There’s been more substantial writing lately on Rod Dreher’s Benedict Option concept for Christian communities. I’ve written previously on the topic from my own perspective, relating to Christian naïveté, what we might learn from American Indian communities “cultural nests,” and traits for Catholic cultural nests.
In short, the Benedict Option describes the necessity and means for orthodox Christians to rejuvenate their communities of faith, starting on as local and personal level as possible, ideally within the context of a meaningfully Christian family life. One of Dreher’s recent contributions to this conversation:
St. Benedict’s solution was revolutionary for its time because it recognized that neither the life of work nor the life of prayer can be pursued independently of the other. Giving credence to Benedict’s insight in our time demands radical efforts to develop new institutions where work and other mundane activities can serve as both a means of cultivating the virtues and as a preparation for the Gospel.
Jefferson’s concept of a wall of separation between Church and State is being taken to its most extreme, which now suggests that the Establishment Clause prohibits not only the establishment of an official state religion, but also the presence of Christianity or other religions in the public square. Its effect is that faith is now seen as a pleasant, emotionally soothing personal belief, rather than one that should be present (let alone meaningfully impact) public life.
Yet the stories of the struggle for social justice in America from the founding to abolition to civil rights to the present is rife with leaders whose public lives are driven by their personal morality and religious conviction. The germ of every public law sprouts within our moral consciousness.
This is part of the background for understanding why Dreher cites St. Benedict’s insight that “the life of work nor the life of prayer can be pursued independently of the other.” The sort of integrated life Leah Libresco describes isn’t only possible, but desirable:
Living supported by the Dominicans does more for me than cultivating piety on my own or even being involved in my church. The brothers (and the sisters studying at their school) offer infusions both of knowledge and of joy for us. They open up the faith so we can study in in greater detail, not just in order to amass more knowledge, but so that we can delight in beauty. They also clear out space for us to experience this delight. And they serve as a Schelling Point where we can find people we can share philia bonds with (“You, too? I thought I was the only one!”). I even went so far as to recommend to one Catholic friend (currently in law school) that he might want to prioritize finding a summer job in DC, so he could have the experience of being in such a rich and lively Catholic community, so he could decide if he wanted to prioritize living here, or someplace like it, when he did longer-term career planning.
The Benedict Option I wanted my eventually-esquired friend to try out was the experience of having some places in his life where Catholicism was an assumption, a community where asking if people wanted to pray Night Office on the way back from a bar wasn’t an unusual request, and there were ready helpers to lead us “further up and further in!”
If I were giving a very short answer to PEG’s question, I would say the Benedict Option isn’t about just working on being more pious (whether alone or in community) but about rearranging your life and community so there are spaces where joyful piety happens to you more often; a few spaces where your Catholicism doesn’t feel like an act of resistance, any more than eating does.