Seven years ago, when I learned that I’d be leaving Austin for Tyler, two concerns loomed large. Would I be able to find adequate trails and neighborhoods to keep up my weekly running routine? Would I be able to find good places to drink craft beer on tap?
Over the subsequent three or four years, however, things changed. Fast forward to 2017, a couple of years after Smith County went “wet,” and now we have not one but at least two fine craft breweries in town. No longer am I one of the top craft beer experts in town. These days I struggle to keep up with the dozens of spots to enjoy a pint, and with the bourgeoning craft beer community in Tyler, Texas.
Simply put, times are a-changin.’ Catholic media guru Marshall McLuhan coined the term “global village” half a century ago, and the global village, manifestly, continues to penetrate past the Pine Curtain. Craft beer is just the tip of the iceberg: thanks to the 2015 SCOTUS decision in Obergefell vs. Hodges, gay marriage is now a “thing” in the Bible Belt of East Texas, and a recent demographic study revealed that as many as 20 percent of the Tyler metro area identifies as non-Christian. The signs of the times abound.
So, are the culture wars over? Is the “moral majority” rotting in the grave? Conservative Christian Rod Dreher argues in his New York Times bestseller “The Benedict Option” that the answer is “yes.” And even if some of us think that the culture wars were misguided from the beginning, I’m grateful that at least now we have a gifted, orthodox writer with a huge audience hoisting the white flag.
Nowhere does Holy Scripture suggest that electing a majority of members of Congress who are evangelical Christians will promote the cause of Christ in the world. Instead, it affirms that “the gates of hell will not prevail against the church.”
Hence, when Dreher reminds us that the political system set up by the Founding Fathers always required and presupposed a bedrock of virtue among the rank and file of the American populace, the reader realizes just how wise and prescient Alexis de Tocqueville actually was. Tocqueville prophesied that democracy would not survive the loss of Christian faith. The only difference for us in 21st century America is that such a demise is no longer a prophecy; today it is empirically undeniable.
The question, then, which Dreher leads us to ask is: what do to? The answer which he compellingly argues is that we should embrace Benedictine spirituality. St. Benedict of Nursia withdrew from the decadent Roman society of his day, saying “no” to a dissolute culture in order to say “yes” at a deeper level to the world which God loves. Benedict established a network of alternative spiritual communities dotting the landscape of Europe, which would promote the virtues of order, prayer, stability, community, and hospitality in a world literally overcome by barbarism. He sowed the seeds for the future Christian culture of Europe.
At the end of the day, it is here - with these Benedictine virtues of order, stability, etc. - that the Benedict Option becomes more than theoretical for me. For many years I have struggled to find, implement, and practice a rule for my life. Indeed, these Benedictine virtues are the need of the hour: in my Christian community, in my family, in my soul and body.
This book gives me a vivid, practical, convicting pattern on which to structure my days and weeks. It might just end up saving my life.
Today, all over the world, Christians remember the death of Jesus Christ. May we be open to the spiritual renewal proposed in this book.
The Rev. Matt Boulter is Associate Rector of Christ Church (Episcopal), and a PhD candidate in philosophy at the University of Dallas.