A Brief note on Dreher’s ‘Benedict option’

In a recent issue of The Catalyst, Dreher expounds his concerns about globalization and it’s effects on the working class. Elsewhere, he has advised the Benedict option, which, as I know it, is essentially the withdrawal of Christians to communities where they can live their faith and take care of one another, their families, and build the communities necessary to support the previous goals while also, well, saving their souls. I understand the logic. But I disagree.

Dreher does have good reason to think this is the best option, he does see a lot of cause for alarm and what he calls an “obsessively individualistic” culture. He is right to note that “radical individualism is powering the digital economy and dissolving old forms of doing business, just as it is powering social change, and dissolving old customs and forms.” It’s easy enough to see if you look hard enough: both liberals and conservatives are enabling the destruction of the things they value most. While one may think liberals are in fact value diversity and tolerance most, I think that’s a shallow assessment of their ends. Some might claim their hopes are more diabolic, but I’d like to suggest they’re more human. To fight poverty, to want homosexuals and minorities to be treated equally, to desire that women are also treated fairly and respected (seen as human beings) is all very well and good. I disagree with the way they go about it, but they are responding to a lack of proper means towards achieving social justice adopted by conservatives. It’s plenty to disagree with, but it’s quite understandable.

But what is missed here by Dreher and so many is the fact of a significant overlap between liberals and conservatives. Neither respects the other for many reasons one could write a book about. Yet, many of the goals liberals have in mind are similar to goals conservatives have in mind. Many of the ends conservatives seek can be worked towards by some of the policies liberals desire. And if not, those conservative hopes at least can be reconciled with the motives for liberal policies. Some. Not all.

So I understand why Dreher would say “What remains to be seen is whether we still have much basis for solidarity. Over the last half-century, America has become so obsessively individualistic. We’ve taken a basic sense of national unity for granted.” It is hard to see any reason to believe Americans have much in common outside of their own political affiliation or personal groupings. I can see why, with this reading of America at the moment, Dreher would advise the Benedict option. Yet it is wrong because of the hope it lacks. Many Christians are already throwing in the towel — an act which brings into question their ongoing complaints about the death of a culture they supposedly are no longer fighting for.

Americans have plenty causes for unity and solidarity. The struggles of the working class do not only include wage raises, but also a morally sound culture, one they can hand on to their children; work worthy of being done; a deeper understanding of what being a woman means and greater respect from men; education that will help students live a good life rather than secure a job they hate on which they have to maintain a persona they hate; and much more.

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