The Benedict Option

Sunday, February 19th, 2017

The Wall Street Journal discusses the Benedict Option:

When the first few monks arrived in Hulbert, Okla., in 1999, there wasn’t much around but tough soil, a creek and an old cabin where they slept as they began to build a Benedictine monastery in the Ozark foothills.

Dozens of families from California, Texas and Kansas have since followed, drawn by the abbey’s traditional Latin Mass — conducted as it was more than 1,000 years ago — and by the desire to live in one of the few communities in the U.S. composed almost exclusively of traditional Catholics.

There aren’t many jobs nearby. The nearest bank, grocery store and coffee shop are nearly an hour’s drive on country roads. Yet many residents choosing to live near Our Lady of Clear Creek Abbey say it is worth the sacrifice.

“Our goal in moving here was to form our children’s conscience and intellect in a particular way, without society taking that authority from us,” said Mark Wheeler, one of the first to settle on the outskirts of the monastery more than a decade ago.

The 100 or so people living here are part of a burgeoning movement among traditional Christians. Feeling besieged by secular society, they are taking refuge in communities like this one, clustered around churches and monasteries, where faith forms the backbone of daily life. Similar villages — some Roman Catholic, others Orthodox or Protestant—have sprung up in Alaska, Maryland, New York and elsewhere, drawing hundreds of families.

As the proportion of Americans without any religious affiliation continues to grow, more Christians are considering where they can go to live out their faith more fully. It has been dubbed the “Benedict Option,” in homage to St. Benedict, who as a young man left the moral decay of ancient Rome to live in the wilderness.


They attend Mass daily and home-school their children. They seldom use their TV, except to check for tornado warnings, but they do use the internet to order supplies, such as cultures for the goat cheese that they sell. Mr. Wheeler, 52, helped with construction at the monastery.

Last year, they allowed their children — three of whom are old enough to vote — to listen to the presidential debates on the radio for the first time, and then to watch the last few on TV.

“The larger populated areas seem to have rejected the Christian culture and the Christian message,” Mr. Wheeler said. “If I don’t have to re-immerse myself in that, I’m not going to.”

If you pull your kids out of public school and “cut the cord,” I think you get most of the way there, without the economic cost of isolation.


  1. Alrenous says:

    Moldbug’s poltergeists. “Drawn by the Latin Mass.” Okay, but how did they learn some reclusive monks held Latin Mass?

  2. Mike in Boston says:

    Thanks for posting this very interesting piece. Although the article is paywalled, the link in the author’s tweet got me to the full text. Dreher also has some discussion.

    I can testify firsthand that cutting the cord works wonders, even for kids in public school (“Daddy, I don’t know why all the other girls like this ‘Trolls’. It’s stupid!”).

    But the Benedict Option seems to me to be less about disconnecting from unhealthy communities, than about connecting with others to form a healthier community. Cutting the cord and homeschooling accomplishes the necessary disconnection, but not making the new connections. Economic isolation is no fun, but neither is social isolation.

  3. Dan Kurt says:

    Here is a rapidly growing Traditional Catholic sect in the World and the USA: Society of St. Pius X. Read their web page.

    The Society started with four priests in the USA in the 1970s, and now there are over 600. While the Novis Ordo Catholic Church is closing churches and seminaries for the lack of vocations, the SSPX just opened a New Seminary in Virginia.

  4. Rhetocrates says:

    “There aren’t many jobs nearby. The nearest bank, grocery store and coffee shop are nearly an hour’s drive on country roads.”

    You’re doing it wrong. Jobs aren’t a thing that exist and then are picked up by some cog who fits the requirements. Jobs are created by people on the ground.

    There are 100 families there. Someone should grow food. Someone should tailor clothing. Someone should build rooves. Someone should do electrical work, AC work, carpentry, plumbing, help look after children, become a doctor, tinker, veternarian, sherriff, judge, etc. etc.

    Of course that’s a lot easier to say than to get done, especially when the nearest government is specifically hostile to the idea. And of course these are the words of the WSJ, not the actual people, but the point is that building an actual community requires actually BUILDING that community. It’s not merely a social activity, but also an economic one.

  5. The Practical Conservative says:

    No, homeschooling is often a direct line to economic and social isolation. It also tends to result in needing the cord, as many homeschoolers use video learning and online school anyway.

    That said, it’s worth noting that unlike your typical homeschool promoting conservative, these people “live near each other and care for each other’s children”, so they are already on a good track to understanding enough tradition to perhaps build something lasting.

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