The model of Christian social formation that Rod Dreher calls the Benedict Option comes in for a great deal of criticism, some of it from people I wouldn’t expect to be so critical. Let’s seek some clarity about the sources of discomfort.
The Benedict Option, as I understand it, is based on three premises.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
From these three premises proponents of the Benedict Option draw a conclusion: 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.
I have to say that I simply do not see how any thoughtful Christian could disagree with any of these premises or the conclusion that follows from them. If any of you do so dissent, please let me know how and why — I would greatly benefit from hearing your views.
So what’s the problem? My sense is that many of you shy away from Rod’s rhetoric, which you believe alarmist. But in itself that’s a shallow reason for setting aside the whole BenOp argument. Rod has already begun to identify some of the communities which he believes to be doing the BenOp right — do you think they aren’t? Do you think they’ve gone astray? If so, please explain how.
The critical responses to the BenOp I’ve seen have struck me as merely visceral. I’d like to see more careful and thorough articulation of the critiques. But if you don’t believe that the three premises I’ve listed above are true, then I think you’re whistling past the graveyard. And if you accept the premises but don’t agree with the conclusion, then we definitely need to do some exercises in logic.