David Russell Mosley
5 April 2017
The Edge of Elfland
Hudson, New Hampshire
Yesterday I wrote to you some brief thoughts on the general thesis of Dreher’s book and some of my chief complaints with it. Now, I want to shift from talking about the book as a book and talk more about the idea of the Benedict Option. Specifically, I want, today, to compare it another “option” that has arisen in part as a response to Dreher’s “BenOp,” namely, the Radical Catholic Reimagination of Everything, recently retitled as the Sophia Option.
This new view of how to live in the midst of the world has been put forward by the farmer-poet-philosopher-theologian Dr. Michael Martin. I’ve written about Martin’s RCRE or “SophOp” (if I may coin a cute shortening for him) on multiple occasions. I will say this at the front, however, I dislike Martin’s adoption of the “option” language. I preferred the more cumbersome Radical Catholic Reimagination of Everything. Also, more and more people are coming to criticize the language of “options” as they have been proliferating over the last 10 years since Dreher first introduced us to the Benedict Option.
Key to Martin’s vision for life in the modern world is intentionality and joy. These twin foci are, I believe, inseparable. It is not enough to live intentionally, but to do so from a place of joy. Dreher’s Benedict Option is governed by fear. And his fears may not prove unfounded. It is possible (however unlikely you may think it) that Dreher’s predictions for the future of Christianity in the United States may prove true. And it is good to be concerned about what dangers we may face in the future. But when we start live based on what we fear may happen, we become the reactors. Dreher wants us to be culture creators (to borrow a phrase from Jamie Smith), but he wants us to do so out of fear of the direction the secular culture is currently heading. The Benedict Option as presented in The Benedict Option lacks a certain amount of joy. Buy Christian even if costs more! Go work in a factory in the middle of nowhere! Create your own children’s publishing house (because good children’s literature isn’t being published by big publishing houses, and by good I mean Christian, and I don’t actually mean that Christians are being intentionally left out just that it could head that way, but either way BE AFRAID)!
Martin, on the other hand is not calling for reactions but recovery and renewal. Martin, it seems to me, understands better than Dreher that American culture (let alone American politics) has never been united to a truly Christian vision for society. But rather than calling us to react, Martin calls us to act, and to do so from a place of joy. Martin wants whatever Christian culture we develop/recover/renew to be governed by the fact that Christ is King, Creator of the Cosmos. Martin provides, or at least takes into account, the theological and metaphysical foundations necessary for this kind of Christian reimagination of everything; the kind of reimagination that is only “reactionary” in that it takes into account that we’ve gone the wrong direction at some point and need to turn round.
Now, what is most interesting is that Martin and Dreher are not, necessarily, at odds when it comes to the kinds of things we can do in response to the culture in which we live. Martin too would see a reimagination of education (though his is more robust than Dreher’s since Martin is actually an educator). Martin too would see us live more communally, though as a biodynamic farmer he’s much more willing to see community form around a right relationship with the land. And it’s this, it’s this far better understanding of the nature of the relationship between creation and Creator that, for me, makes Martin’s project stand out as better than Dreher’s. Dreher pays some lip service to the importance of theology and how it ought to drive our understanding of creation, especially sex (as he quotes an old high school friend of mine). But Martin, precisely because he is a farmer, a poet, a philosopher, and a theologian much better understands what it means to take a Christian account of society and social living.
So, given a choice between the two, I’ll take Martin’s vision over of Dreher’s.
Tomorrow, I’ll write to you about the Patrick Option and how I see it critiquing the Benedict Option and also how I see it fitting in with Martin’s Radical Catholic Reimagination of Everything. Then, on Friday (hopefully), I’ll write to you about how I see distributism critiquing the Benedict Option. I hope to write one final letter after that summarizing my thoughts on these options/ways of living in modern society as Christians.
Until then I remain,