Tag Archives: The Benedict Option

After Virtue – A New Benedict? (Pt.2)

Having now completed Dreher’s ‘The Benedict Option’ (BenOp) I am underwhelmed to say the least. The greatest sadness is that this is not, as I see it, about a new and very different Benedict. MacIntyre was writing as a moral philosopher, and BenOp is at least aligned as a moral treatise. But then what morality?

Dreher is transparent about his religious and political bias, he is a conservative in every way. And it becomes apparent through the book that his agenda is about developing a Christian community to thwart the evils of liberalism. But what liberalism? His morality, his moralism, is about recapturing the ground surrendered to LGBT rights, to end the evil of divorce and abortion. Ah, that liberalism! But not the liberalism, or rather neoliberalism, of the right, that is somehow less evil.

He wants congregations to embrace exile, to turn to forming intentional hubs together in the suburbs, even while suburbs, and to withdraw from the “secular” (I want to return to the issue of false dualism later) world. He states, “We Christians today can create that new culture based on returning in creative ways to that very old one.” (p. 105)  This reminds me of so many attempts to recapture a romantic past. The old one he refers to is the pre 60s, that glorious era of morality, when divorce was difficult to obtain, when abortion was illegal, and when anything LGBT was criminalised.

I had a brief moment here where I recalled Joanne Harris’ novel ‘Chocolat’ where at a particular point the Priest and the Compte attempt to get rid of the “river rats” or gypsies. They institute a campaign to “boycott immorality.” I get that feeling with BenOp. Everything is based on dualism, on binaries, on black and white.

I bought the book because I have been immersed in the Rule of Benedict for many years (and have been an Oblate or non-professed for many years) so I was interested that the BenOp might segue to the Rule in contemporary living. There are occasions where Dreher makes links, and it is then that he seems most engaged. However, for the bulk of the book he is focussed on the decline of Christianity. But what Christianity is he referring to? Dreher is referring to a fortress Christianity, a conservative bastion, that will be a bulwark against the evils of liberalism that are bringing a war on Christians.

When Dreher says, “There is also the danger of Christians falling back into complacency.” he speaks of Christians, but it is clear that he doesn’t speak for all Christians, he is speaking only to and for those Christians who are struggling with the issues of divorce, abortion and LGBT rights. He speaks for those who feel that they have lost something since the sexual revolution of the 60s, and he speaks for those who want to recapture the pre-60s moral agenda, pre 73 Roe vs Wade, and to return to an older pedagogy, a past education methodology.

He opines that Donald Trump is morally compromised (p.79) while yet defending Trump’s win as a victory that might be good for Christians in as much that it will delay the liberal agenda, whereas Hilary Clinton was to be feared because would have accelerated that agenda (I do agree with Dreher that Trump is a symptom of deeper underlying problems). I note that Dreher doesn’t mention Nixon or Bush Jnr. two equally compromised leaders, but he does mention Reagan, fondly, yet offers no acknowledgement of the economic devastation that he, like Thatcher in the U.K., thrust upon his nation without any thought to the long term consequences for the working and middle classes. There is no insight into the moral malaise of the Republican Party other than that they have conceded moral ground to corporate pressure. While the Democrats are suggested as the party that undermines religion.

I get the sense that while Dreher is careful to admit that politics is suspect and not to be relied upon, there is an undercurrent in the book that yearns for theocracy. It is not explicit but rather lurking behind some of his statements.

So what has this book got to do with a new and very different St. Benedict? Pt. 3 …


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After Virtue – a new Benedict? (Pt.1)

Alasdair Macintyre published ‘After Virtue’ (AV) in 1981. Many of us read it around then, but it has come into public view again through Rod Dreher’s ‘The Benedict Option’ in which Dreher takes a comment from the very end of AV where MacIntyre says “We are waiting not for a Godot, but for another – doubtless very different – St. Benedict.” (Alasdair MacIntyre After Virtue p. 163)

The title is a clue for those who know the work of Aristotle, that AV is an attempt to refine an Aristotelian world view, a moral philosophy, and MacIntyre refers to Aristotle throughout, and in particular the ‘Nichomachian Ethics.’ AV is also a work that seeks to refute Nietzsche’s claim that “… morality is only a mask for the will to power …” (Alasdair MacIntyre After Virtue p. 22). MacIntyre’s view is that modern moral and political philosophy falls short and we must therefore renew by studying and enacting virtue.

That last line which refers to Godot, is a swipe at Beckett, as in Beckett’s play ‘Waiting for Godot’, where Godot never shows up, and which is thought to be a criticism of those who wait for an external force to save them, thus a swipe by Beckett at certain forms of Christianity. MacIntyre suggests that we do need an external saviour in the form of a new St. Benedict, someone needs to show up.

When MacIntyre refers to St. Benedict he offers no elucidation save that he is waiting for another very different Benedict. There is no clue as to what this other Benedict will be like, he is not prescriptive, which means he is not seeking to be prophetic, but rather, he is yearning for a saviour. Dreher (interview with Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove at Red Letter Christians 2015 https://www.redletterchristians.org) claims that MacIntyre is being prophetic, but it is clear that MacIntyre’s language and construction is nothing of the sort, it is simply a hope, a desire, a yearning.

Why is he waiting for another Benedict? According to MacIntyre, while not subscribing to pessimism (because we survived the dark ages), we are on the cusp of a new dark age and we need someone to shine a light. He sees a decline and grieves the loss of moral community, salvation is in a new type of St, Benedict.

Enter Rod Dreher and the ‘Benedict Option.’



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