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Rod Dreher speaks on The Benedict Option



Famous journalist & author explains book

The author of The Benedict Option (2017), Rod Dreher, addressed an overflowing room with these words: “By now if you’ve heard anything at all about the Benedict Option, you will have heard that it’s alarmist about the condition of the Church in the West. And you know what? I’m not going to deny that, I’m going to own that. In fact, let me affirm the accusation the Benedict Option is alarmist, but that’s because there’s a lot to be alarmed about.”

The Constitutional Studies Department hosted Rod Dreher in Jenkins and Nanovic Hall on Thursday, October 26, to discuss his new book and its reception around the world.

Before the talk, Rod Dreher and Notre Dame Constitutional Studies director Professor Munoz surprised student political discussion group Res Publica with a visit. The members of Res Publica were discussing Dreher’s book over pizza when Dreher made an appearance and asked the students to share with him their thoughts.

Rod Dreher, a native Louisianian, is the senior editor of American Conservative, writer and editor for National Review, New York Post, and The Dallas Morning News, among others. He has written four books: Crunchy Cons (2006), The Little Way of Ruthie Leming (2013), How Dante Can Save Your Life (2015), and The Benedict Option (2017).

Dreher began by crediting his work to four Notre Dame professors: Alasdair McIntyre, Christian Smith, Patrick Deneen, and Brett Gregory. Dreher thanked them for their scholarship, without which he could not have written this book.

The alarmist nature of the book, Dreher emphasized, is in response to our culture’s “liquid modernity” a phrase coined by the sociologist Zygmunt Bauman that describes the lack of purpose in modern times. He then cited Alasdair McIntyre’s term “emotivism,” which describes people who see the truth as what “feels” good for them. Dreher stressed his agreement with McIntyre’s famous comparison of our modern civilization to the fall of the Roman Empire.

After diagnosing the state of modern culture, Dreher claimed that the most important thing for devoted Christians to dedicate their time and energy towards is not “reforming and renewing an order which is probably at this point beyond saving” but to “focus primarily, but not exclusively, on shoring up communities of faith for the long dark age ahead.”

He continued by saying, “for me, as a Christian, I interpret this as saying that if we want to be faithful to the truth in this chaotic time, we lay people have to look to the example of the early Benedictine monks for inspiration and direction and how to live out our beliefs in community.”

Dreher pointed out that, even Benedict XVI (whom he likes to think of as a “second” Benedict), likened the spiritual crisis in Europe to the Fall of the Roman Empire. The church of the West, according to Dreher, is facing a crisis of liquid modernity. Furthermore, he cited ND sociologist Christian Smith’s conclusion that most Americans’ de-facto religion is really “moralistic therapeutic deism.” This is a shallow feel-good form of Christianity that is perfect for those who embrace liquid modernity.

Such a culture, Dreher stated, left unchecked will result in two social facts: social hostility and legal restrictions will undermine the viability of many Christian institutions, thereby limiting Christian participation in public life, and leading to the collapse of Christian belief in the United States within a generation or so (due to the lack of strong discipleship, consumerism, and assimilation into secular modernity).

His aim in writing The Benedict Option, he said was to address these two social facts and attempt to find a way out of this fate. That is why he turned to the Rule of St. Benedict, as a guide for lay Christians to strengthen themselves amidst the cultural turmoil of our times. The Rule was written in the early 6th century by St. Benedict during the collapse of the Roman Empire in the West. It is, as Dreher explained, just a manual for how to live daily life in a monastery. But, Dreher emphasized, the “secret of the Rule of St. Benedict is its everydayness.”

The monks follow this manual for guidance on prayer, contemplation, fasting, work, and community building. Likewise, lay Christians, according to Dreher, can also incorporate these “day in and day out meat and potatoes practices” in order to live out the faith in contemporary society.

But, he stressed, the point of these practices must always be to grow in a closer relationship with God. Dreher saw these monks as inspiration because for them “Christianity is not a part of life it is a way of life.” Dreher stated once again, that “Benedict did not try to save Roman civilization, he did not try to ‘make Rome great again,’ all he wanted to do was to put God first in his life.”

Dreher ended his talk by reiterating that this was not a “head for the hills strategy.” Rather, he reminded us that we have to spend more time away from the world so that we can go into the world as faithful Christians.

Sarah Ortiz is a junior studying PLS and classics and living in Lewis Hall. She was lucky enough to talk with Rod Dreher on the way to the lecture and tell him about the Rover. She can be reached at sortiz2@nd.edu.

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