The Benedict Thing
7 April 2017
At lunch with my friend Eric, I was talking about the latest buzzword, “the Benedict option.” Eric knew more about it than I did. He knew, for example, about Ron Dreher, whose book of the same title has just come out. The cover is illustrated with a photograph of Mont-Saint-Michel, of course. What could be cosier than a rock-bound tower that, in the middle of a bay, is accessible only at low tide? Why don’t we all just go there and live the pure life, while cities plunge into every kind of sexual irregularity? We never liked cities anyway.
What is it about sex, that everybody thinks that it’s so important?
Animals, from what we can tell, do not, however driven, actually enjoy sexual congress. It seems to me than an ethos of generosity, such as Christianity is at its Scriptural core, would not be very interested in the carnal itch. But early Christianity was distinguished by the devotion of propertied women, widows mostly, who were attracted by the promise of first-class citizenship that, for a short time only, the new religion seemed to offer. These ladies were hardly sexual wantons; their rebellion stood for virginity. By St Augustine’s day, it was all but settled that true Christians renounced sex.
But why make everybody else renounce it? Why make it all such a big deal? I can only conclude that human beings, like animals, don’t like sex, either — especially when they’re not having any.
As for retiring to monasteries, Ron Dreher ought to be writing about Cassiodorus, the noble roman who gave monasteries their real raison d’être, which was to copy manuscripts on as large a scale as possible. Transcribing important texts is no longer as arduous as it was then, but actually reading and understanding them is more important than ever. From the quiet of the bookroom of my Upper East Side apartment, I see no need to fuss about monasteries. No need to bring sex into it!
Bon weekend à tous!