The Benedict Option: A Strategy for Christians in a Post-Christian Nation

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Penguin, 2017 - Political Science - 262 pages
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"Already the most discussed and most important religious book of the decade." --David Brooks

In this controversial bestseller, Rod Dreher calls on American Christians to prepare for the coming Dark Age by embracing an ancient Christian way of life.

From the inside, American churches have been hollowed out by the departure of young people and by an insipid pseudo-Christianity. From the outside, they are beset by challenges to religious liberty in a rapidly secularizing culture. Keeping Hillary Clinton out of the White House may have bought a brief reprieve from the state's assault, but it will not stop the West's slide into decadence and dissolution.

Rod Dreher argues that the way forward is actually the way back--all the way to St. Benedict of Nursia. This sixth-century monk, horrified by the moral chaos following Rome's fall, retreated to the forest and created a new way of life for Christians. He built enduring communities based on principles of order, hospitality, stability, and prayer. His spiritual centers of hope were strongholds of light throughout the Dark Ages, and saved not just Christianity but Western civilization.

Today, a new form of barbarism reigns. Many believers are blind to it, and their churches are too weak to resist. Politics offers little help in this spiritual crisis. What is needed is the Benedict Option, a strategy that draws on the authority of Scripture and the wisdom of the ancient church. The goal: to embrace exile from mainstream culture and construct a resilient counterculture.

The Benedict Option is both manifesto and rallying cry for Christians who, if they are not to be conquered, must learn how to fight on culture war battlefields like none the West has seen for fifteen hundred years. It's for all mere Christians--Protestant, Catholic, Orthodox--who can read the signs of the times. Neither false optimism nor fatalistic despair will do. Only faith, hope, and love, embodied in a renewed church, can sustain believers in the dark age that has overtaken us. These are the days for building strong arks for the long journey across a sea of night.

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User Review  - GaryBrady - LibraryThing

There was a quite a buzz about Rod Dreher's Benedict Option a year or so ago and so our little group that gathers at the Pastors Academy in North London from time to time (TSG) met to discuss it. As ... Read full review

LibraryThing Review

User Review  - bemislibrary - LibraryThing

It is not easy to be a member of any religious faith. Author Rod Dreher takes a close look at what he sees as the biggest threats to Christianity and presents the Benedict Option as a viable solution ... Read full review


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The Great Flood

No one saw the Great Flood coming.

The newspaper said heavy rains were headed to south Louisiana that weekend in August 2016, but it was nothing unusual for us. Louisiana is a wet place, especially in summer. The weatherman said we could expect three to six inches over a five-day period. By the time the rain stopped, the deluge had dropped over thirty inches of water on the greater Baton Rouge area. Places that no one ever imagined would see high water disappeared beneath the muddy torrent as rivers and creeks hemorrhaged and burst their banks. People fled their houses and made it to high ground with minutes to spare. Some had not even that much time and were lucky to clamber with their families onto their roofs, where rescuers found them. I spent the Sunday of the flood at a makeshift shelter in Baton Rouge. My son Lucas and I helped unload the rescued from National Guard helicopters, and we joined scores of other volunteers in feeding and helping the thousands of refugees flowing in from the surrounding area. Men, women, families, the elderly, the well-off, the very poor, white, black, Asian, Latino--it was a real "here comes everybody" moment. And nearly every one of them looked shell-shocked. Serving jambalaya to hungry and dazed evacuees, one heard the same story over and over: We have lost everything. We never expected this. It has never flooded where we live. We were not prepared. These confused and homeless evacuees could be forgiven their lack of preparation. Few had thought to buy flood insurance, but why would they? The Great Flood was a thousand-year weather event, and nobody in recorded history had ever seen this land underwater. The last time something like this happened in Louisiana, Western civilization had not yet reached American shores. We Christians in the West are facing our own thousand-year flood--or if you believe Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, a fifteen--hundred-year flood: in 2012, the then-pontiff said that the spiritual crisis overtaking the West is the most serious since the fall of the Roman Empire near the end of the fifth century. The light of Christianity is flickering out all over the West. There are people alive today who may live to see the effective death of Christianity within our civilization. By God''s mercy, the faith may continue to flourish in the Global South and China, but barring a dramatic reversal of current trends, it will all but disappear entirely from Europe and North America. This may not be the end of the world, but it is the end of a world, and only the willfully blind would deny it. For a long time we have downplayed or ignored the signs. Now the floodwaters are upon us--and we are not ready. The storm clouds have been gathering for decades, but most of us believers have operated under the illusion that they would blow over. The breakdown of the natural family, the loss of traditional moral values, and the fragmenting of communities--we were troubled by these developments but believed they were reversible and didn''t reflect anything fundamentally wrong with our approach to faith. Our religious leaders told us that strengthening the levees of law and politics would keep the flood of secularism at bay. The sense one had was: There''s nothing here that can''t be fixed by continuing to do what Christians have been doing for decades--especially voting for Republicans. Today we can see that we''ve lost on every front and that the swift and relentless currents of secularism have overwhelmed our flimsy barriers. Hostile secular nihilism has won the day in our nation''s government, and the culture has turned powerfully against traditional Christians. We tell ourselves that these developments have been imposed by a liberal elite, because we find the truth intolerable: The American people, either actively or passively, approve. The advance of gay civil rights, along with a reversal of religious liberties for believers who do not accept the LGBT agenda, had been slowly but steadily happening for years. The U.S. Supreme Court''s Obergefell decision declaring a constitutional right to same-sex marriage was the Waterloo of religious conservatism. It was the moment that the Sexual Revolution triumphed decisively, and the culture war, as we have known it since the 1960s, came to an end. In the wake of Obergefell, Christian beliefs about the sexual complementarity of marriage are considered to be abominable prejudice--and in a growing number of cases, punishable. The public square has been lost. Not only have we lost the public square, but the supposed high ground of our churches is no safe place either. Well, so what if those around us don''t share our morality? We can still retain our faith and teaching within the walls of our churches, we may think, but that''s placing unwarranted confidence in the health of our religious institutions. The changes that have overtaken the West in modern times have revolutionized everything, even the church, which no longer forms souls but caters to selves. As conservative Anglican theologian Ephraim Radner has said, "There is no safe place in the world or in our churches within which to be a Christian. It is a new epoch."1 Don''t be fooled by the large number of churches you see today. Unprecedented numbers of young adult Americans say they have no religious affiliation at all. According to the Pew Research Center, one in three 18-to-29-year-olds have put religion aside, if they ever picked it up in the first place.2 If the demographic trends continue, our churches will soon be empty. Even more troubling, many of the churches that do stay open will have been hollowed out by a sneaky kind of secularism to the point where the "Christianity" taught there is devoid of power and life. It has already happened in most of them. In 2005, sociologists Christian Smith and Melinda Lundquist Denton examined the religious and spiritual lives of American teenagers from a wide variety of backgrounds. What they found was that in most cases, teenagers adhered to a mushy pseudoreligion the researchers deemed Moralistic Therapeutic Deism (MTD).3 MTD has five basic tenets: A God exists who created and orders the world and watches over human life on earth.

God wants people to be good, nice, and fair to each other, as taught in the Bible and by most world religions.

The central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about oneself.

God does not need to be particularly involved in one''s life except when he is needed to resolve a problem.

Good people go to heaven when they die.

This creed, they found, is especially prominent among Catholic and Mainline Protestant teenagers. Evangelical teenagers fared measurably better but were still far from historic biblical orthodoxy. Smith and Denton claimed that MTD is colonizing existing Christian churches, destroying biblical Christianity from within, and replacing it with a pseudo-Christianity that is "only tenuously connected to the actual historical Christian tradition." MTD is not entirely wrong. After all, God does exist, and He does want us to be good. The problem with MTD, in both its progressive and its conservative versions, is that it''s mostly about improving one''s self-esteem and subjective happiness and getting along well with others. It has little to do with the Christianity of Scripture and tradition, which teaches repentance, self-sacrificial love, and purity of heart, and commends suffering--the Way of the Cross--as the pathway to God. Though superficially Christian, MTD is the natural religion of a culture that worships the Self and material comfort. As bleak as Christian Smith''s 2005 findings were, his follow-up research, a third installment of which was published in 2011, was even grimmer. Surveying the moral beliefs of 18-to-23-year-olds, Smith and his colleagues found that only 40 percent of young Christians sampled said that their personal moral beliefs were grounded in the Bible or some other religious sensibility.4 It''s unlikely that the beliefs of even these faithful are biblically coherent. Many of these "Christians" are actually committed moral individualists who neither know nor practice a coherent Bible-based morality. An astonishing 61 percent of the emerging adults had no moral problem at all with materialism and consumerism. An added 30 percent expressed some qualms but figured it was not worth worrying about. In this view, say Smith and his team, "all that society is, apparently, is a collection of autonomous individuals out to enjoy life." These are not bad people. Rather, they are young adults who have been terribly failed by family, church, and the other institutions that formed--or rather, failed to form--their consciences and their imaginations. MTD is the de facto religion not simply of American teenagers but also of American adults. To a remarkable degree, teenagers have -adopted the religious attitudes of their parents. We have been an MTD nation for some time now. "America has lived a long time off its thin Christian veneer, partly necessitated by the Cold War," Smith told me in an interview. "That is all finally being stripped away by the combination of mass consumer capitalism and liberal individualism." The data from Smith and other researchers make clear what so many of us are desperate to deny: the flood is rising to the rafters in the American church. Every single congr

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