It isn’t clear what effect the Benedict Option would have on American political life. Even if one envisions the Benedict Option as “strategic attentiveness” to the cultivation of virtue, rather than “strategic retreat,” as Alan Jacobs, another prominent Christian writer has advocated, the Benedict Option implies a reduced engagement in the messy business of politics. At a time when religious freedom is viewed by many as expendable, and appears in scare quotes or their equivalent in major U.S. newspapers for the first time in American history, the practical consequences of reduced engagement could be considerable.
Yet even those of us who are skeptical of the Benedict Option can acknowledge the benefits of cultivating virtue, engaging more fully in our local communities and perhaps turning off the TV more often. Given the sometimes judgmental tendencies of theologically conservative Christians during the culture wars of the recent past, traditional Christians also might do well to focus a little more on showing what Christian morality looks like, and less on how others conduct their lives.
There may even be grounds for optimism for Christians who feel increasingly estranged from American culture. Being out of touch can be clarifying. After all, many of the greatest advances for Christianity have come during periods when Christians seemed most beleaguered. From the early Roman Empire to the Great Awakenings in 18th- and 19th-century America, and to China today, Christianity has tended to flourish anew when the distinctions are clearest between Christian faith and other conceptions of what it means to be human.