This post is on the book The Benedict Option by Rod Dreher! I have been interested in reading this book for a while and I finally grabbed it from the library a few weeks ago.
My first impression when I picked up this book from the library was: “Oooo pretty cover!” Then I started reading and I got worried. In the introduction Dreher lays out the super depressing history of how materialism and selfishness have swept the West. Now don’t get me wrong, I think it is important for people to tell the truth in their work and if Dreher had skipped this part, or made light of it, the gravity of the topics discussed would be lost. But where is the hope yo?
Despite the introduction I read on because I was curious about how he would propose solving the problems addressed.
For some reason I also thought that the book was going to be about Pope Benedict XVI’s spirituality…it wasn’t. Another reason for disappointment, but my fault for not reading the synopsis first! 🙂
And lastly it seemed like it was going to be a lot more intellectual than I was anticipating. However, if I had known what the book was actually about going in, I don’t think this would have been a problem.
What’s The Big Deal?
I’ve heard this book being talked about sooo much recently. I wanted to read it for two reasons:
First, because I love Pope Benedict and so I of course wanted to read about his spirituality! Even though it didn’t end up being about this, it’s still one of the reasons that I wanted to read The Benedict Option.
Second, I wanted to know what all the hype was about! I was curious about what it was with this book that was causing such a stir.
So what is the big deal? Well Dreher presents to his reader a radical way of living. He says that those of us who are serious about God and our faith have to make some changes, not just in our prayer life, or in the way we interact with others, but in the way that we interact with the world.
The solution that he advocates for are “Benedict Option” communities, which are groups of Christians living close together and creating the sort of community that you’d think of from The Andy Griffith Show; tight-knit, willing to help each other out, attending the same parish, and all sending their children to a school with a classical curriculum. He stresses the importance of living in reality as our world is
slowly rapidly being taken over by virtual reality and the ideology that we should bend nature to serve our human desires.
The book was seriously depressing.
“Nobody but the most deluded of the old-school Religious Right believes that this cultural revolution can be turned back. The wave cannot be stopped, only ridden.”
I was hoping for a great wrap up at the end where Dreher tells us it’s all going to be okay. But that’s not what happened. I don’t think it’s possible to solve the worlds problems in three easy steps, but doom and gloom isn’t the end. I don’t think it’s truthful of Dreher as a Christian to only present the Crucifixion without showing us hope for the Resurrection. I wish a theme of hope was stronger throughout the book, because even though our situation as Christians seems hopeless we cannot give way to despair!
It also seems like these Benedict Option communities that he is promoting could be very isolating to the Christians who choose to be part of them. We do need to focus on renewing our faith and relationship with God, but we cannot forget Christ’s command to “make disciples of all nations”. We aren’t meant to be comfortable living in a “Catholic/Christian bubble”, interacting only with people who have the same world view as us. Those relationships are important but Christ has challenged us with a greater calling.
“We cannot give the world what we do not have.”
I love that this book is a call to reclaim our identities as Christians. Dreher shares good points about how we can be doing better as Christians, and shares ways that he feels will be instrumental in preparing future generations of strong Christians.
He discusses St. Benedict’s monastic Rule as the key. I really enjoyed the chapter where he described the different aspects of the Rule. Each part (Order, Prayer, Work, Asceticism (Fasting), Stability, Community, Hospitality and Balance) draws the Benedictines into a deeper relationship with God and with their brother and sister Benedictines. Dreher deduces that if we lay people also adopted these rules into our own lives we can make our selves stronger into stronger Christians.
I don’t know about you, but I really enjoy concrete steps to take as apposed to more fluid advice. Knowing in concrete terms what someone is recommending is so much more helpful than being told to “love God more” or “be less selfish”. Both are good things to do, but having specific ways to grow in virtue is so much easier than trying to come up with steps on your own.
Would I Recommend It?
No, I definitely thought that the concept was interesting and I am glad that I read it, but it did stir up some anxieties in me that I thought I had put to bed.
If you’re anxious about the state of the world and the downward slope that we seem to be on then I would not recommend it to you. You already know that everything is not hunky-dory and to read something that you know will make you anxious sounds pretty silly to me.
Have you read The Benedict Option yet? What did you think of it?
If you have any book recommendations, I am always looking for the next book to read so send them my way!