All posts tagged: Benedict Option

Desanitizing Christianity After St. Benedict and After Virtue

It has been a year or so since Rod Dreher published the much debated book The Benedict Option.[1] St. Benedict Reconsidered Since first hearing the term “Benedict Option” bandied about on social media, I had the impression it was based upon a reading of MacIntyre’s concluding salvo in After Virtue. Whether that reading is fruitful or pernicious I leave to the judgment of others and to that of history—though I suspect, as with most things, it is neither simply the one nor the other. It has been noted recently[2], that we can read MacIntyre’s concluding observation as either a prophecy destined to go unfulfilled or an exhortation to be heeded. In the first case, he is not unlike Cassandra of ancient Troy—given the gift of prophetic sight only to be condemned to a see and speak in a world incapable of hearing and believing.[3] If we read it in the second sense, it is closer to a call to arms, a call that has been met over the past year by proposals from figures like …

Fund-Raising Is Always a Call to Conversion

If every Catholic in the U.S. gave generously, proportional to their means, the Church—and dare one say, the world—would be transformed overnight. The impact this kind of giving would have on the work of the New Evangelization is, without hyperbole, incalculable. The Situation in the Pews As it stands now, charitable giving by U.S. Catholics is not in a good state compared to other Christian ecclesial communities, as well as other religions. According to a report by Notre Dame’s Institute for Church Life, only 15% of Catholics tithe 10% or more of their income to charity, compared to 44% of Evangelicals and 75% of Mormons.[1] Looking deeper at Catholic giving in parishes, Georgetown University’s Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate reported that 34% of Catholics give approximately $1.92 or less per week. Another 33% give an average of $5.78 a week, and the final 33% give on average $9.64 or more a week. What’s more, only 17% of Catholics reported giving regularly to their annual diocesan appeal. [2] It goes without saying that apostolates …

Voucher Programs: Problems and Promises for Catholic Schools

During the recent confirmation process of current U.S. Secretary of Education Betsey DeVos, her critics decried a 2001 speech in which DeVos referred to her work in education reform as an attempt to “help advance God’s kingdom.” The New York Times cried “theocracy,” while the secretary’s Calvinist coreligionists assured us that this simply means she wants to help people.[1]  Of course, both condemnation and reduction of DeVos’s religious motivations elide the fact that both the advent of common schooling in America and the early 20th century movement for mass secondary education were animated by religious convictions. Antebellum Whig reformers sought to establish a system to inculcate pan-Protestant piety and morality.[2] Progressive Era social meliorists were informed by the Social Gospel movement, which imagined the Kingdom of God as a primarily material affair.[3] Historical precedent notwithstanding, it seems that DeVos’s statement raised alarm because of concerns with institutional mingling, or in the language of Lemon v. Kurtzman (1971), an “excessive entanglement” of government and religion.[4] Voucher programs and other state aid measures raise a similar question …

Can Catholicism’s Truth Be Known Beyond Its Walls?

Reflecting on the role of Christians in today’s American society, Bishop James Conley of Lincoln writes, “We know what it looks like when the Church forgets her holiness: Daily discipleship gives way to rote weekly churchgoing. Tough demands of the Gospel are ignored. Prayer, fasting, and penance are bypassed. Christ’s holy Church becomes indistinguishable from the world.”[1] In this brief statement, Conley summarizes what I take to be one of the central claims of Rod Dreher’s recent book, The Benedict Option. Pace those who associate him with a religious “self-separatism,”[2] the “option” proposes not a self-separatism, but a series of practices, habits, and distinctive cultural rituals that seek to provide a solution to the social fragmentation both within and outside of the boundaries of the Church, due to acedia and a rejection of the sacred.[3] Without wading into the merits of the specific arguments and narratives proposed in his important work, I will follow the lead of Nathaniel Peters, who argues that, if the Benedict Option is to succeed, it “needs to be guided by …

What Are the Options for Authentic Identity-Discernment in a Secular Age?

The present cultural moment in the United States is often described as a “secular age.”[1] Included in this description is the reality that today many people are on a “quest” to understand their “identity.” People have both a heightened awareness of the need to form their identity, especially their religious identity, and an increasing ability to do so. In this paper, we will argue that the quest for identity so prevalent in contemporary culture can be an opportunity for the “new evangelization.” We will develop our argument in three parts. First, we will utilize contemporary sociological research to investigate aspects of the present cultural moment in the United States that contribute to the contemporary quest for identity. Second, we will appropriate the work of 20th century Swiss theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar (1905-1988) to theologically analyze the notion of identity. Finally, if the analysis in this paper of the present cultural moment, through a socio-theological lens, is accurate, what begins to emerge are various ways in which the present age might be an opportunity for …

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 …

Entertaining Ourselves to Death

On Morning Edition, Steve Inskeep interviewed Senator Marco Rubio about last night’s Republican debate. Like many political interviews, it included grandstanding in which Senator Rubio offered talking points rather than answering questions. But, the substance of the interview was never really about Rubio: it was about Trump. It was about Rubio’s insulting of Trump. It was about Rubio’s pledge to vote for the Republican nominee, even if that was Trump. It was about Trump’s vulgarity. Rubio was trumped by Trump. The present political climate in the United States reminds me of David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest. The American people in the person of Donald Trump have found “The Entertainment” that we cannot pull our eyes away from. Our news organizations are participating in this act of entertainment, since after all, this is what we demand. Everything comes back to Donald, whose campaign is infinitely entertaining. We are entertaining ourselves to death. One wonders if there is any way out of this present political malaise. A way to rip ourselves away from “The Entertainment” of a campaign …