The Benedict Option

by Rod Dreher, Sentinel, £20

This is the age of the New Low. The Benedict Option is the latest in a string of books coming out of America arguing that the status of Christian civilisation in the United States (and, by extension, the West) has sunk to unprecedented depths. It takes its place alongside Out of the Ashes by Anthony Esolen, Resurrecting the Idea of a Christian Society by RR Reno, and Strangers in a Strange Land by Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia.

Familiar foes swarm across the pages of The Benedict Option: secularism, materialism, hedonism, relativism and the rest. Traditional Christianity is being overrun and the consequences are industrial-scale commodification of embryos, the ubiquity of hardcore pornography, a rising tide of unbelief and countless other evils. Things could hardly be bleaker for a once proud and secure Christian nation. Yet Dreher’s book is laced with warnings of even darker times to come. This isn’t going to blow over. The arrival of Donald Trump should fool no one. He is not the cavalry.

In striving to rouse his fellow Christians from the slough of despond to which he himself has (of necessity) led them, Dreher pulls off a neat trick. He appropriates for traditionalists the familiar tropes of “resistance” that are normally the preserve of the progressive Left. Here is a conservative speaking of enduring a “harsh, relentless occupation”, of living in “internal exile”, of churches “colonised” by mushy pseudo-religion. Dreher allows himself to dream of “isolated pockets” of rebellion growing with time into “networks” that will outlast the occupation. Best of all, he puts traditionalists in the vanguard of the new “counterculture”.

In his publicity shot, Dreher looks quite the middle-aged rebel: shirt unbuttoned, unruly hair, bushy, variegated beard, Sartrian glasses that would look dandy in a café on the Left Bank. Conservative Christians will feel either bewildered or exhilarated by his invitation to pilfer some of the dark glamour of revolution. Leftists will be appalled.

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