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

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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 chu 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.


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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 chu 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.

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

  1. 5 out of 5

    Simon

    In the interests of transparency: I was a Benedictine monk for nearly four years, have spent my working life (43 years) at the college run by the Benedictine monks of my former abbey. So I have some experience in living as part of an intentional community, and not only as a monk. The ethos of Benedict is supposed to permeate our larger academic community, as well as have an impact upon the surrounding area (which it does, and has done since the abbey's inception in 1876, both with the Catholic p In the interests of transparency: I was a Benedictine monk for nearly four years, have spent my working life (43 years) at the college run by the Benedictine monks of my former abbey. So I have some experience in living as part of an intentional community, and not only as a monk. The ethos of Benedict is supposed to permeate our larger academic community, as well as have an impact upon the surrounding area (which it does, and has done since the abbey's inception in 1876, both with the Catholic population and those of different allegiances). I also trained in medieval history. So. Why the lack of love for Dreher's book? Part of it stems from the race through western history that opens The Benedict Option, nearly all of which he gets wrong. This section was unnecessary if one assumes, as many do, that historical context is irrelevant in the examination of "great" books and ideas. But Dreher simplifies everything into a sort of "How the Monks Saved Civilization" narrative that ignores a great deal of factual evidence dealing with "How the Monks Opposed the Institutional Church" or "How the Intentional Mission of the Monasteries May Have Departed From Benedict's Intentional Mission Pretty Damned Quickly". Moreover, he is so concerned with the idea that the West is collapsing that he romanticizes the period before the Reformation/Enlightenment/Industrial Revolution out of all recognition for anyone with even a working knowledge of it. And that's the problem. His historical analysis is an echo chamber of thesis, so it comes as no surprise that Dreher looks at the monastic withdrawal from the world that St. Benedict proposed as a workable solution for the laity. Except it really isn't. Even Benedict --- assuming he actually existed as the man described in Gregory's Dialogues --- did not see the monastic vocation as something possessed by every Christian as a tangible mode of living. Aspirationally? Yes. The goal of the monk is union with Christ through the humility practiced by obedience to the Abbot and his fellows. The goal of all Christian life is union with Christ, so no problem so far. But Benedict has nothing to say about the marital vocation (where are all the next group of monks coming from, after all?), which also requires humility and intentional living. So does the single vocation. Which is all well and good, but how exactly does Dreher propose married Catholics live? Here's where the book falls apart. He instances Hyattsville, Maryland, where a group of conservative Catholic families took over a failing Catholic school, transformed it with a curriculum that spoke to their needs, and then had several other families move in until hey, presto! an intentional Catholic community formed. But the obvious flaws of 21st century life remain: unless they are willing to go to jail to make their point --- and don't laugh, Daniel Berrigan and Dorothy Day were --- they still pay taxes to a government that legally allows things that directly contradict the teachings of the Church, no? Is withdrawal from the larger American polis to mean that the Benedict Option Catholic ceases to vote? Never mind the fact that 52% of us voted for Donald Trump (which I suppose means 48% voted for Hillary Clinton or the truly execrable Jill Stein, neither of whom represented anything like orthodox Catholic concerns), surely a withdrawal from the intentional American community means that the worst will be empowered? And how are the members of Benedict Option communities to feed their families? Writing a blog and publishing books like this is a nice solution for those as can, but what about the auto worker? Or the migrant? I am a little old to do anything but teach and direct plays, and I have no capacity for homespun crafts at all. Should I keep my day job and live in an intentional community by night? The solution is so obvious that only Dreher --- who is surprised that his sister had a support system in place during her final illness, and why wouldn't she? She was not a gyrovague, a word Mr. Dreher's personal journey illustrates beautifully --- can miss it. Live intentionally. There. Easy-peasy. Except it isn't, as Catholics, Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, and probably even ethical atheists can testify. But it is our common vocation not only as believers, but if we are members of any community, even one as small as our nuclear families. So the end product of the book is the end product of Benedict's Rule. Live as though you are a Christian. Forget the Rule. Try the New Testament. I have only read this book by Dreher, and many people I respect like his stuff quite a bit. But the whole "siege mentality" evinced by his particular brand of orthodoxy is getting tiresome. We are not put on the Earth to ride anything out, Rod, so eat something sweet, feel better, and get back to work. Feed the hungry, welcome the stranger, shelter the homeless, you know the rest of the drill. And yes, Mary chose the better part. But Martha didn't get kicked out of the house. Not recommended for his understanding of Benedict or history. Ok as a ferverino, but you would do better with The Imitation of Christ.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Douglas Wilson

    Strong on diagnosis. Strong on exhortation and commitment. Weak on strategic response. A worthwhile book overall.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Matthew Manchester

    This book was quite thought provoking. It's one of those books everyone needs to read. I don't agree with *everything* he says, but I agree with way more than I thought I would. Some may see this book as extremely alarmist, but I don't think those people have their feet in reality as a Christian. I enjoyed the second half of the book more than the first, though it was all really good. The sections on education, liturgy, and work were some of the best. I heartily reco it.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Bob

    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 pos 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.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Jeremy

    Katelyn Beaty's review at The Washington Post. James K. A. Smith reviews it in Comment, lasering in on Dreher's alleged alarmism and comparing Dreher's solution to a submarine rather than an ark. Smith says something similar, and harsher, at WaPo, and Dreher didn't like it (although the pun is irresistible). Dreher and Smith have clashed over this before. Negative review by a former Benedictine monk. Post-publication, Smith wrote a post on the recent use of "orthodoxy" (Dreher's use, although Smi Katelyn Beaty's review at The Washington Post. James K. A. Smith reviews it in Comment, lasering in on Dreher's alleged alarmism and comparing Dreher's solution to a submarine rather than an ark. Smith says something similar, and harsher, at WaPo, and Dreher didn't like it (although the pun is irresistible). Dreher and Smith have clashed over this before. Negative review by a former Benedictine monk. Post-publication, Smith wrote a post on the recent use of "orthodoxy" (Dreher's use, although Smith doesn't name Dreher) claiming that its meaning is tied to conciliar statements (church councils, which [apart from the Council of Jerusalem in Acts 15] do not mention sexual ethics). Alastair Roberts argued that creeds do not simply provide a minimalistic list of doctrines that determine orthodoxy, but rather provide "the grammar by which to articulate Christian ethics." Alan Jacobs weighed in here, siding with Smith and clarifying that while grammars are generative, they do not always generate the same implications for various Christians. And regarding terminology, pacifists and just war folks don't call each other heretics, so why is that the case with those who disagree on sexual ethics? According to Jacobs, it's important to distinguish between orthodoxy and righteous living; someone may commit genocide but not be "sinning against faith" (unless the person had developed a theory to justify the genocide). Later, arguing for charity in such debates, Jacobs linked to a post by Matt Anderson, who argues that sexual ethics is in a different category from pacifism because of the language by which we understand the triune God (e.g., Father and Son) and the relationship between Christ and the church (bridegroom and bride). Derek Rishmawy makes a number of good points, including the facts that the earliest church fathers attached sexual implications to creedal statements; SSM is so new that it can't be fairly compared to the issue of pacifism; and expanding the meaning of "orthodoxy" to include things like affirming murder, adultery, or theft is incoherent (even if creeds don't mention these things). Jacobs appreciated Rishmawy's piece. Here's Dreher interviewed by Tucker Carlson in mid-March 2017. Here's Brooks, and here's Douthat. Is the Ben Op debate a Motte and Bailey argument? Doug Wilson invites people to read the book with him: see his posts on the introduction and first chapter here, the second chapter here, the third chapter here, the fourth chapter here, the fifth chapter here, the sixth chapter here, the seventh chapter here, the eighth chapter here, the ninth chapter here, and the tenth chapter here. Here's a symposium (a roundup of comments) regarding the book, along with Dreher's response. (He also includes a response to Alan Jacobs's review.) RHE didn't like the BenOp, but Dreher wasn't surprised. Dreher appreciated the comments by Crouch and Prior. Here are more reviews at Mere Orthodoxy, Democracy, Littlejohn (and a followup). On Dreher and Strauss. Before this was a book, Dreher had written some posts on the subject. (Here's one.) Marvin Olasky at WORLD prefers the "Daniel Option", and some prefer the "Buckley Option" (named for William F. Buckley, Jr.), whereas others prefer the Wilberforce Option. There's also the Baptist Option, the Francis Moment, and the Thessalonian Strategy (from an Australian theologian). One Kuyperian says, "I see Rod Dreher's St. Benedict and raise him St. Boniface," but Kuyper vs. Boniface doesn't need to be either-or. Here are some alternatives based on Tolkien's characters (Boromir, Bombadil, and Gamgee).

  6. 5 out of 5

    Catherine

    no one needs more opinions on this book; i will endeavor to live my answer to it

  7. 4 out of 5

    Charles J

    "The Benedict Option" is, as I expected, an outstanding book. Rod Dreher has definitively shown that he is the Pope Urban of a new and dynamic movement, and this book has occasioned much commentary in the mainstream press. Unfortunately, the main point of Dreher’s book—to make a countercultural call for individual and group Christian renewal focused on communities of believers—has been somewhat lost in a subsidiary point, the real and growing persecution of Christian believers in mainstream soci "The Benedict Option" is, as I expected, an outstanding book. Rod Dreher has definitively shown that he is the Pope Urban of a new and dynamic movement, and this book has occasioned much commentary in the mainstream press. Unfortunately, the main point of Dreher’s book—to make a countercultural call for individual and group Christian renewal focused on communities of believers—has been somewhat lost in a subsidiary point, the real and growing persecution of Christian believers in mainstream society. This was inevitable, I suppose, because persecution is more interesting to outsiders than a call to holiness, but unfortunate, because it caricatures Dreher and tends to erode receptivity to his message. On the other hand, I also think that Dreher tries to wholly separate those two things, when they are necessarily intertwined. If I were forced to produce a criticism of this book, it is that Dreher is too optimistic about the continued existence of a private religious sphere in the world of, and opposed to the core beliefs of, a technologically advanced, all-intrusive Leviathan state. He makes a few nods in the direction of this concern, but no more (though those nods are aggressively enough phrased to make the reader wonder if Dreher is merely holding his fire). Second, if I had to produce an addition to this book, it would be that I think there is a key distinction to be made between Christianity as religion and Christianity as the mainspring of Western civilization, but that both must be renewed, for they are the warp and the weft of any decent future that Man has. Third and finally, I think that this criticism and this addition require the same response, which will help bring Dreher’s vision to life. Namely, the extension of Dreher’s call to, or an incorporation within Dreher’s call of, the expansive and outward-directed faith of the medieval military orders, or, for those not inclined to weaponry, the spiritual militancy of St. Ignatius (not the desiccated, impotent heterodoxy that passes for “Jesuit” today). For in these latter days, everything old is new again, and sometimes the old answers are necessary to complete the new answers. Oh, I can hear you saying, “What an unrealistic fool! Dreher shows us that the wolf is at the door, and your response is to take the fight to the wolf, and to the wolf’s kin?” Yes, to an extent, but hear me out. After all, that approach worked for the Three Little Pigs, who, like the characters in all great fairy tales, embody timeless truths about humanity. Dreher’s main focus is on the necessary renewal of orthodox Christianity, its rescue in the West from the morass of Moralistic Therapeutic Deism. (He also notes and cites, in several places, Orthodox Judaism, though that is not his tradition and he has less to say on that topic, but presumably what he would say is not substantially different.) This is a personal call to each of us. He demonstrates with efficiency and without possibility of meaningful contradiction that the number of American Christians who understand, much less believe, and even less practice, orthodox Christianity, doctrines that have been held to be central requirements of Christian faith for millennia, is vanishingly small. And in tandem he convincingly demonstrates that the modern American state (consisting not only of the government but also of the oligarchy of the powerful), which state is the armed herald both of absolute liberty and of denial of the telos of man based on the logos of God, is locked in irreconcilable conflict with orthodox Christianity. Dreher approaches this as a religious question, which it is, and places most of his emphasis on how orthodox believers can preserve, strengthen and carry on their faith. But, of course, this is also a civilizational question—what does it mean for our civilization that orthodox Christianity, on which it is based, is being squeezed out of existence? Before we get to the civilizational question, first, on the Leviathan state. “Leviathan” is really a misnomer—the term conveys size and power without an ideological component, and it is redolent of the 17th Century, of the famous image on the cover of Hobbes’s book. Perhaps “Cthulhu state” would be a better term, after Lovecraft’s otherworldly creature of subterranean horror, multi-tentacled and capable of reaching into the souls of men. And also unlike Hobbes’s Leviathan, in the West today the Cthulhu state has a very specific ideological vision, not merely a lust for power. Its vision is of man as malleable and infinitely perfectible machine, rather than a created being ordered by something outside himself and containing inherent qualities and limits. As Dreher says, what Christianity means is “the discovery of the order, the logos, that God has written into the nature of Creation and seeking to live in harmony with it. It also implies the realization of natural limits within Creation’s givenness, as opposed to believing that nature is something we can deny or refute, according to our own desires.” And, “Over the past six centuries, Western man has come to reject the idea that there is intrinsic purpose built into Creation, and instead come to see meaning as something extrinsic—that is, imposed from outside. . . . Poet Wendell Berry responded to techno-utopian scientism with the observation that civilization must decide whether we see persons as creatures or as machines. If we are creatures, he argued, then we have purpose and meaning, but also limits. If we see ourselves, and the world around us, as a machine, then we believe the Faustian myth of our own limitless power to recreate ourselves.” Thus, since the Cthulhu state embodies this modern vision, it and Christianity necessarily are embroiled in a conflict of visions, and there can be only one victor, for the two visions are incompatible. Christianity may co-exist with Leviathan; it cannot co-exist with Cthulhu. There can be only one. Dreher, of course, draws an explicit analogy between today and the time of St. Benedict. His reference to St. Benedict originates in Alisdair Macintyre’s call for a “another—and doubtless very different—St. Benedict.” The flaw in this analogy as applied here is that in St. Benedict’s time, there was no government to notice what Benedict did. The tottering Empire cared nothing for what happened in rural areas of the lost Italian provinces. The only extant government of the time (other than the distant Visigoth overlord in Ravenna), local government, was either indifferent, or, more likely, favorable toward monks who caused no problems, enhanced the stature of the local lord, and prayed for his soul when he was dead. For after all, the local lords, and the local population, were Christian, even if the lords were often religiously indifferent, in the manner of most men of power. But today, all levels of the Cthulhu state care very much what we, Dreher’s proposed inheritors of the new Benedictine way, do. Our Empire is an empire in the full and poisonous flower of decadence, violently opposed to the thought crimes of adherents of the Benedict Option, since they deny the core ideological foundation of the Empire, which in its service commands power and reach undreamt of in any past age. Our government may not control the Mark of the Beast, withdrawing power to buy and sell, but it is not far off, for it controls whether a man may earn his daily bread, and whether his children will be snatched from him by masked men wielding guns, for teaching them that a man is a man and a woman a woman. Dreher has a beautiful vision. He returns again and again to scenes of the present-day monks of Norcia, and communitarian groups raising olives in sunlit groves. Of course, these are exemplars, metaphors, for his vision of groups of normal people leading normal lives in average places, but organizing them around renewed orthodoxy and community with others of like mind. Dreher sees challenges to this, among them that, in his view, persecution is possible, but the largest one is that renewed orthodoxy in a time of material plenty, alienating yet seductive technology, and spiritual anomie is not attractive to most. But Dreher fails to project the future adequately. He errs, as Orwell said of James Burnham, in predicting “the continuation of the thing that is happening.” Not wholly, of course—he predicts, or at least hopes for, that faithful Christians will heed his call, and make a change in the arc of history. At the same time, he predicts that powers opposed to the orthodox will continue much as they are, or perhaps become mildly worse, and that Christians should remain politically involved to limit the damage. But they will in fact become much worse, and Dreher himself identifies that orthodox Christians today lack all traditional political power, so limiting damage is a false hope (and Dreher does quote a modern Benedictine that “the best defense is offense” and “we have to push outward, infinitely,” but he does not pursue the point). The ideology of the Left commands no deviation from the path to atomistic individuality enforced by the iron will of the state, and no quarter for deviants. You may be allowed to fast on Wednesdays and Fridays, if you keep it to yourself. Sooner rather than later, no matter how you humble yourself before the state, you will no longer be allowed to teach your children truths that contradict the premises of the state, or to do anything else that may preserve and maintain your vision of the good. There can be only one. Thus, whatever happens with Trump (and Dreher puts no faith in him, nor should he), soon enough the harpies will return on the wing, as always, to advance their vision of the world, as if Trump never was. One step back, two steps forward, always and forever. For them, there can be no rest from the need to impose ideological uniformity to pave the road to Utopia. It is of no matter, to them or us, that as ever, in reality Utopia will never arrive and at the end of the road lies not a shining city but yet another sprawling delta of blood and pain. To avoid this, reordering our lives and communities is necessary, but not sufficient. We must dynamite the road to the chimerical Utopia, salt the earth, and leave the harpies’ corpses to rot on the lone and level sands. Only by this act of overwatch can Dreher’s communities of virtue survive. Second, on Western civilization, or what is more accurately called Christendom. Dreher focuses not on civilization but on explicitly local communities and how Christians are failing to maintain and pass on their religion at the local level. In essence, Dreher writes civilization off. Perhaps this is correct; a Toynbee or a Spengler would say that civilizations rise and fall in rhythms not amenable to repair. And perhaps it does not matter; one possible Christian response is that since we are assured Christianity is forever, our civilization is of no consequence, and that Christianity will be the leaven of a new civilization, if ours is doomed. In this case, the Benedict Option, in the long term, serves primarily to form seeds that can regenerate Christianity in the new world as it arises. But this is the counsel of defeatism. Our culture is wholly based on Christianity. It is the common inheritance, and the common framework, of the West. Every moral virtue and aspiration we associate with civilization; the core values that even the minions of the Cthulhu state pay lip service to, is a Christian value. We forget that life for any but a select few before Christianity, even in advanced civilizations such as Rome, was extremely unpleasant and based on domination of the weak (as shown in detail in Sarah Ruden’s excellent "Paul Among the People"). We forget that the same is true for any other civilization before or since the rise of Christianity, except for ours (and except for the civilization of Islam, which is, after all, just a distorted vision of Christianity, containing some of its good points with an admixture of new bad points). It is not likely that a new civilization, with a new religion (for the ideology of the Cthulhu state, being based on denial of human nature, could never survive a civilizational collapse, thus some religion will rise, which could be Christianity again, but we cannot be certain of that), will embody any of the tenets of Christianity which ennoble our civilization. Thus, we should strive to maintain and rebuild Christendom, not just our local communities. So we must renew this civilization, or face an eon of darkness. No civilization but ours has ever tolerated Christianity, for that religion fundamentally undermines the power of any state that does not respect the telos of man, and that undermining cannot be tolerated except by a civilization in which the rulers are themselves civilized by Christianity. Again, as Dreher says, “[H]owever far any given society in Christendom has been from the ideal—and every one has—there was a shared understanding that there was an ideal outside of ourselves to which we must aspire.” Christendom is the last, best hope of mankind; it is unique, not just another civilization. Our future if we do not renew this civilization is likely to be similar to the far future depicted in the epic science fiction cycle of Cordwainer Smith (the pseudonym of Paul Linebarger, mid-20th Century US diplomat to China, godson of Sun Yat-Sen and confidant of Chiang Kai-Shek). His stories take place thousands of years in the future, when the worlds of humans are run by the Instrumentality of Mankind, an oppressive, yet not evil, oligarchy which forbids the export of religion. Nonetheless, the Lords of the Instrumentality face the survival and slow spread of Christianity, religion of the oppressed half-human Underpeople, known as the Old Strong Religion with its tokens of the God Nailed High. Such is the long-term fate of Christianity in a civilization that is not itself Christian. It is not nothing, but it is not enough. Therefore, we cannot be indifferent to the fate of this, our, civilization. I have above offered two points in response to Dreher’s carefully tailored recommendations for Christian renewal. Both of my points came with vague prescription of some form of unspecified resistance, which on the surface seems wildly unrealistic, to stand against the might of a powerful state and the currents of civilizational history. But perhaps we are not just waiting for a new, and doubtless very different, St. Benedict. Perhaps we are also waiting for a new and very different St. Francis, an unforeseeable and unknown quantity, a man (or woman) who arises unexpectedly to lead us and to fight the future. After all, we are assured that nothing is impossible with God. If we truly believe that, it is our responsibility to do what is necessary to make straight the way, that we may have clean earth for our children, and our children’s children. And to wait, armed with the necessary spiritual and physical weapons, for the time to present itself. Fine words, but as they said in Hobbes’s time, fine words butter no parsnips. So what does this mean in practice, beyond Dreher’s own prescriptions, which, as far as outward direction, center on largely passive witness? That is hard to say at this moment, for we also should not make the error of merely predicting the continuation of the thing that is happening. It certainly means being aggressively uncompromising, for any compromise is merely seen as weakness and taken as the new starting line for further attacks against us. And it means, for every action, a reaction. But it means more. It means aggressive proselytization of the heathen, perhaps with a new set of Jesuits, with the heathen as our neighbors, not primitive tribes in the jungle or the educated mandarins of an alien civilization. In a future time, it may mean defending against, or even prophylactically instigating, violence when and where violence is proffered to us, either by the overweening state or as a result of the fragmentation of the state’s authority. Without thorns to repel those who would do it and its people harm, if the Benedict Option gains traction, it will be attacked and destroyed. In that time, we would need a new and very different set of Templars. But if, as Dreher says, orthodox Christians are a tiny minority who must band together more tightly for survival, what possible chance does aggressive action have? Perhaps so, yet orthodox Christians have always been a minority; they just need to always be enough to offer the true path to those who have ears to hear, and to form the framework of a civilization in which most people try, to a greater or lesser degree, to adhere to the tenets of Christianity, often failing, but structuring their world around it. The reality is, as the Jesuits once knew, that sending messengers to the heathen, even if some of the messengers are killed, brings people to Christ in a way that mere lived example and passive witness does not. Nobody is rushing to join the Amish and they have no influence on the larger world, for they offer nothing but their example, hidden largely away. The truth is out there, but it must be advertised, as when a lion roars. Who can say what the future holds? It is a great error to divine the precise outlines of the future and then to base one’s action upon the vision. Not only will the vision never exactly match the future, but when the two diverge, the impulse is to try to force reality into the vision, which can only cause harm. Rather, we should make ready for the uncertain future, both through following Dreher’s wise prescriptions, and by realizing that on the basis of what we thereby create, supplemented as necessary with the tools of evangelization and of war, each used as an embassy or a spear, we also make possible the maintenance and renewal of all things.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Stephen Hicks

    If you are present in the right circles of the blogosphere or Christian cultural commentary, The Benedict Option is a hot topic if not an outright controversial one. Having read Dreher's Crunchy Cons along with probably too many of his blog posts on The American Conservative, I knew exactly what I was in for with The Benedict Option. Whether you completely agree with Dreher's premise or not is not reason to dismiss this book. There is a copious amount of material that he puts forth that is worth If you are present in the right circles of the blogosphere or Christian cultural commentary, The Benedict Option is a hot topic if not an outright controversial one. Having read Dreher's Crunchy Cons along with probably too many of his blog posts on The American Conservative, I knew exactly what I was in for with The Benedict Option. Whether you completely agree with Dreher's premise or not is not reason to dismiss this book. There is a copious amount of material that he puts forth that is worthy of contemplation and discussion. Dreher has an alarmist tone throughout several parts of the book, and he makes a number of absolute statements ("Don't give your young teenage kids smartphones. Period." type statements). I was never offended by these but some reviewers seems to be sensitive to wisdom from a stranger. This book is a good follow up to Crunchy Cons, but it is also an introduction to this kind of thought. By "this kind of thought" I mean the idea that Christian communities should solidify in their local contexts and work in such a way that not only benefits our neighbors (Christian or not) but also preserves a particular narrative and way of life. While I understand many readers' resistance to "run for the hills" kind of language, I believe that to find the crux of Dreher's argument as "separate yourself from all non-Christian associations and build isolated commune-type communities to survive this apocalyptic collapse of Western Culture" is a poor reading of this work. Is this book a call to change? Absolutely. Is it a call to quit your job? Depends on your job and your situation. Is it a call to escape to the woods and live in a cave? I don't see how one can think that. The Benedict Option is a call to reprioritize the right-in-front-of-you relationships over your social media feed, to reprioritize family prayer over family tv, to reprioritize producing over consuming, to reprioritize knowing and living a true faith over evangelizing a diluted one. If any of those changes sounds potentially healthy but unfamiliar to your daily existence perhaps you should read the book.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Brian

    Dreher is Eastern Orthodox, so I differ with him on several theological points, but his analysis of our cultural situation is spot-on, his forecast of what's coming is realistic, and his strategic proposal for how to face it (though it perhaps embraces too much of a fortress mentality) is compelling and worthy of serious consideration.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Matt Pitts

    I read this when it was fresh in 2017 and reread it in the chaos of 2020. Dreher's analysis remains on point and if anything this year has vindicated the concerns he expressed in the wake of Obergefell and despite the election of Donald Trump. This book quite literally changed my life. I hosted a summer book discussion at the church where I pastor the summer of 2017 to discuss this book. I hoped a few would be interested, but to my surprise most of the church showed up. Every year since then we I read this when it was fresh in 2017 and reread it in the chaos of 2020. Dreher's analysis remains on point and if anything this year has vindicated the concerns he expressed in the wake of Obergefell and despite the election of Donald Trump. This book quite literally changed my life. I hosted a summer book discussion at the church where I pastor the summer of 2017 to discuss this book. I hoped a few would be interested, but to my surprise most of the church showed up. Every year since then we have read and discussed a book together. The following year I began teaching a Bible class for students in the homeschool co-op my family is part of. This year will be my fourth year to teach there. The following year I also began teaching one of Bible classes for high school students at a local Christian school. This is my third year to teach there. And I could go on. If you've only heard the critics, read it for yourself. Who knows, it might change your life for the better too. Original review: Dreher's book inspired all kinds of ideas for me about how to move toward building stronger Christian communities (schools, churches, co-ops, reading groups). I hope to read it with some folks at my church, not because I agree with everything he says, but because it is wonderfully thought-provoking and prods us in the right direction.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Austin Hoffman

    A fantastic idea and necessary movement, yet I found this book implemented it poorly. It was filled with doom and gloom, mixed with some theologically sound advice as well as a good dose of classic American conservatism, and ultimately, didn't say much beyond, "head for the hills. The barbarians are at the gates."

  12. 4 out of 5

    Chris

    Rod Dreher's "The Benedict Option" has been the topic of many conversations in Christian circles and has come under not a little controversy. I decided to read it myself to see what, exactly, the fuss was about and am a bit at a loss. While I do have some critiques of Dreher's work (enumerated below) the criticisms I have most often heard leveled at "The Benedict Option" was that it, in effect, prescribed a retreat from the world. This is not, however, exactly true. Dreher does a good job of dia Rod Dreher's "The Benedict Option" has been the topic of many conversations in Christian circles and has come under not a little controversy. I decided to read it myself to see what, exactly, the fuss was about and am a bit at a loss. While I do have some critiques of Dreher's work (enumerated below) the criticisms I have most often heard leveled at "The Benedict Option" was that it, in effect, prescribed a retreat from the world. This is not, however, exactly true. Dreher does a good job of diagnosing the ills of modern society, including what he terms Moralistic Therapeutic Deism having taken the place of a traditional Christian world view. He does well to draw a line from the nominalist understanding of reality with its rejection of inherent natures to modernity's view that humans have no "telos" and that therefore whatever you enjoy should be permissible. Likewise, Dreher's prognosis is also well thought out and he even foresees his critics and states: "The Benedict Option is not a technique for reversing the losses, political and otherwise, that Christians have suffered. It is not a strategy for turning back the clock to an imagined golden age. Still less is it a plan for constructing communities of the poor, cut off from the real world. "To the contrary, the Benedict Option is a call to undertaking the long and patient work of reclaiming the real world from the artifice, alienation, and atomization of modern life." (p. 236) Indeed, Dreher goes to great lengths to point out that you can idolize anything if you prefer it to God, including all of the good things he prescribes as countermeasures to modernity. When these things are seen as goods in themselves instead of as means of drawing people closer to God they themselves become idols. My criticism of Dreher rests neither on his diagnosis nor on his prognosis of the problem. At least not totally. My problem is that he seems to be aiming for a "Mere Christianity" approach to his endeavor which leads him to equivocate on what he means by "the Church" since he includes Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, and Protestants. He, as far as I can recall, never gets around to defining what "the Church" is (for him). This is especially odd since Dreher himself converted from a Protestant background which had a decidedly low/broad view of ecclesiology, to Roman Catholicism with its high eccesiology. Later Dreher left the Catholic Church for Eastern Orthodoxy, another high ecclesiology body, because of the way the Catholic Church mishandled the priest abuse scandal. But there is no attempt in the book to reconcile these views, much less explain why the failings of members of one Church to live up to its own teachings somehow justifies leaving that body in the first place (yes, I realize that wasn't the point of the book but it's an odd omission in the larger scheme of things especially since the actual rate of abuse within the Catholic Church is actual a fraction of that found in, for example, public schools). Likewise, there is an odd habit in the text to refer to both "orthodox Christians/Christianity" and -"Orthodox Christians/Christianity." While this may largely be the result of an editor missing a typo it does give me the impression Dreher is equivocating at times. While context can serve to determine when Dreher means specifically [Easter] Orthodox Christians/Christianity at time there are multiple uses of "Orthodox Christians/Christianity" that seem to be used when he just wants to designate the historical faith per se rather than Eastern Orthodoxy itself, which is usually referred to as big-O Orthodox. The problem is, using the term "orthodox Christian" to include members of all three bodies is inherently problematic since one differs widely from the other two on matters of doctrine and two differ to varying degrees on matters of ecclesiology (which is itself doctrinal) from the third as well as from each other. So in what can "o/Orthodox Christianity" consist? Seemingly those who subscribe to Dreher's Benedict Option (though it seems as though even some who don't would qualify as orthodox, so again I am at a loss). Make no mistake, I am largely in agreement with Dreher but this aspect of the book is problematic because, in the end, leaving this question unanswered (or answered incorrectly) will mean the entire endeavor he proposes will have a good chance of not succeeding. I can still offer two cheers (and four stars) for "The Benedict Option" but hope to see at some future point Dreher address this topic in detail.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Anne White

    Many people will not like the stand that Dreher takes on certain issues. However, he provides a compelling look at the Christian church and the times we live in. The metaphor created by the natural disaster in his epilogue also adds a note of warning: we can ignore these things, but we do so at our peril.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Rachel

    A timely book for all Christians and yet I didn't come to this book expecting to agree with the premise. I honestly thought having monks as a framework for the book already made this at odds with the Great Commission. My skepticism was wrong. It was actually refreshing to read a book that gives a name to the tension my husband and I have been feeling as we raise our girls. Most every chapter hit on an area of life that we are currently doing (homeschooling classically, restricting technological A timely book for all Christians and yet I didn't come to this book expecting to agree with the premise. I honestly thought having monks as a framework for the book already made this at odds with the Great Commission. My skepticism was wrong. It was actually refreshing to read a book that gives a name to the tension my husband and I have been feeling as we raise our girls. Most every chapter hit on an area of life that we are currently doing (homeschooling classically, restricting technological access for our children, hosting dinners with unbelieving neighbors, etc.) or feeling pulled toward (the model of community building with Gospel focus). Anywhere in the book where I found myself saying, "But wouldn't that conclusion lead to... [fill in the blank]" he countered my claim by giving a needed caveat (e.g. This does not mean we should end up like cult fundamentalists and make idols of our families). Those comments were needed to show his readers that while he is offering advice, he has thought most of the implications (both good and bad) through. It's A strategy, not THE strategy. The thing that helped me understand his point was the paralell polis idea. It doesn't mean you withdraw and don't interact with non-believers by cloistering yourself away. It's about what you do choose as much as what you don't. I read a review saying that the beauty in the Benedict Option is recognizing that "we cannot give what we do not possess". The crux of this book is that Christ is Lord of all, not some. If we aren't living that out and modeling that for our children then how can we expect them to be a light in a dark world (especially after they leave our home)? I live in the South where Christianity can be very cushy and the area is slow to reflect or act on the things Dreher mentions. Most people who have negatively reviewed this book don't see how getting serious about your faith is not in conflict with the Great Commission. The verse translates "As you are going..." not just the imperative "Go". As you are living a life centered on Christ, you continue to serve everyone with compassion and dignity, not just your Christian community. I gave it 4 stars because of the following reasons: - Despite my family's own desire to live this out, I am admittedly a white, middle class person who has the ability, means, and passion to homeschool and love on my neighbors. I don't see how an impoverished family could pick up this book and start implementing its ideas today. Unless they were already plugged into a church that would support them (financially, emotionally, and timewise), it seems overwhelming. It's not impossible though. God has given us all assets beyond just material things, so perhaps some other aspect of his Option would work like capitalizing on the relational wealth they might have and seeing that flourish in a community. - Along those lines, I wonder what non-whites would think about this book. I am all for getting the Western canon of literature in the hands of our children, but would an African-American teen not want something also like Fences or Between the World and Me? If a person cannot see how they fit into the historical narrative it seems like they would feel an outsider to the concepts. In the book this seems to get written off as not needing "relevant" texts when you first need the Western classics, but this is actually a topic of much debate in homes and schools (particularly ones of non-whites). It needed more attention. - As other reviews have said, it would be helpful if he could take down some of the alarmist tones in a few places, but to do that guts the book of its urgency. What aids in the alarmist tone is using statistics to bolster points*. As I learned many years ago, whenever someone lumps "Christians" in a data poll they NEVER tease out how often those people go to church or regularly pray or read their Bible or many other relevant items that would distinguish the "in name only" Christians from the truly devout ones. I don't trust stats on what Christians believe because there are too many variables at play, so I choose to be more optimistic than Dreher about certain segments of church goers. Regardless of your take on it, the BenOp ideas must be discussed in our churches. I think young people especially would welcome any talk on the merits of BenOp. We're tagged as the generation that values family over money and frugality/choosy-ness over constant planned obsolescence. Millennials who are interested in the virtues that Dreher mentions are increasingly being left out of conversations in churches that are interested in business-as-usual (which is why millennials who are on the fence just hop back on the "unaffiliated" side -- trust me... I have seen it in so many friends my age and younger). Maybe this book will change that. *Even if I don't take stats at face value, Dreher gives a much needed wake up in his chapters on sex and technology. As a parent of young girls, no stats needed to see how bad all that mess is today.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Kris

    This book was written by Christian conservatives, for Christian conservatives. It's Dreher talking to his in-group the entire time, and because of that it feels a little strange. I can't quite put my finger on it, but it left me wanting. By the end I had to ask myself, "Couldn't this just have been a long form article?" He starts with a foundation, explaining how we got here: realism and nominalism in the medieval centuries, the Renaissance in the fifteenth century, the Reformation in the sixteen This book was written by Christian conservatives, for Christian conservatives. It's Dreher talking to his in-group the entire time, and because of that it feels a little strange. I can't quite put my finger on it, but it left me wanting. By the end I had to ask myself, "Couldn't this just have been a long form article?" He starts with a foundation, explaining how we got here: realism and nominalism in the medieval centuries, the Renaissance in the fifteenth century, the Reformation in the sixteenth century, wars of religion and the scientific revolution in the seventeenth century, the Enlightenment in the eighteenth century, the French and American revolutions, the Industrial Revolution in the nineteenth century, the Romantic movement, the emergence of Marxism and Darwinist thought, and the two world wars in the twentieth century, along with the growth of technology, consumerism, and the sexual revolution. I liked his historical observations. Then he dives into chapters on politics, education, sexuality, and technology. Published in 2017, the political references to Trump's election seem particularly dated (only three years later), which doesn't bode well to the book's longevity. There’s also a chapter on how Protestants (particularly non-denoms) need to rediscover the value of liturgy. (I’m just over here waving at him from my traditional Lutheran corner.) He calls Christians a "powerless, despised minority" and he says they should stop trying to take back the influence which they've lost. So if Christians need to get used to being powerless and isolated in our enclaves, how "isolated" is isolated? The only place he really got specific and practical was in the education chapter, talking about alternatives to public schools. But most of the time his middle ground is murky. I understand he needs to write in broad strokes (this isn't a western civ textbook or deep social studies). But at times he felt so broad and so unspecific, I couldn't get a hold of his thesis. He says the church needs to be the church. But how does he define the church? Is he calling for unity among Christian denominations? Is this book meant to be merely a wakeup call? Just to get us to think? There's interesting ideas here, but Dreher's thoughts didn't seem to be fully formed. I want a part two. He sprinkles in some references to well-known thinkers like C. S. Lewis and Charles Murray. He cites from other works like After Virtue: A Study in Moral Theory and Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers and The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains. This book feels tangentially related to other books like Seculosity: How Career, Parenting, Technology, Food, Politics, and Romance Became Our New Religion and What to Do about It, and Strange Days: Life in the Spirit in a Time of Upheaval, and Sexy: The Quest for Erotic Virtue in Perplexing Times, and Assumptions That Affect Our Lives: How Worldviews Determine Values That Influence Behavior and Shape Culture. I would recommend these books over Dreher. Interesting article on this book here: http://www.theimaginativeconservative... Some good reviews of this book here: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show... https://www.goodreads.com/review/show... Quotes: "That is, instead of teaching us what we must deprive ourselves of to be civilized, we have a culture built on a cult of desire, one that tells us we find meaning and pursue in releasing ourselves from the old prohibitions, as we self-directed individuals choose."

  16. 5 out of 5

    Ben De Bono

    Rod Dreher's new book is one of the most important contemporary reads for orthodox Christians of all denominational stripes. That's not because it's a perfect book or because his presentation or ideas are an ideal solution, but because he's seemingly the only person willing to have an honest conversation about the state of Christianity in the West. I've found most of the book's critics to be pretty disappointing. A book like this needs critics because that's the only way to have an honest conver Rod Dreher's new book is one of the most important contemporary reads for orthodox Christians of all denominational stripes. That's not because it's a perfect book or because his presentation or ideas are an ideal solution, but because he's seemingly the only person willing to have an honest conversation about the state of Christianity in the West. I've found most of the book's critics to be pretty disappointing. A book like this needs critics because that's the only way to have an honest conversation about how orthodox Christianity survives and engages a post-Christian, post-modern culture. Unfortunately, most criticisms have either written Dreher off as an alarmist, gotten stuck on minor details, or have simply resorted to slander (the fact that somehow this book makes Dreher a racist in the eyes of some is proof that that term is quickly be drained of meaning). Sam Rocha's over the top hit piece screed review and subsequent tweets managed to get the hat trick on that one. That isn't to say that alarmism can't exist or that details don't matter. But the fact is that Western culture has undergone a seismic shift in the last 50 or so years. The groundwork has been being laid for centuries, but the emergence of radical post-modern thought has represented a major break with Christian thought and values that's all but unprecedented in the West. You don't have to be a conservative Christian to recognize this and realize why it's not a good thing. Look at Dr. Jordan Peterson's work. He approaches these cultural questions from an archetypal/psychological rather than theological perspective, yet he's coming to the same conclusions as Dreher. There is a shift that's taken place and the consequences for those of us who actually believe in the values of orthodox Christianity (nevermind, for the moment, the doctrine) are going to have to deal with that. Part of why I believe it's so hard for many Christians to accept that is the idiotic debate that's been going on for quite a while now in Christian circles about whether or not America is now or ever has been a "Christian nation." (thanks for nothing, Greg Boyd). The reason that debate is so worthless is that the premise is too simplistic. There's a difference between orthodox Christianity and archetypal/mythological Christianity. The former is the source of the latter, but while the latter rejects doctrine (not a good thing, in my view) it still retains the core values and archetypical structures of Christianity (a very good thing). Once you can make that distinction you start to realize how worthless that debate is. Has America (or the West for that matter) ever been fully orthodox in its Christianity? No, not especially. But it's undeniable that both it and the post-Constantine West are heavily intertwined with archetypal Christianity. The problem Christians involved with that debate have is that, if they're on the Greg Boyd side in claiming America is not a Christian nation, then the idea that post-modernism represents some major sea change for Christians is hard to comprehend. But if they're on the other side that affirms America as a Christian nation, then Christianity and nationalism become too intertwined and Dreher's solutions become a non-starter (who needs a monastic lifestyle when you have Donald Trump!) Once we can see a distinction between archetypal Christianity and orthodox Christianity, the debate resolves and what Dreher is saying becomes painfully obvious. That's why this book is so important and why so much of the criticism has been infuriating. I want to see criticism that engages the conversation, not Rocha-esque criticism that sticks its head in the ground and slings mud at the only writer honest enough to discuss our cultural condition. I haven't touched a lot on his actual solutions, in part because I think I need to give them more thought. My surface level take is that I like a lot of what he says at a high level but continue to have some questions about the specifics. I don't think his solutions are perfect by any means, but at least they're solutions. For me it comes down to this: western culture is in big, big trouble. By unmooring ourselves from archetypal Christianity we've become unmoored from our value structures. That has already had major consequences, one of which is an increased hostility toward orthodox Christians. Whether things go well or badly in the future for such Christians, we've got to come up with realistic strategies to address that situation. We need to find ways to survive in a culture that no longer values what we value. We need to be able to preserve what was good and beautiful about Western culture. We need to figure out what this new way of life looks like and start living. If you don't like Dreher's solutions, fair enough. Come up with better ones. But don't deny the culture situation. Doing that is either foolish or dishonest.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Francis

    For many reasons I am not a fan of this book. The author accurately identifies many of the serious problems we face in contemporary society; problems with family, marriage, faith, culture,education etc. It is some of his solutions that I am most uncomfortable with. He certainly has some good common sense suggestions about preserving our families in these times. He talks about having better community relationships with like minded people, starting and/ or participating in small private schools as For many reasons I am not a fan of this book. The author accurately identifies many of the serious problems we face in contemporary society; problems with family, marriage, faith, culture,education etc. It is some of his solutions that I am most uncomfortable with. He certainly has some good common sense suggestions about preserving our families in these times. He talks about having better community relationships with like minded people, starting and/ or participating in small private schools as well as homeschooling etc.. He writes about taking our faith more seriously. This book has been interpreted in many ways. There are as many variations to the Benedict Option as there are to distributism. Talk to a dozen distributists and you get a dozen different answers as to what distributism is. The same goes with the Benedict option. Part of the reason for this is there are multiple contradictions in the book. For example he recommends forming alliances with gay people and then mentions more than once that these groups want to fine and persecute those who will not accept same-sex marriage. Which is it? He naively recommends starting Christian schools where everyone: Catholics, Christians, Orthodox etc. can all participate and get along. I certainly support the idea of folks starting schools to avoid the toxic moral environment of many public schools, however I think that if I, a Catholic sent my child to a Christian school and they began praying the rosary or talking about the Blessed Virgin Mary in that school, there would probably be a problem. So, that proposition to me is pretty naive. Again, if people want to form schools great, but be realistic as to who will attend such a school. The Rodney King strategy doesn't work. I wish those of other faiths who share life values and marriage and family values with me the very best and I have and am happy to work with them on those issues, but I can't pretend that serious doctrinal disagreements do not exist. My four biggest beefs with the book are: 1. The culture war has been lost. The author repeats this a number of times, so I think it is safe to say that he really believes it. There is no doubt that the culture war is indeed a war, however I would in no way call it lost. Here is an example: in the last five years over 130 abortion clinics have been closed. No doubt you will not read or hear about this in the national news, but it has happened. Planned Parenthood is on the defensive. Their lies have been publicly exposed. A group of my family and friends each month hold public rosary rallies where we pray for American and we receive many honks, usually around 200 in one hour's time. Once a year we dedicate our rally to publicly pray for traditional marriage, same thing, many honks, thumbs up and waves with very few negatives. So, I don't believe the lies of the media that the overwhelming majority favors cultural vice. 2. The author is also critical of politics. I believe it was Aristotle who said that man is a political animal, in other words it is in the nature of man, something you simply can't erase. Certainly there are politicians who are politicians for the power and prestige and to advance bad agendas, however I know folks who are involved in politics not for any of those reasons but because they felt called to defend traditional values even though they get slammed by the media all of the time and they suffer for what is right. It is also good to know that if these brave and good legislators, governors etc. weren't there, I can't even imagine how horrible it would be without anyone to stand in the way of the purveyors of death and perversion. 3. The author believes we should run up the white flag (my words not his) in the culture war and focus on religious liberty. Does anyone really believe that the forces who want to shut down those who are opposed to abortion and same-sex "marriage" will allow us to have religious freedom? To me that is an utterly absurd Girondin notion. 4. My final beef is the absence of the mention of grace. I firmly believe that through our prayers and sacrifices that God can be moved to change hearts and minds in an instant if He prefers as has been done so many times throughout salvation history. I pray also for great leaders, for, great leaders with God's grace can drastically alter the course of history. An acquaintance remarked recently that without Churchill she was confident that England would have collapsed in the face of Nazi Germany. There are also some theological disagreements I have as well, however that would be too lengthy to go into. So, while the author identifies many of the problems and offers some good suggestions, ultimately I find his solutions to be lacking.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Matthew

    There were some references in the book that I wrote down to check out and read up on further. I appreciated Dreher's approach to this topic. To search out the Benedict Option, one must analyze what motivated them to seek out that lifestyle. I will pray and I hope that God's will for me and my family is to live in a Benedict Option society but I have a feeling that if I were to seek it out at this time, my motivation would be one of fear. Throughout this book, I have fought the fear I have about w There were some references in the book that I wrote down to check out and read up on further. I appreciated Dreher's approach to this topic. To search out the Benedict Option, one must analyze what motivated them to seek out that lifestyle. I will pray and I hope that God's will for me and my family is to live in a Benedict Option society but I have a feeling that if I were to seek it out at this time, my motivation would be one of fear. Throughout this book, I have fought the fear I have about where our society is headed. When putting down this book, I feel anxious and without hope for the future. I know that is not the authors intent and it is up to me to put aside my inner critic and let Dreher show me this way of life. The final story at the conclusion of the book helped me to better perceive The Benedict Option. I suggest you read the final chapter of this book before diving into this book. Doing this will hopefully help you to approach the idea of the Benedict Option in a healthy way.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Melanie

    I was looking forward to this book for quite awhile. I wanted to like it, but it was just ok. Maybe because I've read a lot of Dreher's thoughts on this topic on his blog and there wasn't much new. Chapter 3, about the Rule, was the chapter I most enjoyed - it made me think of ways I could imitate monastery life in my own family life. Esolen's "Out of the Ashes" has a similar message, but is better written and gives more practical suggestions.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Jeanette

    Asking some of the most central questions and defining the crux of "the world" or Moralistic Therapeutic Deism that is currently defined as "good" that is 5 star. And actions in Christian morality with Christian definitions of living "good" as the goals, that's the object. Because it is true, the barbarians ARE at the gate. BUT- I'm not sure his overall tone and answer to this ravaging or dominant philosophy will be in the mode or in the conceptions of structure that he is most attracted to as b Asking some of the most central questions and defining the crux of "the world" or Moralistic Therapeutic Deism that is currently defined as "good" that is 5 star. And actions in Christian morality with Christian definitions of living "good" as the goals, that's the object. Because it is true, the barbarians ARE at the gate. BUT- I'm not sure his overall tone and answer to this ravaging or dominant philosophy will be in the mode or in the conceptions of structure that he is most attracted to as being an answer. Small in size- working and living their role modeling as in the Benedictine rule, IMHO, that will not be near enough. It doesn't market well either. And it hides too, somewhat. Like a light under a bushel? The Christian sects for one thing, need to unit. Dogma can no longer separate us, but inspiration and aspiration can live again. It takes more than music, faith similarities or strict rules though. It takes some joy of visible expression. And not apologizing regardless in being "the other" to their opposing worldview. Being Christian was never easy. And I do not agree with all his (Dreher's) tenets as it plays out in his lists for "countering". I do agree that education is essential. Public education is failing to teach the basics that used to be the "things we learned in kindergarten". But beyond that the youngest, especially urban youngest, they are failing miserably. Both in self-respect and strong self-identity that holds any learned pattern for manners and/or kindness in a personal sense within the communication to their greater society. And without those skills living/working is unfulfilling and often abrupt/ ending. So schools in a wider public nuance, IMHO, have failed for decades already. Imparting factual knowledge is one thing, but personal control and consideration for others as an individual who fully owns their own actions? That is not taught; their village simply fails in this consistently. Family unit, parents as a fixture- that is what will ultimately reverse some of this "belief" trend. It will probably cycle, so I do not feel like Christianity in the West is as dire as this author assumes in the longest run.

  21. 5 out of 5

    raffaela

    As the world becomes more and more explicitly anti-Christian (however much they hide it behind being "anti-racist" or "pro-LGBTQ"), it also becomes more and more obvious to real believers that we need a strategy for what lies ahead. But what are we actually dealing with, how long will we have to wait this out, and what should our strategy be? These are the questions Dreher tries to answer, and where most of the disagreement over The Benedict Option comes from. First: What are we dealing with? Acc As the world becomes more and more explicitly anti-Christian (however much they hide it behind being "anti-racist" or "pro-LGBTQ"), it also becomes more and more obvious to real believers that we need a strategy for what lies ahead. But what are we actually dealing with, how long will we have to wait this out, and what should our strategy be? These are the questions Dreher tries to answer, and where most of the disagreement over The Benedict Option comes from. First: What are we dealing with? According to Dreher, we are dealing with nothing less than the collapse of Christian civilization in the West, similar to the collapse of the Roman Empire 1500 years ago. In support of his point, Dreher points out the loss of the cultural war when it comes to abortion, homosexuality, transgenderism, and religious freedom as well as the fact that the vast number of Americans aren't Christian, or "Christians" who are actually Moral Therapeutic Deists. Even those who are true Christians are often unaware of their own religious traditions and do not understand Western culture or why we should preserve it. Some may call this pessimistic, but it rings true and has continued to ring true even in the past few months (e.g., rioters destroying statues). We do not understand, and even hate, our history- and no culture that hates itself will last long. We are in a spiritual dark age. But how long will this dark age last? Dreher is quite pessimistic about this too, believing it could last for centuries. But beyond this he is very vague and does not have a defined eschatology. Christ's return should be made explicit because it has direct implications for how we live right now, but Dreher doesn't address it hardly at all. We are going into a dark tunnel, but he does not show us the light at the end. Third and most importantly: what should our strategy be? Dreher's overarching strategy is to adapt the Benedictine model, with its emphasis on order, prayer, work, asceticism, stability, community, and hospitality, to the modern lay church. Dreher spends most of the book further fleshing out this concept, with chapters devoted to the church, politics, education, work, sexuality, and technology. His main focus is on building up the church, and I agree with most of his insights - but I think it is incomplete. His strategy is mostly defensive in trying to figure out how the church is going to survive, which is good, but he has little in the way of how Christians should also be on the offensive. Yes, the West is falling apart and secularism is at its strongest - but that means that it has almost run its course and reached its logical end. Leftism cannot survive forever in reality, the gates of hell will not stand against the church, and Christ is still the King. Yes, the immediate future is very bleak, and we should not romanticize it. But God is not done with the West any more than He is done with the Church that built up the West, and that is the foundation of our hope.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Harry Allagree

    Before I'd finished the Introduction, I was pretty sure how I'd rate this book, but I felt I owed it to the author to read the entire work, to hear him out of what he had to say. Nevertheless, I didn't feel any different after I finished. I don't remember jotting down so many notations, mostly negative, for a book. These are my own impressions; others may & probably will disagree, and that's OK. IMHO, "The Benedict Option" proposed by Rod Dreher is nothing more than a proposal for an organized " Before I'd finished the Introduction, I was pretty sure how I'd rate this book, but I felt I owed it to the author to read the entire work, to hear him out of what he had to say. Nevertheless, I didn't feel any different after I finished. I don't remember jotting down so many notations, mostly negative, for a book. These are my own impressions; others may & probably will disagree, and that's OK. IMHO, "The Benedict Option" proposed by Rod Dreher is nothing more than a proposal for an organized "Christian" survivalist community. In my view, it's not necessarily a bad thing to have a group of Christians [a loaded term at best with Dreher, who applies it ONLY to conservative folks who think exactly alike] with a common interest in living in close proximity & practicing the key spiritual elements of St. Benedict's Rule. However, people can do that without going through all of the hoops Dreher suggests. I'd describe his book as mostly simplistic Religious Right echo-chamber theology at its most articulate. I found it to be a very ambivalent, sometimes contradictory, book. He quotes some respectable authors, along with a bevy of far-right religious writers, in a self-serving, possibly inaccurate, way sometimes, to bolster his fixed theme. Interestingly, Dreher himself is a former Roman Catholic converted to the Eastern Orthodox tradition. When I read on the book cover that he resided in southern Louisiana, I had a fair inkling of what might follow. He states at the beginning: "This book does not offer a political agenda...", yet the word "political" & its variations are used constantly in what follows. Chapter 4 is entitled "A New Kind of Politics", with subsections: "The Rise and Fall of Values Voters", "Traditional Politics: What Can Still Be Done", & "Antipolitical Politics". All the Fox News dog-whistle words are there: "secularism", "gay agenda", "religious liberty","'our' country", etc. Some of his comments reflect prejudice, some represent distortions, some are condescending & at least one is just disrespectful. If you were hoping for a new slant on Benedict's Rule or the Benedictine way, save your time & money by reading something other than this book.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Robin Mccormack

    My feeling is everything he suggests is just common sense for any Christian who is true to his or her faith and values. People are resilient and yes there are new challenges within every church community, but we can’t hide away from the world. Jesus ate dinner and talked with both sinners and believers and all had value. Although he has some good suggestions, I don’t necessarily agree with all of it.

  24. 4 out of 5

    J.A.A. Purves

    So if I could light up this review with attention signs, I would. Attention everyone: regardless of what you are hearing about this book, you do need to actually read it. Dreher is not advocating for withdrawal from cultural engagement. He is advocating for a rejection of modernity, individualism, consumerism, and a number of other underlying cultural foundations of our society, which are, in fact, already soundly rejected by traditional, historic, orthodox Christianity. Some critics point out th So if I could light up this review with attention signs, I would. Attention everyone: regardless of what you are hearing about this book, you do need to actually read it. Dreher is not advocating for withdrawal from cultural engagement. He is advocating for a rejection of modernity, individualism, consumerism, and a number of other underlying cultural foundations of our society, which are, in fact, already soundly rejected by traditional, historic, orthodox Christianity. Some critics point out the drawbacks of writing an introductory book like this and it is quite true that many of the chapters in this book themselves warrant entire books of their own. But that is exactly the thing - this is an introductory book. And, sadly, many of the concepts Dreher is introducing are going to be entirely new to a large number of the evangelical, religious-right, culture war, conservative crowd. It's time to take some of these things seriously. We have to start doing things differently. And yes, the church in the West is on the point of utter collapse while most of its members are functionally theologically and historically illiterate. Don't be an illiterate. Don't keep living in theological poverty. This is currently one of the most discussed books of the year. Be a part of the conversation and read it.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Kristen

    About ten years ago, I read another book by Rod Dreher, Crunchy Cons: How Birkenstocked Burkeans, gun-loving organic gardeners, evangelical free-range farmers, hip homeschooling mamas, right-wing nature ... America. I was excited about the premise, but I felt like it overpromised and underdelivered. My thoughts about the Benedict Option are more or less the same. Dreher identifies some real problems and questions Christians should be wrestling with, and if they aren't on your radar at all, it co About ten years ago, I read another book by Rod Dreher, Crunchy Cons: How Birkenstocked Burkeans, gun-loving organic gardeners, evangelical free-range farmers, hip homeschooling mamas, right-wing nature ... America. I was excited about the premise, but I felt like it overpromised and underdelivered. My thoughts about the Benedict Option are more or less the same. Dreher identifies some real problems and questions Christians should be wrestling with, and if they aren't on your radar at all, it could be a helpful read. But there are a lot of people with more fully-orbed thoughts about Christianity and culture that I find more helpful. This book is simplistic in its analysis and more anecdotal than anything else. (2.5/5)

  26. 5 out of 5

    Katelyn Beaty

    I wrote about this book recently for The Washington Post. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/a... I wrote about this book recently for The Washington Post. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/a...

  27. 5 out of 5

    Josiah

    When I first began reading this book, I imagined most of my skepticism about this book would have to do with the alarmism I expected to encounter about the state of the “Christian West.” After Trump’s dark horse victory, I’ve become more skeptical of attempts to predict the course of history, and so I wasn’t sure how relevant this book would still be without a Clinton presidency. As it turned out, though, my continued skepticism toward the Benedict Option has little to do with alarmism and more t When I first began reading this book, I imagined most of my skepticism about this book would have to do with the alarmism I expected to encounter about the state of the “Christian West.” After Trump’s dark horse victory, I’ve become more skeptical of attempts to predict the course of history, and so I wasn’t sure how relevant this book would still be without a Clinton presidency. As it turned out, though, my continued skepticism toward the Benedict Option has little to do with alarmism and more to do with Dreher’s proposal. Some critics have accused this book of being too alarmist. That’s partially-correct. Dreher certainly paints the West in a rather bleak light, arguing that history has been on a rather consistent march toward destruction ever since Ockham and nominalism. And I do think he overstates his case here, both in ignoring positive historical trends to focus on negative trends, and, like the liberal progressives, in thinking that their conquest is inevitable. (It may very well be that Trump is only a temporary roadblock in the path of progressivism, but I think this past election should give us a lot of caution about making those kinds of statements about the inevitability of any one particular cause). He also has a bit too idealized view of Medieval society. All that being said, while I disagreed with Dreher on this front, Dreher doesn’t ground the primary rationale for the Benedict Option in his beliefs here. This isn’t the focus of this book, so I don’t want to make that the center of my review. My issue with this book has more to do with Dreher’s actual proposal. Dreher paints an enticing view of what the Benedict Option would look like in today’s society—and in many ways, he points out a lot of problems with American Christianity. He correctly faults many Christians with having too low a view of the Church, too low a view of Christian fellowship, too low a view of Christian education, and too low a view of the impact that digital technologies have on the way we live our lives. For most of these critiques, I was completely on board with him. He argues that, in contrast to American Christians’ shifty way of doing things, “we need to embed ourselves in stable communities of faith,” which I absolutely agree with. However, I fear that the Benedict Option is not just about embedding ourselves in stable communities of faith, but about embedding ourselves in insular communities of faith. Dreher’s ideal vision seems to be local community of Christians where all members of a local community live in close proximity to each other, attend the same church, attend the same Christian school, preferably work in Christian organizations, and allow the entire society and culture of their community to be driven by the church’s influence. In some ways, this is a more extreme version of counter-culturalism. Dreher isn’t merely interested in Christians seceding from mainstream culture—his vision is one where mainstream culture is replaced by the culture of the church so that local congregations become the primary movers and drivers of culture-shaping in the Christian’s life as opposed to other forces. It’s hard to say that it would be a bad thing if churches were the primary drivers of culture. However, when one emphasizes receding from the mainstream culture to come into a church-driven culture like this, one wonders if Dreher forgets the fact that we’re supposed to be in the world, even though we’re not of the world. While Christians certainly should have a unique way of life in the midst of a post-Christian society, I’m not convinced that they need to form their own counter-society as opposed to living out the Christian life within a post-Christian culture. While many of Dreher’s suggestions and emphases are helpful to consider and good to pursue individually, when putting them together, I fear that Dreher’s ideal societies are really rather insular, no matter how much Dreher may protest to the contrary. Is it good for Christians to allow many of their social events to revolve around the Church? Yes. Is it good for Christians to form classical Christian schools? Absolutely. Can it be good for Christians to live in close proximity to other Christians? Certainly. Can it be good for Christians to be in Christian workplaces? Yes. But it’s also good for Christians to wisely participate in an ungodly culture. It’s also good for Christians to go to secular schools if they are academically rigorous (aka, not the average public school)—especially in high school or college. It’s good for Christians to live in proximity with unbelievers and have opportunities to know them. It’s good for Christians to work in secular workplaces. Dreher wants Christians to associate more with other Christians, and that’s awesome. But if you’re only really associating with other Christians, you really aren’t fulfilling the Great Commission. Dreher would, of course, respond by saying he isn’t saying that Christians should only associate with other Christians. But if Christians are avoiding mainstream culture, sending their kids to Christian schools, living in Christian physical communities, and working in Christian workplaces, where are these interactions with unbelievers realistically happening? In practice, I don’t see how the Benedict Option avoids becoming an insular community. Especially when the majority of the examples Dreher provides for the Benedict Option are monasteries and the like. As much as Dreher may protest this fact, these communities really are examples of unhealthily withdrawing from society. The Church began in a time when the majority of the unbelieving world was pagan and hostile to believers. Yet, Christ’s closing words weren’t for his disciples to come together to build a stable Christian community that a pagan world would be drawn to—it’s to go out into the world and preach the Gospel. And yes, Christians need stable Christian communities wherever they find themselves in. But there needs to be a wisdom of moderation. Taken as a whole, Dreher has written an incredibly thought-provoking book that correctly diagnoses many problems with American evangelical culture, even while he swings the pendulum too far in the other extreme. This book challenged me in many ways and led me to consider anew what it means to live in the world and not of the world. As a result, I would definitely recommend this book as it makes a lot of good and thoughtful points. Dreher’s arguments and ideas are well-worth considering and engaging with, and I am glad that I read this book. But when pressed for a decision, I don’t think the Benedict Option is the right choice for most American Christians. Rating: 3.5 Stars (Good).

  28. 4 out of 5

    Lynne

    My first criticism comes before even opening the book...I mightily disagree that we are a "post-Christian" nation...we have never BEEN a Christian nation, therefore we can't be a post-Christian nation. I strongly feel we are headed into being a nation divided between those who can only function in a society of rule rigidity and those who function according to the Golden Rule alone; the prior's rules do not base rules on the Golden Rule, but on what the god of their own making would rule. The lat My first criticism comes before even opening the book...I mightily disagree that we are a "post-Christian" nation...we have never BEEN a Christian nation, therefore we can't be a post-Christian nation. I strongly feel we are headed into being a nation divided between those who can only function in a society of rule rigidity and those who function according to the Golden Rule alone; the prior's rules do not base rules on the Golden Rule, but on what the god of their own making would rule. The latter follow the basic and rudimentary (nothing more really necessary) "Do unto others as you would have done unto you"...this is the basis of almost every religion...it is a part of perennial wisdom that has, at least in the US, gone unheeded. Withdrawing from society into "christian" communities will only reinforce one's own view of god, not evangelize or bring the Good News to those outside the community. How "christian" is that?? Certainly not what Jesus taught... When you start with faulty premises, your conclusions are faulty. Just when I found a passage with which I could agree, Dreher went right back to heavy duty right wing "christianity"...everything is wrong with our culture. Haven't we heard this from people as long as humans have lived? Isn't it always "going to hell in a hand basket? Isn't it the younger ones who are hopelessly involved in ruining things? What did surprise me was so many quotes from Wendell Berry...I will need to read the original work(s) by Berry to see whether his ideas were cherry-picked to fit a foregone conclusion or if this is a side of Berry I've not seen/read. Most resources are exactly what one would expect... Dreher still upholds the dad-mom-kids family as the ideal...yet, as of 2013, only 19% of American families fit that description. Perhaps we should be living our lives as they are and not running from them?? In at least one chapter, Dreher seems to mix up chastity with celibacy...his ideals of "biblical living" are not everyone's, and often, not even biblical...how to distinguish what is cultural and what is religious?

  29. 5 out of 5

    Ramón S.

    I read negative reviews and I see the point on them but this book is a must-read book if you are interested in the actual situation of the Church. It is not the anti-Christian environment in which we lived but what the Spirit is trying to tell us. This book is very helpful if you are wondering what is going on and what to do.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Heather

    From what I'd heard about it, I was both intrigued and skeptical about this book; having now read it, I am glad to say there is more to be intrigued by than to be skeptical of. Although the first couple chapters worried me that Mr. Dreher was headed in the direction of proclaiming worldly cataclysm and calling for extreme Christian hermitage, what he proposes is not so apocalyptic. Despite using the Benedictine monastery as the central image for his social plan, Dreher is not actually calling fo From what I'd heard about it, I was both intrigued and skeptical about this book; having now read it, I am glad to say there is more to be intrigued by than to be skeptical of. Although the first couple chapters worried me that Mr. Dreher was headed in the direction of proclaiming worldly cataclysm and calling for extreme Christian hermitage, what he proposes is not so apocalyptic. Despite using the Benedictine monastery as the central image for his social plan, Dreher is not actually calling for most Christians to withdraw completely from the world. Rather, he is spot-on in assessing how the Church has tried to marry itself to American culture and in laying out the terrible effects of this impossible union. Put simply, his call is for the Church to start being the Church again, and for Christians to live as though they are really Christians. He is a proponent of liturgical worship, classical education, family devotions, reasonable self-denial, and intentional counter-cultural living. He makes a compelling case that these are not optional aspects of Christianity as some choose to express their faith but rather non-negotiable lynchpins of what the Church truly is. Those who have already begun to embrace these traditions will be inspired by The Benedict Option to do so with even more fervor. Those who have been sitting on the fence will likely either reject Dreher's ideas (and be swept out with the tide of secularization) or feel the spark of alarm and comprehension of just how much has been lost to American Christians of all denominations. Undoubtedly, some zealots will take this book as a manifesto for Christian communes, but that is not really what Dreher is advocating--though it is one possible way to implement his ideas. A "Benedict Option" community could be as small as a single family or a handful of traditionalists united by a certain congregation or school, and in this sense, such communities have already been formed in many places. On a personal level, this book is a call for every Christian to examine himself and become more and more intentional in every aspect of faith and life. In its assessment of the cultural decay that is killing both Church and society, The Benedict Option is quite similar to Anthony Esolen's Out of the Ashes. Dreher is not as erudite as Esolen. Although he has researched extensively, at times his writing seems a bit like a college student knitting together all the bits he has collected. It isn't bad, but it doesn't shine as Esolen can with his wide reading and scholarly mind. This is a timely book, and one that all serious Christians would do well to read. Far from being a handbook for monastic revival, this is a clear diagnosis of our dire situation and a prescription for the Church to start strengthening itself one Christian at a time.

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