Culture: May 2016 Archives

Oklahoma's Clear Creek Abbey and the lay community growing around it are featured in a recent story about the "Benedict Option" -- an approach to living faithfully in Christian community as the broader culture transitions from being supportive of and accommodating to Christianity to being hostile and aggressive. The term "Benedict Option" was coined by columnist Rod Dreher, who was inspired by the role Benedictine communities played in preserving civilization through the Middle Ages.

Writer John Burger sets the scene in his essay on

For the most part, Christians have had a happy -- some would even say "privileged" -- time of it in America, where Christianity and Christian churches were essentially left alone as they freely exercised their religion within society both privately and, up until recently, in partnership with the government.

Well, that was then, and this is now. The very effective cooperative partnership that existed between the U. S. government and the US Conference of Catholic Bishops to serve victims of human trafficking was ended due to the Obama administration's insistence that contraception and abortion be included in any assistance provided to victims. Some cities have seen Catholic adoption services come to an end because they cannot conform to anti-discrimination laws that, in legal suit after suit, are adjudicated against religious freedom.

In general, Christians are firmly being told that if they wish to remain in the public square and involved in social services, parades, or business enterprises of any kind, they will have to sacrifice their values and teachings to the shifting morals of the times and resultant regulations, or be ready to give up their business and abandon their missions.

The time of "privilege" appears to be over. Christians face challenges unimaginable even a decade ago, and must discern new ways of being in a nation that has become hostile to expressions of faith lived outside the sanctuaries and beyond the pews.

A comment on that first paragraph: Christians have had a happy time of it in America because it was founded by our Christian forebears, who came here from Europe in order to have the freedom to live out their Christian faith, not merely to worship behind closed doors, but to order their communities in accordance with the truth of God's Word. Court rulings, starting in the 1960s, turned the prohibition of a Federal establishment of religion into a pretext to chase religious belief out of community institutions at every level of government. Where the stick of court rulings could not reach, the carrot of Federal funds entangled local schools in Federal mandates. Public schools that were once the means of transmitting a community's values to the rising generation were converted to mission stations for secularism, dedicated to alienating children from the ideals that built Western Civilization.

So what to do? The Benedict Option calls for Christians to establish "new forms of community that have as their ends a life of virtue." Dreher quotes Robert Louis Wilken:

At this moment in the Church's history in this country (and in the West more generally) it is less urgent to convince the alternative culture in which we live of the truth of Christ than it is for the Church to tell itself its own story and to nurture its own life, the culture of the city of God, the Christian republic. This is not going to happen without a rebirth of moral and spiritual discipline and a resolute effort on the part of Christians to comprehend and to defend the remnants of Christian culture

The Aleteia story describes the evolution of a community around Clear Creek Abbey:

"Formally speaking, there are no 'primary organizers' of the community that is forming, little by little, around our abbey," Father Anderson said in an interview. "From the beginning, we monks wanted to avoid planning a lay community, allowing, rather, that to happen naturally, organically, if it would."

Father Anderson said that there are 37 households living near the abbey now. [Institute for Excellence in Writing director Andrew] Pudewa and his wife and family have been there since 2009. They always sought out places that fostered a sense of community and had lived in several places around the country and abroad, including some experimental communities.

"When we came to visit it looked like this could meet all of our requisites--a Christian community, rural, a relatively safer part of the country, conservative, and a place where it's easy to grow a business and thrive," he said. "What I would kind of see as our village idea, in a way, isn't to just escape the ugliness of worldliness--because you can't really ever escape that, no matter how far out you go--but it is to cultivate a life of peace and faith and community that can nurture people who may then go out into the world and do things."

What brings everyone together? For Pudewa, it's the abbey, which is clearly the focal point and source of spiritual strength.

"Without the monastery, there would be no reason to be here because this is the land of ticks and chiggers and cottonmouths and copperheads and brutally hot summers and storms and tornadoes," he said. "One thing every family seems to go through is trials and tribulations. You move out here and you will be tested."

Pudewa, founder and director of the Institute for Excellence in Writing, said that a lot of prospective residents are drawn by the abbey's orthodoxy and rigorous adherence to liturgical norms. "There's never going to be anything goofy at the monastery," he said. "The abbot, the hierarchy, the total dedication of the monks to the monastic life and holiness and the Benedictine rule and work and prayer--that's the example that in a lay person's way we wish we could emulate."

The article goes on to describe two other forms that the Benedict Option has taken -- the Anselm Society, an arts-focused community connected with an Anglican parish, and a Washington-based group of Catholics who gather for dinner, prayer, and discussion.

This coming weekend, the monastery and the nearby Institute for Excellence in Writing (IEW) will host a conference called "The Idea of a Village." Speakers include Rod Dreher, Baylor theology and literature professor Ralph C. Wood, Thomas Aquinas College tutor John F. Nieto, Abbot Philip Anderson, the Father Abbot of Clear Creek, and IEW director Andrew Pudewa. The main thread of the conference is on Saturday, May 21, 2016, at IEW, but there are related activities Friday night and Sunday morning at the Abbey.

From the conference website:

In the time of the collapse of the Roman Empire, Christians gathered around the communities of religious in monasteries of the Benedictine tradition for spiritual succor and stability. Likewise, many of today's Christians, discouraged by the corruption of our own declining empire, desire a similar spiritual support. Some of these families have informally settled around Clear Creek Abbey, a thriving monastery of Benedictine monks, and are, in the words of Abbot Philip Anderson, O.S.B., seeking "to recommence the business of building a just and healthy form of social life, from the ground up." While some have heard of this idea as "the Benedict Option," it might more simply be thought of as the pursuit of sanity in a world gone crazy.


A medievalist blogger from San Antonio details a four-day visit to Clear Creek Abbey.

Last year, D. C. Innes wrote a three-part series on the Benedict Option for World magazine.

The Benedict Option has three elements: re-centered Christian identity, attractive community witness, and defensive political engagement. Dreher calls it "a new and concentrated inwardness so that we can strengthen our communal lives and our outward witness and service to the broader culture." His call is to rediscover what should have been our focus all along: the Christ-headed community that sustains us in our precious faith, matures our understanding of it, and enables our consistent practice of it. In this way, Dreher's Benedict Option is both preservative and proclamatory.

Politically, it entails "a strong recalibration on the part of Christians of what is possible through politics in a liberal order." This recalibrated effort nonetheless calls for aggressive defense of religious liberty, e.g., through organizations like Alliance Defending Freedom. In the almost half-century of culture-warring, we left our rear flank exposed. Dreher is calling us to fortify that flank while maintaining a defensive stance on the political front, all while flinging wide open the doors of the city to receive refugees from the Dark Lord's territory.

About this Archive

This page is a archive of entries in the Culture category from May 2016.

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