The call for a 'Benedict Option'

by D.C. Innes

Posted on Monday, June 1, 2015, at 3:23 pm

My teenage kids see homosexual couples getting married on the news. They hear about Christian businesses being vilified for wanting to do business Christianly. So I explained to them that they are living at a turning point in Western civilization, and it will not turn back. This is the new world—their world—and it is unfriendly to their faith.

So how then shall they live? Rod Dreher, an Eastern Orthodox conservative columnist (interviewed recently by WORLD’s Warren Cole Smith), has suggested the “Benedict Option.” I will explain and respond to that in subsequent columns. How we got here I have reflected on in two previous columns (“The long road to same-sex marriage” and “How we dug our way down the rabbit hole”) but, with biblical precedence (John 21:17), I will address it a third time.

There has been a movement in the last 350 years of modern life toward ever-greater individual autonomy and thus the disintegration of Christian authority (Bible, tradition, church). This development is approaching its nadir before our eyes. Christians fought it in the modernist controversy 100 years ago. The Lord sent us Abraham Kuyper, G.K. Chesterton, and C.S. Lewis to name the problem and arm us against it. Jerry Falwell’s Moral Majority fought the symptoms while often carrying the disease.

Now a new paganism, launched into its final stage of development by the sexual revolution, is redefining the nature of marriage and family, the foundation of society, so as to include homosexual unions and polygamy, and thus is changing how we view ourselves at the deepest level—what it means to be male and female or whether there even are such things. This builds on a previous Darwinian assault that convinced us to see ourselves as merely sophisticated beasts, and a Nietzschean assault that persuaded us that nothing is true and thus we are all free to create our own values and even ourselves.

Now slightly more than half of Americans believe that same-sex marriage is acceptable. But that figure conceals a significant groundswell: 80 percent of young people support it. Even in Louisiana, the most religious, church-attending state in the union, most people under the age of 35 believe that homosexual couples should be able to marry. University of Notre Dame sociologist Christian Smith says the reason is that most American teens (and they’re not alone) are “moralistic therapeutic deists.” Dreher summarizes the tenets of this popular substitute for Christianity: “God exists, and he wants us to be nice to each other, and to be happy and successful.”

In view of this, the culture warriors are exhausted and discouraged the way the defenders of Gondor were when the hammer-wielding trolls burst through the gates in Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King. So Dreher’s call to the Benedict Option has appeal: The fight is lost; an apostate Christendom has chosen the darkness of its self-entranced imagination over the Prince of Life and the good world as He gave it to us. Let’s treasure what is left and secure it for a better day. Let’s cultivate our families and our churches, and develop a flourishing Christian sub-culture as a testimony to the world and a haven for the hungry.

Next week, I will look at the arguments for the Benedict Option.

D.C. Innes

D.C. is associate professor of politics at The King's College in New York City and co-author of Left, Right, and Christ: Evangelical Faith in Politics (Russell Media). Follow D.C. on Twitter @DCInnes1.

Read more from this writer