As previously explained, I've enrolled in the University of Notre Dame's Satellite Theological Education Program (STEP) to pursue their Certificate in Doctrine. I am currently taking my third of the required courses: Ecclesiology. I'm now in the fourth week, whose topic is "The Church in and for the World."
Our assignment this week is to discuss (in that annoyingly short space of ~250 words) the following question:
In different times and places, the Church and its mission have encountered a wide variety of receptions. Drawing on what you have learned about the Church’s relationship with the world, consider what might be the relative advantages and disadvantages of living as a Christian in a society that is positively disposed toward Christianity. How about in a society that is hostile to the faith?
I've actually been thinking a lot about the second part of that question recently. Last year I read Rod Dreher's immensely important book The Benedict Option and I've just started Archbishop Charles Chaput's book Strangers in a Strange Land: Living the Catholic Faith in a Post-Christian World.
The gist of both books is that modern liberalism is increasingly intolerant of religion in the public square, which seems self-evidently true. the late Cardinal George famously observed that ""I expect to die in bed, my successor will die in prison and his successor will die a martyr in the public square." On current trend lines, that seems about right.
Yet, we often forget that Cardinal George added this not of hope: "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." (A line that always brings A Canticle for Leibowitz to mind.)
The Benedict Option is offered up as one way of getting to Cardinal George's third successor. As Dreher explains:
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 American empire, and who therefore are keen to construct local forms of community as loci of Christian resistance against what the empire represents. ...
Most of the Ben Op communities that come to mind today are not radically isolated, in geography or otherwise, from the broader community. It’s simply nonsense to say that Ben Oppers want to hide from the world and live in some sort of fundamentalist enclave. ...
The term “Benedict Option” symbolizes a historically conscious, antimodernist return to roots, an undertaking that occurs with the awareness that Christians have to cultivate a sense of separation, of living as what Stanley Hauerwas and Will Willimon call “resident aliens” in a “Christian colony,” in order to be faithful to our calling.
I am sympathetic to The Benedict Option insofar as I yearn to be part of a local community that intentionally undertakes "a historically conscious, antimodernist return to roots." On the other hand, my instincts also call for one last great act of defiance (which will call to mind a classic 1960s/70s poster for readers of a certain age). As Dreher kindly wrote in The Benedict Option: