This is a wonderful piece on the Benedict Option, and states clearly why we who are church — the assembly of people called to follow Jesus — should detach ourselves from the world, and what’s at stake:
Ours is not a rejection of contact with the modern world, but rather a refusal to believe any longer in the promises of modernity.
Absolutely. It is the promises of progress, technology, mastery over nature, of plenty, of wealth, and even of of equality, freedom, and democracy that we as church should question. As both means and ends. (This is me speaking now, and not the author, who may have other ideas.) I suspect, though, the author might be at least sympathetic to my list, given this:
The American Way of Life is—in every real sense of the word—a religion all its own. We are its willing disciples, our altar is the Free Market System, and we worship the trinity of consumerism, nationalism and democratization. A False God to be sure, but nevertheless one with its own unique rituals and sacraments. The American Dream is but a replacement religion, not a complimentary “lifestyle.” If one is contemplating the Benedict Option, I think the idea of being a “good American,” as that term is commonly understood, will have to be jettisoned. In fact, one may well have to be a decidedly bad American.
While the author is not convinced American Evangelicals are far too invested in the holiness of America to take this up — “When Baptist churches start removing their American flags from their podiums, then I will start taking notice.” — the historic churches themselves, particularly catholic and orthodox, don’t get a pass, as they have been very wrapped up in accepting the meaning of America as a vision for what it means to be church.
As to what the Benedict Option would look like, the author essentially says it is more of a very than a noun — webs of relationships, rootedness, thinking generationally, even the possibility of arranged marriages (with cousins?!?!). All of this to create “places of genuine, welcoming hospitality” where the church could be the church (and not worry about power or influence), “little more than traditional Christians acting and living as if they really believed it.”
Again, I’m all for this.I’ve said this for some time, and this has been my vision for years now, an alternative community and polity where we preach and live the gospel together and cultivate grace, mercy, and hospitality. I believe in this and want to do it for two reasons. First, the world won’t do it, even when it claims to. And the world is fantastic about claiming to be at least hospitable. It’s a false hospitality, one that is ideologically guided, and dependent on identity (of the guest and of the host).
But second, the church, having grown accustomed to power, privilege, and position, doesn’t know anymore how to do these things either. The church, like the rest of our modernity, wants systems and institutions of change, and care, and that may have been an appropriate (but still unfaithful) response to the times. But it is not a proper response now. It was never really enough for the church to want to create a world in which the poor, the orphan, and the widow, were caed for but in which no Christians actually had to do the caring (and writings going back all the way to the late medieval period show that some Christian thinkers longed for this kind of Christian commonwealth).
The kinds of mercy and compassion, the kinds of welcome and hospitality, Jesus demands of us requires a heart, hands, and a head. A human being, acting out of love, and not a social worker or a bureaucrat.