Fear, desperation and pessimism make a dangerous cocktail. American journalist Rod Dreher seems to have imbibed this potion. “The West has lost the golden thread that binds us to God, Creation, and each other,” he writes. “Unless we find it again, there is no hope of halting our dissolution.”
He outlines his survival strategy in a New York Times best-seller, The Benedict Option: A Strategy for Christians in a Post-Christian Nation. It has been widely reviewed in secular newspapers and magazines like the Think Progress, the National Review, Atlantic, the Huffington Post, and the Washington Post – to say nothing of Christian blogs. So Dreher’s solution is an intriguing one – but is it the right one?
There is no doubt about the truth of much of his analysis. Dreher notes that many of today’s Christians are perfectly at home in a liberal world: Liberalism has changed them, and they, in turn, have changed their Christianity. We have only to think of the Podesta-Hillary Clinton emails plotting the subversion of the Catholic faithful. Clinton lost the election, but for Dreher the respite is only temporary.
“We are on the brink of entire areas of commercial and professional life being off-limits to believers whose consciences will not allow them to burn incense to the gods of our age,” he predicts. Fewer and fewer public spaces will be open to faithful. Young Christians who dream of becoming doctors or lawyers may have to abandon their ambitions.
His pessimism about our future political and cultural life is rooted in the conviction that “we in the modern West are living under barbarism, though we do not recognize it.” This is a world in which “Our scientists, our judges, our princes, our scholars, and our scribes … are at work demolishing the faith, the family, gender, even what it means to be human.” It’s scary stuff.
But I would argue that Dreher has good intentions, but the flight from the world which he advocates is misguided. Ever since Cain killed Abel, mankind has grappled with evil. And, by and large, we have coped. There have been highs and lows, but the overall picture is one of progress.
For the rationalist there is one reason for this – mankind’s ingenuity. For men and women of faith, it is the hand of providence. For Christians, the love and mercy of a Divine Father whose Son redeemed us is the foundation of all our hope for the future. It is a lack of emphasis on hope and a failure to see how it has unfolded in two millennia that are the weaknesses of the Benedict Option.