I know it’s a little late in the game to write a response to Rod Dreher’s literary whirlwind, The Benedict Option, but hey, Matthew 20. As an educator at a Benedictine institution, I’d like to think that my opinion counts more than people who have no connection to the Benedictine charism whatsoever, so even more of a reason why you should care about my fashionably late response. Here we go:
1. Dreher assumes that one can “create” a Christian culture. That’s strange…last time I checked, Christian culture was created by God, and not his followers. Culture-authentic culture, a lasting culture-is characterized by the fact that it is born of an event, a presence, something happening, and is not constructed by mere mortals and their ideals. As Italian priest Luigi Giussani once put it, “Christianity is not a doctrine, but an event, an encounter with a person, and from this event of an encounter is born a love, a friendship, a culture, a reaction, and an action in the various contexts.” The apostles didn’t decide to start a Christian culture based on the values Jesus taught them. Take a look at the Acts of the Apostles…you’ll see that the culture that was born of their efforts of evangelization was more of an outgrowth of an event, a consequence to their encounter with Christ, rather than a “project” that they initiated themselves. Take a look at history-all of the attempts made by human beings to create a culture based on their ideals have fallen apart and often led to severe violence and turmoil. Just ask this guy:
Thus it seems a little naive for Dreher to think that Benedict “created” a cultural revolution. Benedict was given a charism. He didn’t invent it, it was purely gratuitous, a matter of Divine Providence. Perhaps this is why his “revolution” was so successful and attractive-it was a truly Divine happening that transcended Benedict’s calculations, and yet was manifested through him. Christian culture then is better characterized by people following an attractive presence, an event, in which God reveals himself, rather than a group of people gathering together in the name of “conservative” values. [For more on culture as the outgrowth of an “event”, check out this lecture by Remi Brague.]
2. The relationship between the Father, Son, and Spirit is eternal, constantly in motion, and infinite in nature. This dynamic is constantly overflowing, pouring outside of itself and inviting all of existence into its divine Life. You cannot keep it in an air-tight container. Nor can it be destroyed because some whiny intellectuals keep complaining about oppression and the heteropatriarchy. Really? Rod Dreher’s fear of “the culture” is kind of silly if you look at the who God actually is. Yes, many are being duped into believing some pretty outlandish heresies (that is, half-truths). But is this really something God can’t handle? Do we need to protect God? Is God not really the fullness of the Truth, in all Its splendor and might? If the Truth is the Truth, then I don’t know why we have to hide from people who are convinced by their self-constructed half-truths. Christ doesn’t need our protection, he needs our “yes.” He needs us to be willing to extend his eternal, infinite, and ever moving love into what Pope Francis calls “the periphery.” Trying to confine God’s infinite love to a small, pristine, and hermetically-sealed community is like trying to fit the ocean into a bucket…it’s a waste of time. This guy knows all about that:
Rather, let’s invite people to experience the ocean, to jump in….even if they refuse, it’s not like the ocean is going away anytime soon…
3. Is there such a thing as Christian culture anyway? I mean yeah, Christendom…but when we talk about Christianity as its own culture that exists outside of “the World,” we run the risk of convincing ourselves that the City of God is already in our midst, and that we no longer are inhabitants of the City of Man. I don’t know about you, but I still experience the pains of temptation, sin, and suffering. I’m pretty sure that I’m still stuck in the City of Man. A Christian culture is characterized more by its ever-expanding participation in the City of God, rather than being totally separated by the city limits. The radicality of the Incarnation is that the King of the City of God became a resident of the City of Man, the Divine inhabited the dirty, messy, and broken World, the Infinite took on the finite. Christ revealed himself IN the world, and continues to do so everyday when he appears in a small, flat piece of bread (a mundane and finite object that could easily be disposed of or forgotten). Rather than thinking of ourselves as separated from the citizens of the World, we ought to consider ourselves their compatriots who have seen the Light of a brighter city on the horizon, who want to lead everybody in its direction.
4. I’m not exactly sure when the new Christian denomination known as “conservative and orthodox” was founded. I’m also not so sure that Christianity needs yet another denomination to add to the list of 30,003 that already exist. The foundations of this new denomination that Dreher has founded seem a little iffy to me, and perhaps not so “orthodox” after all. Dreher assumes a version of the “mere Christianity” position that CS Lewis took (perhaps as a way out of making a decisive judgement on the validity of King Henry VIII’s theological assertions). Yes, we may live out our faith in Christ in different ways, at the end of the day, we all believe in Jesus Christ…meaning we all are on the same page when it comes to “conservative values.” Basically, this move bunches together all Christian denominations that have the same stances on abortion, marriage, and religious freedom. The problem with Dreher’s new Creed is that it is not solid enough of a ground to serve as a basis of unity. Yes, I agree with Evangelicals and Pentecostals that abortion is a sin and that a romantic relationship between two men does not constitute a marriage. But other than that, that’s pretty much it. Evangelicals don’t believe in the Real Presence, they don’t believe in the papacy or the authority of the magisterium, they don’t believe that God is willing and able to manifest his presence through materials as mundane as bread, wine, and sinful human beings…which are all pretty important “values” if you ask me. Ironically enough, it seems that the “liberal” mainline Protestant churches, from which Dreher distinguishes his new denomination, are returning to a more sacramental theology and to traditional liturgy. So much for conservative values…
Dreher’s intuition that Christians need a strong community life in order to grow in faith and the be able to evangelize the world is indeed very much true. But his evaluation of how that community is formed and manifests itself is at best naive and at worst, threatening.