Thursday, October 2, 2014

•Options for the Coming Age: Benedict, Jeremiah, Both, or Neither?



There’s been a rich conversation recently that I wanted to draw your attention to because of its pertinence to Slow Church.

In the face of fragmenting modern culture, Rod Dreher wrote a compelling piece almost a year ago on “The Benedict Option”:
Should [Christians] take what might be called the “Benedict Option”: communal withdrawal from the mainstream, for the sake of sheltering one’s faith and family from corrosive modernity and cultivating a more traditional way of life?
More recently Samuel Goldman has offered a different option, that of the biblical prophet Jeremiah, which I take to be based more on Jeremiah’s advice to Ancient Israel in exile than on Jeremiah’s experience as a prophet:
Thus saith the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, unto all that are carried away captives, whom I have caused to be carried away from Jerusalem unto Babylon; build ye houses, and dwell in them; and plant gardens, and eat the fruit of them; take ye wives, and beget sons and daughters; and take wives for your sons, and give your daughters to husbands, that they may bear sons and daughters; that ye may be increased there, and not diminished. And seek the peace of the city whither I have caused you to be carried away captives, and pray unto the Lord for it: for in the peace thereof shall ye have peace. (Jeremiah 29:4-7)
Dreher responded the next day with a comparison of the two options, which he summarized:
It is becoming clear that in our time, if you are not consciously and vigorously countercultural in your Judaism, modernity is going to flatten you — not by persecution, but by inculcating lassitude and indifference. Same deal with Christianity. As Flannery O’Connor said: 
“Push back against the age as hard as it pushes against you. What people don’t realize is how much religion costs. They think faith is a big electric blanket, when of course it is the cross.”

“The cross,” meaning more broadly (and ecumenically), real sacrifice.
This is why I think the Benedict Option is a more reasonable response to the conditions under which traditional Jews and Christians live today than Goldman’s Jeremiah Option, even though the two share a lot in common. Both address general strategies through which moral and religious traditionalists try to live in a broader culture that is more or less hostile to their beliefs and commitments. Both have the same goal: maintaining the integrity of the tradition and the vitality of the community in a condition of exile. The relatively open, relaxed Jeremiah Option makes more sense if the community has a fairly robust identity and internal cohesiveness that is not seriously threatened by the outside. The more defensive and rigid Benedict Option makes more sense if the community faces a more serious threat to its identity and internal cohesiveness.
All three of these reflections are worth our careful reading and reflection. (Please do follow the above links and read the full articles).

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