Rod Dreher’s proposal is nothing less than a different kind of politics, but it is politics. His book is called: Benedict Option.
The first point to make about Dreher’s theory is that we have lost the culture war.
As recently as the 1960s, with the notable exception of civil rights, moral and cultural concerns weren’t make-or-break issues in U.S. politics. Americans voted largely on economics, as they had since the Great Depression. … The sexual revolution changed all that.
Today the culture war as we knew it is over. 79
Do you think the culture war is over?
… the idea that someone as robustly vulgar, fiercely combative, and morally compromised as Trump will be an avatar for the restoration of Christian morality and social unity is beyond delusional. He is not a solution to the problem of America’s cultural decline, but a symptom of it. 79
Dreher thinks conservative Christians are “politically homeless” (80). Notice this: “One reason the contemporary church is in so much trouble is that religious conservatives of the last generation mistakenly believed they could focus on politics and the culture would take care of itself. For the past thirty years or so, many of us believed that we could turn back the tide of aggressive 1960s liberalism by voting for conservative Republicans. … The results were decidedly mixed on the legislative and judicial fronts, but the verdict on the overall political strategy is clear: we failed” (81-82).
The second point is that this is not escapism nor do I see it as alarmist in an unreasonable way. He thinks he’s opening the door for all to see how bad it is, but this is commonplace when it comes to folks who think our situation calls for special responses.
To be sure, Christians cannot afford to vacate the public square entirely. The church must not shrink from its responsibility to pray for political leaders and to speak prophetically to them. Christian concern does not end with fighting abortion and with protecting religious liberty and the traditional family. 82
The third point is a parallel or alternative community that permits Christian formation into a new kind of Christian who can be prepared to be a different kind of citizen.
Above all, though, the require attention to the local church and community, which doesn’t flourish or fail based primarily on what happens in Washington. 83
Lance Kinzer, a Kansas Republican has turned to the church:
‘It’s easy when you’ve chosen politics as a vocation to convince yourself that you’re doing fundamental work for the Kingdom by what you’re doing in the legislature,” he said. “I started to question that. It’s not whether or not it was worthwhile to have worked on those issues, but rather a growing sense inside of me that there’s a real work of cultural reclamation and renewal, not outside the church but inside the church, that really needs to happen first, before we can think about much longer-term goals.” 85 [he quotes Kinzer approvingly saying it’s important to avoid becoming alarmist]
Benedict Option politics begin with recognition that Western society is post-Christian and that absent a miracle, there is no hope of reversing this condition in the foreseeable future. 89
Trying to reclaim our lost influence will be a waste of energy or worse, if the financial and other resources that could have been dedicated to building alternative institutions for the long resistance went instead to making a doomed attempt to hold on to power. 89
Instead, Christians must turn their attention to a different kind of politics. 89
The answer, then, is to create and support “parallel structures” in which the truth can be lived in community. 93
From this perspective, the parallel polis is not about building a gated community for Christians but rather about establishing (or reestablishing) common practices and common institutions that can reverse the isolation and fragmentation of contemporary society. 94
If we hope for our faith to change the world one day, we have to start locally. Benedict Option communities should be small, because ‘beyond a certain point, human ties like personal trust and personal responsibility cannot work.” And they should “naturally rise from below” which is to say, they should be organic and not handed down by central planners. These communities start with the individual heart and spread from there to the family, the church community, the neighborhood, and onward. 95
This is Dreher’s proposal:
Here’s how to get started with the antipolitical politics of the Benedict Option. Secede culturally from the mainstream. Turn off the television. Put the smartphones away. Read books. Play games. Make music. Feast with your neighbors. It is not enough to avoid what is bad; you must also embrace what is good. Start a church, or a group within your church. Open a classical Christian school, or join and strengthen one that exists. Plant a garden, and participate in a local farmer’s market. Teach kids how to play music, and start a band. Join the volunteer fire department. 98