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Monday, June 8, 2015

A Benedict Option?

In my previous post, I speculated that with the rift between fiscal and religious conservatives widening, American politics could be in for a change. One possible change is what is called, "The Benedict Option," a term first coined (I believe) by Rob Dreher ("Becoming Barbarians") and takes as its inspiration the closing paragraphs of the philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre’s “After Virtue.” MacIntyre argues that the only way to sustain a coherent moral culture in the modern world is to build “local forms of community within which civility and the intellectual and moral life can be sustained.” He contends that the preservation of today's civilization depends upon the emergence of “another—doubtless very different—St. Benedict” who can begin the same sorts of local communities that sustained civilization and moral life through the Dark Ages.

Put simply, the Benedict Option would entail something of a withdrawal by religious conservatives from the political sphere, but it wouldn't entail complete political quietism. They would still voice their opinion on public issues, but they would no longer seek to play key roles in presidential politics. In an article published in the February issue of First Things, Dreher describes the Benedict Option (or BenOp) as “a radical shift in perspective among Christians, one in which we see ourselves as living in ruins (though very comfortable ones!) of Christian civilization,” with the coming task of keeping “orthodox Christianity alive in the hearts and minds of believers living as exiles in an ever more hostile culture.” It would involve an emphasis on education and culture but not require a withdrawal from political life. It would be “primarily a theological and cultural project” based on radically rethinking “our place within this order.”

At this point, it's difficult to know how wide-spread the Benedict Option is or if things are as dire for conservative Christians as folks like Dreher believe it to be. There are quite a few liberals who believe just the opposite: namely, that conservative Christians are on the verge of taking over America.

Regardless, I'm sure that secularists would be thrilled if religious conservatives took a step back from the political sphere, but they'd be mistaken to equate such a move as the defeat for religious belief and practice. If social scientists such as Robert Putnam, David Campbell, Michael Hout, and Claude Fischer are correct that the rise of the religious nones (or unchurched believers as Hout and Fischer put it) is, in part, a backlash to the political alignment of religious and political conservatives in the 1960s and 70s, then the dissolution of that marriage could eventually lead to a decline in those who believe without belonging. We'll see.

For more on movement, here are a few links to some helpful on-line articles (which, of course, include additional links):

Saving the ‘Benedict Option’ from Culture War Conservatism
Note: As with the previous post this was brought to my attention in the June 2015 issue of Religion Watch, which requires a subscription to access.

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