The Benedict Option and Retreating from Politics

I haven’t done much writing about “The Benedict Option” by my friend Rod Dreher, but this image gave me some things to think about. It’s the cover of the French edition of “The Benedict Option,” which comes out in September, and it’s better than the original cover, isn’t it? It expresses the central concept better than the original cover did, though that is admittedly a beautiful photo. The original cover shows Mt St Michel, literally a monastery on a hill, so is it any wonder people think that’s what the book is about?


I will go out on a limb and say what I think Rod would say, about this persistent mis-impression that he is exhorting people to “head for the hills.” I think the confusion has to do with the idea of “withdrawing from the political arena” (or however it’s phrased).

If you are directly involved in politics, Rod is not advising you to stop. If you hold office, or are running for office, or supporting people in office, if you are professionally involved in politics in any way, Rod is not trying to stop you.

He’s noting instead that for the vast majority of Christians in America, politics is a spectator sport. We follow it and talk about it, but are not professionally involved. We assume that everything that’s important happens in the political arena, so we keep focused on it.

I think what Rod wants to say is that what’s wrong with our culture cannot be solved by politics. In terms of the social, cultural, and moral issues, popular opinion has been marching steadily to the left for fifty years. The vast majority of Americans actually likes those changes in morality. They like the freedom to do whatever they want. There is no conservative majority to energize, on the social issues, because the majority wants things just as they are, or more so.

So, even though we sometimes achieve political victories, even the presidency, we never make any progress on those issues. Those who are called to politics must keep at it, but the rest of us need to realize that they aren’t going to be able to stop a momentum that has the majority of public opinion behind it. We live in a democracy, and we’re going to have the kind of culture most people want.

But while we’ve been setting all our hopes on political victory, we’ve permitted the tide of secular culture to flow freely into our homes and families. Surveys show that today’s Christians are mostly ignorant of the core beliefs of their faith. In terms of moral standards, their behavior matches that of those in the world around them, rather than that held through Christian history. Christian marriages fail about as often as secular marriages do. In terms of the moral issues, Christians have become indistinguishable from the non-Christian population, probably because we actually agree with the majority, and prefer to do whatever we want.

Christianity is not matched up against atheism today, or even paganism, but against an easy, shallow, amiable public religion. It holds that God wants us to be nice to each other, and call on him in times of trouble; otherwise, he just wants us to be happy. (This is has been called “Moralistic Therapeutic Deism,” or MTD.)

Real Christianity isn’t like that; it’s challenging, even difficult. Churches have found it a hard sell. They offer instead an affirming, sympathetic, entertaining version of Christian faith, pitched in the tones of clever advertisements. Worship is not focused on God but on the worshiper; the goal is giving the worshiper a good worship experience.

Regardless of the style it takes—contemporary, trendy-ancient, social-justice, etc—anxiety to please the consumer is itself detrimental to faith. Perpetuating the consumer’s expectation that he will be catered to is detrimental to faith. Because real Christianity means taking up your cross (Matthew 16:24).

So the Benedict Option is not about withdrawing from the public square. Those whom God has called to the public square had better stay there. Instead, it’s a call to recognize that politics cannot solve the problems that confront us. We have to let that fantasy go.

The Benedict Option is a call to recognize that, while we’ve been keeping our binoculars trained on politics, all this time the sweet, seductive, please-yourself culture has been seeping in under the door. It is saturating our minds and those of our children; it is training us to think of ourselves as primarily consumers, vigilantly monitoring our right to be pleased.

The Benedict Option is a call to resist this. It’s a call to “wake up and strengthen the things that remain” (Revelation 3:2). This is going to be unglamorous and demanding, a family-by-family, church-by-church recomittment to the difficult life in Christ, which entails taking up your cross. We are going to need each others’ support. It’s not going to be easy, but the hour is already late, so let’s get started.

About Frederica Matthewes-Green

Frederica Mathewes-Green is a wide-ranging author who has published 10 books and 800 essays, in such diverse publications as the Washington Post, Christianity Today, Smithsonian, and the Wall Street Journal. She has been a regular commentator for National Public Radio (NPR), a columnist for the Religion News Service,, and Christianity Today, and a podcaster for Ancient Faith Radio. (She was also a consultant for Veggie Tales.) She has published 10 books, and has appeared as a speaker over 600 times, at places like Yale, Harvard, Princeton, Wellesley, Cornell, Calvin, Baylor, and Westmont, and received a Doctor of Letters (honorary) from King University. She has been interviewed over 700 times, on venues like PrimeTime Live, the 700 Club, NPR, PBS, Time, Newsweek, and the New York Times. She lives with her husband, the Rev. Gregory Mathewes-Green, in Johnson City, TN. Their three children are grown and married, and they have fourteen grandchildren.


  1. Ted Olsen of Christianity Today reminds me that the French book image was created for their March 2017 cover story. I saw that issue, and should have remembered that. Great image.

  2. Christ is risen, Matyushka. As an amateur gardener in a church that is suffering terribly from the disease of consumerism, I felt this article nipping at me like Felco pruners on a rosebush's dead wood. Thank you. May God grant you mercy for mercy and grace for grace.

  3. I have a ways to go in his book. I am a bit mystified as to critiques that say Dreher is pushing for us to get out of politics. I am currently working my way through Chapter 4: "A New Kind of Christian Politics" and if anything, I'm a bit disappointed in how he still drives TOWARD politics. He seems to talk in terms of holding fast to religious liberty as a "win/lose" scenario. While that has been a luxury for American Christianity, and I DO love the First Amendment, it discounts the struggle believers have in other places WITHOUT religious liberty. Yet, in those place, they have a robust Christianity.

    His premise that we are "lazy" seems to be focused on "politically lazy." At least to this point. I look forward to the rest of his book. I am challenged by this notion of a new paradigm and have been working to prepare my church for this incredible shifts. My take is more toward Daniel in Babylon. As I said, though, I look forward to further exploration.

  4. What kind of shocked me back to the right is reading an article about the Antifa. They not only support violence against Trump supporters but support sexual relations between adults and children while I sometimes think the right could support helping people out more the left is against morally restricts when it comes to sex and drugs. The left even if they are young still thinks its the 1960's.

  5. Thank you. I found the Benedict Option to be a strong corrective to our culturally-skewed, confused churches. Very timely and important book!

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