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The Benedict Option: Because Modernity is Acid

Transcribing a comment of mine from Rod Dreher’s excellent blog:

“As you say, elements of the fundamentalist approach are vulnerable to modernity, while other elements make it more attractive to moderns – it’s both at the same time, which is to be expected in some ways because it is a product of modernity itself. So, while its lack of historical grounding makes it vulnerable to the shifting sands of the culture to a greater degree, at the same time its easy discourse with the modernity from which it sprang makes it more “relevant” to individual moderns who are seekers. Moderns can embrace the faith in a fairly simple way, and basing it on a text is a very appealing thing to the typical American modern (the idea of a “governing text” is common to our way of thinking, in politics, commerce, education, etc.). The lack of ties to pre-modern times also permit the fundamentalist churches to go about worship in ways which are as unreservedly modern as they wish them to be, with no restrictions from the past – something which substantially ups the degree of fit and comfort and relevance that the average American seeker experiences.

Catholicism and Orthodoxy are more well grounded in history, but this leaves many contemporary moderns cold. It is very hard for most moderns to relate to a pre-modern mode of thinking about something like authority, for example, and I think that’s one of the main reasons why we see so much outright apostasy in these contexts. De facto, almost all moderns subscribe to a view of authority that, even for those who were somewhat formed by Catholicism/Orthodoxy, heavily skews toward individual conscience, and when that becomes the de facto model for authority in a religious context, we see what we see today. While this can also make the fundamentalist churches more attractive (being closer also in theory to the conscience of the believer interpreting scripture with the Holy Spirit), it isn’t a source of stability in either context because of the essentially capricious nature of the individual will, and the tendency for that to spill over into the realm of conscience in most human beings.

The bottom line is that modernity is acid in that it eats through almost everything which came before, both in an intentional way (i.e., through people who are actively encouraging this “creative destruction”) and in a more passive/absorbed way by simply providing the cultural presuppositions that virtually everyone born and raised in this culture ends up being equipped with by default. It is very hard for any church, traditional or fundamentalist, to resist this. The resistance has to take place on the level of the individual believer. Of course, for a Catholic or an Orthodox, that resistance would not be conceived of as being individualist in nature (by contrast to some of the Protestant soteriological ideas), but happening by and through the Church, yet each individual believer must be addressed as well at that level, similar to the case with sacramental life. I think in a very core way this has to be a central focus of conceptualizing the Benedict Option, at least for anyone who is Catholic or Orthodox – to create the context in which this resistance to the corrupting acid of modernity on one’s faith life and person can be actualized, fed, sustained and strengthened precisely so that one can thrive as a Christian and lead a Christian life in a context where the culture, both actively and passively, undermines (o)rthodox Christianity at every turn. This is done individually and collectively at the same time, as is the way of the Church, and as is reflected in sacramental life, and the sacramental world view. And as is the case with sacramental life, the goal is not to equip people to live a life which is separate and apart from everyone else in everyday life (unless one is called to that, as a monk), but simply to equip them to lead a life which is authentically Christian in the context of our post-modernity and engage the culture more effectively as a witness to this authentically Christian life.”

6 Responses

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  4. BigAl

    Great post. I found your site through TRM.

    I think “fit and comfort” is all that matters to modern Christians. I find it hard to go to most churches now.

    1. veritaslounge

      Thanks. I agree — it’s a bad state of affairs — we need to rebuild, and that’s what the BenOp is about. Come join us!

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