The Benedict Society, a pragmatic, local application of Rod Dreher’s Benedict Option

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Rod Dreher, an Orthodox Christian and senior editor at The American Conservative, argues the increasing secularization of American culture and the increasing pressure on Christians to vacate the public square requires not a full-scale mobilization of God’s soldiers to the front lines of the culture war but a limited, “strategic withdrawal” to intellectually and theologically fortified communities. Western Christianity, he feels, is in a weakened state, and this decrepitude necessitates Christians step back from combative engagement with its political opponents and instead focus on shoring up within tight-knit communities our theology, our intellect, and our discipleship under Christ.

As of yet, Dreher has offered no systematic—let alone practical—approach to implementing this so-called “Benedict Option” in our local communities. I don’t know if this will appear in his forthcoming book, or if he’s still working out the practical aspects, or even if devising an on-the-ground implementation was ever his goal in the first place. In this third case, it falls to leaders at the local level to devise and implement a strategy for developing BO-styled communities.

As we wait for Dreher’s BO to ripen—yes, I am laughing—in the interim I have a vision I feel worth sharing for consideration by my betters. I call it the Benedict Society.

The Benedict Society is a local level, non-denominational parachurch organization with the following goals:

  1. Glorify God by uniting all Christians of orthodox faith (i.e., passing the Vincentian canon test) as a visible, loving community where partisan politics and denominational squabbles have no place.

  2. Glorify God by providing free training in foundational church doctrine, church history, apologetics, logic, philosophy and metaphysics, and love of the arts to persons of all ages and backgrounds. The latter three subjects are absolutely vital for a robust mind and a lifelong appreciation for God’s splendor but are largely deficient in nearly all forms of modern education, whether public, private, or homeschool, whether secular or Christian.

  3. Glorify God by safeguarding this knowledge for future generations by the accumulation of relevant books, databases, and other media.

  4. Glorify God by cultivating faithful, wise, winsome, Spirit-driven disciples driven to seek the presence of God and share the Gospel at the immediate level, bringing the message to friends, neighbors, family members, employers and employees, and even enemies.

  5. Glorify God by the virtue of charity (agape), a divine love that overfills the disciple’s heart and drives them to love and serve their neighbor even to great personal cost, as Christ did for us. Neither the Hollywood-tainted “love” nor the politicized “charity” are quite sufficient for this ordinance, but charity, considered as Christian love in action, is the more appropriate choice.

  6. Glorify God by partnering with local churches and parachurch organizations for the advancement of the above goals.

The Benedict Society is no church; it's much more like a school. It is therefore no replacement for church attendance, and the Society will encourage and help students find a home church should they lack one. Furthermore, it is not an island apart. Benedict Societies would maintain a communications network to share experience and resources with other chapters, as well as help students/members transition between communities as they relocate.

The Society will provide free education in the areas above to youth and adults as a sort of “dietary supplement” to today’s rather unimpressive education. Regardless of vocation or credentialed education, critical reasoning, historical conscientiousness, and familiarity with core doctrine are excellent skills that enable the Christian to stand firm amidst cultural sea changes, and they are skills unlikely developed in the typical American’s upbringing. When our disciples are properly equipped in both terms of the faith and the intellect, we have nothing to fear when we send them out into the world.

The Society will operate at minimal cost and be run entirely by volunteers. The monetization of every facet of human existence is a peril to the spiritual life; the monetization of the spiritual life is suicide of the soul.

The Society’s curriculum will be broad but not exhaustive. It will certainly not replace a PhD in philosophy, or even a Bachelor’s. It will, however, familiarize students with sound reasoning and basic metaphysics, enabling them to pursue their own life of the mind to the glory of God. Plato, Aristotle, Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, C.S. Lewis, Francis Schaeffer, Alvin Plantinga, etc etc, are examples of some potential sources.The goal is to equip students with the mindset required to (with humility and kindness) raise pertinent questions and challenge the assertions of the world, rather than fall back on insults or sophistry as so happens in the blogosphere and cable news channels.

Dante wrote that art is the grandchild of God, and, in keeping with that idea, appreciation of art is also a goal of the Benedict Society. Volunteers familiar with poetry, literature, music, sculpture, painting, etc, will endeavor to demonstrate the beauty and value of their favorite arts, and how art enables communication between persons across culture and how art explores the reality of God’s creation.

Overall, the Benedict Society’s main goal is to equip preserve a robust community of believers capable of intelligently and faithfully living and sharing the Christian faith. As a network of local non-denominational parachurch chapters, it does not encroach upon ecclesial authority; instead, it fosters communication and cooperation across denominational lines and fills in gaps in education that come between typical secondary American education and typical church Bible study. If I may: the Benedict Society is as 30 Rock’s Jack Donaghy describes his famed trivection oven, “the third heat.”

Soli Deo gloria.