Benedict Option (Rod Dreher)

BayouHuguenot

Puritanboard Amanuensis
Dreher, Rod. Benedict Option.

I see myself as a friendly critic of Rod Dreher. I think he consistently makes good points, but I also think he is really good at riding the wave of crucial opinions, even if they happen to be correct. It’s hard to review this book. Do you remember that episode of “Arrested Development” where Gob gets hired as a consultant to a rival company? He was supposed to supply good ideas for the company. Having no clue what he was doing, he got his brother Michael to give him ideas. Michael gave him around thirty ideas. Gob presented them all at once. That’s kind of how this book is. I am going to focus primarily on his views of “intentional communities” and “education.”

He begins by noting that Big Business will side with the sexual revolution over conservative morality every single time. We’ll come back to this point, as it ties in with his criticisms of the GOP. What Dreher doesn’t realize is that the types of people who have always pointed this out were populists and nationalists. They also voted for Trump.

This next part of the book approaches dangerous waters. This happens whenever someone attempts a genealogical explanation of the current ills. In other words, the problem with x today can be traced back to y’s influence over 600 years ago. Whatever good points he might make, this is almost impossible to prove. For Dreher, as for Radical Orthodoxy and Brad Gregory, the problem is nominalism. I agree that nominalism is a problem. But to trace the loss of realism as creating the Renaissance, Reformation, and all the way to the sexual revolution today is impossible to prove. So far, Dreher’s book is an updated version of Francis Schaeffer, and parts of it are quite good.

Is the Benedict Option saying we should live in intentional communities where we won’t be persecuted? Not exactly, though Dreher makes clear that he doesn’t rule it out. On one hand, he notes that you don’t have to move to the hinterlands to “Be the Benedict Option.” Local communities need skilled workers in jobs that are rewarding, if difficult, and don’t force one to violate his convictions. On the other hand, one suspects Dreher wants more than that. He rightly points out that Christians who live in communities that are close to the local church are more close-knit communities that can help one another in trouble. Very true.

I am very wary of intentional communities. It just seems like post-evangelicals are LARPing. The potential for abuse is high. By saying that I am not saying that makes intentional communities wrong. I am simply pointing out a built-in weakness. According to theory, proper church government models and civil government models have built-in checks to accountability (at least they did before the 2020 election). Intentional communities are vague on that point, though some usually subscribe to a vague, if sometimes legalistic, church covenant.

Dreher is certainly aware of that. In 2015 he wrote a fine article criticizing and calling attention to the sexual abuse scandals in Moscow, ID. He noted that he had once considered Moscow a viable example of a Benedict Option community. Moscow, ID is indeed a clear example, but for darker reasons.

All of that, regardless of the pros and cons of such a position, is meant to carry water for something else: Christian education. I think this is the most controversial, albeit interesting, part of the book. Like many conservatives, Dreher calls attention to the failing public schools, both morally and academically. Nothing new there. What about private schools? Dreher is just as hard on them. Private schools do not provide a specifically Christian education and are more often country clubs for rich people’s kids. The morals might not be as bad as public schooling, but they are getting there.

Well, what about specifically Christian education? That’s still not good enough for Dreher. He points out--with some justification--that Christian education is simply the standard subjects with “Jesus on top.” He has a point there. How do you “Christianly” teach the Pythagorean theorem? You can say you are “doing it for the glory of God,” but the formula didn’t change.

Well, what about homeschooling? He likes the idea. The problem, though, and this is a legitimate point, is that homeschooling isn’t for every student, it requires a certain level of discipline from the parent, and it requires both a two parent household and the ability to live on a single income.

Therefore, the only possible alternative left is the classical education model. There is a lot I like about the classical model, yet I don’t share the “it will save Western Civilization” mindset. Classical models begin--some, anyway--with the proper mindset to education. We shouldn’t ask of an education, “What can I do with it?” Rather, we should be aware of the inevitable question, “What will this education do to me?” Further, I like how in the humanities the classical model is better able to integrate Jesus and the Western tradition. Classical models correctly see education as transmitting virtue and wisdom.

In terms of history, writing, and literature the classical model is superb, far excelling the others. However, I have seen from personal experience, from a noted classical school, that when students get into some public and charter schools they are years behind in math. Granted, this probably depends more on student and teacher. I just see classical models as stronger on the humanities that STEM.

And that raises another issue: several key advantages of the classical model can be accomplished on one’s own. With a good library you can read the exact same classics. Bloom’s or Cambridge Companions can provide scholarly interaction with these sources. You can learn Latin on your own with youtube helps. Wheelock’s and many Catholic sources have great Latin helps. You don’t need a specific school for that.

That raises another point. As is the case with seminary professors and Hebrew, how many of the students continue to read and translate Latin? Unless they continue it, what was the point? Sure, it gives them better verbal skills on tests and an entry into the Romance languages. But even in those languages, do they continue?

I like much about the classical model. I just have my reserves. I think its strengths often can be found elsewhere.

I understand how this book is popular. Dreher is a very good writer and he put his finger on numerous key problems. I think part of my frustration with the book is that he comes across as sloganeering and doesn’t always develop and analyze his own points. For example, he correctly notes that many Christian schools (and worldview talk in general) simply do the curriculum but say “It’s Jesus’s Curriculum,” which actually does nothing to change the pedagogy. That said, he doesn’t always explain how the Benedict Option integrates math and science in a Jesus-worldview without doing the same thing.

Elsewhere, he makes many good points about the coming crisis that Christians will have to face, and how we might have to seek employment in ways that require us to work with our hands. To be honest, I like Dreher’s vision a lot more than the standard gentrification models of The Gospel Coalition. If read with a very critical eye, this book will get one thinking about possible future models of Christian existence.
 

BayouHuguenot

Puritanboard Amanuensis
Thought-provoking review, Jacob. But what is "LARPing?"

I looked it up and came up with "live action role-playing."

I still don't know what that means. I assume it has to do with computer games?

It's basically playing pretend, like what Thoreau did at Walden Pond.
 

hammondjones

Puritan Board Sophomore
Unless they continue it, what was the point?

I get that with Latin. My kids are doing a very small amount of Latin. I expect it to go unused in their actual lives.

In my mind, I liken it to learning binary representation in mathematics. You grow up and all you know is decimal, and it seems like that is all there is. But one day you start using base-2 or base-16 and you realize that number systems are much more general that you thought, and that base-10 is just one option. So, for me, part of education is going from the specific you know to the generalization. That is certainly a major theme in mathematics, anyway, which is my training.

Similarly, with regards to language, English is just one language, and doesn't have all the other features of other languages (or it did and lost them). E.g., I didn't really understand indicative/subjunctive until I started learning Spanish. So, I think Latin can be a useful foil for learning English (we do this in English, but they do it this way in Latin), but in that the choice of Latin is somewhat arbitrary.
 

VictorBravo

Administrator
Staff member
It's basically playing pretend, like what Thoreau did at Walden Pond.
Ha! I read Thoreau when I was in high school and wanted to try the same thing. I kind of did it, in a Montana farming sort of way.

When I was 20 I visited Walden Pond outside of Concord MA and realized the truth of what you say.
 

BayouHuguenot

Puritanboard Amanuensis
I like Latin. I mean, I really enjoy it. I love fun songs to memorize declensions. But in the truly classical models, the students spoke Latin to each other, so there's that. Since I mentioned it, this is one of the best videos on youtube.
 

Andrew35

Puritan Board Sophomore
I too appreciate much about the classical model, but Latin is an overrated status symbol, at the grade school level. Most people I know who came out of that system find it kind of useless, and wish they could have spent that time and energy on a modern foreign language, which would carry many of the same cognitive benefits.

IB was a good system, but they're going woke, and were always humanistic anyway. Christian schools have always been weak at math and sciences, whether classical or no.

I tend to think much of the problem with Christian schools is the "worldview thinking" that's taken over. The best Christian School I taught at, that regularly won awards as the best private school on the region, didn't say a word about worldview in their entire curriculum, to my knowledge.

I see positive elements in traditional Catholic education, classical education, the (old) IB, and east asian education models. (In China I was told, "We're not really better at math. We just have better teaching methods.)

If we could synthesize the strengths of these systems, with teachers instructing who had deep knowledge of their subject matter, we could really have something special.

But that brings up another problem... We have to be honest: most teachers were not exactly at the top of their class. In the US at least, it's become a haven for underachievers, with many of the strongest quickly moving into administration.
 

JM

Puritan Board Doctor
I listened to the audio book and enjoyed it. Dreher's new book looks good to.
 

BayouHuguenot

Puritanboard Amanuensis
Jacob, I am curious. What do you think is the best educational model?

Hybrid, probably. There is no one size fits all. We homeschooled my daughter until 3rd grade. It worked fine. It wouldn't for everybody, though. We then switched her to a generic private school for various and sundry reasons

I do like Dorothy Sayers' trivium method. I think there is something to that.

As to the supposed Hebraic method of Deut 6, that's great for some subjects and only works for small classroom environments. Current pedagogy says students learn best when hands-on engaged. Or even a socratic dialogue. That might be true, but it only works for small (very small) classrooms.
 

ZackF

Puritan Board Post-Graduate
The Benedict Option (TBO) and Live Not By Lies (LNBL) are worth reading. The second book is better. It is more refined, helpful and not so in the clouds. In LNBL, Dreher has interviewed survivors of totalitarian regimes on how they kept their cultural and religious flames burning without giving off smoke signals and getting caught. Sometimes they got caught anyway and some were killed.

I agree Jacob, education is challenging. We homeschool to give a Christian education but we understand we're blessed. We are able to live on my salary and my wife wanted to do it. She had no career ambitions once she married. We respect history and our ancestors. We are certainly influenced but not ruled by them. We have no interest in reenacting something in the past that will not prepare our children for living in this present age.

There is indeed a thin line between intentional communities and intrusive compounds. It can get ugly quickly.
 

Stephen L Smith

Moderator
Staff member

BayouHuguenot

Puritanboard Amanuensis
I can no longer recommend Dreher after this. I categorically condemn his works and anything good he said, was said better by Richard Weaver and the like. I thought that for all his goofiness, he was better on freedom and tyranny than, say, Russell Moore or James K. A. Smith. He isn't. He is no different.
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Susan777

Puritan Board Sophomore
Jacob, I’m glad you see this. Dreher has never been a conservative. His political principles have always been grounded in an old, worn liberalism. I used to read his stuff then I began to see how he would end up framing any particular argument with liberal presuppositions. I could respect him if he were a libertarian but his whiny “that’s not very nice” stuff eventually led me to drop him. I will give him this—he sure knows how to throw the red meat out to his audience. It’s a daily feast of outrage but I guess it’s what pays the bills.
 

J.L. Allen

Puritan Board Freshman
I’m reading Live Not by Lies right now and have enjoyed it so far. I didn’t know about his other views though.
 

arapahoepark

Puritan Board Post-Graduate
I can no longer recommend Dreher after this. I categorically condemn his works and anything good he said, was said better by Richard Weaver and the like. I thought that for all his goofiness, he was better on freedom and tyranny than, say, Russell Moore or James K. A. Smith. He isn't. He is no different.
View attachment 7688

Jacob, I’m glad you see this. Dreher has never been a conservative. His political principles have always been grounded in an old, worn liberalism. I used to read his stuff then I began to see how he would end up framing any particular argument with liberal presuppositions. I could respect him if he were a libertarian but his whiny “that’s not very nice” stuff eventually led me to drop him. I will give him this—he sure knows how to throw the red meat out to his audience. It’s a daily feast of outrage but I guess it’s what pays the bills.
Admittedly, I have read little of him aside from the occasional article which, if I recall, I seemed to mostly agree with. I can't remember what about though. I was planning to read his Live not By Lies until this.
Can you elaborate on his views still being tinged with liberalism (aside from the obviously bizarre tweet)?
 

JM

Puritan Board Doctor
It has been my experience that American Orthodox Christians are liberal. Dreher, to me, is like a Jordan Peterson. More popular than he really deserves but he does have a few good ideas.
 

Susan777

Puritan Board Sophomore
Admittedly, I have read little of him aside from the occasional article which, if I recall, I seemed to mostly agree with. I can't remember what about though. I was planning to read his Live not By Lies until this.
Can you elaborate on his views still being tinged with liberalism (aside from the obviously bizarre tweet)?
I read the book and it’s worth the read although it’s somewhat slow moving. It’s as if he really didn’t have quite enough material so he stretched out some of it at the end to come up with the needed word count. I can’t elaborate with specifics about his non- conservative instincts. They were just my impressions over the years I read him. Actually, he reminds me of George Bush.
 

Pilgrim

Puritanboard Commissioner
I can no longer recommend Dreher after this. I categorically condemn his works and anything good he said, was said better by Richard Weaver and the like. I thought that for all his goofiness, he was better on freedom and tyranny than, say, Russell Moore or James K. A. Smith. He isn't. He is no different.
View attachment 7688
LOL. He deleted the post. He's a whole lot better than Moore and Smith. But the thing is, who is Aitken and why should we regard him and what works he condemns and endorses? Evidently he's some guy who wishes he had been there to bust into the Capitol with the rest of the goons. (That's the context of that post. That's where those people were coming from.)
 
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Timmay

Puritan Board Freshman
I can no longer recommend Dreher after this. I categorically condemn his works and anything good he said, was said better by Richard Weaver and the like. I thought that for all his goofiness, he was better on freedom and tyranny than, say, Russell Moore or James K. A. Smith. He isn't. He is no different.
View attachment 7688

In fairness he deleted that tweet and apologized for it.


Sent from my iPhone using Tapatalk
 

BayouHuguenot

Puritanboard Amanuensis
He deleted it because he was getting negative backlash. That's not exactly contrition.

True, I am a nobody compared to Dreher. that's fine. Still, people do take my recommendations seriously, which is why I can no longer recommed Dreher.
 

J.L. Allen

Puritan Board Freshman
He deleted it because he was getting negative backlash. That's not exactly contrition.

True, I am a nobody compared to Dreher. that's fine. Still, people do take my recommendations seriously, which is why I can no longer recommed Dreher.
Thank you for working through it. I’ll finish LNBL and take what is helpful. There are several people I find to be something of a broken clock; they are right twice a day.
 

Jerusalem Blade

Puritan Board Post-Graduate
Jacob said in the OP (re TBO), "If read with a very critical eye, this book will get one thinking about possible future models of Christian existence."

And that's true. I had some trouble discerning if Rod was a regenerated person – given some of the "spiritual" things he spoke of – and should I take him as such. I did not come to a solid conclusion, which is perhaps wise when seeking to assess a fellow professing believer's state.

With respect to "possible future models of Christian existence", and the "thickening" of community – giving it spiritual robustness and depth – through catechizing its members, particularly the youths and children, so that they actually know what the church believes and cleaves to, this was sound.

So many in churches today may be members, but they are not solid in faith, knowledge, and "living it out". So I sought to understand how such a vision of Christian community could be developed in the context of some smallish (approx 100 members / attendees) local churches I knew well. I'm still pondering it.

I'm also looking into the "house church" movement, as there are some in my area. I am wary, though, of any sort of Christian community where there is no preaching by an anointed, knowledgable, seasoned servant of Christ. This sort of preaching has been the hallmark – the single most important thing – of the Reformation's contribution to the church being organized and run according to God's word.

So, I am still pondering how the church will best be "organized and run" when we are delegitimized, disenfranchised, and possibly criminalized when our cultural and political adversaries get the power to do such. When our tax exemptions are rescinded, and who we are allowed to hire as staff – including ministers – will have to conform to state codes alien to the faith, and so forth. In short, "possible future models of Christian existence". This is what we need to be thinking about, that we not be taken by surprise, and blindsided.

Mod: this thread might be better moved to the coffee shop forum, and not public.
 

BayouHuguenot

Puritanboard Amanuensis
I am weary of house church movements because it sounds too much like Doug Phillips and Rushdoony. The father acts as prophet, priest, and king. Really creepy stuff.
 
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