Rod Dreher, senior editor of the American Conservative and convert to Catholicism then Eastern Orthodoxy, has published a book promoting the “Benedict Option” idea that he’s been kicking around for a decade. I was struck by blog post Dreher wrote recently in response to criticism from progressive writer Rachel Held Evans, because in his post Dreher inadvertently backed up Evans’ critique in a way that also pointed to the strength and depth of Dreher’s persecution complex.
But first, some background!
The basic idea behind the Benedict Option is that mainstream American culture has become so secular and so anti-Christian that “orthodox” Christians (whether Catholic, Protestant, or Orthodox) should withdraw from American society and form their own communities. When I wrote about the Benedict Option several years ago, I noted that I grew up in a Christian community similar to what Dreher suggests, and based my criticism of the idea in my own experience.
Rachel Held Evans’ tweeted criticism focused on the persecution complex involved:
Text of Rachel Held Evans’ tweets:
The #BenedictOption is based on the premise that Christians in the U.S. are such a persecuted minority they must withdraw from society.
Christians are NOT a persecuted minority in the U.S. Christians make up 75% of population & 91% of congress. #BenedictOption
White Christians have enough influence to hand Donald Trump the presidency. They are NOT a marginalized group in our society.
But @roddreher & others have been advancing persecution narratives like these for so long, Christians believe them.
In fact, white evangelicals believe they are more discriminated against than blacks, Muslims, and Jews!
An entire industry of books, films, & orgs reinforce this narrative. I call it the White Christian Industrial Persecution Complex.
The White Christian Industrial Persecution Complex is not harmless. It’s a big reason Trump won the election.
So focused on themselves & their “persecution,” white Christians = oblivious/indifferent to suffering of actual religious/ethnic minorities.
In summary: The #BenedictOption fails from the start because the entire premise is based on fantasy.
In a blog post responding to Evans, Dreher wrote this:
It will surprise people who take RHE’s word for it on The Benedict Option (which she hasn’t read) to learn that the book is not, in fact, focused on persecution. That part is more or less confined to single chapter.
Dreher argued that the focus of his book was on devout Christian living, and the importance of rejecting materialism and greed. He took Evans to task for assuming without reading his book that it focused on persecution, and argued that while most Americans may identify as Christians, orthodox Christianity is a minority and has lost its ability to create cultural change. And did I mention that he took issue with Evans’ critique of his presumed focus on persecution? Because he did. A lot.
In summary: Rachel Held Evans’s critique fails from the start because its entire premise is based on a fantasy that could only be held by someone who doesn’t know what she’s talking about because she has not read the book.
Given Derher’s constant knocking of Evans’ assumption that Dreher has a persecution complex, I’m rather surprised at the lack of introspection on Dreher’s part regarding how his concluding paragraph might look:
I’m not worried about what Rachel Held Evans has to say about The Benedict Option, though if she actually reads it one day, it would be interesting to see if she still stands by her erroneous prejudices. No, what I’m worried about is that far in the future, should the police come looking for dissident orthodox Christians hiding out from state persecution, the Rachel Held Evanses of the world will point helpfully and patriotically, and say, “They’re in the basement, officer.”
Yes, you read that right. Dreher fantasizes about a future in which orthodox Christians are forced to go into hiding from the police, and suggests that in this scenario individuals like Rachel Held Evans would turn them over to the authorities. This is how Dreher ends a post spent criticizing Evans for (he says) falsely assuming that the Benedict Option is the result of a Christian persecution complex.
Because that makes total sense.
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