On the Benedict Option

Note: This is an edited and expanded version of a comment I left on Ed Brayton’s Dispatches from the Culture Wars blog.

If you’ve read Rod Dreher for any length of time, you’ll know that he’s been harping on the idea of a “Benedict Option,” conservative Christians withdrawing from society and building their own communities where they can teach their children that homosexuality is a sin and Adam and Eve rode dinosaurs in the Garden of Eden. Damon Linker has written a long idea on the concept in “This Week”:


The “Benedict Option” isn’t going to happen for a variety of reasons:

1. Conservative white Christians have a pathological need to be in control, and despite claims of oppression by people like Linker and Dreher, they control most of red America and will for the foreseeable future. Even as our country “browns,” I suspect that most white conservatives in the South will simply find a way to set up a de jure apartheid system so they can keep calling the shots.

2. Despite Rod Dreher’s hysteria about people who oppose same-sex marriage being painted as the moral equivalent of Bull Conner, the fact is that almost all of the politicians and pundits who supported segregation and racist policies remained in public life until they died, including William F. Buckley, Jerry Falwell, Ronald Reagan, George Wallace, and Strom Thurmond. There are still many monuments and public buildings named after Confederate generals to this day, including those who were instrumental in the founding of the KKK like Nathan Forrest Bedford. Bull Conner himself was elected to President of the Alabama Public Service Commission and remained there until he died in 1974.

3. These tiny insular religious communities do a really bad job of self-policing, whether it’s the old-school Catholic ghetto, the Amish, Hasidic Jews, Christian homeschoolers, or the Hari Krishnas. All of these groups have had instances of sex abuse covered up so the community would look good at the expense of the victims. It’s a lot easier to drop out of society so your kids won’t be exposed to Adam and Steve and their adopted kids at the grocery store than it is curb the evil intents that lurk in the minds of predators who use the insularity of the religious communities to get away with their crimes.

The problem the religious right is facing is that the number of conservative white Christians (Protestants and Catholics alike) is starting to decline and they have done a poor to non-existent job of building coalitions with conservatives in other communities because of their not-so blatant racism and Christian privilege. Whatever they might think about gay marriage or abortion, black, Hispanic, and Asian Christians aren’t going to link up with white religious rightists who look down on them because of their skin color or method of doing church. Dreher, in particular, can’t resist telling us how superior the Orthodox divine liturgy is to every other form of Christian worship, especially the “happy clappy” type. The problem is that the “happy clappy” type of worship is what is spreading among Christians of color, while Dreher’s own Orthodox Church in America has a whopping 39,400 members nationwide. To put that into perspective, that’s how many people might go to TD Jakes’ church on a slow Sunday. Christians of color have no interest in “taking back America” because they know that they’re the ones the religious right think America needs to be snatched back from.

Likewise, culturally conservative Hindus, Buddhists, Muslims, and Confucians aren’t interested in joining a movement that is just one big Jesus movement. These groups also don’t believe in the “life begins at conception” idea, so they aren’t going to waste time picketing abortion clinics, like conservative Protestants and Catholics do. With the exception Chabad, who work the media because they think their dead rebbe is the Jewish messiah, Orthodox Jews aren’t going to work with Christians out of a matter of principle. Big business used to find the religious right to be useful in pushing its anti-union, pro-capitalism, deregulation line, but many corporations are breaking rank and supporting same-sex marriage, if nothing else because it’s a pain to have to deal with different sets of benefits and paperwork for straight married couples and same-sex couples, especially given the patchwork situation of the latter. The inflexibility of the religious right will ultimately be its downfall.

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