THE BENEDICT OPTION AND MEDIATING STRUCTURES

First Things | 5/24/2018 | Dale M. Coulter
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It has been just over a year since Rod Dreher published The Benedict Option as a prescription for how Christians should respond to “liquid modernity.” The phrase is critical to Dreher’s analysis, even if he only employs it a few times. Borrowed from Zygmunt Bauman, it refers to the fragility of institutions subject to modernizing processes that inculcate a mentality that change is the only constant.

This idea supplies the background to Dreher’s early analysis of our current cultural context, and it informs his call for a different kind of politics. Given that everything is liquid, Christians must rebuild and renew cultural structures that bring stability and order. Dreher’s age of liquid modernity has the following features:

Atomization - Individualism - Rootlessness - Revolution - Persons

atomization, individualism, and rootlessness, due to the industrial revolution, which uprooted persons from agrarian and local modes of existence;

autonomy, authenticity, self-fulfillment, and eros, due to the sexual revolution, technology, and consumer society;

Moral - Therapeutic - Deism - Support - Individualism

Moral Therapeutic Deism as the theological support for individualism.

Over against this new age, Dreher proposes the model of Benedictine life, with its commitment to order and place. By calling this option “Benedictine,” he offers an image for rebuilding the “mediating structures” that sustain Christian culture. As he states, “Benedictine spirituality is good at creating a Christian culture because it is all about developing and sustaining the Christian cultus.”

Phrase - Structures - Richard - John - Neuhaus

I intentionally used the phrase “mediating structures,” which comes from Richard John Neuhaus and Peter Berger, because it clarifies Dreher’s proposal for renewing Christian culture as a counterweight to liquid modernity. Mediating structures are the small associations that make up civil society. They serve as conduits between private life and public life by embodying the values and beliefs of individuals and transmitting them to mega-structures, such as the modern state, economic conglomerates (corporations), and large professional organizations in education, labor, and other sectors (think of the American...
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