What Now? Faithful Living in Challenging Times - page 3




WHAT NOW? Faithful Living in Challenging Times
by Michael Cromartie, Vice President of the Ethics and Public Policy Center

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What does Rod Dreher mean when he calls Christians to consider the Benedict Option? Here is what he says:

The Benedict Option refers to Christians in the contemporary West who cease to identify the continuation of civility and moral community with the maintenance of the American Empire, and who therefore are keen to construct local forms of community as loci of Christian resistance against what the empire represents. Put grandly, the Benedict Option is an umbrella term for Christians…. To recognize that forming Christians who live out Christianity according to the Great Tradition requires embedding them within communities and institutions dedicated to that formation.

Dreher is reminding us that we live in a culture full of moral chaos and fragmentation, in which many important questions are simply impossible to settle. He has been deeply influenced by the imminent philosopher Alastair MacIntyre, who argues that we live in very dark times and that finding our way back to the straight paths will require establishing new forms of community that have as their ends a life of Christian virtue.

Here is MacIntyre’s assessment in the concluding passage of his important book After Virtue:

What matters now is the construction of local forms of community within which civility and the intellectual and moral life can be sustained through the new dark ages which are already upon us. And if the tradition of the virtues was able to survive the horrors of the last dark ages, we are not entirely without grounds for hope. This time however the barbarians are not waiting beyond the frontiers; they have already been governing us for quite some time. And it is our lack of consciousness of this that constitutes part of our current predicament. We are not waiting for Godot, but for another—doubtless very different—St. Benedict.

Rod Dreher says we are going to have to change the way we practice our faith and teach it to our children, and to build more resilient communities. Again, why? He says: “Some of us will live to see the day when orthodox Christians will be considered exotic antiques at best—and threats to decency at worst, potentially harmful individuals who must be driven out of public life.” He says he is not endorsing quietism or total withdrawal but simply trying to give us a realistic understanding of where we stand as Christians in the twenty-first century.

Again, why is he suggesting this? It should be obvious: the moral decadence of so much of our contemporary society clearly seems to indicate the waning influence of the Christian faith on American culture. So he is suggesting it is time to regroup, immerse ourselves in communities that share our values, develop more robust theologies, and become a beacon and a light to the dark shadows in our culture.

The great church historian and patristics scholar Robert Louis Wilken put it this way:

Nothing is more needful today than the survival of Christian culture, because in recent generations this culture has become dangerously thin. At this moment in the Church’s history in this country 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....

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 unhappy fact is that the society in which we live is no longer neutral about Christianity.

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