Rod Dreher makes a powerful argument for communal religious life in his book, The Benedict Option. But he has not wrestled with how to live side by side with people unlike him.
Donald Trump was elected president with the help of 81 percent of white evangelical voters. Mike Pence, the champion of Indiana’s controversial 2015 religious-freedom law, is his deputy. Neil Gorsuch, a judge deeply sympathetic to religious litigants, will likely be appointed to the Supreme Court. And Republicans hold both chambers of Congress and statehouses across the country. Right now, conservative Christians enjoy more influence on American politics than they have in decades.
And yet, Rod Dreher is terrified.
“Don’t be fooled,” he tells fellow Christians in his new book, The Benedict Option. “The upset presidential victory of Donald Trump has at best given us a bit more time to prepare for the inevitable.”
The last few years have confirmed an extraordinary cultural shift against conservative Christian beliefs, he argues, particularly with the rise of gay rights and legalization of same-sex marriage. “Christians who hold to the biblical teaching about sex and marriage have the same status in culture, and increasingly in law, as racists,” he writes. Their future will become increasingly grim, he predicts, with lost jobs, bullying at school, and name-calling in the streets.
This, Dreher says, is the “inevitable” fate for which Christians must prepare.
There was a time when Christian thinkers like Dreher, who writes for The American Conservative, might have prepared to fight for cultural and political control. Dreher, however, sees this as futile. “Could it be that the best way to fight the flood is to … stop fighting the flood?” he asks. “Rather than wasting energy and resources fighting unwinnable political battles, we should instead work on building communities, institutions, and networks of resistance that can outwit, outlast, and eventually overcome the occupation.” This strategic withdrawal from public life is what he calls the Benedict option.
Dreher’s proposal is as remarkable as his fear. It is a radical rejection of the ties between Christianity and typical forms of power, from Republican politics to market-driven wealth. Instead, Dreher says, Christians should embrace pluralism, choosing to fortify their own communities and faith as one sub-culture among many in the United States.
Dreher is not suggesting everyday Christians live in poverty and seclusion. “We’re not called to be monks. Monks are called to be monks,” he told me in an interview. “What we have to do is have a limited retreat from the world … into our own institutions and communities.” While some might see this as a means of running away from culture, Dreher argued that the Benedict option is not about bunkering down and waiting for the end times. It’s about “building ourselves up spiritually,” he said, “so we can go out in the world and be who Christ asked us to be.”
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