Jul 11 2017

Reading About Rod Dreher’s Benedict Option (Part IV)

Texas wildflowers

I’ve been reading, and wondering for example, about the question of language–particularly the question of the language of community. I’m thinking: if you don’t speak the language of the community, you are in fact, not a part of the community, no matter who or what that community is. As Rod Dreher writes in in The Benedict Option:

Americans cannot stand to contemplate defeat or to accept limits of any kind. But American Christians are going to have to come to terms with the brute fact that we live in a culture, one in which our beliefs make increasingly little sense. We speak a language that the world more and more either cannot hear or finds offensive to its ears…. [1]

The Benedictine example is a sign of hope but also a warning: no matter what a Christian’s circumstances, he cannot live faithfully if God is only a part of his life, bracketed away from the rest. In the end, either Christ is at the center of our lives, or the Self and all its idolatries are. There is no middle ground. [2]

With His help, we can piece together the fragment of our lives and order them around Him, but it will not be easy, and we can’t do it alone. To strive for anything less, though, is to live out the saying of the French Catholic writer Léon Bloy: “The only real sadness, the only real failure, the only great tragedy in life, is not to become a saint.” [3]

(Sarcastically) I say Dreher makes it seem like everything is crystal clear to orthodox Christians 24/7––but I counter that it seems easy to imagine not having certainty about what your life is centered around and be content with what is “random” and “liquid.” But perhaps I am an outsider and unaccustomed to understanding Dreher’s language. Compare Augustine:

Whenever we express anything in words, our hearer either does not know whether it is true, or he knows it is untrue, or he knows it is true. In the first of these three, it is a matter of belief or opinion or doubt; in the second, of opposition and denial; in the third, of attesting to what is true. In none of these cases, therefore, does he learn. It follows, therefore, that one who does not grasp the reality after hearing our words, or who knows that what he heard is untrue, or who could have given the same answer, if asked, has learned nothing by any words of mine. [4]

Compare Robert Gates on A&M:

If you’re on the outside looking in, you can’t understand it. If you’re on the inside looking out, you can’t explain it. [5]

Compare Alan Jacobs on the idea of “code switching”:

What is required of serious religious believers in a pluralistic society is the ability to code-switch: never to forget or neglect their own native religious tongue, but also never to forget that they live in a society of people for whom that language is gibberish. To speak only in the language of pragmatism is to bring nothing distinctive to the table; to speak only a private language of revelation and self-proclaimed authority is to leave the table altogether. For their own good, but also for the common good, religious believers need to be always bilingually present. [6]

See also: “Rereading Ruthie Leming” and “Reading About Rod Dreher’s Benedict Option (Part III).” As well as Dreher’s “When is a Sandwich Not a Sandwich” responding to David Brooks’ “How We Are Ruining America,” for further conversation on the language of community.



[1] Dreher, The Benedict Option: a Strategy for Christian in a Post-Christian Nation 12.

[2] “There is no middle ground”––yet just a few paragraphs before, Dreher held:

Wall Street. Conservative Christians can and should continue working with liberals to combat sex trafficking, poverty, AIDS, and the like. (p. 84)

Isn’t the second quotation an example, in fact, of middle ground?

[3] Dreher, The Benedict Option: a Strategy for Christian in a Post-Christian Nation 75–76.

[4] Augustine Aurelius. De magistro. (The Teacher.) The Fathers of the Church – A New Translation. Vol. 59. Translated by Robert P. Russell. Washington, DC: Catholic University of America Press. 1968. XII, 40, p. 55.

[5] Gates, Robert. A Passion for Leadership: Lessons on Change and Reform from Fifty Years of Public Service. NY: Knopf. 2015. p. 17.

[6] Jacobs, Alan. “When Character No Longer Counts.” National Affairs. No. 32 (Spring 2017.)