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More on the Benedict Option: Not Perfect, But Better Than Acquiescence


Over at the LMS Chairman blog, Joseph Shaw (whom I have great respect for and typically agree with) takes issue with a few points from my post yesterday about the “Gay Marriage” decision from the U.S. Supreme Court:

Skojek [sic] talks moving out of the cities and about living off the land.

I can understand the reaction, but we need to remember the differences between our situation and St Benedict’s. St Benedict lived at a time when the power of the state was at an extremely low ebb. We live our lives during a time in which the reverse is the case. Moving to the countryside is going to make no difference at all. If social services are going to enforce gender theory onto homeschoolers, they’ll do it in the countryside just as much as the towns.

In any case, St Benedict wasn’t running away from an oppressive state. Had there been a state wanting to stamp out monasticism, he would have been a sitting duck. The Protestant rulers of Ireland found it extremely difficult to impose Anglicanism on the hearts of the people, but childishly simple to burn down the monasteries. Later there were secret seminaries, but even this had to wait for the persecution to move into a less militant phase.

St Benedict is the wrong model; his was a capital-intensive approach to preserving learning and Catholic orthodoxy. We are going to need to be lighter on our feet. St Edmund Campion and St Oliver Plunket are the people to study. The exiled institutions, the secret printing presses, the underground Cathedrals, the network of trusted Catholics, and a resistance to torture.

A ghetto has a lot to say for it, for a beleagured cultural minority, but it requires at least a degree of cooperation with the civil authorities. The original ‘geto’ was the Jewish quarter in Venice: half protected space, half prison camp.

We also need to come to terms with what is at stake here. Skojec – I’m criticising him, but I should say that I like most of his stuff a lot – says the Church will lose ‘tax exempt’ (UK: charitable) status. Very likely. But that won’t be the end of it. As a non-charitable institution, it will still be subject to the law of the land, and may indeed be subject to more of the laws of the land than before.

Again, he says the Church should get out of marriage. I honestly have no idea what he means, but the more usual explanations of this idea are confused, illegal, or pointless; I’ve discussed them here.

I believe these questions and concerns are the fruit of misunderstanding, not actual disagreement, so I’d like to clarify here by re-posting what I wrote in his comment box:


Thanks for your thoughts on this. A few quibbles with your analysis I want to address:

I stated flat-out that the “Benedict Option” has its limitations; “There is no truly effective way to escape what is coming, but there are ways to reduce its impact, and this will in large part entail relocation away from larger cities and politically-progressive geographic areas into more rural, conservative, and agriculturally-feasible environments that provide for some opportunity for at least partial self-sustenance.”

That first part is important. This is about damage mitigation more than actual escape. The surveilance state is simply too pervasive, and as you said, the power of the government is not receding. I think the “Benedict option” has become shorthand for an escape from the evils of the world to a life more contemplative, but may not be as directly aligned with Benedict’s actual historical actions as with a general ideal. FWIW, I’m borrowing a term popularized by others.

Secondly, I absolutely believe the Church will be subject to more regulation. Losing tax-exempt status has been a fear that has kept even fairly decent (it’s a hugely relative term) bishops in line, so if it happens, it might actually inspire some courage for a while, but in the end I expect, as I said, the priest or bishop who refuses same-sex “marriages” in their churches to be fined, sued, or arrested at some point in the not-too-distant future.

Finally, I never said the Church should be out of marriage, I said the STATE should get out of marriage. Remember, the piece I linked there was written two years ago, before this all came to pass. I was making the libertarian argument that a state which cannot be controlled or directed to serve the common interest should be starved of as much power as possible. Getting the State out of the business of regulating or defining marriage was preferable to it re-defining it, as it now has. Yes, this would mean that there would be a de-facto acceptance of “gay marriage” in Unitarian Universalist churches and the like, but it would also mean that the government would have zero say when it comes to whether Fr. Joseph refuses to “marry” a couple of dudes. It localizes and minimizes the impact. And in fact, the pro-sodomy movement is big on destroying the institution of marriage (I’ve got links to thought-leaders saying exactly that) rather than just adopting our paradigm. It’s never been about equality. It’s about the complete eradication of sexual morality, and the subsequent weaponizing of the “new normal” to stop anyone and everyone from telling them they can’t do anything they want.

The men pounding on the door of Lot’s house come to mind.

I would remind my readers that a few years back, I wrote an article that was essentially a critique of the “Benedict Option.” Entitled, “The Well-Sheltered Catholic,” I argued:

For many Catholics — especially those with children — a retreat from the world seems at times the only option. Overwhelmed and surrounded by a secular, hedonistic, over-sexualized culture that grows increasingly antithetical to the faith, it becomes a constant battle to shelter our families. But in doing so, we risk losing touch with the very world in which we are meant to be the leaven.

If the popular culture is an unhealthy environment for Catholic families, so too are echo chambers filled only with the ideas we like and agree with. This can transform into fantasy, a microcosm where — as my friend and Catholic journalist Hilary White recently described — “Catholic enclavists have gone off into the woods to create a happy and comforting little Catholic world, well insulated from Outside. The kids are homeschooled, the women commonly wear the trademark shapeless plaid jumper/white t-shirt and sneakers combo, the men work at home, the books on the shelves are all from Ignatius or Angelus press, the jokes are clean and not very funny, conversation is always holy, the horrors of the squelching, seething pornographic world Outside are clucked at primly and the introduction of ironic humour is a wild and somewhat scandalous sensation.”

This is precisely the sort of mentality that is incapable of confronting the culture. Rather than trying to bring the light of the Church into a hostile world, such people find it safer to keep the light under a bushel basket. The reasons for doing so are noble, no question: We parents will stand before God and account for the formation of our children and want only what is best for their souls. But what also of the souls entrusted to our care? What of those individuals in society who, lost and needing a lifeline, find that all help has been withdrawn and they are alone?

And yet things have changed drastically since this was published in 2008. There’s rules of the game have shifted. Hilary White herself is now an actual Benedictine oblate living in Norcia, having removed herself from Rome for the sanity of Sybyline mountains and the spiritual shelter of the Monastery, which, according to our friends at Wikipedia, is so connected to the legacy of the Father of Western Monasticism that it is “physically located above the 5th century ruins of the house of St. Benedict and his twin sister St. Scholastica, and has been the location of monastic communities since the tenth century AD.”

Here in the United States, there’s no escaping the creeping perversion that now saunters openly through our streets and browses, hand in same-sex hand, through the produce aisle of the neighborhood grocery store. Far worse is when one has occasion to be in a district of a city that has a large homosexual community, as happened to me recently when I had some errands to run in Washington, DC. As I made my way home, I would up stuck in backed up traffic caused by some sort of gay pride festival in Dupont Circle, and found myself incredibly grateful that my children were not in the car with me. The display was something that would not have been easy to explain.

Now, as much as I’d love to argue that this can be escaped by going rural, I wound working out of a Target Starbucks in the bucolic industrial town of Martinsburg, West Virginia only a week later. While there, I witnessed one of the most overt displays of man-on-man public affection I’ve ever seen in a family-friendly location. This is the kind of place where people aren’t debating the confederate flag, and even the young women drive pickup trucks. I was not expecting it. That said, I was in town every day for a week, and I only saw one instance of this behavior. It was nothing compared to the rainbow-festooned extravaganza I had just seen in DC.

And when it comes to forming our kids, it seems that less of this kind of thing is more. Seeing it every day inures them. Seeing it once in a while shocks them. We can’t create a bubble where it’s the 1950s all over again (and I’m not sure that’d be a good thing even if we could) but we can create a prayerful, family environment where good work and productive activity play a more central role than pop-culture, idleness, and societal indoctrination. I don’t plan to raise my family in caves. My work requires that I spend a lot of time on the Internet, interacting with the world. My children have their own unique gifts to offer. But if they have 15 years or more of solid formation before they have to confront these things, how much better off are they going to be than if they’re inundated at age five?

The practical details of how to do this are still something I’m working out. I have friends who have done it, however, and it’s been a real blessing to them. And they still live within 40 miles of a big city.

So no, this isn’t a topic on which I have all, or even most of, the answers. But I don’t see as that I have much choice but to keep plugging. Baby number seven arrives in September, and the world she’s being born into is not the one I would have chosen for her.

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