Carl 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. This limits the amount of attention we can usefully give it, both because we have to waste so much time defining terms before we can discuss it, and because the fluidity of the terms is a sure sign that the idea will not make much difference in the end. Attempts to help Benedictines think outside their convenient boxes too often go like this.
A note on this point, however, is valuable. This common mistake—thinking that the Benedict Option means withdrawal from politics—is likely to be just as common with respect to whatever fad succeeds Benedict.
What was wrong with the culture war? Many particular things, but the overarching problem was the failure of grace toward those outside Christian (or “Judeo-Christian”) identity. God is holy but he is also loving, and his response to the darkness of the world's evil was the cross. In the present age, he withholds his ultimate judgment upon the unholy world. And he calls his people to be holy as he is holy, but also to love the unholy world as he loves it, such that he gave his only son.
Now, what is wrong with the Benedict Option? To the extent that it has sufficient coherence to be criticized, it, too, has many particular faults that could be examined. The overarching problem, however, is the Benedict Option's failure to love the unholy world. The holiness of the church has crowded out its divine mission. The Benedict Option projects the same spirit of resentment and hostility toward the world outside of Christian identity. The only change is to identify “the culture” as being in the possession of those outside rather than those inside, and to adjust strategy accordingly. That may feel like a momentous change—we go from understanding ourselves as guardians of a Christian (or “Judeo-Christian”) culture that is under attack from secular invaders to understanding ourselves as victims who are under attack by a secular culture. But if we still turn a face of hostility rather than a face of grace toward the unholy world—if we still try to fight enmity with enmity—how much has really changed?
The only hope for the church in western culture in our time is the same hope that the church must turn to in every culture at every time: to love the unholy world with the holy love of God.
Greg Forster is the author of six books and the co-editor of three books, including John Rawls and Christian Social Engagement: Justice as Unfairness.
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