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What Is the Benedict Option, and Why Might It Be Coming to Your Neighborhood?

Ruklay Pousajja/Shutterstock

John Burger - published on 05/11/16

Not an escape, Rod Dreher says, but a chance for Christians to regroup

For the most part, Christians have had a happy — some would even say “privileged” — time of it in America, where Christianity and Christian churches were essentially left alone as they freely exercised their religion within society both privately and, up until recently, in partnership with the government.

Well, that was then, and this is now. The very effective cooperative partnership that existed between the U. S. government and the US Conference of Catholic Bishops to serve victims of human trafficking was ended due to the Obama administration’s insistence that contraception and abortion be included in any assistance provided to victims. Some cities have seen Catholic adoption services come to an end because they cannot conform to anti-discrimination laws that, in legal suit after suit, are adjudicated against religious freedom.

In general, Christians are firmly being told that if they wish to remain in the public square and involved in social services, parades, or business enterprises of any kind, they will have to sacrifice their values and teachings to the shifting morals of the times and resultant regulations, or be ready to give up their business and abandon their missions.

The time of “privilege” appears to be over. Christians face challenges unimaginable even a decade ago, and must discern new ways of being in a nation that has become hostile to expressions of faith lived outside the sanctuaries and beyond the pews.

One possible response is the so-called Benedict Option, seen as a way to preserve Christian culture in the midst of a world grown increasingly threatening.

Author and columnist Rod Dreher, the leading proponent of the Benedict Option, or BenOp for short, has explained on his blog at The American Conservative website that the idea is based on the final paragraph of philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre’s 1981 book After Virtue. Describing parallels between modern Western societies and the declining years of the Roman Empire, MacIntyre said that the West needs new, local forms of community “within which civility and the intellectual and moral life can be sustained through the new dark ages.” The model here is the sixth-century St. Benedict, whose monasteries were just such places.

Dreher has identified a number of communities and initiatives around the country that he sees as good examples of the BenOp being implemented. One of them is the community growing up around the Benedictine monastery of Clear Creek, Oklahoma.

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