Column: Going ‘Benedict’ – or Not
“… you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” – The resurrected Jesus, to His disciples, Acts 1:8
I read recently of something called the “Benedict Option” – modern-day Christians emulating ancient Benedictine monks who disengaged from the world to pursue deep, spiritual, free-of-worldly-temptation contemplation, prayer and solitude.
Just go up into the hills – alone – and think about Jesus.
Sometimes that sounds really nice.
St. Benedict was a sixth-century Roman Christian for whom “Benedictine” monks are named and largely considered the founder of European monasticism. St. Antony had a similar role founding monasticism in Egypt – “the Desert Fathers” – in the third century. Ever since, there have been monks living ascetic lives of Christian prayer and contemplation detached from political issues and societal fashions.
Many ordained societies – Jesuits, Franciscans, friars, nuns, etc. – stand foursquare amid the chaos of an unbelieving world and advocate diligently and publicly for Jesus, the Church, the Gospels and right-minded devotion to the Holy Spirit. I’m an Evangelical, not a Catholic, and hence no expert on monks, etc. But note: “In the world but not of the world” doesn’t necessarily mean “go away.”
Writer Rod Dreher recently coined the phrase “Benedict Option” and has gained some renown encouraging Christians to stage a “strategic retreat” from culture. When the U.S. Supreme Court announced its Obergefell decision in June finding a Constitutional right to gay marriage, the “Benedict Option” received a shell-burst of comment and support by conservative Christians and cultural critics. The court decision signaled, to many, that “changing the world” in a good way may no longer be possible.
Dreher doesn’t suggest “heading for the hills” so much as he is urging Christians to partially disconnect from both society and the political process. Christian ethics and American culture seem to have arrived at an all-time divide, the thinking goes, so Christians should retreat, living moral lives in like-minded communities.
Dreher’s critics note that the Benedict Option would remove Christians from the cultural conversation just when their input is most critical. It harkens back 100 years or so when fundamentalist Christians gave up trying to combat Darwinism in secular colleges and modernist theology in mainstream Protestant churches.
Fundamentalists formed their own denominations and schools, disengaged from American public life, and it really wasn’t until Billy Graham started his Crusades – the big ones – in the late 1960s, 70s and beyond – that Gospel truth gained popular ascendance over the passive cultural acquiescence of modern-minded churches.
Yes, culture looks bleak, but Jesus calls us to be witnesses, not quitters.
And when it comes to affirming the truth of Christ, there really is no option.
Walters (firstname.lastname@example.org) notes, Jesus IS truth.