This past weekend my husband and I listened to the audio book version of the Benedictine Option: A Strategy for Christians in a Post-Christian Culture by Rod Dreher. We had heard a lot about the book from friends, the media, and others. We had numerous questions concerning the book and what we were told it was claiming so we were listening a bit more critically than we normally might have on our weekend jaunt to the Chicago area.
We were intrigued by some of the ideas we had heard from others. We were also concerned by certain portrayals that seemed to indicate that the Benedictine Option had to do with something akin to an Amish rejection of culture. It does not.
As it turned out, we were pleasantly surprised. In fact, we were so surprised we are fairly convinced that both the harshest critics and the uncritical fans simply have not yet read the book. They should.
While it may be the case that Dreher oversimplifies consequences of the history of thought in the West, he is also not completely off-base as some have suggested.
Likewise with his rather pessimistic analysis of culture as a whole, especially morality in America. It is difficult to look at what is considered unacceptable in American culture today versus the sorts of behaviors that were considered unacceptable even 50 years ago and not be a bit pessimistic.
But the target of his book is not culture at large. That the pundits at outlets like NPR are offended by Dreher's assertion only goes to demonstrate his point. Judeo-Christian morality is out of fashion in America. Dreher isn't happy about this but his main problem is with the church.
At it's core, Dreher's book is a call for the church to start being the church. The church is to be in the world not of the world according to St. Paul. But Dreher thinks the church has compromised. Instead of a counter-cultural movement the church has become just another cultural artifact. Instead of being a light challenging the darkness around it, the church is asking the darkness what it wants and capitulating to it not just in behavior, but even in worship.
Is Dreher right? Well, I am old enough to remember when the church I am a part of did look significantly different from the world. I was not like my classmates in school and I was painfully aware of that. But it was good. Kids didn't reject me and I knew clearly who I was.
If you go back another generation you can hear stories of the church supporting people in the depression. I hear stories like that of my Grandpa who cut his house in half - yes literally - so his brother who was immigrating could have a good start in America. I hear stories about people for whom personal happiness was secondary to living a life centered around love of God and neighbor.
Is Dreher right? At the very least he's not completely wrong in his analysis of the church. Could it be that what is really going on is, as one article suggests, that American Christians are just afraid of actually sacrificing cultural conformity and acceptance for the call to conform to their true identity in Christ?