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The Benedict Option: A Strategy for…
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The Benedict Option: A Strategy for Christians in a Post-Christian Nation

by Rod Dreher

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It is not easy to be a member of any religious faith. Author Rod Dreher takes a close look at what he sees as the biggest threats to Christianity and presents the Benedict Option as a viable solution. His is a strategy that encourages a commune lifestyle that focused on scriptures, families, communities, and prayers similar to that found in turn of the century orthodox Benedictine orders. He makes some very good points about how people can work together and that church should focus priority on faith rather than politics. He also recognizes that ever-evolving technology has eroded personal communications between individuals.

One of the best things about the book is the author clearly expresses his beliefs on many issues. One of the worst things is the lack of Christian faith, not the author’s faith, but the faith that is the core of any religion. Dreher comments, “Christians should never deny their faith, but that doesn’t mean they are obligated to be in-your-face about it either”. He continues with a discussion of religious liberty that ends with him advising people to walk away rather than sacrifice or compromise belief. Many of the proposed solutions appear to contradict functional premises based on the person and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth.

Goodreads Giveaway randomly chose me to receive this book free from the publisher. I was under no obligation to write a review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. ( )
  bemislibrary | May 7, 2017 |
"This is how we must approach our jobs: as opportunities to glorify God. More deeply, Benedictines view their work as an expression of love and stewardship of the community and as a way of reordering the natural world in harmony with God's will." (61)
"In the Benedictine tradition, our labor is one way we participate in God's creative work of ordering Creation and bringing forth good fruit from it. When undertaken in the right spirit, our labor is also a means God uses to order us inwardly" (178)
"Balance, then--or put another way, prudence, mercy, and good judgment--is key to governing the life of a Christian community. So too is keeping the necessities of daily monastic living--eating, sleeping, praying, working, reading--in harmonious relationship, so that none overtakes a monk's life and all are integrated into a healthy whole" (74)
bullet points p 87..engaging in politics how?
Havel's words "the everyday, thankless, and neverending struggle of human beings to live more freely, truthfully, and in quiet dignity."
Our imaginations have been colonized by a mentality that holds older, inherited forms of worship to be impediments to authenticity. On the contrary, we need to be instructed in how to pray and worship to train our minds to think in an authentically Christian way." (103)
Father Boyd said that the problem we face today is standardization by low standards. (173)
"all serious believers must engage in periods of asceticism. They teach us to rid ourselves of accumulated distractions that keep our eyes from seeing our goal." (228)

"Scholasticism emphasized reason and intellect as the way to relate to God; Christian humanism focused on the will." (30)
"Peasants" --> cities 37
  precaritas | Apr 8, 2017 |
Summary: A proposal that in the face of pervasive cultural decline that has led to political, theological, and moral compromise within the church, it is time for Christians to consider a kind of strategic withdrawal patterned on the monastic movement founded by St. Benedict.

The idea of "the Benedict Option" first came to my attention last summer when I was writing decrying the poisonous discourse, and what I felt was the lack of real choices in our presidential and some other races. A friend posted a comment pointing me to the writing of a conservative commentator, Rod Dreher, and articles he had written about "the Benedict Option," inspired by the ideas of philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre. Subsequently, I wrote a post asking the question, "Is it Time for the 'Benedict Option'?" My own opinion at the time was that while Dreher raises some critically important issues to which I believe churches must address themselves, I argued for an alternative sociologist James Davision Hunter calls "faithful presence."

Now Dreher has published a fuller version of his argument in the recently released The Benedict Option. While I stand by my earlier opinion about the proposal, I have a deeper appreciation for the concerns that motivate Dreher and the value in what he proposes. Reading this fuller statement of the outworking of his ideas raised some additional concerns both about what he proposes and what he fails to address.

First of all, critical to understanding Dreher's proposal is his assessment of the state of our culture in America. He opens the book likening the situation to a catastrophic flood in which the most strategic option of the survival of the church is the build an ark. He cites the failure of political "culture wars," culminating in the legalizing of gay marriage, and the morally and theologically compromised state of conservative, mainline Protestant, and Catholic churches alike, typified in what Christian Smith has called "moral therapeutic deism". He contends that it is time for the church to consider a strategic withdrawal along the lines of St. Benedict, who found Rome after barbarian invasions both in ruins and decadent. It is important to read Dreher closely here or one will simply hear him as saying we need to "head for the hills" or all become monks. Perhaps his choice of flood imagery is unfortunate here. Many of his examples in subsequent parts of the book suggest rather Christians who are part of counter-cultural communities that form people in Christ in the midst of an increasingly and more radically secular environment.

What does Dreher draw from the example of Benedict (and modern day Benedictine communities which he visited)? Fundamentally he argues that Christians need to be in a community with a rule of life that forms character, informs behavior, and educates for orthodoxy. Such communities reflect a God-shaped order, life of prayer, work, ascetic practices, stability, hospitality, and balance.

After making the case for the need for the Benedict Option, including a history of the decline of western culture, and describing what may be drawn from the Benedictine example, Dreher discusses what this means for a number of areas of life:

Politics. Dreher contends efforts of "values voters" to shape a national agenda around Christian values has failed. He calls for a localism that begins by re-establishing bonds of substantive community both within local congregations and in one's local setting.

The Church. He argues for rediscovering how Christians prayed, lived, and worshiped in the past. This includes recovering liturgical worship that involves the whole of one's body, fasting and other ascetic practices, church discipline and witness through the arts.

The Christian Village. Dreher thinks not only the family but also "the village" has an important impact on our lives, and particularly those of our children and strengthening our social networks within churches and between orthodox churches should be a priority.

Education. Dreher's concern for children comes through in many chapters, and particularly here. He argues particularly for pulling children out of public schools and for "classical Christian education."

Work. He argues that Christians should be prepared to lose their jobs in many fields where choices of conscience may mean being fired. Christians may need to be entrepreneurial and start their own businesses, be prepared to work in trades and do physical labor, and support one another.

Sexuality. The church needs to recover a vibrant message about sexuality rooted in creation and incarnation that supports chasteness and marital fidelity between men and women, particularly stands with those who are single and recognizes the scourge of pornography.

Technology. We need to recognize how we've allowed technology to take over our lives, through the internet, smartphones, and even reproductive technologies and that technology is not morally neutral. Dreher would withhold smartphones from teenagers.

I think the most compelling part of Dreher's argument is that American culture is eating the church's lunch, so to speak. At best, churches provide a thin, spiritual veneer over beliefs and behaviors that contradict church teaching and reflect secular culture rather than vibrant Christian belief and practice. The most important part of his argument is his call for learning from Benedict about the value of a communal rule of life that shapes character, belief, and practice. Dreher has a positive, supportive view of the arts and a vision for the attractive value of cultivating beauty in our communities. I affirm his concluding call that the Benedict Option be embraced out of love, not fear.

Other parts of his argument rest heavily on whether you accept his assessment of the culture, and the remedy of radical withdrawal. With politics, I think there is something to be said for a greater focus on localism and a disengagement from national political efforts. I disagree that we should do so because of "failure" but rather that the church's "captivity" to particular political parties was never a good idea. His discussion of withdrawing from schools was particularly troublesome to me as a sweeping recommendation (I realize this may be necessary in some contexts). Christians who come together to pray for, volunteer with, support, and engage their local schools have a great impact in many cases, support Christians teaching in the schools, and can teach their children how to think critically about what they are hearing and engage appropriately.

I'm also concerned for what I do not hear. Apart from one or two statements against racism, this felt like a very "white" book. It did not seem rooted in conversations with people of color or the ethnic churches of which they are part. Education proposals that focus on classical education in the western tradition ignore the realities of ethnic minorities who bring other rich cultural and intellectual traditions with unique insights into the Christian faith into our communal life. The book appeared to me to assume an audience that is conservative and college educated. While focusing heavily and repeatedly on sexual politics, the book had little to say about solidarity with Christians across racial lines, addressing issues of income disparities (apart from some ideas of distributivism and "helping each other out"), or caring for the creation (something the Benedictines do both in living close to the land, and with their focus on poverty which takes just enough to live from the land).

Dreher's proposal has provoked a national conversation, including reviews and discussion in major media outlets and even an op-ed by David Brooks in the New York Times. It is a book that deserves the attention of church or ministry leaders who take seriously their responsibility for the formation of those in their care. It is worth a read by public educators to understand the concerns (whether warranted or not) many thoughtful religious people have about the current state of public education. I hope this book brings Dreher into a wider conversation beyond the conservative constituency for whom he typically writes, that they will engage seriously with his central contentions, and in turn, that it might lead Dreher into a greater "communion with the saints" that includes Christians of other ethnicities and political commitments.

_____________________________

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. ( )
  BobonBooks | Mar 26, 2017 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0735213291, Hardcover)

In a radical new vision for the future of Christianity, NYT bestselling author and conservative columnist Rod Dreher calls on American Christians to prepare for the coming Dark Age by embracing an ancient Christian way of life. 
 
The light of the Christian faith is flickering out all over the West, and only the willfully blind refuse to see it. From the outside, American churches are beset by challenges to religious liberty in a rapidly secularizing culture. From the inside, they are being hollowed out by the departure of young people and a watered-down pseudo-spirituality. Political solutions have failed, as the triumph of gay marriage and the self-destruction of the Republican Party indicate, and the future of religious freedom has never been in greater doubt. The center is not holding. The West, cut off from its Christian roots, is falling into a new Dark Age.
 
The bad news is that the roots of religious decline run deeper than most Americans realize. The good news is that the blueprint for a time-tested Christian response to this decline is older still. In The Benedict Option, Dreher calls on traditional Christians to learn from the example of St. Benedict of Nursia, a sixth-century monk who turned from the chaos and decadence of the collapsing Roman Empire, and found a new way to live out the faith in community. For five difficult centuries, Benedict's monks kept the faith alive through the Dark Ages, and prepared the way for the rebirth of civilization. What do ordinary 21st century Christians -- Catholic, Protestant, and Orthodox -- have to learn from the teaching and example of this great spiritual father? That they must read the signs of the times, abandon hope for a political solution to our civilization's problems, and turn their attention to creating resilient spiritual centers that can survive the coming storm. Whatever their Christian tradition, they must draw on the secrets of Benedictine wisdom to build up the local church, create countercultural schools based on the classical tradition, rebuild family life, thicken communal bonds, and develop survival strategies for doctors, teachers, and others on the front lines of persecution.
 
Now is a time of testing, when believers will learn the difference between shallow optimism and Christian hope. However dark the shadow falling over the West, the light of Christianity need not flicker out. It will not be easy, but Christians who are brave enough to face the religious decline, reject trendy solutions, and return to ancient traditions will find the strength not only to survive, but to thrive joyfully in the post-Christian West. The Benedict Option shows believers how to build the resistance and resilience to face a hostile modern world with the confidence and fervor of the early church. Christians face a time of choosing, with the fate of Christianity in Western civilization hanging in the balance. In this powerful challenge to the complacency of contemporary Christianity, Dreher shows why those in all churches who fail to take the Benedict Option aren't going to make it.

(retrieved from Amazon Wed, 24 Aug 2016 06:17:27 -0400)

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