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The Benedict Option: Not for the Faint of Heart

Benedict Option

In the months after 9/11, some commentators noted that the tragedy brought America out of the false sense of peace it had enjoyed since the end of the Cold War. With the fall of the Soviet Union, many Americans had come to believe that the era of opposing hostile forces had ended, and consequently, our focus had shifted to issues such as social security lock-boxes and stains on certain dresses. But on that fateful day in September, America was reminded in a most tragic way that the world was still a serious – and dangerous – place.

A similar false sense of peace descended upon the Catholic Church about 50 years ago. After Vatican II, many Catholics believed that the Church was now acceptable to the world, and that the Church should work together with the world for the common good. Some still cling to this fantasy. However, as our culture rides the slip-and-slide to paganism, many Catholics and other tradition-minded Christians are starting to recognize the signs of the times and are asking themselves, “What is the proper response to the rapid decline of civilization – and rapid increase in anti-Christian bigotry – that we see all around us?” One idea that is gaining more and more traction is the “Benedict Option.”

The Benedict Option was originated by former Catholic and now Eastern Orthodox writer Rod Dreher (who should, by the way, come back to the Catholic Church). It is an idea that takes St. Benedict and his way of life as a model for how to respond to a decaying, and hostile, culture. Anxious about the state of affairs in the West, Dreher proposes that we must establish communities that will preserve the faith in the coming Dark Ages, just as the founder of Western monasticism established his monastery among the cultural ruins of a dying civilization.

I am personally quite attracted to this concept. By homeschooling, having a large family, seeking out a solid parish, and trying to avoid the rot that is pop-culture, I (and others who have made similar choices) already live the Benedict Option in ways both large and small.

Every Move You Make, I’ll Be Watching You

There is, however, a significant long-term challenge to the Benedict Option: the infeasibility of living counter-culturally in an intolerant, all-powerful Surveillance State.

If there is one underlying impulse in today’s growing paganism, it is control. It is simply not sufficient anymore to tolerate sin; we are now required to endorse and support it. Do otherwise and you’re labeled a bigot undeserving of the same rights as other citizens. We have already seen people lose their jobs for deviating from today’s group-think, and religious communities forced by government mandate to reject their own beliefs; it doesn’t stretch the imagination much to see future, more serious, consequences to non-conformity. Our society is on a path to becoming as controlling as many Muslim-run countries, which allow no dissent from their cultural norms. Although Christian communities have heroically survived in some of those countries, by and large they are tiny minorities that haven’t grown or had any influence for centuries. St. Benedict is a model of success in resisting a decaying culture, but there are many historical examples of failure in attempting to do so.

Not only does our culture insist on conformity, it now has the power to enforce such conformity with ruthless efficiency. With the rise of the Surveillance State, it is impossible to keep your beliefs and opinions private. Any past expression of support for beliefs that are no longer fashionable can be easily found and used against a person. Did you show your support for traditional marriage on Facebook? Refer to Caitlyn Bruce Jenner as “he” on Twitter? This is already grounds for dismissal in some industries. In the near future, perhaps it will mean that you aren’t qualified to raise your children anymore, citizen. And don’t think shunning social media sites makes you free from surveillance – the very fact that you are reading this counter-cultural article is being logged, and can be accessed by government officials if necessary.

Flabby Catholicism

The creeping lockstep conformity being applied to our culture – as well as the means to enforce it – exposes an “in-house” problem with any implementation of the Benedict Option: we simply aren’t strong enough to practice it. As a generation that has mostly faced, at worst, nothing but “soft persecution” in the midst of material plenty, we have grown flabby. We live in a Church of felt banners, insipid homilies, and tolerance for sin. One of the primary traditional means to strengthen our spiritual life – mortification – is no longer practiced; in fact, it is ridiculed as a relic of a bygone era. For most of us, just the basic fasting the Church requires on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday is considered a high hurdle. Is this really the generation that can joyfully endure a true persecution, in which our jobs, our freedom, even our children are on the line?

Many have been warning that persecution is coming. How many articles on this site alone have predicted it? But what are we doing about it now? Are we mortifying ourselves now? Are we praying now? Or are we just cruising Facebook with a bag of chips liking everyone’s predictions of a future persecution? Perhaps we should take the advice of our first pontiff, found in the biblical passage from which this site takes its name:

Be sober, be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking some one to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same experience of suffering is required of your brotherhood throughout the world. And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, establish, and strengthen you. (1 Peter 5:8-10)

Wise Words From Our First Holy Father

The First Letter of St. Peter, our first Papal encyclical, can help us to prepare for a possibly dark future. Written by the chief apostle to Christians facing increasing persecution, 1 Peter oscillates between soberness in the face of suffering, and the “unutterable and exalted joy” (1 Peter 1:8) found in being a disciple of Christ. The whole letter is marvelous; here are a few excerpts to whet your appetite:

Therefore gird up your minds, be sober, set your hope fully upon the grace that is coming to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, be holy yourselves in all your conduct (1 Peter 1:13-15)

For one is approved if, mindful of God, he endures pain while suffering unjustly. For what credit is it, if when you do wrong and are beaten for it you take it patiently? But if when you do right and suffer for it you take it patiently, you have God’s approval. For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps. (1 Peter 2:19-21)

Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal which comes upon you to prove you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice in so far as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed.  (1 Peter 4:12-13)

In a time of deep cultural decline, Catholics are obligated to preserve the Faith in any way they can, and this includes creating communities to pass on our spiritual inheritance, as the Benedict Option recommends. However, we must not kid ourselves and think that doing so will be easy; it will take using spiritual muscles that have atrophied from neglect and laziness. If we are to take seriously our charge to pass on the Faith to future generations, we need to begin training now for the dark times that we may soon be facing.

40 thoughts on “The Benedict Option: Not for the Faint of Heart”

      • Lots of choices in Africa, Asia, and Eastern Europe.
        If you filter out countries that are unstable, economically depressed, not under strict control of non-Christian religion, and of course, not influenced by the new Western paganism, you can get a list of about 20 countries (which most of these might even have decent economic opportunities for Western expats).
        They use classical English education expat schools which have selected enrollment and no neo-paganism education.
        Yes, you need to get nice decent job to pay for things, but it is not as hard as you might think.
        One example is Dubai, which is booming, and does have several Roman Catholic Churches and good decent expat schools.
        Since your children will be growing up in a separate culture, they will not identify themselves as Dubian (for example) nor corrupted by the latest American groupthink indecencies. If you can get your children to 15 years of age without corruption and Christ as the center of their life and not the State / Flag / peer pressure, their thinking tends to stay solid (have a fighting chance) for university

        • While it’s a nice idea in theory, leaving the U.S. isn’t the best idea for most people. Even Canada is starting to restrict free speech. There’s nowhere in Africa I would risk bringing my children to under anything other than the most desperate circumstances. I’ve worked with people from all over Africa, and they all say they would never go back, and are trying to bring as many friends & relatives here as fast as they possibly can.
          Dubai is still a Muslim country, with ISIS looming a bit too closely for comfort, and no guarantees of future religious freedom, with a climate unbearable to most, and an extremely high cost of living for a Western lifestyle. There’s no real security anywhere in the Middle East for American Christian expats. Anyone moving a Christian family to anywhere in the Middle East needs to have a mental health examination.
          The Philippines has a lot of fans, but most are older, male, single retirees-for obvious reasons. There are also many cultural/language differences, and I don’t think expats can work there unconditionally. All the Pinoys I know say they wouldn’t go back for anything-and are doing absolutely anything they can in order to stay here. They also have their issues with Muslims. Other places in Asia are too limited & restricted, and there’s always China looming in the background as a potential threat.
          New Zealand is supposedly great, but I’ve heard you need to prove you have lots of $$$$$ before they let you stay.
          Europe has an appeal, but in many places, you can’t homeschool freely, and in some places unless you become a citizen, you have to leave at least 1x a year, and you need to prove you have a certain amount of money before they’ll let you in. Do you want to live in a place where Putin might decide Russia has a vital interest? I don’t think a new USSR is a place I want to have my children live.
          We need to preserve our freedoms & faith here, rather than having to conform ourselves to some other cultures, and the whims of saber-rattling leaders. There’s nowhere to run to, folks.

          • You mention at the beginning of your comment that “even Canada is starting to restrict free speech.” I’m sorry to tell you that Canadians have not had the right of free speech for years. We can say pretty much whatever we want about Catholics but just try to say anything however mild about ANYONE else and you’re sunk.

        • I live in Malaysia and the life is what you describe above. Other countries in the area are very similar: Thailand, Singapore, even China. Nobody cares about what expats do, and I would not worry about moving to any of these places next. There are many excellent job opportunities and Westerners are actively sought. Expat life is very comfortable and there is a lot of freedom for us. The only rule in Malaysia is to not criticise Islam. Muslims don’t tend to mix with others anyway, so expats rarely have any encounters with Islam. It doesn’t impact my life at all. There is freedom of worship for other religions, and I never feel unsafe going to church. The churches are full and the numbers are growing. I have decided to home educate and I don’t have to answer to a government body. Nobody supervises the way my children are raised and I get to choose whom they socialise with. My husband and I intend to stay abroad in order to keep the kids safe from the western rot. I have never lived with this kind of personal freedom and it will be a difficult decision to go back to Europe, despite its pretty buildings and cultural heritage.

      • I used to think Mexico at least had the advantage of being 10-15 years behind in time relative to what is happening in the US. But just 3 days ago we got our terrible supreme court decision on SS “marriage” (my understanding is it doesn’t make it legal country-wide but it does in practice as anyone can get “married” by doing a procedure called “amparo” which I don’t know how to explain here), and it didn’t even make a sound!
        Just in time to beat the US, where there is still a chance it will not happen yet.
        This year they are also getting the perverting curriculum into public schools… etc.

        Still it is great to live in most places here, but that is only temporary. I live right in the center of where the Cristero movement took place. Churches are full, catholic schools are great, and people in general respect the Church. But that is going away faster and faster. It was long ago that I first gave my self the exercise of thinking which countries could be best to move my family to if things got awful, but I see now that while there is most of the tame a place that is a little better, that will not last for too long.

    • The places where there is less ‘moral rot’ people usually live off the land and are extremely poor. China, Alaska, places in Russia. Secluded, usually no or very spotty chances of finding a Catholic Church…trust me, I’ve looked into it!
      People are people and Satan works overtime trashing everyone everywhere, so good luck with that.

      • True that there is no corner of the Earth that you will find a Christian Heavenly Paradise.
        Having said that, if you filter to the list above I mentioned, and you have a professional background that can get you a good expat job, then your children have a better chance of avoiding the new American paganism as an expat than living in the US, even if you avoid US public schools, for you cannot avoid the new American pagan morality in the youth and their peer pressure.
        Try living outside of the US for a couple of years. When you return, you will like the shopping and restaurants but you will get shocked on how now people think.

        • Thanks Daniel. I’m older now and a Grandma 🙂 my kids are grown and to avoid as much harm to them as possible, I homeschooled them when they were young. The world eventually ‘got’ to them but what they were taught protected from so much of what hurt me, so I did what the only thing I could do! I also decided not to work out in the world so I am home and protected that way …there are ways around the world but they cost (as in choosing to be poor , being persecuted for not working etc etc.) the sacrifices are many and heavy, but so worth it!

          • Good for you, Grandma! I remember in the late 60s my husband forbidding me to look for a job (I was bored, silly me) and he said: “no wife of mine is going to work!” How I appreciate his manly take on marriage now though I didn’t then. Every family has to make a decision: does wife stay home to support the home for husband and children? Or does she work so they can keep up with the Joneses? Settling for a poorer lifestyle should be considered as a viable option for all.

          • Thank you Barbara! Nothing matters more than family and when we are all done and go to God, I believe He will ask us how we loved and cared for our family, the children He entrusted to us to bring to Heaven, not whether we made a lot of money or had an important career. The Blessed Virgin is our perfect model.

        • I’ve done that. More simple: don’t watch tv at all for 6 to 12 months. When you watch again you will be scandalized at how much it has worsened. It’s like a kid growing. You don’t notice because it’s so slow and you see him every day. But when a relative comes from being away a while they are very surprised.

          • Oh I do agree!! I went almost 17 years and watched almost no TV while raising my kids..what I did do was get some VHS tapes and tape really good older movies and shows so my kids could at least watch some things…like the older Anne of Green Gables series, Christmas movies and cartoons, the old Looney Tunes cartoons, Winnie the Pooh and some of older Disney movies. I was able to even delete the commercials, which is impossible with the DVD’s now. Funny thing was all the neighborhood kids always wanted to be at our house to watch these! Worked great. Later when I started watching TV… I almost died lol!

          • That’s what I do. Now with the computer it has become even easier.There is lots of good material one can download. I don’t miss having a TV at all. And it really changes things for the better.

  1. Doctors have told me that I have a very high tolerance for physical pain, and I have had a lot of physical pain these last 15 years. I offer it for the salvation of souls. But sometimes it gets to be too much, and I pray for relief instead of salvation. The Eucharist strengthens me then. We must preserve the Sacraments, especially those of The Passion. In this manner, the Faith has survived not only in the Dark Ages of Europe, but in the underground church of the Orient, and the catacombs of the Levant. We can do this. We must.

  2. ” In a time of deep cultural decline, Catholics are obligated to preserve the Faith in any way they can…” This brings to my mind two things, those of us who have no access to a truly valid Mass and the Catholics in China who are blessed to see a Priest once every 2 years- if even this is allowed by the Chinese government. Yet these people are truly beautiful catholics! They literally live for their faith and are so beautifully simple, as is the way of their lives. They care daily for their tiny church and pray the Rosary daily while praying and waiting patiently for a Priest to come and celebrate Mass. When he finally comes, they weep through the entire Mass they are so happy. Where is this kind of love, faith and devotion to God in America? I love this and the idea of forming small devout groups to preserve the Faith and I truly believe it is coming to this, and that we are already there now! Persecution is exactly what is needed to cause us to LOVE and SEEK and pine away for God with our whole hearts, minds and souls once again!
    I just read a very good story printed here, on 1Peter5 today, about a conversion and the Latin Mass playing an important role in this person’s conversion. Reading this caused me to feel saddness as I was raised Catholic and had no access to this or anything that many would recognize as Catholic. In my years of life, I have always been forced to deal with really hard Parishes. I am not saying I believe the new order Mass is invalid, I just simply witnessed so many abuses over my lifetime and it led to this, what we see now. Anyway, I enjoyed this article, it helped me and gave me some hope. Thank you!

  3. Suffice to say my that there is no true safe place on this Earth for the Faith any longer…. and there never really was; however, even here in the US things are heating up. I take comfort in and am strengthened by the understanding that the Father sees and allows it… all things work for the good of those who love God, even persecution. We must not despair nor frantically try to figure out where to go. Jesus Himself set His Face like flint and went to Jerusalem. We must do all that we can wherever we live and pray mightily that we may face our trials with faithfulness and perseverance.

    • If possible, join a Parish of like mind that adheres to both a Catholic Bible,
      and the “Catechism of the Catholic Church, second edition” which contains the Doctrine of the Faith.

      • Thank you, Mike. Yes, that is very good advice. Thankfully, we recently moved to another state and have found a wonderful parish. I agree…one cannot underestimate the importance of one’s parish.

  4. I’m opposed in every way to the Benedict option… you have to stay in the world and keep figh… oh wait…

  5. 2 Tim 3:5 “…. Avoid such people;
    Titus 3:10 “…. As for a man who is factious after admonishing him once or twice. have nothing more to do with him….”;
    2 Thess 3:6 ” …. keep away from any brother who is living in idleness and not in accord with the tradition that you received from us…. “;
    Eph 5:7 “….Therefore do not associate with them……”;
    1 Cor 15:33 “….Bad company ruins good morals.”;

  6. Families never were a part of the monastic tradition. Most often they were also segragated between the sexes. A consecrated ‘community’ dedicated to solitude and contemplation (Benedictine or otherwise) that allowed for marriage and children would be something completely new. The closest thing we have had to this ideal turn out more like hippie communes or cults controled by a charasmatic tyrant (David Koresh comes to mind) than an orthodox monastary.

    Not only that, but the sacrafices required to ‘leave the world behind’ are difficult for individuals and impossible for entire families. For example, there is one a community of brothers living south of San Francisco dedicated to adoration and contemplation that lives this sort of lifestyle. On the Q and A page one person asked, “May I keep in touch with my family through social media while I’m there?” The answer was ‘no’.

  7. Today it is important for Catholic families – same values – to stick together. Children learn by example.
    Limit – TV, and other forms of electronic media.
    Relativism, Secularism, Hedonism, and Materialism abounds in the secular media.

  8. I have noticed that a number of people have assumed that the “Benedict Option” means physically leaving society – joining a commune, going “off the grid,” etc. This is not what I mean (nor what I think Dreher means). One can live the Benedict Option without moving or otherwise physically separately oneself from the world.

    As I mention in the article, living the Benedict Option can mean homeschooling, no longer watching TV, joining a solid parish, etc. In these ways, one separates oneself from the prevalent culture while living where you are. In these ways, one can pass on the Faith, preparing for the day when we can retake the culture.

    What I fear is that even doing it like this – where we are, parallel to the prevalent culture – will soon not be allowed, because our nonconformity will stand out more and more and need to be stamped out. It will be like a giant game of whack-a-mole against traditional Christians.

    • Actually, the option to physically FLEE is quite traditionally Christian, starting with the Christians who fled Jerusalem before the destruction on 70 A.D. based on the prophecy and commands of Our Lord. They literally took that advice and were saved in body and soul.
      The highest priority is to save one’s (and one’s family) soul and to keep the Faith, even if it may mean fleeing.
      I do not say that fleeing is the only or best option, but it must be an option, especially if the persecution becomes intense. It is known that by the end of the world, the persecution of the remaining Christians WILL be intense, so it will happen (when, we do not know).

      We are Christians, not revolutionaries, so I think the option of revolution is not good.

      We would have to wait until a Restoration, which would occur when there is a Conversion of America (and mostly likely the whole world, and a true restoration of the Catholic Church), or there is a Chastisement (which has been credibly prophesied, and since things now are worse than before the Deluge, it really could happen, but don’t know when).
      In either case, Conversion or Chastisement, there must be a Remnant of Christians in diaspora ready to return to rebuild.
      But no matter what, how things are going today, it will NOT stand the test of time. so we must save our Faith and souls, even considering fleeing to someplace and be in diaspora.
      You may differ on the methods of the Benedict Option, but the end goal has to be similar to apocalyptic end of times, whether such events happen or not: the motives and possibly the scale of persecution is the same.
      Our unfortunate bethren in the Middle East now are showing what happens with persecution: no Benedict Option, only to flee.
      You think that will not happen in the West, when it is the West who triggered many events leading to the fleeing of Christians and it is the West who does not do any serious effort to help Christians?
      Is this the same secular West that you hope will not convert to Islam or not persecute Christians?
      At a certain level of persecution, the Benedict Option will not work…..we must flee or lose our souls, our Faith.

    • Great article, Eric. For several years now – without knowing it – we have been striving to live the Benedict Option you describe “homeschooling, no longer watching TV, joining a solid parish, etc.”. Unfortunately, for many of us who live in smaller cities or more rural areas, there are no “solid parishes” within a 3+ hour drive. As we discern what is best for our families, one of the very real choices we face is taking a leap of faith, uprooting our families and moving to an area with a solid parish and community – or hunker down and fight where we are. I suspect there are many others in the same situation. Fortunately, sites like 1P5 offer a virtual community where we can share experiences and support others struggling to live authentic Catholic lives in an increasingly hostile culture. I will pray for all of you who find yourselves in similar situations – and I hope you will pray for me and my family as well. God bless!

  9. My compliments on a thoughtful and provocative article, but the next step still needs to be articulated. I can tell you that the TLM, home schooling, no television, and a fairly sheltered life are still inadequate. Somehow the world still creeps in. The only sustainable answer for devout but probably less-than-heroic Catholic families is to live in community with like minded Catholics. By that I mean close geographical proximity, in a community large enough to where most of your day-to-day interactions are with other Catholics who are either serious themselves or, if not personally devout, at least outwardly respectful of Catholic morality. There can be dissenters, sure, but if they predominate numerically in your community, you don’t really have a community. Where can you find this today?

    • Exactly. The persecution will need to be further down the road before people begin gathering into viable communities, I think.

  10. Good article Eric. My wife and I engaged in a sort of ‘Benedict Option’ with our very large family beginning in the 1960’s right after Vatican II. What we were escaping from were the Catholic Schools and parishes of the time with their often heretical doctrine doctrine and lackadaisical practice. We lived in farm houses with few neighbors, with others started our own orthodox Catholic school, read the Wanderer, drove miles to find an orthodox parish and later my wife started a catechism program for like minded parents, etc, etc. How did all this turn out. Most of them do not attend the Catholic Church on a regular basis but do live very moral lives. I think what the experience taught them was that one must seek God on his own. That placing your confidence in our corrupt society or the Catholic Church will be disappointing. This is particularly true today with Pope Francis whose ambiguous statements on Catholic morality along with his worldly concerns sets us adrift and alone in a stormy world.

  11. I don’t mean to offend anyone here, but I am surprised to see such a defensive pall cast over so many people. What is, by your definition, a “solid parish”? Is anything necessary beyond the Eucharist? Is Christ Himself, body, blood, soul and divinity, not enough for you? Is there any Catholic parish in the world in which the priest is not empowered to act in persona Christi and validly consecrate the hosts, no matter his errors in life and teaching? If you are concerned about heresies and error being taught, is the Holy Rosary not enough for you? Are Mary’s promises that the Rosary will overcome errors and heresies empty words? What more do we need than Jesus and His mother Mary in order to conquer? Did Jesus not require that His apostles, and therefore, all of His disciples engage with the world? Were they not “in the world, but not of the world”? What about “you are the light of the world” and “no one lights a lamp and hides it under a basket”? And “you are the salt of the world”?

    We have been given all the resources we need to not only survive, but thrive in the world, despite the world. How will the New Evangelization take place if Catholic families, with all of these graces, hide themselves from the rest of society, which needs us and our example more than it’s willing to admit?

    No offense, but I have completely the opposite opinion and outlook. The answer is not to withdraw, but to face the world with confidence, armed with the Sacraments of Confession and Communion, and all of the other inexhaustible treasures of the Holy Catholic Church, knowing that if we do so bravely, we will be allowed to share in Christ’s victory, since he has “already conquered the world”.


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