Is It Time to Hunker Down?

By Fr. Dwight Longenecker

As Ireland votes overwhelmingly for same sex marriage and the rest of the Western world,The Benedict Option it seems, can’t wait to follow their example, is it time to throw in the towel in the cultural slugfest?

As radical Islam advances giving us nightmares and as the economic “recovery” looks increasingly shaky is it time to hunker down?

Over at The Week Damon Linker analyzes what Rod Dreher calls “The Benedict Option”.

This is the idea that the church will follow the pattern of St Benedict. To understand what this means we have to understand the social conditions in Benedict’s day.

It was the end of the fifth century. The once mighty Roman Empire was collapsing. Economic decline was forcing a retreat of the Roman armies across the empire. Famine and plague decimated the population. Moral decay ate away at the family and robbed the population of energy and ambition. In the vacuum the barbarians were invading from the North and the East.

Benedict headed for the hills.

He established small monastic communities of prayer, work and study to survive the social upheaval.

These Christian communities went on to become little havens of peace and lighthouses in the storm. Before long they became the only centers of education, health care, social justice and learning. They preserved the remnants of the earlier classical civilizations and went on to be the kernels of what would be medieval Christendom.

The Benedict Option is the idea that this is where we are headed. It’s not a new idea. T.S.Eliot predicted the continued decay and disintegration of Western civilization and that a new monastic movement would arise and carry the flame and become the nexus of a new Christendom. Cardinal George’s famous prophecy considered the same.

I expect to die in bed, my successor will die in prison and his successor will die a martyr in the public square. His successor will pick up the shards of a ruined society and slowly help rebuild civilization, as the church has done so often in human history.”

The classic novel, Canticle for Lebowitz is set in a future where this has already happened.

Read the original article here.

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30 Responses to Is It Time to Hunker Down?

  1. johnhenrycn says:

    This article brings to mind the ‘Plain Catholic’ movement, which bears a significant outward resemblance to the Mennonite communal farms widespread around where I live. They emphasize a very simple, low-tech, modest, agrarian way of life, not exactly monastic, but removed as much as possible from the secular world. No TV, limited radio and computer, simple clothes, daily Mass, frugality, few possessions…I think they started in the UK, but now are mostly found in northeastern United States. Difficult to say how organized they are or to find much info about them on the Web, but here is their rudimentary ‘homepage’:
    http://plaincatholic.webs.com/

  2. Reblogged this on 1catholicsalmon and commented:
    I’m considering what to pack…anyone want to join me?

  3. It may not yet be the time to “throw in the towel,” but it will probably very soon be the time “hunker down.” In the link to the paragraphs by Cardinal Ratzinger / Pope Benedict XVI, you will find precisely that idea in his thinking (though of course not expressed in American slang).

  4. Could the Church not pursue both the Benedict option as well as try to find new ways to engage without surrender the broader culture on moral and spiritual issues? Both/and, not either/or?

  5. marcy says:

    Reblogged this on My Name is Marcy and commented:
    Lets all move to Chile. The Randian Objectivists have a valley over there they tried to start a colony on before things went predictably Randian.

  6. Tom Fisher says:

    The Randian Objectivists have a valley over there they tried to start a colony on before things went predictably Randian.

    Heh. That’s the best comment I’ve seen in a while🙂

  7. Tom Fisher says:

    During the lifetime of St Paul you could probably have fitted all the Christians in the world in one valley. — They could have taken a ‘hunkering down’ approach. But luckily they didn’t. Because if they had, only historians of ancient history would even know what Christianity is.

    We all know the old cliche that it’s easier to get people to believe in you if you believe in yourself. And that people who are confident and engaged are easier to have confidence in and to engage with. If the too many people in the Church take the path of resenting and fearing the rest of society (and that attitude is becoming more common) then evangelisation will become impossible.

  8. toadspittle says:

    “T.S.Eliot predicted the continued decay and disintegration of Western civilization and that a new monastic movement would arise and carry the flame and become the nexus of a new Christendom.”
    Let’s get a grip here. Eliot was right, in that all societies change and decay. Everything does. But we are still living in a civilised age (in the West, anyway) and will continue to do so for some considerable time yet.
    In many respects, things have improved greatly since World War Two. Not everything, to be sure. But who’d want to return to 1946? Not me. Life is generally better now. (or less worse.)
    A sure sign of genuine moral decay will be when we start jailing gays and hanging murderers again. Could happen.

  9. Tom Fisher says:

    Eliot was right…

    The single most revealing thing about Eliot was his letter to George Orwell after he read Animal Farm. — The pigs are clearly the most intelligent animals on the farm, so surely all that was needed as more public spirited pigs I for one wouldn’t want to live in a society shaped by Eliot’s views.

  10. mkenny114 says:

    Tom,

    I think what Eliot was saying in his refusal letter to Orwell was that, as he saw the thrust of Animal Farm to be broadly Trotskyite (Snowball representing these vs. Napoleon’s Stalinists), he thought that Orwell would have been better off providing a picture of ‘more public-spirited pigs’ (i.e.; a form of engaged, localist conservatism) than endorsing a ‘purer form of communism’. Whether he was right about Orwell’s Trotskyite leanings here is debatable, but I think his comment has to be read in that light.

    Of course, Eliot was committed to the maintenance of some kind of hierarchialism in society, and saw doctrinal egalitarianism as problematic, actually leading in the long run to everyone being equally worse off. But I don’t think his critique is entirely without merit, as a flat equalising of everyone’s roles doesn’t necessarily lead to a healthier society. Also debatable in itself of course, but I don’t think Eliot’s comments need imply a negative picture, especially given what his suggestions to Orwell were being made against.

  11. Tom Fisher says:

    but I think his comment has to be read in that light.

    Why do you think that? I’ve always found his letter’s meaning to have been quite clear, and consistent with his general outlook.

  12. Tom Fisher says:

    he thought that Orwell would have been better off providing a picture of ‘more public-spirited pigs’ (i.e.; a form of engaged, localist conservatism) than endorsing a ‘purer form of communism’.

    Orwell was a lifelong anti-communist. He didn’t endorse any form of communism. I’m find your comment hard to make sense of. I hope you haven’t read Animal Farm as an endorsement of communism. That would be utterly mistaken

  13. mkenny114 says:

    Because I think it also quite clear that this comment was meant as a rejoinder to what he believed was a heroic presentation of Trotskyism by Orwell. I agree that his suggestion that we need more ‘public-spirited pigs’ is consistent with his outlook, but what is it about that suggestion or his outlook in general that you find so problematic. As an alternative to Communism I certainly find it preferable.

  14. Tom Fisher says:

    Orwell wasn’t backing either Snowball or Napoleon — and in 1984 he wasn’t backing Emmanuel Goldstein. Nor was Orwell backing communism. The fact that Napoleon was contextually worse than Snowball didn’t make the book an endorsement of Trotsky. What was so dismal about Eliot’s notorious reading was that he tried to figure out which pig was the hero — a spectacular exercise in missing the point. His solution to the problem the pigs are far more intelligent than the other animals… so what was needed (some might argue) was not more communism but more public spirited pigs was to miss the point twice over. Orwell didn’t advocate communism, but Eliot did advocate a hierarchical conservatism which … to go back to the start, I for one wouldn’t want to live under.

  15. mkenny114 says:

    Tom, I already stated that it was Eliot’s reading of Orwell that he was advocating one form of Communism over another. The point is that Eliot’s remarks were made in response to that misapprehension, and so should be seen as presenting an alternative to Trotskyism, whether was actually advocating that system or not (and I agree that he wasn’t).

    Orwell was a lifelong anti-communist. He didn’t endorse any form of communism. I’m find your comment hard to make sense of. I hope you haven’t read Animal Farm as an endorsement of communism. That would be utterly mistaken

    Again, read my earlier reply – I was speaking of what Eliot believed Orwell to be advocating, not of what Orwell actually believed. And I am not sure if it is correct to say that Orwell was a lifelong anti-communist – earlier on in his career (prior to his involvement in the Spanish Civil War) he was at least sympathetic to many communists and some aspects of communism itself. I do not say that he was pro communism, but he certainly wasn’t always anticommunism either.

    As for Eliot’s advocating a hierarchical conservatism, what is it about this vision (Eliot’s in particular) that you dislike?

  16. mkenny114 says:

    …we are still living in a civilised age (in the West, anyway) and will continue to do so for some considerable time yet.

    Superficially yes, but it is by subtle means that civilisations die. That we do not imprison homosexuals anymore is a good thing, but that children are killed in their mother’s womb, and furthermore, that this happens almost routinely with very little comment, let alone condemnation, is not the sign of a healthy society. We have a very selective view of justice, which seems to be predicated almost wholly on a utilitarian ethic – and one of the problems with utilitarianism is that it tends not to take the long view. We may be materially better off nowadays, but this only makes it easier to distract ourselves while our culture decays from the inside out; and contracepting ourselves into oblivion only makes it that much easier for another culture, with a stronger sense of its own identity, to take our place.

    Running to the hills is certainly not a solution to this, but I think there must be some element of ‘hunkering down’ in order to preserve what will be needed to re-fertilise the West, when all this comes to its logical conclusion. The Benedictine Option is based on the very realistic recognition that civilisations come and go, and the deeply held conviction that the only things that will be able to get the culture back on its feet again are the permanent truths afforded us by Athens, Rome and Jerusalem.

  17. annem040359 says:

    Rather, it is time to take back the west!

  18. Benedict Option is similar to the structures found in convents and monastaries, but in this case, it’s for lay Catholics or Christians.

    I had an interesting discussion, with our Mother Superior on went wrong with religious life in America.

    Every community is given a charism or a spiritual gift. If your gift is teaching, then doing something else, however noble that might be, is basically telling the Holy Spirit, you know more than him.

    Major communities in the United States, did just this. In order to have extra-income coming in, they took up other jobs, did not hold to a common mission, did not pray in community, once they all had different schedules, because they had different jobs.

    Gradually, individualism, crept in and they went their separate ways. Gone was the passion for a shared ministry, that served people.

    Without a common mission, lay members associating themselves with the sisters, were also confused about what their roles would be.

    The Benedict option to succeed needs a common ministry and prayer life, as well as times for recreation in community.

  19. geoffkiernan says:

    In this part of the world (Australia) it is not uncommon to see our Elderly nuns dressed in their power suits, donning make up and going to the Casino for a night out. The once great ‘Sisters of Mercy’ exclusively staffed every parish Catholic school. Now their numbers have diminished and they have no one younger than about 65-70 years of age. They blissfully carry on as if they are God gift to the World….. With no novices or aspirants they’ll be dead soon and thank God for that.

    Don’t get me wrong they are still nice catholics. They attend seminars on Reiki and the environment and a lot of other commendable activities. Some even harbour a desire to be deacons and even priests.

  20. toadspittle says:

    “The Sisters of Mercy” – Ah, the nostalgia! I was taught by them when very small (as, indeed, was I) An oxymoron par excellence, as GC would say. By then, when very small, I was myself a bit of an oxymoron, and some on CP&S would still go half way with me on that.
    I seem to detect a certain je ne sais quoi in Geoff’s comment. Possibly non.
    Anyway:

  21. johnhenrycn says:

    Your comment is inscrutable. Your link is unlinkable.

  22. johnhenrycn says:

    Okay, now your link is working. Leonard Cohen? I won’t watch your YouTube.

  23. toadspittle says:

    Any particular reason why not, JH? I agree the comment is absymal.

  24. geoffkiernan says:

    Toad: It looks and sounds French. What does it mean?

  25. toadspittle says:

    Je ne sais quoi, Geoff.

  26. johnhenrycn says:

    I’ve never liked the Canadian Leonard Cohen, is all. Except for his piece Hallelujah, which he wrestled with for 20 or so years before finishing, the best version of which is sung by the Canadian lesbian k.d. lang

  27. geoffkiernan says:

    Toad: You have as much trouble comprehending English as I with French it seems. I can only assume you don’t know either. Or are you being pretentious and well as other claims to fame?

  28. Tom Fisher says:

    Literally: “I don’t know what”

    Idiomatically in English: can be used in lots of ways, but generally expresses a certain ‘indefinable quality / element of intriguing mystery — it’s normally a positive. e.g. Habsburg Restorationalist is mad as a Hatter with respect to politics, but erudite, and with a certain Je ne sais quoi

  29. toadspittle says:

    Geoff is teasing us unlettered rustics, Tom. Cert.

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