In The Benedict Option, Rod Dreher discusses the way Christian teaching on marriage came as a revolutionary alternative to the exploitation of women in the first and second centuries. From page 198:
Paul’s teachings on sexual purity and marriage were adopted as liberating in the pornographic, sexually exploitive Greco-Roman culture of the time—exploitive especially of slaves and women, whose value to pagan males lay chiefly in their ability to produce children and provide sexual pleasure. Christianity, as articulated by Paul, worked a cultural revolution, restraining and channeling male eros, elevating the status of both women and of the human body, and infusing marriage—and marital sexuality—with love.
Christian marriage, Ruden writes, was “as different from anything before or since as the command to turn the other cheek.” Chastity—the rightly ordered use of the gift of sexuality—was the greatest distinction setting Christians of the early church apart from the pagan world.
From How Dante Can Save Your Life: The Life-Changing Wisdom of History’s Greatest Poem, by Rod Dreher:
“Life is fragile and uncertain. Sooner or later, you will experience a great loss in life, when suffering reveals that the world is not the place you think it is, and that your dreams will not come true after all. What then?
Don’t blame others for what happened to you, even if it might well be their fault. This is a dead end. And don’t settle for stoic acceptance of your fate. Merely bearing up under strain is noble, but it’s wasting an opportunity for transformation. You have the power to turn your burden into a blessing.
What if this pain, this heartbreak, this failure, was given to you to help you find your true self? Make adversity work for you by launching a quest inside your own heart. Find the dragons hiding there, slay them, and bring back the treasure that will help you live well.
UPDATE: Since writing this article, Steve Turley has offered a response to me, what he called “a critique of the critique of the critique.” Since he has further clarified his position and identified possible points of misunderstanding, I asked Steve if he would be okay with me sharing his response below following my original article. Steve kindly gave his permission. Scroll down to read his response.
The critics of The Benedict Option seem to range from those who are rattled at how modest Dreher’s proposal actually is (“hey, what’s so special about TBO approach when this is what the church has always been saying?”) to those who assume that Dreher is advocating some type of paradigm shift from cultural engagement to retreat. The former critics can at least be given the credit of having understood what Dreher is saying, which cannot be said of the latter group.
Steve Turley’s problem with The Benedict Option is nuanced and thoughtful, while still generally falling into the second category of critics.
A couple years ago, while doing some work in London, I found myself with an eight day gap in my schedule. I decided to take the train to the quiet countryside of Essex where I had heard there was a Christian monastery that offered free accommodation to spiritual seekers.
As I sat in the train, watching the English countryside whiz by, I thought of a conversation I had a couple days earlier with the receptionist at the London hotel where I had been staying. The receptionist, a young Italian lady named Francesca, had a sharp elegant-looking Roman nose offset by soft dark eyes. She told me she had immigrated to the UK just a month before, after the severe economic conditions in Italy had forced her to come to London in search of work.
In Chapter 2 of The Benedict Option, Rod Dreher takes the reader on a whirlwind tour of some of the factors that have contributed to the West’s spiritual decline. In his historical narrative there were five landmark events that played a pivotal role in this process. He summarizes these as follows:
“In the fourteenth century, the loss of belief in the integral connection between God and Creation—or in philosophic terms, transcendent reality and material reality [he is talking about Nominalism vs. Realism here.]
The collapse of religious unity and religious authority in the Protestant Reformation of the sixteenth century
The eighteenth-century Enlightenment, which displaced the Christian religion with the cult of Reason, privatized religious life, and inaugurated the age of democracy
The Industrial Revolution (ca 1760-1840) and the growth of capitalism in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries
The Sexual Revolution (1960-present).”
This morning while doing some research for a couple clients, I came across two interesting articles that seemed to connect.
One article was a piece by Rod Dreher talking about his time at the recent Society of Classical Learning (SCL) conference. Titled ‘The Problem with ‘Worldview’ Education‘, Dreher shared Joshua Gibbs’ insight that “real art is not something that calls forth an immediate response. You have to contemplate it, turn it over in your mind for a while.” Gibbs went on to suggest that one of the casualties of the worldview-based approach to education is that the rush to analyze texts through a worldview grid can prematurely foreclose–or even completely short-circuit–this necessary process of wondering about and contemplating texts.