Thursday, October 12, 2017

Again, the Benedict Option

Rod Dreher, author and proponent of The Benedict Option, writes about the hope and encouragement he received during a recent visit to Catholics in the capital of the Enlightenment, Paris.

Whatever we think about The Benedict Option (and it was canvassed a bit here and here on ADU recently), Dreher makes some great observations about the future of Christianity in a heavily secularised, post Christian world.

He concludes his blogpost:

"I’ll close with this. Last Sunday, Frederic, Yrieix and I sat at a cafĂ© outside St. Sulpice and talked about how important it is to establish networks of Ben Op-minded Christian in different countries and across continents. We need to be in touch with each other. We need to share friendship and ideas for how to be creative minorities in a post-Christian world. We need to have conferences, workshops, and even summer schools. Now is the time to do this, while there is still time. My friends in France are going to start working on this from their end. I need to start doing something on this end. We need Christian philanthropists with resources and vision to be part of the conversation … and part of the resistance.
Leaving my friends at the airport this morning, I had a light heart. It was hard to say goodbye, because in just one intense week, I had come to love them. But I went home with so much hope and confidence in the future. This I found in France, where Christian hope is supposed to have died. But there it was, among a band of brothers and sisters keeping the faith in the world capital of the Enlightenment. Hey, you never know…"

"creative minorities in a post-Christian world" Is that the future of the once was Christendom church? In a post-Christian world must Christians necessarily be a minority? What does "creative" mean in a Benedictine mindset which (as I understand it) involves maintaining tradition and orthodoxy?


Anonymous said...

After the Civil War in America, my great-grandfather discovered the Benedict Option. He, and others like him, did that when he founded a Christian college to blend a faithful formation with a modern education for a war-torn, racially-divided society. After the Great Depression, my grandfather, and others like him, discovered the Benedict Option again, when he founded a church camp to instill *non-conformity to the world*-- especially resistance to sexism, racism, "economic royalism," and militarism-- in the young. Then the tradition of non-conformity skipped a generation, and my own generation is being recalled to memory.

Insofar as the Benedict Option is just the founding of Christian institutions and practises that do not depend on, and that wisely challenge, an unregenerate social habitus, it has a long American history in the Pietist and Anabaptist streams that have irrigated both evangelicalism and liberalism here. This is why tiny TEC has long seen itself as a *church-as-creative-minority* over against a nominally Christian mainstream that reproduces a majority culture with a streak of God-damned cruelty with respect to sex, race, poverty, and violence. There is truth in that, but alas not infallibility, humility, or kindness.

Of course I'm glad that *church-as-creative-minority* has finally had a bestseller that sells briskly among conservatives. It's high time they took up the idea. One of the constants of American society is that what liberals did yesterday conservatives will do tomorrow, in part because some liberals will by then be conservatives. So it is interesting to watch the author, an emigre from the liberal mainline to conservative Roman Catholicism, unpacking the remembered old lamps and family china in new digs. But with all due gratitude to Rod Dreher-- a fair amount is due-- it is important not to let our understanding of the Big Idea shrink to the dimensions of his book, his experience and ruminations, or even what he thinks after breakfast. He was surprised to find a creative Christian community in Paris. Hmmm...

The biblical idea of non-conformity to the world is greater than the disillusionment of any single generation. And if a certain zeal has tempted liberals to be rather illiberal in our day, will conservatives opting for Benedict today be more gracious in the future? In a post-Constantinian world, churches will be a minority, and quite apart from any persecution fears, they will need creativity to survive and flourish. That is not in every way a problem; neither is it in any way a solution.

It is not an option, something that we can adopt or reject as we choose. That decision is up to our neighbours, the ones with the civil wars, collapsing financial systems, sexual confusions, etc. Is a grateful population anywhere begging Christians to found a New Byzantium where churchly magistrates regenerate their body social and politic? Does any amount of advocacy to secular societies and their parliaments promise a new Constantine?

Anonymous said...

What we do have is an imperative to adapt our main traditions to the reality. Evangelicals, it has been said somewhere, follow a Bebbington Plus One of Cross, Bible, Conversion, and Activism, but also Immediacy, a determination to build churches out of the habits and thoughts, methods and technologies, tastes and styles of each successive moment. But the aimless disruption of this presentism cannot build a culture that forms souls able to navigate life in a minority. And if Immediacy began as an impatience with things that make faith look old, it continues with an impatience with the unseen future as well. Sitting out cultural and spiritual battles that seem too academic or speculative to matter, Evangelicals limit themselves to belated and futile gestures to counter their downstream effects. In my country, they gambled everything on fighting gay marriage and abortion, inevitably lost, and now seek to restore their fortunes as the tribunes of rural, white, ethnicity for a singularly disgraceful President. Following their cynical reasoning, SS Peter and Paul should have formed an alliance with Caligula or Nero.

And Liberals-- what are they for? The landmarks of Adolf von Harnack's distinctive view of early Christianity have been washed away by more recent and better scholarship. Among Anglicans, they no longer mediate charitably between Protestants and Catholics; they are themselves the most contentious of the tribes. And Immediacy works no better for Liberals. The secularising Christians that they have tried to retain for over a century have finally left the building for good. Late Moderns who accept their view of reason will have nothing to do with religion. Trying to show the gospel's relevance to society by picking sides in culture wars establishes that they are loyal to their social class but irrelevant to society.

In most of their manifestations, both Evangelicals and Liberals are too presentist to matter in societies that paradoxically prize both roots and innovations. Of course we all have friends in both tribes who are doing wonderful work that will be fruitful, but they flourish in spite of the banners over their heads, not because of them.

Thus far, in large part because of the defensiveness of those who champion the Benedict Option, the cyberfaithful have been discussing the *church-as-creative-MINORITY* rather than the *church-as-CREATIVE-minority* or even the *CHURCH-as-creative-minority*. But as we have said on Peter's guard/guide thread, we have to be Spirit-led-- more deeply rooted than either Evangelicals or Liberals-- to be the Church, and we must be the Church in order to be creative in the ways that enable a minority to flourish.

Bowman Walton

Andrei said...

I literally burst out laughing at this example of American cluelessness

"It is often hard for an American to get a solid read on the situation in France, because our political and religious cultures are so different. An American professor living and teaching in France helped me with this question.

“The thing that’s really important to understand is that in our country, we talk about freedom of religion, meaning that the government is restrained from stepping in and telling us how to live out our faith,” he said. “In France, they think of freedom from religion, meaning that the state is supposed to protect people from too much religious influence. French people have internalized that mindset.

“My wife is not a religious person, but she was seriously offended when a restaurant on our street went halal,” he continued. “She felt it was an attack on French identity.”

“Whereas in America, we would have just shrugged our shoulders,” I replied.

“Yes,” he said. “But she said that getting bacon on her hamburger was part of what it means to be French. It really bothered her. This goes deep in France.”

Halal cuisine has a far far longer pedigree in France than hamburger which is a recent American import.

France itself was the first nation to try and secularize itself during the so called "enlightenment" a process that you will recall involved the copious shedding of blood - it did give us the metric system though, now adopted by the entirety of the planet with only two exceptions it is only in partial use in the formally Great Britain and barely at all in the USA

Andrei said...

I don't know about Benedict options or "the Ben Op"

I suspect our Christian Faith will persist (and persist it will, the Bible tells us so) by the Faithful living Christian lives and passing that which they have received on to their children and to those with whom they come into contact with who are receptive to the Gospel.

Taking positions in the so called "Culture Wars" are in fact taking positions compatible with the Gospel and opposing societal innovations that are incompatible with it and we can do no less.

We can be grateful that for now at least we do not face bloody martyrdom when we stand firm, though there maybe worldly consequences such as lack of career advancement or even job loss for holding some currently unpopular positions.

Those that withdraw and isolate themselves such as the Centrepoint Community, about which I know little, receive suspicion and hostility and do not as a rule promote the Gospel to the wider community.

I watched a documentary not so long ago about marriage that featured a woman widowed at a young age with three young children who had nursed her husband through his decline, brought him home for his final days to die surrounded by his family.

Although Christianity did not get a mention during her interview she quoted her wedding vows when asked about the sacrifices she had made during the decade of his decline and prominently displayed around her neck was her cross.

That this woman was an admirable person and a Faithful Christian Wife and Mother was there for all to see as she told of her trials

And that is how we should do it - not with power point presentations, TV advertising campaigns or stadium events

But day to day living the Christian life

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Ron
Do not smear people by association on this blog!
Your comment below has been accordingly edited.

"" We need Christian philanthropists with resources and vision to be part of the conversation … and part of the resistance." -

Peter, do you think that the Sydney Anglican Diocese is actively pursuing this, with its recent donation of One Million Dollars to the Australian NO Coalition, against Same-Sex Marriage in Australia? Is this the very best way of Christian solidarity with the Poor and Marginalised of our society?

In the meantime, here is news of the latest scandal in the Roman Catholic Church in Australia - Cardinal Pell []:

Andrei said...

" Is this the very best way of Christian solidarity with the Poor and Marginalised of our society?"

You have to be joking surely Fr Ron - when it comes to the SSM debate the people for change own the the conversation, it is those who believe marriage is between a man and a woman who are marginalized as are those in traditional families trying to raise their own children in the ways of the FAITH

When we had this debate in New Zealand there was a supposed Television debate between a "Christian theologian" and a leading supporter of the charge to trash marriage. The theologian" was a cardigan wearing man from a denomination I had never heard of while putting the case for the change was Alison Mau a woman who has spent her entire adult life in front of the TV cameras, the debate being "moderated" by someone she has worked and socialized with for years.

The whole point being to make those who value the God given institution marriage to look foolish, inarticulate and stupid. Mission accomplished

Now we have repugnant junk like "Married at First Sight" filling prime time slots on our TV screens to lead our young to perdition

As for the Cardinal Pell show trial that is so reminiscent of the Soviet show trials as to be totally surreal
We know this circus will go on for years and a prominent voice for Christian Conservative values has been shut down.

I imagine Cardinal Pell will probably die of old age before this matter is resolved which is all that is needed for the forces of darkness to triumph

But God knows the truth and all will be revealed on the Day of Judgment

Of course I may be wrong and he may be guilty, in which case scary biblical verses involving millstones come to mind

Jean said...

Thanks again Bowman for your insight, I might finally grasp a little of the TEC/conservative forces at work within American culture. You have to forgive our isles for this as religion and politics aren't as closely tied downunder. Up until now I have found both the US use of Christianity as a political football and the liberal liberalism of the left a mite on the confusing side. Ironic though isn't it that say the idea of not conforming to culture has in a sense ended up being the closest to the current (secular) culture (aka TEC). And the one conforming to culture with apparent apathy at times has ended up focusing its future on being a cultural alternative if one can label Mr Trumps outlook cultural.

I think evangelicalism might look a bit different here, although I am not sure. I was attending an evangelical church, although I wouldn't have known the term or the supposed reference at the time. It was presentism in some ways if this means present to the current 'times' (we had a band rather than an organ; some liturgy but less than a traditional service, our priest didn't wear vestments, it was in a school hall), yet there I learnt more about the Christian faith both in terms of biblical teaching and in practice than any place before or after.

Anonymous said...

Forgive me, Jean for just now seeing this. And thank you for your description of an evangelical church down under.

TEC's dilemma is that although its brightest lights do sincerely mean to be a creative minority challenging all sorts of things in our society that really should be challenged, its constituency is the same best-educated elite that is usually described as seceding from the ordinary people of our society into a post-national cosmopolis. In most ways, life is much more egalitarian along the Mississippi River than along the track that carries the high speed Acela from Boston to Washington. Because that secession of the elite looks to the common folk like a betrayal hollowing out the country, it has inspired the Bannon-Trump reaction toward a vulgar politics bent on waking the state from cosmopolitan dreams that have been a nationalist's nightmare. So although Episcopalians do think many of the right things, they themselves have been part of a much bigger problem than the ones that they have recognised.

Criticising others from above is indeed being a minority, but it is plank-eyed mote-picking, not being creative. It is easy to Facebook for, say, gun control as a nomadic professional moving from city to city in search of higher pay in a career opened by a superb education. It is harder to return to the town where you grew up, build a solid small business, and help to fix the failing schools and keep the local politicians honest. With many honourable exceptions, of course, Episcopalians en masse are committed more to escaping than to being present to the forgotten people and places that they criticise from the higher end of a very classist gradient. To those at the bottom of that gradient, progressives look like a new kind of bigot that is so new that they have not yet figured out that they are bigoted rather than enlightened. And anyway, what has Davos to do with Jerusalem?

PS-- I do not deny that some in both TEC and ACNA do fine theological work, nor that polarisation over That Topic has some principled basis on both sides. But prudence would lead one to expect that, as is usual in American denominationalism, the basic and intractable difference between TEC and ACNA already is, and will prove to be, class, not theology. The Anglican Communion's duty is not to pick sides but to refuse to countenance the division. My advice to Lambeth Palace is to invite bishops from both TEC and ACNA to participate in the Communion's life by province rather than by church until such time as America again has one Anglican church.

Bowman Walton