Chancellot & 316: Test Cases for the Benedict Option?


“It is always easy to let the age have its head; the difficult thing is to keep one’s own.” 
— G. K. Chesterton

John Shelton
John Shelton
Rod Dreher’s “Benedict Option” is a call for renewed emphasis on Christian community. While all around the moral coherence of society erodes, Christian communities can preserve their distinct vision of and for the world by their daily practices: prayer, scripture reading, shared meals, etc. But survival isn’t the only goal; the hope is that these communities will encourage serious discipleship at the same time as they promote alternative modes of engaging culture than those championed by Christians in the past.

Dreher, a journalist and prolific blogger, named the ‘Benedict Option’ for Benedict of Nursia, who founded the monastic communities that preserved Western civilization after the fall of the Roman Empire.

We all desire close community, but Dreher thinks that it’s now more necessary than ever.  We live in an age of deep moral relativism. The world—once thought to brim with meaning—has been stripped bare.  Our “secular age” is one in which every claim to absolute truth can be contended  and dismissed, leaving society with practically irresolvable questions: Whose life may we legally end—the fetus? The criminal? The terminally-ill patient asking for physician-assisted suicide? Who may marry whom? Whom can we torture?  From Congress to cable news, little agreement is possible because the bigger questions of our life are themselves disputed.  Such “profound moral incoherence and unsettlable moral disputes” demand a response from the church—but what kind?

The University of Virginia would seem a fitting test case for this Benedict Option. Where better to find ‘unsettlable moral disputes’ than in a public university? What other universities have such a strong tradition of Christian communal living as our own? By my count, there are three such communities on Chancellor Street alone, not to mention those around 14th Street or the hive of housing in what is called “Chi Alpha-land” in Christian parlance.

Do these communities match up with the vision of the Benedict Option or are we guilty of withdrawal from the university? Can a renewed focus on communal Christian life really affect the wider non-Christian community or is all this Benedict Option talk mere sentimentality? What way forward is there for the church in society? What way forward is there for Christians at UVA?

Dreher’s lecture is Monday, October 12th at 6pm at the Study Center.  We undoubtedly have much to learn from Dreher and perhaps much to say as well. Come listen, think, and respond.