Rod Dreher is to be commended for many aspects of The Benedict Option. But at the end of the day, it reminds me of a fistful of pearls, with no thread available to make the necklace. I am glad I read it, and I am glad for the stand that Dreher is taking against various outrages. Good on him.
In my view, the reason Dreher has the pearls but no thread has to do with the fact that he has no eschatology to shape or form his view of history. We are in the middle of the historical narrative, and our chapter is leading somewhere. Where is that? Apart from a defined, eschatological vision, Christians must necessarily give way to the pagans who have an erroneous (but clear) allegiance to their march of progress.
Where is God taking us? And how does He want us to behave on the way? The answers to these questions are found in biblical eschatology and biblical law respectively. Without these things clear and defined, without hope and law, we will huddle into our little bewildered Benedict bands (LBBB), holding onto traditional values for some reason, trying to postpone the day when we are all herded into the cattle cars of tolerance at the points of sensitivity bayonets.
And so it is telling that Dreher ended his book with dire warnings about technology. As I have argued a number of times, it is not that technology is a neutral and benign thing. Technology is a form of wealth, and so it is that all the warnings in Scripture about wealth bringing in a sense of autonomy and self-sufficiency are warnings that pertain. God gives wealth. God gives us technology. And we are solemnly warned not to wax fat, kicking like Jeshurun. We are not told to reject the covenant blessing of wealth.
“In 2013, for the first time ever, over 90 percent of us had mobile phones” (Loc. 3218). “This likely explains why Americans are so naïvely optimistic about technology” (Loc. 3260). “The Enlightenment ideas upon which America was founded” (Loc. 3261). “What enables this hypocrisy? The technocratic mentality” (Loc. 3293). “that technology must never be accepted as part of the natural order of things” (Loc. 3481). “in ancient Greek, techne, or ‘craftsmanship,’ versus episteme, or ‘knowledge gained through contemplation’” (Loc. 3326).
Dreher has, and holds faithfully to, many fragmented elements of the Christian worldview. But it does not cohere in his hands—he does not have the worldview itself. He cannot bring it all together in a coherent Christian vision for life in this world.
And as though he meant to illustrate this melancholy fact, Dreher concludes by telling the story of how his friend Andrew Sullivan achieved serenity. “My friend Andrew Sullivan was one of the most prolific and influential bloggers on the Internet” (Loc. 3430), and one day just quit. In Sullivan’s words, “And so I decided, after 15 years, to live in reality” (Loc. 3438). Dreher met up with him a few months later, and found him “fit and glowing.”
Now what the heck? When it comes to the plague of same sex mirage, Andrew Sullivan is our very own Typhoid Mary. Stop for a minute. Let me change metaphors. This is like the Captain Dreher of the Titanic sending out an earnest set of distress signals, but wrapping up his Benedict SOSing with the observation that the iceberg appeared to be “fit and glowing.” I dare say. The iceberg was fine.
So Andrew Sullivan went on an Internet fast. But did he repent of anything the Bible talks about?
Many of Dreher’s observations are genuinely astute. They are astute, but radically disconnected. And so it is he does not have the ability to be a general in these wars of ours. The Benedict Option is full of good quotables. But there is no plan to speak of.