Build the Benedict Option in New Wine Skin

Restoration of consciously European Christian tradition in America is fundamentally self contradictory.

America has millions of the world’s poor and strangers knocking at its door. The reasons why are complex, but they boil down to the economic success of our society and the history of colonialism. Immigrants bring their own culture when they arrive. Solutions to preserve the power of European culture within America—or communities within America, more realistically—require a combination of exclusion and cultural “Euro-washing” of non-Western newcomers. Such policies ignore God’s call to welcome the poor and the stranger.

Rod Dreher is a prominent American Christian traditionalist and the author of The Benedict Option: A Strategy for Christians in Post-Christian Nation. This book is very exciting to me. Dreher identifies the crumbling of American social fabric, ties it to the breakdown in cultural values that had been rooted in European Christian tradition, and calls for rebuilding local social institutions to restore Christian community. But there’s a fly in the punchbowl.

Dreher is explicit that we should embrace European Christian traditions. There is nothing wrong with European Christian traditions per se. The author makes positive arguments for European traditions and carefully avoids falling into hate for non-Europeans. But, in the context of modern America, creating intentional European bubbles requires either excluding the poor and the stranger or devaluing their culture. The project is un-Christian in substance.

Even if its founder couches his arguments in love, any project to consciously promote traditional European Christian culture in American communities—to the exclusion of other cultures—will attract people who value the “European” part more than the “Christian” part. It will devolve into hate, like many earlier movements doing the same have done.

America’s been having this fight since the Pilgrims first arrived. We know how it goes for the Brown people.

Why is it wrong for America and other Western societies to insist on cultural homogeneity but acceptable for Japan to do the same? What about Russia or Hungary, which are White societies currently embracing their ethno-national identity? When is it OK to host exclusively Black or Brown “safe spaces” but not White ones? To judge each case, one must balance benefits for the in-group against costs to the out-group. When lots of people are clamoring to get in somewhere, it’s probably wrong to marginalize them. Fewer cultural outsiders want access to Japan, Russia, and Hungary than to America and Western Europe. (That’s to our credit. To the extent these other places are desirable, history may judge them harshly for their ethnocentrism)

By my logic, acceptable European cultural projects in America are those that would offer little value to non-Europeans if they were admitted. But no founder wants to build a mediocre institution!

In summary, I wholly recommend reading The Benedict Option…critically. The task facing orthodox American Christians is both harder and easier than Dreher recognizes. Yes, we need to strengthen local Christian institutions to survive a post-Christian age, but those spaces must be culturally inclusive. We must synthesize new Christian culture informed by the past – not simply fall back to imperfect tradition. That’s hard.

The task is easier than Dreher says because we serve a God who makes unexpected ways when we practice what we preach. I recognize that something is lost by distancing ourselves from European Christian tradition. Christian life is an act of pouring oneself out, relying on God’s grace to renew our strength. Christ taught a belief system, not a culture. The church that wants to save its life will lose it, but the church that loses its life for God will find it.

Written on September 9, 2022