If you’re an active Latter-day Saint with any interest in The Benedict Option, I have good news for you: you’re pretty much already living it.
Rod Dreher’s bestseller isn’t actually a tirade against American society–that’s too far gone to even really bother with at this point–it’s a call to arms to rescue what’s left of Christianity in the West. We do this, Dreher says, by ignoring the mainstream and living our religion fully.
Dreher is an excellent writer; his observations, anecdotes, and advice are all solid. Still, the formula he gives is surprisingly basic. The fact that this pattern is supposed to be a rebellious throwback to the seriousness of medieval monks is an even better illustration of how far we’ve gone astray than any gloom and doom statistic.
The book is very much worth reading if you have any interest in the history, issues, or faith involved, but here are my quick notes on it, so we can see Dreher’s overall picture and how prosaic it actually is. His general proscriptions in each chapter include:
3. Personal: focus on doctrine, prayer, service, fasting, stability (stay rooted in one community)–personal spiritual strength
4. Politics: focus on the local scene and defending religious freedom
5. Church: choose a traditional group; churches should focus on set liturgy, enforcing discipline, and studying church history; center your life on church activity
6. Home: set up home life like a monastery, use community to support the home
7. School: home school or classical Christian school
8. Business: patronize socially conservative Christians; practice trades/industry untouched by social activism
9. Sex: be nice to gay people, teach children Christian standards about sex, avoid pornography
10. Technology: limit screen time, practice digital fasting, no smartphones for kids or at church
That’s pretty much it. The Benedict Option, then, is largely a condensed version of practical counsel given in the last ten years of General Conference. What would you say the similarity is here–75%? 85%?
Dreher mentions the LDS Church a few times, as an example of strong community building (he’s especially impressed by home and visiting teaching), and for home-run family-friendly businesses like LuLaRoe. But I wonder if he knows just how closely his “radical” new lifestyle resembles the daily routine of an average Latter-day Saint–the whole book easily could have been nothing but examples from Mormons.
At one point, Dreher mentions in passing the work of Frederica Mathewes-Green, and he compliments her highly, so I tracked down a copy of her book The Illumined Heart, a small introduction to how early desert Christianity could improve the feeble state of modern Christian practice. I read it eagerly, expecting to be awed by a stern call to asceticism.
Nope. Her formula is just as simple as Dreher’s. Chapters enshrine such things as repentance, fasting, and prayer. It’s likewise well written, and I enjoyed her quotes from ancient writers new to me (I only wish there were more), but there was nothing here that we Mormons don’t hear every week. I guess Latter-day Saints don’t need monks like Benedict, since we have prophets now who live and preach the same things.
None of this is to poo-poo the quality of Dreher’s achievement. His book is important and will no doubt do much good. I hope that those who embrace it will know that their Mormon friends are with them.