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Top Ten Quotes from Rod Dreher’s The Benedict Option

March 14, 2017 by

The Benedict Option book cover

The Benedict Option. Surely you’ve heard the term being tossed about recently; it’s been on many of our radars for well over a year now, and Rod Dreher’s book on the topic is one of the most anticipated religious-cultural releases of 2017.

As a Christian intentional community, we at the Bruderhof already live out much of what Dreher is calling Christians to do today, but we’re still debating some of it, for instance how to balance societal withdrawal with cultural engagement. We want to be relevant while remaining uncorrupted. That’s a topic for another blog post, but simply put, Dreher’s book is important because it surfaces issues that all believers today must consider. If they don’t, they’ll end up looking like an ostrich with his head in the sand.

There have already been countless in-depth reviews of The Benedict Option. Some are thoughtful, some are hatchet jobs, but almost every one has received an in-depth rebuttal or commentary from Dreher himself – all of which makes for excellent reading and discussion fodder. So rather than jump into the fray with a standard book review, we’ve just picked out the best parts: the themes that jumped out at us; the ideas that made us argue or nitpick; the passages that made us silently nod in agreement. Of course, after reading this, go buy the book and get beyond these “Cliffs Notes” – your assumptions and presumptions will be challenged, and you won’t regret it.

—Red Zimmerman

1. A crisis equals opportunity. . .

The reality of our situation is indeed alarming, but we do not have the luxury of doom-and-gloom hysteria. There is a hidden blessing in this crisis, if we will open our eyes to it. Just as God used chastisement in the Old Testament to call His people back to Himself, so He may be delivering a like judgment onto a church and a people grown cold from selfishness, hedonism, and materialism. The coming storm may be the means through which God delivers us.

From Ch 1: The Great Flood

2. . . . but pray that it’s not too late

The long journey from a medieval world wracked with suffering but pregnant with meaning has delivered us to a place of once unimaginable comfort but emptied of significance and connection. The West has lost the golden thread that binds us to God, Creation, and each other. Unless we find it again, there is no hope of halting our dissolution. Indeed, it is unlikely that the West will see this lifeline for a very long time. It is not looking for it and may no longer have the capability of seeing it. We have been loosed, but we do not know how to bind.

From Ch 2: The Roots of the Crisis

3. Don’t only tear down; build something new

Though the monks here have rejected the world, “there’s not just a no; there’s a yes too,” Father Cassian says. “It’s both that we reject what is not life-giving, and that we build something new. And we spend a lot of time in the rebuilding, and people see that too, which is why people flock to the monastery. We have so much involvement with guests and pilgrims that it’s exhausting. But that is what we do. We are rebuilding. That’s the yes that people have to hear about.”

Father Benedict believes Christians should be as open to the world as they can be without compromise. “I think too many Christians have decided that the world is bad and should be avoided as much as possible. Well, it’s hard to convert people if that’s your stance,” he said. “It’s a lot easier to help people to see their own goodness and then bring them in than to point out how bad they are and bring them in.”

“The best defense is offense. You defend by attacking,” Brother Ignatius said. “Let’s attack by expanding God’s kingdom – first in our hearts, then in our own families, and then in the world. Yes, you have to have borders, but our duty is not to let the borders stay there. We have to push outward, infinitely.”

From Ch 3: A Rule for Living

4. Power can be made perfect in weakness

We faithful Orthodox Christians didn’t ask for internal exile from a country we thought was our own, but that’s where we find ourselves. We are a minority now, so let’s be a creative one, offering warm, living, light-filled alternatives to a world growing cold, dead, and dark. We will be increasingly without influence, but let’s be guided by monastic wisdom and welcome this humbly as an opportunity sent by God for our purification and sanctification. Losing political power might just be the thing that saves the church’s soul. Ceasing to believe that the fact of the American Empire is in our hands frees us to put them to work for the Kingdom of God in our own little shires.

From Ch 4: A New Kind of Christian Politics

5. Beauty is more convincing and converting than intellect

The first Christians gained converts not because their arguments were better than those of the pagans but because people saw in them and their communities something good and beautiful – and they wanted it. This led them to the Truth.

From Ch 5: A Church For All Seasons

members of the Bruderhof community enjoying a summer day outdoors together

6. We’ll need each other more than ever

Relearning the lost art of community is something Christians should do in obedience to the Apostle Paul, who counseled the faithful to do their parts to grow the Body of Christ “for the building up of itself in love” (Ephesians 4:15). But there are also practical reasons for doing so. Building communities of believers will be necessary as the number of Christians becomes thinner on the ground.

From Ch 6: The Idea of a Christian Village

7. Rediscover discipline and temperance – in all things

Why should Christians pay attention to teachings on sexuality of monastics, who live in chastity? Don’t they hate sex?

Of course they don’t, any more than they hate good food because they often fast, hate words because they live in great silence, hate families because they don’t marry, or hate material things because they live simply. We should listen to the monks on sexuality for the same reason we should listen to them on wealth and poverty: because their asceticism is a testimony to the goodness of those divine gifts.

From Ch 9: Eros and the New Christian Counterculture

8. Don’t succumb to the lure of new technologies. . .

Benedict Option families and communities who remain apathetic toward technology inadvertently undermine nearly everything they are trying to achieve. Technology itself is a kind of liturgy that teaches us to frame our experiences in the world in certain ways and that, if we aren’t careful, profoundly distorts our relationship to God, to other people, and to the material world – and even our self-understanding.

When we abstain from practices that disorder our loves, and in that time of fasting redouble our contemplation of God and the good things of Creation, we re-center our minds on the inner stability we need to create a coherent, meaningful self. The Internet is a scattering phenomenon, one that encourages surrender to passionate impulses. If we fail to push back against the Internet as hard as it pushes against us, we cannot help but lose our footing. And if we lose our footing, we ultimately lose the straight path through life.

From Ch 10: Man and the Machine

9. . . . rather, rediscover old ones

We can also do more things with our hands. Put that way, it sounds almost childish, but there’s a serious point here. Technology enables us to treat interaction with the material world – people, places, things – as an abstraction. Getting our hands dirty, so to speak, with gardening, cooking, sewing, exercise, and the like, is a crucial way of restoring our sense of connection with the real world. So is doing things face to face with other people.

From Ch 10: Man and the Machine

10. The Benedict Option can provide a roadmap forward to a new humanity

The Benedict Option is not a technique for reversing the losses, political and otherwise, that Christians have suffered. It is not a strategy for turning back the clock to an imagined golden age. Still less is it a plan for constructing communities of the pure, cut off from the real world.

To the contrary, the Benedict Option is a call to undertaking the long and patient work of reclaiming the real world from the artifice, alienation, and atomization of modern life. It is a way of seeing the world and of living in the world that undermines modernity’s big lie: that humans are nothing more than ghosts in a machine, and we are free to adjust its settings in any way we like.

“It is easy for me to imagine what the next great division of the world will be between people who wish to live as creatures and people who wish to live as machines,” writes Wendell Berry. Let’s take our stand on the side of creatures, and the Creator.

From Ch 10: Man and the Machine


About the author

Andrew Zimmerman, Austria

Andrew Zimmerman

Andrew Zimmerman and his family live at the Gutshof Bruderhof, recently founded in Austria.

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