Friday, July 21, 2017

The Benedict Option: Chapter 3 (A Rule For Living)

Or: Hearken! The Bastion of the Monastery Awaits! T'were it Not Wine O'clock!

Chapter 3 is an important one, although not terribly interesting. It's here that Dreher lays out the fundamentals of his ideal society in miniature, the traits around which he would build his enclave. This, in turn, is framed around a visit to an actual monastery - you know, one of those existing religious communities that Dreher has seemingly rejected in his quest for True Faith, but we'll get into that.

Dreher is not a terribly dynamic writer, something he tries to mitigate with pseudo-medieval pious affectations, which makes chapters like this a bit of a slog. Fortunately, either Dreher himself or an editor realized this and split this chapter up into subheads that describe those critical elements of Dreher's ideal religious communities. So let's dig in:

If a defining characteristic of the modern world is disorder...
Already I can guess that Dreher's definition of "order" is not the same as mine. Compared to Dreher's pre-Reformation idyll - with its succession crises, bloody feudal warfare, rising and falling states, and shockingly high rates of interpersonal violence and crime - our society is extraordinarily orderly. He doesn't mean it that way, of course. Dreher's definition of order "requires regarding all things as pointing to Christ." Since Dreher is envisioning a religious society, this is not exactly a shocker, but beyond that he seeks total submission to the rules for the sake of "counteract[ing] the carnal desire for personal independence."

Hoo boy.


Again, not a surprise, but I have to highlight this observation on page 59:
I told the priest how, in response to a personal crisis my own orthodox priest back in Louisiana had assigned me as strict daily prayer rule...It was dull and difficult at first, but I did it out of obedience. Every day, for a seemingly endless hour, silent prayer. In time, though, the hour seemed much shorter, and I discovered that the peace I had conspicuously lacked in my soul came forth.
Okay. Public figures don't always act the way in private that they do in public, even (perhaps especially) those connected to politics. They tend to step into a persona, and that persona can match their true personality a great deal or not at all. It's quite possible that the private Rod Dreher is a man utterly at peace with the world and his own bugaboos.

That said, as an outsider I can only go off of what Dreher does in public, and his public persona is a crank - a deeply aggrieved man who keeps himself in a perpetual state of simmering anger by willingly seeking out things that make him mad. Maybe it's just a show that he puts on for money or for his cause, but all I can say is that if prayer puts him at peace, then he isn't doing it nearly enough.

Some of us define ourselves by our work and devote ourselves to it immoderately, at the expense of contemplation. Others, though, see work as something we do to pay the bills, nothing more, regarding it as disconnected from the rest of life, especially our spiritual lives...
...This is how we must approach our jobs: as opportunities to glorify God.
Much like David Brooks, Dreher's perspective on work (and how you're doing it wrong) is clearly the product of someone with no practical problems. In fact, I'll say the same thing here that I said about Brooks: At no point does Dreher consider that work is something most people do to make a living. It's just not something that would even occur to him.


This one's awesome.
The closure of certain professions to faithful orthodox Christians will be difficult to accept...Yet the day is coming when the kind of thing that has happened to Christian bakers, florists, and wedding photographers will be much more widespread.
Dreher may place himself above the common fundamentalist with his philosophical citations, but he's still not above a little histrionic self-pity. But he feels it's very important that True Believers prepare for horrors such as these:
A Christian who practices asceticism trains himself to say no to his desires and yes to God. That mentality has all but disappeared from the West in modern times. We have become a people oriented around comfort...
...Relearning asceticism - that is, how to suffer for the faith - is critical training for Christians living in the world today and the world of the near future.
Look, I don't want to spend too much time harping on Dreher's worldly lifestyle which is probably more indulgent than most of those seculars and heretics he condemns, if only because they can't afford it. It's not because it's too easy or because it's a cheap shot that's somehow beneath me, but because it's repetitive and it will get boring if I do it in every update. Come on, though - he was dangling this one in front of my face.

Incidentally, it would be easy to call Dreher a hypocrite when he talks like this, but I think of him more as an ingrate, railing against the people that made his lifestyle possible because they were insufficiently pure.


This one's odd. He's basically railing at people for not staying in place for their whole lives, and even more specifically for having the audacity to leave their hometowns. Again, this ignores the very practical issue that a lot of people right now are wandering not because they're rootless, but because the entire nation (and world) is in a state of flux. It's easy to condemn people for moving around in search of work when you can make a bundle writing about your dead sister.


This one's separate from stability? Huh. Anyway, Dreher is not necessarily talking about the same thing that the rest of us do when discussing community, namely people helping each other for the common good. He's talking about religious community, which means - what else? - homogeneity.

Rather than erring on the side of caution, though, Father Benedict believes Christians should be as open to the world as they can be without compromise...
It is prudent to draw reasonable boundaries, but we have to take care not to be like the unfaithful servant in the Parable of the Talents, who was punished by his master for his poor, fearful stewardship of the master's property.
This one actually is too easy for me, so go ahead and pick out your favorite example of Rod Dreher showing broad-minded support for people who aren't exactly like him. Go on, I'll wait. Protip: Go to one of the earlier chapters where he's calling people with whom he disagrees "barbarians."

The Benedictine life is rigorous, but if lived according to the Rule, it is also free from fundamentalism and extremism.
It's important to Dreher that you know that he's no wild-eyed, Bible-thumping fundie. That may be the most important thing to him, that you realize that he's not like those [INSERT UNDESIRABLE GROUP HERE]. Anyway, it's balance that makes the least sense to me, especially after condemning all those wishy-washy faux Christians earlier and even on the following pages ("In the end, either Christ is at the center of our lives, or the Self and all its idolatries are. There is no middle ground."). But, once more, "balance" does not mean the same thing to me that it does to Dreher.

So what?

Dreher and I clearly don't see eye-to-eye on life, and I obviously view him as something of a intellectual coward, opportunist and ingrate. But so what? If Dreher wants to run off and form some pseudo-monastic community where he can enjoy his cushy life in the presence of only those he finds theologically acceptable, what business is it of mine? After all, that heretical concept of "pluralism" demands that people be allowed to live as they see fit, even if they opt for an illiberal lifestyle.

But I'm not convinced that Dreher would be willing to stop with his homogenous religious enclave. In the next chapter, we'll get into Dreher's notion of "orthodox" Christian politics and we'll see what he has in mind for the rest of us.


  1. That last part? That's Rod's entire issue right there. There is nothing preventing him from living as sacramental and Benedticty as his heart desires except himself. Rod doesn't want to give up the creature comforts but most importantly he needs to either force us to live as he proclaims or at the very least, and this and that he needs to make a living is why he won't just go Benedict somewhere, he needs us to see and acknowledge the superiority of Rod and all his works. No point in living a quiet sacramental life if people don't know you are better than them.

    1. We'll get into this in future updates, but Dreher really seems to think that his little communities will blossom as the lost and damned are drawn to them. That's presumably his excuse for not running off to an existing religious community, that he wants to save those people who are trapped in the dystopia that is 21st century America. It has nothing to do with his inability to handle genuine deprivation - honest.

    2. I think this is the crux-he needs to force others to live in a certain way. That bit about staying in place is a dead giveaway-his father and sister criticized him frequently (he says) for leaving home, as if home wasn't good enough for Rod. Which of course it wasn't. But he hated being accused of it.

      There is no way Dreher has found peace in his soul; he's still a witchfinder at heart. The Catholic Church (and probably Orthodox Church, no doubt) talks a lot about living through Christ and devoting one's entire existence to obeying God and worshipping Jesus but as you say that has little to do with Dreher's actual focus in life.

    3. In short, he's becoming his father.

    4. (Sorry to litter you with posts but this is just occurring to me.) Which is typical, if you don't rebel, or get tired of rebelling, you might become the thing you hate, as a proxy for getting your father's love. Which is now impossible because Dad's dead.

  2. Wait. is Drehr talking about the Holy Rule of St. Benedict(the basis for Western Monastacism), or is there some other Benedict here that I missed?

    And why doesn't he just join Opus Dei? They already do all this stuff and you don't have to live in a monastary