...what T.S. Eliot has to say about The Benedict Option
When I heard about the new term "Benedict Option" floating around the web, my first thought was that this is nothing new; many of us have been striving to create our own alternative realities within this secular world for quite a while. It just sort of tickled me that Rod Dreher is talking as if he is calling for something new, when a whole sub-culture of radical Christians have been working on this for years, for decades! But now that I've been reading the blogs and discussions of this, I am so glad that he has raised the issue and given it a quirky new name--so that we can revive the discussion.
So what exactly is the Benedict Option?
From what I can gather it is simply focusing less on changing our country through politics, and more on building local Christian communities that seek to instill true Christian values. And you might respond, but isn't this the church? Ideally yes, but churches have focused on only one aspect of Christian life: rules of belief--doctrines. They have stayed out of life style (our way of life). But culture and lifestyle are where the rubber meets the road for us humans. And we do need to revive the dialogue and bring an awareness of the need for an essential change in the hearts and minds of Christians--one that will change our whole way of life!
But still, the recognition that Christians need to come together to form their own enclaves or communities in the secular society, in order to keep our values and true education alive, is nothing new! I thought of the many books written over the past century that are relevant to this discussion. When I pulled down Christianity and Culture by T.S. Eliot and reread his first essay, "The Idea of a Christian Society," I was amazed at how relevant it was to the current discussion. For example, here are just a few quotes from the first few pages....
I am here concerned only secondarily with the changes in economic organization... my primary interest is a change in our social attitude, such a change only as could bring about anything worthy to be called a Christian Society. (p. 8)
What we are seeking is not a programme for a party, but a way of life for a people. (p. 14)Our secular, materialistic society cannot be "fixed" with political solutions. It is the society's view of man, and his nature, that is at the root of the problem. And in education this affects their teaching of language and essential ideas. Wise and thoughtful Christians have seen this and they have attempted to form schools that will instill the right values, but too often these schools fail because they keep imitating the public schools. They lost track of what education is for.
The more highly industrialised the country, the more easily a materialistic philosophy will flourish in it, and the more deadly that philosophy will be. ... The tendency of unlimited industrialism is to create bodies of men and women--of all classes--detached from tradition, alienated from religion, and susceptible to mass suggestion: in other words, a mob. A mob will be no less a mob if it is well fed, well housed, and well disciplined. (p. 17)
The Liberal notion that religion was a matter of private belief and of conduct in private life, and that there is no reason why Christians should not be able to accommodate to any world that treats them good-naturedly, is becoming less and less tenable. (p. 17)
The problem of living a Christian life in a non-Christian society is now very present to us... It is the problem constituted by our implication in a network of institutions from which we cannot dissociate ourselves: (they are) no longer neutral, but non-Christian. And as for the Christian who is not conscious of his dilemma--and he is in the majority--he is becoming more and more de-Christianised by all sorts of unconscious pressure: paganism holds all the most valuable advertising space. (p. 17)All of the above come from Eliot's essay, "The Idea Of a Christian Society." And this was written in 1939.
So, lets talk about how we move forward in Christian community? How do we provide for the education of our young, and therefore preserve a true and lively, loving Christian culture? As T.S. Eliot said in The Four Quartets:
It is not to ring the bell backward
Nor is it an incantation
To summon the spectre of a Rose.
We cannot revive old factions
We cannot restore old policies
Or follow an antique drum. ~ Little Gidding