Humpty Dumpty and the BenOp

Carl [Trueman] is right to note that the Benedict Option does not entail withdrawal from politics. It entails something far worse—a continuation of the culture war’s politics of resentment.

“The Benedict Option” is a phrase now so thoroughly jawed over that it effectively means whatever you want it to mean. No amount of effort by Rod Dreher to clarify what he means by it can prevent everyone else who is looking for something new from using it to mean whatever they happen to be fascinated by.

— Greg Forster. So by his own account Greg Forster wants the BenOp to mean “the culture war’s politics of resentment.” (He’s like Humpty Dumpty, who says that a word means whatever he chooses. “The question is which is to be master, that’s all.”) The first question is: Why does he want it to mean that? The second question is: Why is he so quick to abandon the search for mutual understanding among Christians?

Like most criticisms of the BenOp, this one lacks reason and charity. It’s just a content-free grumble.

In response to my recent question for the critics of the BenOp, I got a great many content-free grumbles. But among those responses, the two most coherent ones go something like this:

(a) Rod Dreher is promoting this whole project in such an apocalyptic, hysterical  way that the only people he’s going to attract are paranoids and weirdos.

(b) Christianity has a long history of self-enclosed communities whose leaders, promising to protect their people from a hostile world, use that rhetoric to control and/or abuse their members.

To me, these are not reasons to reject the BenOp, but opportunities to correct it — both to make a better case for its varying possibilities and to build in safeguards against abuse. Moreover, I think many of these respondents assume that the BenOp necessarily involves living in some kind of Christian compound, whereas I think that’s only one way to strengthen our institutions, habits, and practices. (And one I don’t intend to follow. If I devote more thought and energy to building the Christian culture here at the Honors College of Baylor, and to my parish church, and try to work with like-minded others in those projects, while continuing to live in my ordinary city neighborhood, then that’s a mode of embodying the BenOp idea too.)

But let me put my challenge in a different way by asking skeptical readers to pretend that they’ve never heard the phrase “Benedict Option” or the name Rod Dreher. Now, having thus purified your minds, look again at the premises and conclusion I articulated earlier:

  1. The dominant media of our technological society are powerful forces for socializing people into modes of thought and action that are often inconsistent with, if not absolutely hostile to, Christian faith and practice.
  2. In America today, churches and other Christian institutions (schools at all levels, parachurch organizations with various missions) are comparatively very weak at socializing people, if for no other reason than that they have access to comparatively little mindspace.
  3. Healthy Christian communities are made up of people who have been thoroughly grounded in, thoroughly socialized into, the the historic practices and beliefs of the Christian church.

Therefore: If we are to form strong Christians, people with robust commitment to and robust understanding of the Christian life, then we need to shift the balance of ideological power towards Christian formation, and that means investing more of our time and attention  than we have been spending on strengthening our Christian institutions.

Now: What there do you disagree with?