his admiration for Benedictine stability.

    You’ve read the book, right?

    • Liam says:

      Actually, not yet (I have so much backlogged reading, from years of books I bought for my late father to read to keep him occupied – he was a voracious reader until his last 3 months). I’ve read his blog for years, so I am familiar with his recitations about the topic. What I wrote above is taken from his blog, more or less: traced in two prior books, the first about his late sister, Ruth, and then the sequel about Dante.

  3. I haven’t read the book, doubt I will, but I do find it comical that he is dismayed by the existence of the internet. He doesn’t have to blog. And I like Liam’s point about the vow of stability that the Benedictines take.

    • Liam says:

      Rod is aware of the seeming contradiction. Indeed, many of his more spiritually-inclined readers (across the spectrum) urged him to at least take Sundays off (and to freeze out people from making comments when he was that sabbath, as it were, so he didn’t have a mound of them to regret on Monday mornings – Rod’s posts can generate a couple of hundred comments in a single day; these same people encourage him to write more about non-topical matters), but it seems he cannot or at least will not get off this treadmill yet, as this is what he can do to support his family. He is a journalist by profession; his profession has been transformed over the course of his career, and not in a good way.

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