Whose Community? Which Benedict Option?

In our present cultural situation, it has become common for Christian thinkers to hold up St. Benedict as a paradigmatic example of how to navigate an increasingly secular society. This phenomenon can be traced back to the well-known conclusion of Alasdair MacIntyre’s 1984 work, After Virtue, wherein he anticipated the coming “of another—doubtless very different—St. Benedict,” who could help us to survive “the barbarism of the new dark ages.”[1] At the time, MacIntyre did not go into great detail about what precisely this Benedictine renewal would look like, simply indicating that it would involve “the construction of local forms of community within which civility and the intellectual and moral life [could] be sustained.”[2]

Since the publication of After Virtue, Christian thinkers from across the theological spectrum have appealed to MacIntyre’s “prophecy” as a visionary spark for their own renewal projects. To highlight just two: Rod Dreher, well-known blogger and convert to Eastern Orthodoxy, popularized the term “Benedict Option,” and recently published a 250-page tome detailing his “strategy for Christians in a post-Christian nation.” Dreher says that the term Benedict Option is his name “for an inchoate phenomenon in which Christians adopt a more consciously countercultural stance towards our post-Christian mainstream culture.”[3] Elsewhere, Dreher indicates that his project involves rejecting standard political strategies for influencing the culture (e.g., voting Republican) in favor of building stronger, countercultural communities that are rooted in a commitment to living virtuously.

Meanwhile, figures such as Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, the de facto leader of the New Monasticism movement, uses similar rhetorical tropes, but with markedly different aims in mind. While Dreher is a “crunchy conservative” and traditionally Orthodox, Wilson-Hartgrove is a pacifist Baptist minister with a strong commitment to political activism. Needless to say, their visions of Benedictine renewal end up looking markedly different. Dreher and Wilson-Hartgrove’s differences are representative of the diversity that characterizes the broader movement of envisioning Benedictine forms of renewal in a MacIntyrean vein.[4] By setting these two proposals side-by-side, we will be able to see more clearly the relative merits of these different (competing?) proposals. While not being afraid to critique their shortcomings, I also hope to mine them for genuine insights on how to live faithfully during these difficult times.

Counter-Cultural Christianity in a Hostile Society: Dreher’s Benedict Option

Rod Dreher is not always easy to pin down. Although he has spilled a lot of ink writing about the Benedict option, one can walk away from his writings inspired, but without a clear sense of where to begin. Dreher admits that this inchoateness is a feature and not a bug of his project, because he does not want to leave his readers with the impression that he is peddling a twelve-step plan for surviving the new dark ages. Rather, what Dreher hopes to cultivate in his readership is a clear awareness of the serious challenges that Christians will face in the very near future, as well as a vision for learning to “live as exiles in our own country.”[5]

The tone of Dreher’s warnings reached a higher pitch following the Supreme Court’s June 2015 ruling that the Constitution guarantees a right to same-sex marriage. In light of this decision, Dreher urged social conservatives to recognize that “we really are living in a culturally post-Christian nation,” adding that LGBT activists and their fellow travelers would soon be coming after orthodox (small-O) Christians and others who allied with them.[6] By making traditional Catholic convictions about marriage akin to racism, the Supreme Court has given secularists and anti-Christian activists a launching pad for punishing dissent and pressuring churches to conform to the new orthodoxy regarding sexuality.

If Dreher is right in his diagnosis—and one could point to other signs of hostility—the question then becomes, how should Christians navigate this post-Christian/anti-Christian cultural reality? In Dreher’s view, to put it bluntly, “Voting Republican and other failed culture war strategies are not going to save us now.”[7] It is not enough, in other words, to focus primarily on winning elections, or to steer the ship back toward calmer waters through conventional political means. The urgency of the times—the dire nature of the cultural reality that we face—demands a bold and creative strategy, one attentive to the fact that “the fundamental norms Christians have long been able to depend on no longer exist.”[8]

Rather than succumbing to fear ... Christians, now more than ever, need to be preaching a message of hope

According to Dreher, our best hope for standing firm in the face of this cultural tsunami is “to form stronger, thicker communities based on a commitment to virtue.”[9] These communities will take on diverse forms depending upon the unique circumstances in which they take root.[10] The key will not be to fit a predetermined, cookie-cutter pattern of life. Rather, such communities will be Benedictine, according to Dreher’s understanding of the term, to the extent that they foster genuine economic solidarity and enable the transmission of Christian culture, both of which will be the natural outworking of shared convictions about God and God’s activity in the world.

Anticipating criticisms of his proposal, Dreher clarifies that he is not calling for a sectarian withdrawal from the world in a neo-Amish key. Nevertheless, the Benedict Option will “require some sort of meaningful withdrawal,” though this withdrawal will be for the sake of the world, not to watch it burn.[11] The meaningful withdrawal that Dreher has in mind will be a strategic retreat. Such a retreat is necessary, because the cultural soil of late-modern America has become so shallow that genuinely Christian forms of life can no longer take root in it. As Dreher (channeling the work of Robert Louis Wilken) sees the matter,

We cannot be the Church if we lose our vocabulary and the conceptual framework that makes us Christian. This is precisely the point: we have given ourselves over to a culture that is radically present-oriented, built around the beliefs that there ought to be few limits on human agency and human will. Desire is its own justification. That Christians too often have not resisted modernity and its fruits (hedonism, consumerism, individualism) accounts for the dissolution of Christianity and its reification as Moralistic Therapeutic Deism (essentially, the idea that God exists to serve us and to make us feel good about ourselves).[12]

Life-giving forms of Christian community will be those that strategically resist the hedonism, consumerism, and individualism that pervade. These forms of community will necessarily involve withdrawal, but this withdrawal will be, as Timothy O’Malley puts it, “a retreat into Catholic particularity so that the Church might be better prepared to offer the fruits of her life for the world.”[13]

Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove and New Monasticism: Or, Protestant Worker Houses

Like Dreher, the leaders of the New Monastic Movement look to the life and writings of St. Benedict for inspiration, but the challenge they cast for fellow believers differs in significant ways from what I understand Dreher to be advocating. In a 2005 book, entitled Schools for Conversion, some of the movement’s de facto leaders charted out 12 marks of a new monasticism. These include relocation to abandoned places of empire, sharing economic resources, hospitality to the stranger, humble submission to the church, peacemaking, and commitment to a disciplined life.[14] A brief glance over this list provides a ready sense of what the New Monastics are about. Seeking to take seriously the monastic admonition to stability, they have planted themselves (mostly) in economically depressed areas of urban centers, where they cultivate a communal life oriented towards prayer, simplicity, and hospitality. While the members of these communities come from a diverse array of Christian backgrounds, the majority appear to have grown up in Evangelical and Free Church contexts. This feature is not incidental to the “culture” of the movement, in that it blends evangelical piety and theological jargon with some elements of the monastic tradition. For those who are familiar with the life and legacy of Dorothy Day, the New Monastic communities are sort of like Protestant Worker Houses.

So, in what ways are these communities monastic? In my view, it is not exactly clear. The members of New Monastic communities “commit to follow a ‘rule of life’ . . . and they immerse themselves in community life and service,”[15] but someone who has spent significant time in a traditional monastery or convent would be in for a bit of a culture shock if they were to settle into a New Monastic community. For starters, these intentional communities are often comprised of both genders, and are open to singles living alongside married couples with children. These sorts of arrangements, not surprisingly, create a different sort of dynamic than one would find among, say, the Benedictines of Clear Creek Monastery in Oklahoma. I imagine that The Rule of Saint Benedict would have looked a bit different if the great reformer had envisaged married men and women living alongside single members of both sexes, with children thrown in the mix. Bluntly stated, the New Monastic communities are a far cry from the actual convents and monasteries that directly trace their heritage to the work of Saint Benedict. While it would be foolish to criticize the corporal works of mercy that the New Monastics regularly engage in, construing their way of life as monastic obscures more than it illumines. Wilson-Hartgrove and others might draw upon elements of the Benedictine charism as an inspirational rhetorical trope, but, for the sake of clarity, we would be better served to refer to groups of this kind as intentional Christian communities, not monastic ones.

Despite what I said at the start of the paper about the contrast between Dreher’s vision and that of the New Monastics, I do think this recent flowering of intentional communities in the Protestant world is a response to some of the same cultural shifts that have sparked Dreher’s writings. For example, Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove—perhaps the most prolific writer within the orbit of New Monasticism—peppers his books with references to a post-Christian America. Though in a different key than Dreher, he too has written at length about the unique challenges of following Christ in a culture that is increasingly inhospitable to Christian forms of life. The key divergences between these two “options,” therefore, have more to do with how the Benedictine option plays out on the ground—whether in pacifist enclaves of “red letter” Christians or in the various forms of creative withdrawal that Dreher praises.

Taking Stock: Living Faithfully as a Creative Minority

When we step back and take a panoramic view of Western civilization, it does appear that Christians stand on the precipice of an epochal shift in our relationship to the dominant culture. Both Dreher and the leaders of the New Monasticism do a fine job of shining a light on this reality, and many readers will find their call to rethink old paradigms compelling. For Catholics looking to dig deeper, Dreher’s writings represent a more promising resource than the works of the New Monastics. Again, without disparaging in any way the concrete works of mercy taken up each day by the New Monastics, there are certain features of their animating vision that do not fit organically into a Catholic understanding of discipleship and vocation.

Foundationally, although New Monastics speak of humble submission to the Church, as an ecumenical body they have in mind a different entity than do Catholics when we use the same term. Now, I realize that we live in an ecumenical age, and some, upon hearing this, will consider that my focus is in the wrong place. Isn’t serving the poor, as Christ commanded, more important than splitting ecclesiological hairs? This way of framing the matter, though, presents a false dichotomy. It should go without saying, but one can, at the same time, both serve the poor and submit to the Church founded by Jesus Christ. To return to the monastic tradition for a moment, for the holy monks and virgins throughout the ages the question of catholicity has never been incidental to their apostolic work (I think here, specifically, of Saint Francis’s great love for the Catholic Church). Or, to come at this same issue from another angle, submission to the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, as an example, is going to cash out much differently than submission to the Catholic Church.

This foundational issue raises a related point, namely, the question of vocation. For Catholics, marriage and the life of a consecrated religious are two distinct vocations. Both are means of sanctification; both are vivified and sustained by divine graces. Taken individually, the married life and consecrated life have distinct and essential gifts to offer to the world. In some ways, the monastic life is always going to appear as a heroic vocation, simply on account of the fact that it is a path taken by a far smaller number of Christians. As a husband and father, however, my calling is to be faithful within my station of life, and I risk overlooking key responsibilities related to that station if I style myself to be a monk or religious, which I am not.

This all ties into a more specific discussion about how the Body of Christ should best minister to what New Monastics refer to as the “abandoned places of Empire.” Besides questions about the prudence of referring to someone’s neighborhood as a place abandoned by the empire, I wonder if families with young children are best suited to intervening between warring gangs or helping drug addicts to get sober. By way of confession, these are questions I seriously wrestle with, and I’m open to being challenged on this point. But, if the Body of Christ is made up of many members, as Saint Paul confesses, then it is worth discerning which of these members have the distinct charisms ideally suited for ministering in places marked by extreme poverty and recurring violence. Stated positively, committed celibates in the Catholic Church draw on a charism that enables them in powerful ways to educate at-risk youth, to counsel gang members (consider, for example the work of Fr. Gregory Boyle, SJ),[16] and to be generous with their time in a way that sometimes parents cannot be. One would hope, for example, that a house of Franciscans would be more adept at welcoming a homeless addict into their home than, say, a family with five kids under the age of nine might be. Obviously, we should not use such considerations to distance ourselves from the demands of the Gospel. Nevertheless, it is one thing to place my own wellbeing at risk, it is quite another to place a young child in situations of great danger. Walking faithfully with these questions in view will require prayerful discernment on the part of the entire ecclesial community.

The unique vocation for Catholics to play in the renewal of European culture will not be to seize the reins of power, but to live as a creative minority

In a Catholic context, placing New Monasticism on a pedestal could detract from vocations to traditional monastic orders. The language of the New Monastics blurs the distinction between the married and religious vocations. There are certain gifts that the traditional monastic orders possess that the New Monastics, however well-intentioned, do not approximate. For Catholics, our goal should be to support these traditional orders as best we can while also actively encouraging our children to consider a religious vocation.[17] As my spiritual director once pointed out to me, there is a certain way in which idealizing the monastic life could become a sort of Gnostic temptation that distracts me from my immediate responsibilities to my wife and children. Just as a monk could deceive himself by thinking that he might have been happier by falling in love and marrying, a similar temptation exists for Christian spouses to mistakenly wonder if holiness would have been easier to attain by entering a religious order. All that being said, some of the New Monastics do have important insights to offer regarding stability, prayer, and the corporal works of mercy. But, most of what they commend is not distinctly monastic. For the sake of clarity, Catholics who draw on their writings will want to avoid presenting any insights gleaned as being wed to a monastic form of life.  

Critiques of Dreher

The critiques of Dreher primarily revolve around two main issues. First, some critics have asked whether Dreher is unduly alarmist in his diagnosis of contemporary culture. In a pointed critique published in the Washington Post, for example, James K. A. Smith accused Dreher, alongside Tony Esolen, and Archbishop Chaput, of stoking alarmist fears that are inimical to the hopeful stance that Christians should have in light of Christ’s victory over the principalities and powers. From Smith’s perspective, this “new alarmism . . . is tinged with a bitterness and resentment and sense of loss that carries a whiff of privilege threatened rather than witness compromised.”[18] Rather than succumbing to fear, Smith writes, Christians, now more than ever, need to be preaching a message of hope, grounded in the reality that we worship a Savior who rose from the dead.

Other commentators, such as the journalist John Zmirak, have charged Dreher with advocating for a retreat from the public square at a time when our culture most needs bold Christian witness. Zmirak interprets Dreher’s Benedict Option “as an attempt to suggest ways that faithful Christians can hunker down and survive in the current hostile environment by withdrawing from society and networking with each other to form some kind of loosely defined communities.”[19] Dreher’s work goes off the tracks, Zmirak argues, when Dreher encourages Christians “to drop our involvement in pro-life and pro-family politics.”[20] Zmirak calls this suggestion, “suicidal,” for in so doing Christians would effectively be exiling ourselves from the public square, thereby opening up to overt persecution at the hands of those who resent the historic influence of Christianity.[21]

Morality is always embedded in a wider religious context in which it ‘breathes’ and finds its proper environment

No matter how difficult the arguments over disputed moral truths become, Christians must not give up on taking a public stand on these matters, Zmirak writes. As a word of warning to his readership, Zmirak points to a series of recent events (e.g., the Obergefell decision, the attack on the Little Sisters of the Poor, discussions about removing church tax exemptions) as evidence that aggressive secularists will take as much ground as Christians will cede to them. Perhaps these discussions look different in other Christian traditions, but for Catholics our commitment to Christ has always had a public nature. That is to say, Catholics have always understood promoting the common good as integral to the path of discipleship. From a Catholic vantage point, there are no grounds for “withdraw[ing] into apolitical enclaves” that will supposedly keep us and our families safe from the menacing designs of those who are hostile to the Christian faith.[22]

Furthermore, Zmirak argues that taking St. Benedict as our primary inspiration misunderstands the historical moment and the distinctive forms of discipleship that it demands. In Zmirak’s view, St. Benedict himself would find the Benedict Option puzzling. As Zmirak puts it:

That mystical ex-hermit never tried to organize laymen, but monks—men who could live and work together only because they took vows of celibacy, poverty, and obedience. Benedict drafted his famous Rule to teach monks how better to obey these particular, difficult vows. Married people make very different promises. They don’t obey an abbot but are subject to each other. They’re called to be fertile, not celibate; thrifty and prudent, not poor. The proper virtues of responsible Christian parents are almost the diametrical opposite of monastic communalism.[23]

As an alternative to St. Benedict, Zmirak sets forth the writings and witness of St. Jose Maria Escriva, founder of Opus Dei, who “taught ordinary laypersons to live out their faith in the world, taking care of their primary responsibilities first: being good spouses, good parents, good employees or employers.”[24] At a practical level, the vision of Escriva more directly maps onto the specific concerns of the lay, married vocation.

On the one hand, I agree with much of what Zmirak has to say. His latter point closely resembles what I argued above about imposing monastic forms of life onto the married state, and Catholics would be mistaken to abandon the public square. On the other hand, I am not convinced that Dreher is calling for the kind of withdrawal that Zmirak accuses him of advocating. Remember, Dreher looks back to the writings of Alasdair MacIntyre, who has argued that “what matters at this stage [of history] is the construction of local forms of community within which civility and the intellectual and moral life can be sustained through the new dark ages which are already upon us.”[25] Dreher interprets MacIntyre to mean that “the only way to stand firm against the ‘barbarians’— people who live by feeling, driven by the passions, not right reason, and with no sense of restraint or obligation beyond satisfying their momentary demands — of our dominant culture is to form stronger, thicker communities based on a commitment to virtue.”[26] In my view, this hardly sounds like an apolitical or sectarian mode of withdrawal. Rather, it more closely resembles Timothy O’Malley’s call for a “retreat into Catholic particularity.”[27] From Dreher’s perspective, we have to be careful about trying to fight the world on the world’s terms. Beyond the overt hostility of aggressive secularists, the dominant culture has more subtle ways—i.e., hyper-individualism, consumerism, hedonism, etc.,—of corroding the habits that are integral to discipleship.

One way of meeting Zmirak and Dreher somewhere in the middle would be to reframe the conversation according to Pope Benedict XVI’s vision of the faithful as a “creative minority.” This phrase is taken from a 2006 essay entitled “Europe and Its Discontents,” in which Benedict perceptively diagnoses the cultural malaise that presently plagues European civilization. He observes, first of all, that “Europe is infected by a strange lack of desire for the future. Children, our future, are perceived as a threat to the present, as though they were taking something away from our lives.”[28] This demographic collapse, he goes on to say, is rooted in a more fundamental, spiritual crisis:

The essential problem of our times, for Europe and for the world, is that although the fallacy of the Communist economy has been recognized, its moral and religious fallacy has not been addressed. The unresolved issue of Marxism lives on: the crumbling of man’s original uncertainties about God, himself, and the universe. The decline of a moral conscience grounded in absolute values is still our problem, and left untreated, it can lead to the self-destruction of the European conscience, which we must begin to consider as a real danger.[29]

Faced with such a dire social and cultural situation, the only hope for Europe is to reclaim facets of its historic identity essential for a flourishing social order (i.e., unwavering respect for human rights/dignity, family life rooted in monogamous marriage, and religion). The unique vocation for Catholics to play in the renewal of European culture will not be to seize the reins of power, but to live as a creative minority in service to all of humankind. In Benedict’s words:
We do not know what the future of Europe will be. Here we must agree with [Arnold] Toynbee, that the fate of a society always depends on its creative minorities. Christian believers should look upon themselves as just such a creative minority, helping Europe [and the United States?] to reclaim what is best in its heritage and thereby to place itself at the service of all humankind.[30]

This image of Christians as a creative minority represents a promising device for mining the best aspects of the various Benedict options. With Wilson-Hartgrove and Dreher, Benedict fully recognizes that we are living through a transitional stage in Western history, one that will require Christians to rethink their relationship to the broader culture. In the face of these changes, Benedict—like the other figures we have discussed—calls for a kind of strategic withdrawal. By using the language of “creative minority,” Benedict at the very least signals that, in the years to come, Christians are likely to find themselves on the peripheries of the social order. Considering this fact, Christians can either lament their loss of power, or they can utilize the opportunity to reimagine creative forms of faithfulness in a changed cultural situation.

Benedict’s proposal bears some resemblance to what Wilson-Hartgrove is calling for, but the former offers a more promising path for Catholics, because it does not confuse the married and monastic vocations. Deriving as it did from the writings of a pope, the creative minority approach flows directly out of the Catholic tradition, providing it with a certain coherency that other proposals lack. For example, when considering what “humble submission to Christ’s body” looks like, there is no confusion about which body is in view. This direct relationship to the Catholic Church also increases the likelihood that the movement will persist across generations. Since the gates of hell will not prevail against it, the Church offers a firm foundation for intergenerational continuity. It is not without reason that Protestant communities have been unable to foster the rich monastic heritage that we witness within Roman Catholicism.

Conclusion: A Retreat Into Particularity, for the Life of the World

The creative minority approach also offers a fruitful way for reading and applying Dreher’s Benedict Option. If John Zmirak is right that Dreher’s Benedict Option means that Catholics should abandon their public witness to important truths about marriage and the dignity of every human life, then of course we should not heed Dreher’s charge. But, as I read Dreher, that does not seem to be what he has in mind. In fact, in a blog post written in response to some of his critics, Dreher quoted Ratzinger directly to explain why “meaningful withdrawal” might prove necessary: “In reality, morality is always embedded in a wider religious context in which it ‘breathes’ and finds its proper environment. Outside this environment, morality cannot breathe; it weakens and then dies.”[31] One weakness with recent attempts to resist militant secularism, Dreher suggests, is that we have been attempting to fight anti-Christian ways of life on their own terms. In a certain sense, we have fallen for the Gnostic temptation of thinking that we could somehow out-narrate secularism while remaining securely embedded in the individualistic, hedonistic, and consumerist soil from which it has arisen. The challenge that lies before us is not primarily an intellectual one (though our response cannot be anti-intellectual); rather, it has to do mostly with cultivating renewed forms of discipleship. In Dreher’s words, “We need not Christianity as the affirmation of certain theological principles, but as those principles deeply imbedded in communal practices.”[32]

To borrow from another Catholic theologian, already mentioned, we need to consider what Timothy O’Malley calls a retreat toward engagement. As a model for this kind of strategic retreat, O’Malley points to the historic legacy of Catholic educational institutions here in the United States. Many of these schools were founded as a safe havens within an inhospitable culture, but precisely through this retreat from public life they came to serve the common good. Given recent trends which indicate that “the public sphere is becoming increasingly unfriendly toward a Catholic worldview,” O’Malley wonders if the time has come again “to retreat into Catholic particularity for the sake of deeper engagement with the world.”[33] As he points out—and, in my mind, this is the crucial point—“a retreat of Catholics away from public institutions and the cultural norms that such institutions presume is not a choice between withdrawal or engagement.” Rather, the telos of such a retreat must be to foster Catholic particularity, so that the body of Christ “might be better prepared to offer the fruits of her life for the world.”[34] The Benedict Option, in this light, will involve sailing between the Scylla of resurrecting Christendom through whatever means possible and the Charybdis of retreating into an idealized ghetto in which we can huddle together and wait for the return of Christ, free from any contact with the impurities of a wicked world.

Being Benedictine in this sense will mean developing creative ways of critically engaging the world without giving up the core convictions of the Catholic faith. For married couples it will not mean envisioning themselves to be monastics when they have been called to a different vocation. For all of us, it must mean continued public witness to the truths about marriage, about the dignity of each human life from the moment of conception until natural death, about welcoming the stranger, and so on. Admittedly, neither of these visions—whether of a creative minority or a retreat into particularity—spells out in detail what our next step should be. These are difficult times indeed, and Christians are still finding our sea legs in the face of storms that we did not fully anticipate. Thankfully, as Saint Mother Teresa was fond of pointing out, God has called us not to be successful, but to be faithful. Our hope, therefore, rests ultimately in the promise that our Lord will vindicate those who remain faithful to his Word, regardless of whatever status they attain in the eyes of the world.

Featured Image: Le Mont Saint-Michel au moment de la marée haute de la « marée du siècle » de l'équinoxe de mars 2015, Author: Édouard Hue; Source: Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 4.0.

[1] Alasdair MacIntyre, After Virtue, 2d ed. (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1984), 263.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Rod Dreher, “Critics of the Benedict Option,” The American Conservative (July 8, 2015), par. 2, accessed April 15, 2017, http://www.theamericanconservative.com/dreher/critics-of-the-benedict-option/.

[4] As Gerald Schlabach observes, “Interestingly, MacIntyrian localism has not aligned neatly with standard left/right polarities.” See Schlabach, “The Virtue of Staying Put: What the ‘Benedict Option’ Forgets About Benedictines,” Commonweal 143, no. 16 (October 7, 2016): 11.

[5] Rod Dreher, “Orthodox Christians Must Now Learn to Live as Exiles in Our Own Country,” Time Magazine, June 26, 2015, accessed April 15, 2017, http://time.com/3938050/orthodox-christians-must-now-learn-to-live-as-exiles-in-our-own-country/.

[6] Ibid., par. 8.

[7] Ibid., par. 2

[8] Ibid., par. 8.

[9] Dreher, “Critics of the Benedict Option,” par. 4.

[10] For a detailed rundown of exemplary Benedict-option communities, see Rod Dreher, The Benedict Option: A Strategy for Christians in a Post-Christian Nation (New York: Sentinel, 2017), 122ff.

[11] Dreher, “Critics of the Benedict Option,” par. 11.

[12] Ibid., par. 14.

[13] Timothy O’Malley, “An Argument: Retreat Toward Engagement,” Our Sunday Visitor (August 5, 2015), par. 4, accessed April 15, 2017, https://www.osv.com/OSVNewsweekly/Story/TabId/2672/ArtMID/13567/ArticleID/ 17987/An-argument-Retreat-toward-engagement.aspx.

[14] Rutba House (Organization), eds. School(s) for Conversion: 12 Marks of a New Monasticism. Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2005.

[15] Robin Russel, “Intentional Community: New Monasticism Encourages Disciplined Life,” The United Methodist Reporter (September 9, 2011), par. 8. Quoted in Greg Peters, Reforming the Monastery: Protestant Theologies of the Religious Life (Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2014), 15.

[16] Greg Boyle, Tattoos on the Heart: The Power of Boundless Compassion (New York, NY: Free Press, 2011).

[17] For those who want to tap the wellspring of monastic gifts but have been called to a different vocation, the possibility always exists of becoming a third order, or oblate, attached to a specific religious institute.

[18] James K. A. Smith, “The New Alarmism: How Some Christians are Stoking Fear Rather than Hope,” Washington Post, March 10, 2017, par. 10, accessed April 15, 2017, https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/acts-of-faith/wp/2017/ 03/10/the-new-alarmism-how-some-christians-are-stoking-fear-rather-than-hope/ ?utm_term=.806116031fb3. For a similar, though less strident, critique, see R. R. Reno, “Benedict Option,” First Things no. 273 (May 2017): 63-65.

[19] John Zmirak, “The Benedict Option Isn’t One,” Intercollegiate Review (Summer 2015), par. 2, accessed April 15, 2017, https://home.isi.org/benedict-option-isnt-one.

[20] Ibid., par. 3.

[21] Ibid.

[22] John Zmirak, “The Benedict Option, or Benedict Arnold Option?,” The Stream (June 30, 2015), par. 2, accessed April 15, 2017, https://stream.org/benedict-arnold-option/.

[23] Zmirak, “The Benedict Option Isn’t One,” par. 6.

[24] Ibid., par. 9.

[25] MacIntyre, After Virtue, 263.

[26] Dreher, “Critics of the Benedict Option,” par. 4.

[27] Timothy O’Malley, ““An Argument: Retreat Toward Engagement,” par. 4.

[28] Pope Benedict XI, “Europe and Its Discontents,” First Things (January 2006): 19.

[29] Ibid., 20.

[30] Ibid., 22.

[31] Dreher, “Critics of the Benedict Option,” par. 11.

[32] Ibid., par. 14.

[33] Timothy O’Malley, “An Argument: Retreat Toward Engagement,” par. 1 and 5.

[34] Ibid., par. 4.


Ryan Marr

Ryan Marr is the Director of the National Institute for Newman Studies. He has published articles in the journals Logos and Antiphon, and also contributed book chapters to Newman and Life in the Spirit: Theological Reflections on Spirituality for Today and Learning from All the Faithful: A Contemporary Theology of the Sensus Fidei.  

Read more by Ryan Marr