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The Benedict Option – The Great Flood

A precis of Rod Dreher’s ‘The Benedict Option’. Chapter 1.

Pope Benedict XVI said that the spiritual crisis overtaking the West is the most serious since the fall of the Roman Empire near the end of the fifth century. There are people today who may live to see the effective death of Christianity within our civilisation. Hostile secular nihilism has won the day in our nation’s government, and the culture has turned powerfully against traditional Christians.

Well, so what if those around us don’t share our morality? We can still retain our faith and teaching within the walls of our churches, we may think. The changes that have overtaken the West in modern times have revolutionised everything, even the church, which no longer forms souls but caters to selves. As conservative Anglican theologian Ephraim Radner has said, “There is no safe place in the world or in our churches within which to be a Christian. It is a new epoch.

Even more troubling, many of the churches that do stay open will have been hollowed out by a sneaky kind of secularism to the point where the ‘Christianity’ taught there is devoid of power and life. MTD or Moralistic Therapeutic Deism has colonised the churches, destroying biblical Christianity from within.

MTD has five basic tenets: There is a GOD that created and watches over human life, GOD wants us to be good and fair, The purpose of life is to be happy, GOD doesn’t involve himself unless there is a problem, Good people go to heaven. The problem with MTD is that it’s mostly about improving one’s self-esteem and subjective happiness and getting along well with others. It has little to do with the Christianity of Scripture and tradition which teaches repentance, self-sacrificial love, purity of the heart, and commends suffering – the way of the cross – as a pathway to GOD. Though superficially Christian, MTD is the natural religion of a culture that worships the Self and material comfort. Many of these “Christians” are actually committed moral individualists who neither know nor practice a coherent Bible-based morality. Society is a collection of autonomous individuals out to enjoy life.

Is the Christianity we have been living out in our families, congregations, and communities a means of deeper conversion, or does it function as a vaccination against taking faith with the seriousness the Gospel demands? Christians speak a language that the world more and more either cannot hear or finds offensive to its ears. Rather than wasting energy and resources fighting unwinnable political battles, we should instead work on building communities, institutions, and networks of resistance that can outwit, outlast, and eventually overcome the occupation. Pope Gregory writes that young Benedict was so shocked and disgusted by the vice and corruption in the city that he turned his back on the life of privilege that awaited him there. Benedict lived a life of prayer and contemplation as a hermit for three years.

Benedict’s example gives us hope today because it reveals what a small cohort of believers who respond creatively to the challenges of their own time can accomplish through the grace of GOD. A virtuous society is one that shares belief in objective moral goods and the practices necessary for human beings to embody those goods in community. To live ‘after virtue,’ then, is to dwell in a society that not only can no longer agree on what constitutes virtuous belief and conduct but also doubts that virtue exists.

Barbarians are governed only by their will to power, and neither know nor care a thing about what they are annihilating. Our scientists, our judges, our princes, our scholars, and our scribes – they are at work demolishing the faith, the family, gender, even what it means to be human.

Christians besieged by the raging floodwaters of modernity await someone like Benedict to build arks capable of carrying them and the living faith across the sea of crisis – a Dark Age that could last centuries. It will be those that learn how to endure with faith and creativity, to deepen their own prayer lives and adopting practices, focusing on families and communities instead of on partisan politics, and building churches, schools, and other institutions within which the orthodox Christian faith can survive and prosper through the flood.

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