ROME — At a panel discussion in Italy for the presentation of the Italian translation of his book The Benedict Option, author Rod Dreher stressed that the “Benedict Option” does not mean living secluded from the world, but rather living in the world while taking seriously Christian formation.
“I think we have to live in the world, I myself live in the world,” Dreher said. “But if we are going to live in the world, we must do that as faithful Christians, being more serious about forming our conscience on the teaching of the Gospel, not on the teaching of the media.”
The panel, which took place Sept. 10 in Rome, also included Gian Maria Vian, editor of the Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano, and Giuliano Ferrara, a well known Italian journalist, conservative thinker, and founder of the opinion leader newspaper Il Foglio.
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Dreher outlined the need for a spiritual renewal as, he said, “we live in a time of bishops against bishops, and the laity are frightened. The pope and his predecessors are accused of a cover-up, while others think of a plot. The faith is in grave decline, we have failed in transmitting faith to our children.”
He stated: “The crisis is everywhere, it is clear that we live in a post-Christian society.”
Dreher offered the example of St. Benedict, who came to Rome when the Empire had fallen, and turned his back to leave, because “he feared that, if he stayed in Rome, something would happen to him that would lead him to lose God and also his soul.”
That decision brought the beginning of a new civilization, Dreher said, and now “we Christians are in front of the same situation of the young Benedict. Do we have the courage to turn our backs? Do we want God more or the world more? If we want God more, we make the first step toward the Benedict option.”
Dreher’s fellow panelists took a critical view of his thesis.
Gian Maria Vian, editor of L’Osservatore Romano, noted that the book’s subtitle, “A strategy for Christians in a post-Christian nation,” would be better phrased as a “a strategy for Western conservative Christians in a post-Christian nation.”
In his view, Vian said, the book is weak in its general vision of western history, although he conceded that “Dreher knows very well what he leaves aside.”
Vian said that Dreher leaves aside “Orthodoxy, to which he belongs, and Christians of several denominations that are growing in the South,” while focusing the book on a scenario that is mostly lived in Western Europe.
In the end, Vian said that the book speaks only to those who are already convinced, while it cannot go further.
Supporting that criticism, Ferrara noted that there cannot be a continuity between the “Benedict Option” and Benedict XVI’s pontificate.
The pope emeritus – he stressed – “proposed a Christian enlightenment based on the recognition that the modern man is built on Christianity, not against Christianity, and that modernity is built around the notion of person and of liberty, a Christian heritage that is denied when truth is relativized.”
To Ferrara, the “Benedict Option” is darker than Benedict XVI’s “option,” who wanted a Christianity that was light to the world.
Dreher replied that, yes, the “Benedict Option” is theologically conservative, but not politically right-wing.
He also said that when he speaks about turning his back to the world, he is not suggesting a private or an isolated life of faith
“A Christianity that is only private,” he noted, “is not faithful to the testimony of the Gospel. We must say in the public arena what is true, because this is true for the world.”
But, he added, “if not the ‘Benedict Option,’ then what? We cannot keep as Church doing what we are doing, because we are losing, and we are losing seriously.”