Rod’s forthcoming book, The Benedict Option, is beginning to attract some considerable press attention. The Wall Street Journal has recently featured the book as part of a profile of the Clear Creek Catholics in rural Oklahoma. (I visited them last summer to attend a conference they held and was quite impressed by their hospitality and the amount of work a relatively small group of people have managed to do in a fairly short time.) Then yesterday the excellent religion reporter Emma Green reviewed the book for The Atlantic.

I will be reviewing the book more extensively next month when it releases. For now, I wanted to make a few notes on how the book is being read and received by a larger audience as the ideas begin to find life outside the relatively small readership of trad Christian blogs.

This project is about far more than the posture Christians ought to take toward mainstream culture.

The idea of being a religious minority that selectively secludes itself from the mainstream in order to protect its religious life is a very comfortable one for many American Catholics and, I would think, many Orthodox as well. Both of these groups have been minorities in America from the beginning and have at times faced severe opposition from their neighbors precisely because of their religious faith. For them, the sort of selective, strategic withdrawal that Rod is proposing makes a great deal of sense and, indeed, fits quite well with their own experience.

Evangelicals, however, hear the same language and react quite differently. There are a couple reasons for this: Partly, it is due to an understandable reaction against more schismatic fundamentalist versions of evangelicalism that seem to have done the same thing Rod is proposing. The consequences were frequently disastrous. (As someone who grew up in such a church, I understand this concern.)

A second motivating factor, I am increasingly convinced, is a classically evangelical craving after the approval of our peers. For 30 years we have been trying to tell the world “no no no, we aren’t weird like those other Christians,” we say with our voice dropping on the word “other.” “We’re normal people like you.” The ways our parents did this differ from how millennials tend to do it, but the end result is the same.

That said, I am increasingly convinced that Rod’s project (and it’s one that I am deeply committed to as well) has much less to do with the question “how can orthodox Christians create thick communities to preserve the faith in a post-Christian world?” and is much more about “how do we rebuild civil society at a time when most of the west’s social institutions are in decline?” I have more to say on that which I cannot get to at this point, but I think this point is a key one to understand as this conversation continues.

Rod, as well as the many Catholic writers working in a similar vein, have mostly approached this in the way you’d expect traditional religious minority groups to do so. The result of this is that I think the full scope of the project hasn’t really become apparent until more recently.

There are rival conceptions of reality in play, which means that misunderstanding and confusion is almost inevitable.

Perhaps the thing I found most odd about Green’s piece is that she granted that Dreher is coming at the issues he talks about in the book from a fundamentally different worldview that than of most modern Americans, writing that “He is working from a different frame of reference, one that is increasingly out of step with Americans’ ways of thinking about culture.” But then she went ahead and judged the book on the basis of those, from Dreher’s standpoint, foreign moral norms anyway.

In one sense, this isn’t a problem: I don’t know Green’s own religious beliefs, which is to her credit as a reporter, but certainly the beliefs of many of her readers will overlap far more with the mainstream progressive American views on sexuality, which tend to emphasize individual autonomy, non-binary understandings of sexuality, and a high value on acceptance and inclusion. Critiquing the book in terms that your readers will find familiar and agreeable makes sense.

That said, I wish Green would have given more attention to what she called Dreher’s “frame of reference,” because it would have helped her get at one of the key points behind Rod’s book. As more and more polling numbers make plain, we increasingly live in a country that has multiple nations within it. The idea of a cultural consensus that exists across most of the population is increasingly foreign and even non-sensical. Americans increasingly do not simply have disagreements on select matters of public policy; they have disagreements about what goods public policy ought to be oriented toward and even about the basic nature of reality itself.

One of the points that the WSJ profile of Clear Creek made quite plain is that the people drawn to the sorts of religious communities Rod is describing are not typical Atlantic readers. Having visited Clear Creek, I can vouch for the accuracy of Lovett’s portrayal of the community there.

If the reviews of this book are going to be valuable and promote greater understanding, which is a worthwhile goal for any book reviewer, then I think they will need to do more than what Green has done in her piece. Note that I’m not saying they should do less—Green’s piece does a good job of highlighting key points of tension that many non-religious people and more liberal religious people will feel as they consider Dreher’s project.

But it would have been helpful for Green to try and say more about Dreher’s fundamentally different point of reference. What is that point of reference? How do people who share it end up believing the things they believe? She’s an excellent reporter and I’ve always found her to be fair-minded so I would have enjoyed seeing her delve more into this specific point.

Pluralistic public squares are not self-generating goods.

One point that all sides need to understand is that “pluralism” is not a public good that drops from some kind of invisible skyhook down to us with a predefined objective definition on which all sides agree. It has to be defined. More fundamentally still, it has to be justified.

Every community has to somehow define the amount of diversity of thought it is prepared to tolerate as well as the basis for tolerating that diversity. This is extremely complicated even in relatively homogeneous societies. If you study early American history, for example, you quickly realize how difficult these questions can end up being. Depending on how particular you want to be about the word, you could argue that Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Rhode Island were all “puritan” colonies, which is to say they are colonies whose founders descend from a relatively narrow branch of a particular Christian tradition.

Yet even here the three colonies, who in the big picture one would expect to agree on a great deal, adopted radically different ideas about what sort of diversity they could allow in the public square. How much more, then, should we expect to find difficulty and division amongst a group of citizens as diverse as those we find in the contemporary United States?

This is yet another reason that I wish Green had spent more time considering the “frame of reference” angle. To take only one example, both the defenders and critics of someone like Barronelle Stutzman would say they want a diverse, pluralistic public square. But they define those terms in different ways and they expect that diversity to reflect itself in different ways. Stutzman’s defenders would say that a commitment to pluralism means we are committed to, within reason, letting business owners run their businesses in ways consistent with their conscience.

The way the various religious liberty restoration acts have parsed this is by saying that the state can only require someone to violate their conscience if there is a, a legitimate social good to be achieved that requires them to act in that way, and b, if there is no way of securing that social good without requiring the individual to violate their conscience.

In practice, this might mean that someone like Kim Davis should be required to violate her conscience because the social good to be obtained is legal same-sex unions and that good can only be obtained by having county clerks who sign marriage licenses sign the license, even if it violates their conscience. (I’m not sure that reading is actually correct and am more sympathetic to Davis than other religious liberty advocates have been, but her case is more complex because of her status as a state employee.)

On the other hand, someone like Stutzman should be protected under the law because social acceptance of same-sex unions can be achieved without requiring individual business owners to violate their consciences, particularly since other business owners in the same industries exist that will provide the desired service.

On the other hand, Stutzman’s critics would argue that a commitment to pluralism means a commitment to non-discrimination and to a fully open public square, otherwise it isn’t actually pluralism. If you wish to participate as a business owner in the public square, you must be willing to behave in that arena as someone committed to inclusion and affirmation, even if it violates your private religious belief.

All of this is to say that questions about pluralism are quite complex and do not resolve themselves. This is true even in societies where the members of the community share many presuppositions about the basic nature of reality, the good life, and so on. We should not be surprised, then, to find that the questions are even more complex in a society like ours, where we cannot even agree on basic questions of what human beings are or what the world is for.

There’s much more to be said, but we’ll stop there for now. No doubt we’ll discuss this more in the future.

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Posted by Jake Meador

Jake Meador is the editor-in-chief of Mere Orthodoxy. He is a 2010 graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln where he studied English and History. He lives in Lincoln, NE with his wife Joie, their daughter Davy Joy, and sons Wendell, Austin, and Ambrose. Jake's writing has appeared in Commonweal, Christianity Today, Fare Forward, the University Bookman, Books & Culture, First Things, National Review, Front Porch Republic, and The Run of Play and he has written or contributed to several books, including "In Search of the Common Good," "What Are Christians For?" (both with InterVarsity Press), "A Protestant Christendom?" (with Davenant Press), and "Telling the Stories Right" (with the Front Porch Republic Press).


  1. Several quick thoughts…

    1. All of our institutions in the West are in decline? Even assuming arguendo that this is true, why should that matter one way or the other? Perhaps those institutions are in decline because they no longer serve any useful purpose in society. If you’re going to make such a sweeping averment, then at least be prepared to substantiate it. You can safely walk through any number of neighborhoods today in our major cities where you would have been shot or mugged just 30 years ago. Much of Manhattan was unsafe in the 1980s. Today, women go running by themselves at 10 p.m. without fear. Meanwhile, upstate Buffalo has turned into a cesspool.

    2. We never had cultural consensus. Instead, we had a culture where white, middle-class conservative Christians had the power to enforce their mores onto the rest of the culture via a position of cultural hegemony. And any rebuke such Christians face today is largely the consequence of their trying to reclaim that hegemony, and again arrogate themselves to a position where they can superintend the moral judgments of everyone else.

    3. I have a hard time seeing why pluralism isn’t workable. That doesn’t mean there won’t be tensions at times. Generally, pluralism operates under a principle of harm minimization. In most instances, that principle alone resolves the dispute. For example, I don’t object to same-sex marriage because I don’t see how that institution imposes any material harm onto third parties. Sure, it imposes some harm on those who have a psychic need for cultural homogeneity. But such alleged harms must be discounted because they undercut the underlying utilitarian assumptions of pluralism. The Stutzman case provides a more complex question. But there’s a reason why there are only a handful of such cases: These kinds of zero-sum transactions are rare. The harm-minimizing option is generally relatively easy to determine.


    1. {{Meanwhile, upstate Buffalo has turned into a cesspool.}}

      Excuse, me?


    2. Did you even read the article? You start out asking “All our our institutions in the West are in decline?”

      Halfway through the article, Meador wrote “how do we rebuild civil society at a time when most of the west’s social institutions are in decline?”

      “Most” – not “all.”


      1. Fair point. Even so, I’m utterly unconvinced that most of our social institutions are in decline. And even if it were an accurate statement, I would need more to assess whether that’s good or bad. Perhaps they’re incompatible with our economic order and need to decline to allow room for more transactionally efficient institutions to rise in their place. After all, we have a certain moral obligation to wipe out institutions that fail to lead to the efficient net accumulation of capital.


  2. All of what is written above is about us religiously conservative Christians still not knowing how to share society with others as equals. For what the Benedict Option is all about is the fact that since religiously conservative Christianity has lost its place of supremacy in society, its followers are now going home and taking their toys with them.

    And one thing should be added to the discussion on the religious conscience of Christians who deny same-sex couples their rights and equality. What is being said about the Kim Davis’s and Christian businesses as they refuse to provide legitimate services to same-sex couples has been said in defense of Jim Crow. And those who would claim that the difference between discriminating against Blacks is different from discriminating against those who willfully choose to violate God’s will regarding marriage while one can’t choose one’s race don’t know how much they are tipping their hand. For what if one could choose one’s race, would discrimination against those of a particular race become legitimate? Or is the base of our discrimination that White Christians don’t want to live in a world as equals with those who are different?

    What is missed in the Christian argument allowing for business owners to discriminate against same-sex couples is that allowing one business to refuse services to such couples even for religious reasons gives the potential for the majority, if not all, businesses to do the same so that, depending on location, same-sex couples might be partially or fully denied of goods and services to which both biblical and unblblical heterosexual couples have unfettered access. Again, most of us religiously conservative Christians haven’t a clue as to how to share society with others as equals. And we feel proud about that rather than feel ashamed. And it is our arrogance and our discrimination that is cutting us off from sharing the gospel with many who are different because they see us for who we are.


    1. There’s a crucial distinction that tends to get lost to those who oppose religious liberty / freedom of conscience efforts. For the life of my, I’ve never been able to understand why this distinction is so rarely articulated by opponents of what is today referred to as religious liberty, but perhaps you’ll be able to enlighten me.

      Outside of a tiny fringe minority (which I haven’t personally witness but I can only assume must be there) I don’t know too many individuals who don’t want to serve homosexuals (or same-sex couples). Certainly the mainstream, high profile cases we hear about are not about people not wanting to serve their customers “because they’re gay”. Most (all?) of those high profile cases had owners and individuals who *expressly* stated they would be happy to serve clientele of any sexual orientation. What these owners really wanted — and what is manifestly different from those who would deny blacks service on the basis of their race – is that these owners felt unable to serve a particular event. This is not at all dissimilar to progressive artists and fashion designers who decided that they wouldn’t serve the Trumps on inauguration day (decisions which, I might say, were greatly applauded by the progressive left). If progressives are free to refuse to serve certain events or occasions because it violates their conscience, why shouldn’t conservatives be free to do the same? Isn’t that just fair play?

      And yes, I and other Christians do recognize that the sword cuts both ways and some individuals might be free to deny certain services to us in certain circumstances. And you know what? Good. I would prefer that tailor who really believes that religious ceremonies for young people (such as Confirmation) are immoral doesn’t have to participate even if it means I wouldn’t be able to get a suit/dress for my (hypothetical child). If a radical feminist florist believes that heterosexual weddings are a manifestation of the patriarchy and that it necessarily oppresses women then I would rather go without flowers then force someone to violate their conscience. Isn’t that basic charity? If Christians who oppose same-sex marriage have certain obligations to their gay neighbors (and I believe they do), why don’t we assume that those obligations go both ways?

      The idea that (most) religious conservatives are simply out to hurt gay people is ridiculous once you’ve known enough religious conservatives. Most people are wrestling with the need to reconcile their personal faith and public witness with other obligations. Most conservative Christians (all?) I personally know are falling over themselves in attempt to minister to show kindness, respect, and love to the LGBT community and would come to these decisions only in an extreme circumstance.


      1. Mungling,
        I understand the concerns here. But let me ask this question: Do those Christian business owners who object more to providing services to an event rather than a group also refuse to provide services for unbiblical heterosexual marriages? Or what would we say to those Christian business owners who refuse to provide goods and services to an interracial marriage even though they serve individuals of all races?

        And let me address another point. When did I say that most religious conservatives are out to hurt gay people? You are setting up a straw man in this discussion. But a point you have addressed is a serious one. While you are sincerely trying to address these issues from a Christian point of view, what you are not addressing are the views that come from outside the Christian community. How does the gay couple perceive the refusal to provide goods and services by businesses because they are gay? How does that refusal to provide goods and services fit in a capitalist economy?

        The issue here isn’t what we are doing to minister to those in the LGBT community. Rather, the issue is how will we share society with them? Will we share society with them as equals or in either subtle or stark ways, will we share society with them as being being privileged over them? For if we share society with them in the latter way, we will never be able to love them enough when ministering to get any but perhaps a couple to listen to the Gospel.


        1. “How does the gay couple perceive the refusal to provide goods and services by businesses because they are gay?”

          Who cares? Let them pound sand. I really have no sympathy for two men who are all distraught because a florist wont make floral arrangements for their “wedding”. What right do they have to expect anyone to care they are “marrying” let alone act like they are having a wedding? In a sane world, they would get laughed at.


          1. DR,
            While you say ‘who cares,’ remember to tell them that you love them when you share the Gospel. BTW, would you say ‘who cares’ when talking about how the refusal to provide goods and services because of race to Blacks?

          2. >> While you say ‘who cares,’ remember to tell them that you love them when you share the Gospel. BTW, would you say ‘who cares’ when talking about how the refusal to provide goods and services because of race to Blacks?

            Because we all know “coming out” fits in the list that includes slavery and racism. That’s a revolting analogy. What could not be private (one’s skin color) and was a brutalizing experience (slavery to Jim Crow) is equivalent to what is normally private unless one wants public acceptance and approval? Please.

            Might as well say any bias for any reason against anyone is bad. Look, at that point of absurdity, you’re hitting up against the definition of love. What is love? Do tell us Curt. Or maybe you just prefer to insinuate those who don’t agree with you don’t know what it is.

          3. Macro pundit,
            The analogy isn’t between coming out and belonging to a particular race, the comparison is between how those from the LGBT community have been marginalized and how Blacks and other races have been marginalized. And when Christians work to marginalize the LGBT community in society, what good is it to say we love them while sharing the Gospel.

            Are you saying that the LGBT community deserves to be marginalized by society? We don’t have to agree with homosexuality to treat those from the LGBT community as equals.

          4. >> The analogy isn’t between coming out and belonging to a particular race, the comparison is between how those from the LGBT community have been marginalized and how Blacks and other races have been marginalized.

            This is a tautology par excellence. You’re affirming that I’ve characterized the analogy well enough. You’ve merely repeated it.


            “In rhetoric, a tautology is a logical argument constructed in such a way, generally by repeating the same concept or assertion using different phrasing or terminology, that the proposition as stated is logically irrefutable, while obscuring the lack of evidence or valid reasoning supporting the stated conclusion.”

          5. Macro Pundit,
            First, I am not affirming your point. You claimed that I used a ‘revolting’ analogy between coming out and race. You were wrong. I using the marginalizing each community suffered.

            Second, you seem not to know what a tautology is. To claim that two groups have suffered marginalization is not a tautology. Tautologies are involved with circular reasoning, not mere comparisons used to show individual instances. In addition to that, I asked what is the difference between the discrimination against both groups. The point I was making is that those who use the choice gays make in their sexual orientation as why they deserve to be punished by society while Blacks don’t because they had no part in choosing their race are really saying that they don’t want to be with those who are different. Why would I conclude that? It is because if we say that we shouldn’t marginalize Blacks because they didn’t choose their race, we are suggesting that their race is unacceptable but that we can’t blame them for that because it wasn’t their choice. So I didn’t make the case, as you claimed, that all bias is wrong. I made the case that people who claim that gays deserve to be punished because they chose their orientation while Blacks don’t deserve to be punished because they didn’t choose their race are really saying that they don’t want to live with those who are different. Such is not circular reasoning which is what tautologies, as you used the term, are about.

            BTW, tautologies can also form sound arguments. Let me give and example. Let p and q be true/false statements. if both p implies q and p are true, then q is true. That form of argument is sound but it is also a tautology and that is because the overall argument is true regardless of the true/false values p and q have.

            Third, the point I am making is simply this: we need to share society with those who are different from us as equals. Such does not imply that we agree with others, it simply means that we don’t seek a superior place in society over others because they are different. Now why does that idea upset you? What is it about the LGBT community that you believe qualifies them to be punished by society?

            Fourth, you wrote the following:

            Might as well say any bias for any reason against anyone is bad.

            Is that why you are upset? You feel that bias against the LGBT community is justified? If it is, how can you share Gospel with them when such bias is not done out of love.

          6. >> First, I am not affirming your point. You claimed that I used a ‘revolting’ analogy between coming out and race. You were wrong. I using the marginalizing each community suffered.

            Whatever you call it, you are claiming quite directly that the “marginalization” that blacks suffered is in *some way* comparable to the experience of the LGBT folks now.

            You want to have your cake and eat it too. Of course it’s fine to say two things you name with the same term are comparable in some ways and not in others. But you’re going to have to specify in what ways are relevant to you and what ways they’re not. But you won’t do that because it would be even more apparent how poor and disgusting the comparison is that you’re attempting to make.

            >> Third, the point I am making is simply this: we need to share society with those who are different from us as equals. Such does not imply that we agree with others, it simply means that we don’t seek a superior place in society over others because they are different. Now why does that idea upset you? What is it about the LGBT community that you believe qualifies them to be punished by society?

            Um, Curt hold on there. I wouldn’t at this point assume anything about my position on this. Everyone should strive to make valid arguments. Your argument, though a common emotional one to make, is a bad technique and an insult to the intelligence. That doesn’t mean necessarily I don’t agree with your political point of view. Don’t take that as agreement either. But it does mean I’m not going to argue any finer points on this matter when you seem intent on evading the one at hand.

            If I’m upset about anything, it’s smug manipulative sophistry dressed up in Christian language as “love”.

          7. macro pundit,
            First, that the marginalization suffered by Blacks and by the LGBT community is comparable is obvious. Both were persecuted by Christians and others. That their marginalization was not identical means there were differences. But you haven’t shown why the comparison is revolting. I’ve asked you to state why you think society should punish the LGBT community and you have yet to respond.

            But not only that, you attempt to speak down by your verbiage. You first claimed that I was using a tautology and you didn’t demonstrate that you knew what that meant. Now you want to say that I want to ‘have my cake and eat it too’–whatever you mean by that. How about if you just tried to discuss this issue as an equal instead of trying to talk down to me?

            Finally, when I talk about sharing society as equals, I am not appealing to emotions. Instead, I am assuming a democracy and that is part of what democracy about. Democracy is about the people ruling. If a subgroup of the population uses democratic seeks supremacy over the others in a diverse population, we are straying from democracy. When such a subgroup seeks supremacy over the rest based on religion, race, ethnicity, language, or national identity then what that subgroup is seeking is an ethnocracy. In addition, if you regard equality in society as merely an emotional appeal that insults one’s intelligence, then that reflects poorly on you.

            If you want further discussion, then don’t dress confuse being insulting with intelligence. And I will ask again, why do you believe that society should punish the LGBT community?

          8. >> why do you believe that society should punish the LGBT community?

            It’s a free country. I don’t know of any reasonable person who thinks they should be punished. Not affirming or accepting that I must affirm what someone does doesn’t equate to punishing them. You’re quite obviously conflating punish and affirm. It’s sophistry. The whole point of a free society is that I don’t need to affirm what you do.

          9. macro,
            You beg the question of what is a reasonable person.

            And, btw, I have always distinguished what it means to punish from what it means to affirm. That is inherent in my distinction between how the Church should respond to members who practice homosexuality from how society should respond. In society, refusal to punish members of the LGBT community does not imply that one must affirm what they do. They merely have to treat such members as equals in society much like treating members from different religions as equals in society.

            BTW, you seem to jump to conclusions regarding what I think

          10. Macro,
            In logic, a tautology is an argument structure is considered sound because it produces firm conclusions. The difference between a sound argument that produces firm conclusions and fallacies is that the former takes the form of a tautology while the latter does not. And before that doesn’t sit well with you, read the logical definition of implication and tautology. Tautologies refer to the structure of the argument that is based on the logical definition of implication. Tautologies do not refer to any set of truth values for the primitive and composite statements in the argument An example is if p and q each represents a statement that is either true or false but not both, then if not p and (p or q), therefore q is true. The implication forms a tautology because regardless of the values of p and q, the implication is always true. And I believe what you are trying to refer to is the fallacy of begging the question. Begging the question is an argumentative structure that

        2. Hey Curt,

          It’s hard to say whether individuals who refuse to provide these services for same-sex couples would refuse to do the same for other forms of unbiblical heterosexual marriages. Truthfully, since *most* (all?) of the high profile cases seem to be from conservative Christians who accept the possibility of divorce, its somewhat difficult to know what such a union might look like. I suspect that they might be equally opposed to a consanguineous union, or an example of bigamy, but I suppose you’d have to ask them. One big difference between a same-sex marriage and an equally illicit heterosexual marriage is that the former is unmistakeably contrary to a biblical view on marriage where the immediate wouldn’t be apparent to the person participating.

          As far as the hypothetical case of the Christian (or, really, any other person) refusing to serve an interracial marriage, if such a case were to come to the attention of the public, the market would so effectively punish that institution that it wouldn’t exist for very long.

          Re-reading your comment more carefully, I have to concede that you do not say that conservatives are out to hurt members of the LGBTQ spectrum (although this is, of course, a very common charge. For that I have to apologize. You do say, it seems, that advocacy for issues under the religious liberty spectrum is discriminatory and hurtful. I would agree that it’s possible that individuals may feel unwelcome/unloved/discriminated against if a business or individual were unwilling to participate in their marriage; however, it isn’t clear to me that those feelings outweigh a Christians obligation to not participate in such an event, or that on a societal level those feelings outweigh a person or business’s ability to choose which events they support. At the end of the day, I truly feel that freedom of conscience trumps the perceived freedom of offence as the damage done by violating the former is typically worse than the latter.

          You ask how the freedom to choose which events one will serve fits into a capitalist economy. I would say it fits perfectly. By choosing not to participate in these particular events, they open up a niche for others. Moreover, the business owners have the right to their conscience and the market has the right to punish them (through boycotts, for example). In a country and culture as supportive of homosexuality as we are, the government has no need to step in. In most cases and in most locations, the market will ensure that that the service is there and that “offenders” are duly chastised.

          How will we ultimately share society with LGBTQ+ people? You know ultimately I don’t know. I’m still working through this, as is the rest of orthodox Christianity. Truthfully, though, my gut says that the more vocal elements of the LGBTQ+ community will not settle for anything other than wholesale affirmation (after all, isn’t anything less allegedly bigotry)? Christians can’t participate in evil, even for the good of inclusion (we are not consequentialists after all). The idea that Christians (or anyone else for that matter) are obliged to treat others with respect but not obliged to affirm, or facilitate, activities they find morally objectionable seems as good a compromise as any until I see someone propose something better.


  3. As someone who’s followed Rod and the BenOp for years, I immensely applaud his efforts.

    I didn’t quite know what to make of your statement, “The idea of being a religious minority that selectively secludes itself from the mainstream in order to protect its religious life is a very comfortable one for many American Catholics…” until I thought, “Oh, he’s speaking about us historically in America…etc.” That’s fair. But we’re not really a minority now, except perhaps regionally. Catholics are threaded throughout American culture. And as an Evangelical convert, I never experienced this ‘comfort’ you describe (eg, Catholic ethnic communities)—-I experienced ‘comfort’ that IF I wanted to find seclusion, it was readily available through monasteries, retreats, holy orders, etc. I don’t mean to warp your meaning, just that we Catholics have seclusion and non-seclusion, businesses, schools, hospitals, homeless shelters, politicians, etc etc.
    But the larger point was to attempt to close the gap between Rod’s not “inaccurate” analysis, necessarily, but his selective under-analysis of the complexity of the problem he seeks to solve. Again, I applaud his impulse, and hope the book is highly successful. But the reality for us as Catholics is (a) we’re not a minority, (b) by and large, our churches are full (sometimes to overflowing) on any given Sunday, (c) the Catholic Church is the portal to the BenOp and has been for decades (I speak from experience), despite the rise and fall of zeitgeistian religiosity, piety, and practice.

    In short, the Catholic Church, in my experience as an Evangelical, was THEE entree’ into All Things BenOp—what I had to do was decide to access them. Nothing stopping me. And it’s been wonderful!

    Rod himself put it well when he said:

    “[Plus,] while Orthodox Christians are very thin on the ground in the West, Catholicism has the infrastructure and the population to support all kinds of local Ben Op efforts.” [Source: ]

    So do the BenOp with everything within you, and may it pay enormous dividends. If, for whatever reason, things don’t work out as planned, the Church where the BenOp began—with Benedict—will still be there, waiting, and eager to help.

    Gregory Martha Herr Obl.S.B.


    1. I’m not that I agree with the idea that Catholics (and others) aren’t a minority in the West. Speaking as a Canadian (which, admittedly, has a different dynamic), when I converted to Catholicism in my early teens, it would be another 6 years until I made another Catholic friend in my age range. In the city where I grew up, I fully expect the fix-or-six churches around now to dwindle to one-or-two within two or three decades. Yes, Catholics (and other Christians) do have a lot of “stuff”, but how many of those institutions are run in ways, and have values which coincide with, authentic, orthodox, Catholic teaching? There are absolutely many people who identify as Catholic, but if one were to narrow that number down by the amount of individuals who truly believe what Catholic Church teaches in its fullness (the same could be said for all Christians with respect to orthodox Christianity) then we would be left with a tiny number indeed.


      1. This is a very important point that underscores the criticality of authority in the Catholic Church. If 99% of Catholics departed from Catholic doctrine, Her doctrine and dogmas would still be true This is how the internal DNA of the Catholic Church exists and functions, as compared to other communions that determine faith based on a variety of opinions that, when they differ, form a new Christian community.

        The value of that reality from a BenOp vantage is that access to Her doctrine remains available, albeit a challenge in a whole variety of settings (eg, your region of Canada, and many others). This occurs in a number of geographies, placing the burden on Catholics to be constantly seeking out spiritual formation from orthodox sources. Not knowing where you are in Canada, one avenue would be the Ordinariate. As a founding member of one such community, let me know if you’d like to know more. At a minimum, here is the map for communities that exist now:

        Sources of community (electronic and tangible/physical) are readily available via the net. Charitable organizations always need help. Small groups through parishes are often (but not always) available. Monasteries offer retreats, as well as Oblate programs (I recently took final promises as a Benedictine Oblate…let me know if you’d like more information :> :> ). My wife and I coordinate our Marrieds group, as well as our Evening Prayer group for Oblates. I’ve served at Mercy House (serves the homeless), and Catholic Worker. I serve on the Board of Directors of our newly formed parish. We’ve been on retreats at a local monastery and received Spiritual Direction. Our parish has a Men’s Group, Young Adults, Children’s ministry, and more, as well as celebrations throughout the Liturgical Year. We hold Corpus Christi and Marian processions. We’ve attended Ecumenical prayer gatherings. We supported our own parishioners and beyond who needed financial assistance. And we’ve seen a steady stream of converts, mostly from Evangelical and Anglican heritage.

        So be of good cheer! If you need help finding more opportunities, talk to half a dozen local pastors or assistant priests, ask in the Church office….or contact me. :) Happy to help.

        Gregory Martha Herr, Obl.S.B.


  4. I’m of a rather different mind on the Benedict Option: I think it’s a worthy idea that would be a good road for many people of faith, I just think that Dreher is not a very good spokesman for it. Even though he is good at articulating the values of this movement when he focuses on doing, so much of his energy is spent on being a culture warrior that it hurts his credibility. In his follow up to Emma Green’s review, he insists that the issue of gay rights is not so central to his thinking and that he’d prefer not to focus on it. I believe that’s what he desires. Yet, he can’t help himself but continue to chime in when a hot-button issue comes up, and he still often does so in a… I’ll try to be nice… un-subtle and non-nuanced way.

    So, the Benedict Option could use more and better advocates.


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