So the Benedict Option was tried 20 years ago and failed, now what?

That’s the question for the next year, for me at least.  I find it interesting that I’ve spent years reading a lot of right-wing and conservative this n’ that and yet despite the totemic symbolism of homeschooling in conservativeland (it’s a totem because even most conservatives don’t, but it’s considered something “more conservative people should do”), there’s been no self-awareness from those HIPPIES about how their HIPPIE PROJECTS led to children who are complete intersectionalist progressive SJWs.  And no signs that conservative men are interested in the recent history of being a HIPPIE but with more clothes on and how all that seems to be a place you get to when you try to Benedict Option without, you know, being monks.

I guess I would have discovered all this sooner if I’d been getting enough sleep, but such is life.  Sometime next year there’s a rumor I might get more sleep.

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56 thoughts on “So the Benedict Option was tried 20 years ago and failed, now what?”

  1. May you get more sleep. 😉

    I grew up under the Benedict Option, but the far left militant atheist version. Imagine my surprise when I discovered the Christian manosphere and their dreams of becoming….liberal hippies, half off their rocker. 😉

    My interest comes from having a strong dislike towards the idea of indoctrinating your children, cutting them off from society, isolating them from the world, and attempting to produce a kind of political clone. That is what happened to me, but I’m afraid the cloning part didn’t work out so well. Besides the psychological and emotional abuse that isolating children creates, it is rather difficult to grow up and than adjust to a world you have never really known. So while I am a big fan of homeschooling, I am not a big fan of some of the parental issues that can lurk behind it.

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  2. I’m an 80s kid and I now realize that some of the stuff my parents did was the watered-down version of what you’re describing. They moved us out to the country in the early/mid-80s and spent years building a house while living in it. On the one hand, there were only three of us kids and we went to public school (thank goodness!), went to a reasonably normal church, and my parents thought college was a very good thing and all three of us kids are college graduates. On the other hand, we had marginal housing, marginal dental and medical care, country living (closest neighbor half a mile away, closest gallon of milk 20+ minutes away, lots of low-life neighbors, virtually no kids to play with), a small and irregular household income (my dad was not a 9-5 guy), some ranching, a fair amount of corporal punishment (including the kind that CPS would get interested in), and a mom that was (at least at times) dangling at the end of her rope. Fortunately, we had better-off family in the area, and our grandma was always good for a pair of shoes. (I’m pretty sure she bought at least 90% of my shoes when I was a kid.)

    Knowing what I know now, I realize that it could have been a lot worse than it was, but at the same time, it could have been a lot better. So, I read the homeschool graduate horror stories and think, there but for the grace of God. If our family had been a little bigger or if our parents had homeschooled or if we’d belonged to a different church or if our parents hadn’t been so keen on college, things could have been much, much worse.

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  3. The issue isn’t per se homeschooling, that has arguably been the norm for a very long time.

    But homeschooling in the individualistic post/late modern context you discuss? Yeah, that could get weird. But, at the end of the day, probably no weirder than it can get in public schools “And now, we put the balloon on the banana…”
    At the end of the day, it appears that people want to be the master, regardless of whom it hurts or ruins. And they are apparently eagerly do it whenever they are given the opportunity.
    This also goes back to that problem with intentional communities.

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  4. And Anymouse, somebody’s gotta be boss and I don’t see a lot of good candidates other than myself, do you? The argument that homeschooling/homesteading is baaaad because it’s non serviam was made back in the 80s and 90s too, by typical clueless boomers who thought that all those ladies in denim jumpers popping up at their church events were pulling their kids out of school with about as much thought as they’d feathered their hair and bought banana clips 5 years earlier. No engagement with the real issues with the schools, not even the non-ideological ones – like the basic insanity of assembling large groups of children who cannot walk there themselves in the same building for 6 hours/day 5 days/week. For Catholics, no acknowledgement of the impossibility of paying for parish school and also complying with the magisterium’s dicates on family planning. Not even the slightest modicum of awareness of the real situation on the ground and the real need for alternatives created by somebody who isn’t pregnant and/or nursing – just “At the end of the day, it appears that people want to be the master, regardless of whom it hurts or ruins”-type platitudes.

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    1. You Know Who said:

      “For Catholics, no acknowledgement of the impossibility of paying for parish school and also complying with the magisterium’s dicates on family planning.”

      I don’t think that’s quite fair to the magisterium–I think it’s mostly an issue of some laypeople laying burdens on other laypeople.

      Obviously, there are practicing Catholic couples that are going to find that NFP is not a success and will hence never be able to afford Catholic school, but there does seem to be a large number of couples who are able to use NFP with reasonable results.

      What we get into with that latter group is absolutely endless and acrimonious intra-Catholic discussions about what are and aren’t “serious reasons” for a smaller family. I’m a veteran of many of these discussions online, and it’s actually a pretty controversial position to take that it’s OK for a Catholic to use NFP to be able to have the size family that would allow them to send their Catholic children to Catholic schools. That’s a VERY controversial position in some quarters.

      What I see a lot of in Catholic discussions is the idea that Catholic school is not a respectable reason for a smaller family because you can homeschool instead. In these discussions, K-12 homeschooling is treated as the default, rather than being something that few people try and even fewer manage to pull off.

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    2. But I will be frank, I am not suggesting that homeschooling is bad, simply that in present day conditions it is pretty much assumed that regardless of the option chosen the people involved are most likely liberal degenerates and/or mentally ill and socially isolated in some way. I know you are sane, but I am sure that plenty of other people are going to be involved in some nutty variations on homeschooling, and plenty of other people are going to become schoolteachers who push the nuttiness in a professional role.

      I admit to being a part of the army of celibate right wingers who post on the internet, so my basic assumption is that eradication of the material foundations of modernity is needed before anything resembling a normal and healthy life can once again exist. Once a real community exists then homeschooling or parochial schooling become much more routinely functional and reliable options. But in this day and age there will be problems with almost any human act, including celibacy.

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      1. I admit to being a part of the army of celibate right wingers who post on the internet, so my basic assumption is that eradication of the material foundations of modernity is needed before anything resembling a normal and healthy life can once again exist.

        But once again, what are these material foundations of modernity?

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      2. Urbanization and the mechanization of labor, breakdown in the economic primacy of the family and village as a productive unit.

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  5. My beef with the Benedict Option is how everyone believes their version is better.

    I’m going to just say it as it is. People in the tradsphere/manosphere/orthodox Christian-sphere/that sphere in general all believe they have the formula for the Perfect UtopiaTM. Their formula must be the right formula, because hey, it worked for them, right? At least, that is a view a friend of mine who’s read the ‘sphere shared with me, and I’m inclined to agree. I’m witnessing this formulaic approach more often, with people saying “if only you did 1-3 first, and then x to z later, your life would be better,” or “if only you would just do this, and all of it would work out.”

    @AmyP:

    I don’t think that’s quite fair to the magisterium–I think it’s mostly an issue of some laypeople laying burdens on other laypeople.

    IMO, that’s the root of the problem. It’s the root because people believe if something worked for them, they’re unable to look beyond their own perspective and admit it might not work out so well for another family. I’m finding myself agreeing with you a lot across posts, and your statement a couple posts back or so on families deciding to do what works for them resonated with me. The Benedict Option hasn’t worked out because there’s too much fixation on ideology and formulas. And the lack of community. Speaking of which, can someone explain to me the deal with “intentional communities”? I don’t get it. I thought all communities were intentional.

    Speaking of laypeople laying burdens on others, it’s why I’m slowly finding myself distancing from the idea of the Benedict Option. I’m convinced it would never work for my marriage, or for me. It’s not that I don’t believe the are things going incredibly wrong with the Occident, but as a Catholic, childless, over 30 married woman, I can’t fathom how I can be a positive contributor. Sure, I could set a good example and teach, but I already know I’ll get mocked for my empty uterus (BTDT). I’ve noticed a lot of people in my position find themselves distancing from any kind of Benedict Option, or if they’re lucky and find a church with understanding people, they’re able to participate. To me, it explains why so many Protestants are embracing the “Childfree” movement. I absolutely believe in the Church, I’ve read catechism, about the saints, history, tradition, etc…what I’ve read sometimes contradicts what many advocate, and mostly on principle.

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    1. Maea said:

      “IMO, that’s the root of the problem. It’s the root because people believe if something worked for them, they’re unable to look beyond their own perspective and admit it might not work out so well for another family. I’m finding myself agreeing with you a lot across posts, and your statement a couple posts back or so on families deciding to do what works for them resonated with me.”

      Thanks!

      I also think that a lot of people are declaring success too early. From what I’ve seen, there can be a lot of surprises between 13 and 50 (both bad and good).

      “Speaking of laypeople laying burdens on others, it’s why I’m slowly finding myself distancing from the idea of the Benedict Option. I’m convinced it would never work for my marriage, or for me. It’s not that I don’t believe the are things going incredibly wrong with the Occident, but as a Catholic, childless, over 30 married woman, I can’t fathom how I can be a positive contributor. Sure, I could set a good example and teach, but I already know I’ll get mocked for my empty uterus (BTDT).”

      Gah! That’s awful.

      “I’ve noticed a lot of people in my position find themselves distancing from any kind of Benedict Option, or if they’re lucky and find a church with understanding people, they’re able to participate. To me, it explains why so many Protestants are embracing the “Childfree” movement. I absolutely believe in the Church, I’ve read catechism, about the saints, history, tradition, etc…what I’ve read sometimes contradicts what many advocate, and mostly on principle.”

      I think that there’s a Pop Catholic (TM) ideal that’s distinct from the broader course of Catholic tradition. The Pop Catholic ideal can be very cartoonish and exaggerated.

      I was just noting today that Hitler was one of 8 siblings (a “messy” Jerry Springer-type family and half of the siblings died in early childhood), John Paul II was one of three siblings (one died in infancy) and Benedict XVI was also one of three siblings.

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  6. AmyP, you are not parsing the clause correctly. “no acknowledgement of the impossibility of paying for parish school and also complying with the magisterium’s dicates on family planning” does not mean what you read it as, and I have wide awake kids so read it over yourself.

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  7. YKW said:

    “AmyP, you are not parsing the clause correctly. “no acknowledgement of the impossibility of paying for parish school and also complying with the magisterium’s dicates on family planning” does not mean what you read it as, and I have wide awake kids so read it over yourself.”

    Nope, I think I understood that correctly.

    What you were saying sounded like you meant that it is impossible to:

    A. obey the magisterium on family planning

    and

    B. pay for parochial school.

    I don’t think that’s so. I think it’s true for some people (owing to low income, other financial problems, or unusual fertility), but I don’t think that it is across the board impossible for at least a certain percentage of faithful Catholics to:

    A. obey the magisterium with regard to artificial birth control

    B. have a family size that is compatible with paying for parochial school

    C. pay for parochial school

    Not everybody can do that, but a lot of people can and do. Even just trivially, couples that are very high income, naturally infertile, low-fertility, or meet late in life may be able to manage it.

    I realize that my second B (have a family size that is compatible with paying for parochial school) is highly controversial, but I think it’s defensible as a solution for a lot of (but not all) families. I am quite sure that the homeschool-for-everybody solution that many embrace is not feasible.

    We’re practicing Catholics, have three children, and spend a small fortune on private school–and are bracing ourselves to spend even more when the youngest goes to school. The school expenses are murderous and knowing what I know today, i might not have got onto this train, but here we are This is getting long, but I’ll list out the advantages we have found in a second comment.

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    1. Here’s a follow up on the advantages that we have found in doing private school for the past 9 years.

      –not butting heads all day with my toughest child
      –not having sole responsibility for keeping my toughest (and most sedentary) child physically active
      –having other adults to be the bad guy–especially for that child (Wow, that’s really mean of Mr. Smith to make you guys do that! Well, I guess you’ll just have to start working on it!)
      –sympathetic help with my special needs kid
      –structure for the special needs child
      –having a broader range of subjects offered than we could easily manage at home (Latin, music history, music theory, choir, art, art history, lab science, etc.)
      –highly qualified faithful Christian teachers
      –friendliness to the historical Christian tradition (i.e. Catholicism)
      –a large peer group where everybody goes to church (or at least keeps their mouth shut about it)
      –a large peer group where everybody is going to college
      –a smart, funny, artistic, hard-working peer group with fantastic parents
      –an automatic peer group for me
      –a real school community that feels like an extension of our family
      –lots of birthday invitations
      –good friends for my unsocial child

      There is a downside (projects/not having control of our schedule/the weird biology teacher), but I think it is more than balanced by the advantages.

      Interestingly, the school originally started as a homeschool co-op, so the founders were at some point homeschooling moms.

      I realize that at least some of these things are achievable in an ideal homeschool situation, but I don’t know that the ideal homeschool situation is feasible for us. If we had a larger family and couldn’t afford private school anymore, we would probably just go to public school and take our lumps. I wouldn’t want to be fighting it out with my oldest every day while attempting to wrangle multiple tiny children. I get a good enough taste of what homeschooling would be like from issuing homework, music practice, and chore reminders.

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  8. There’s another thing which behooves me. It was only a few years ago people who advocated for the Benedict Option were derided for having their heads in the sand, living in a enclave, or not being privy to how the larger culture influenced Christianity. One blogger I can think of who received this criticism was DarwinCatholic. Now, the Benedict Option is all the rage? How does that work?

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    1. They aren’t really doing it though, they put the kids on six or more hours of tv if there’s any health issue with mom because for whatever reason they don’t appear to have much support or hooked-in-ness to their local community and parish. The whole point is supposedly that people are tightly connected and helping each other out while living in a suburb or something.

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  9. This has zero to do with your personal good experiences with private school. I’m glad that works out for you and if I had a good private school available I would probably avail myself of it and just eat more beans and buy less art supplies or something.

    You’re still misreading. Go back and figure out who I am referring to when I say “no acknowledgement.” Who am I saying is not acknowledging the impossibility of obeying the magisterium and also affording parish school? The people in the 80s and 90s who criticized homeschooling mothers, to whom I am comparing Anymouse, in a list of other failures of acknowledgement of real intractable issues that drove the retreat from the schools.

    This has nothing to do with being “fair” to the magisterium. I am saying that there is a real problem in the US where people complying with the magisterium are left without any support from their parishes at all, a situation which you seem to be unaware of, and I gotta ask, how much experience with various American parishes other than your own do you even have? Because arguing that American pariochial schools are totes affordable is pretty bizarre – then again, you seem to think that asking people to just not have sex once they hit 2 or 3 kids so they can keep paying for school is an ok solution, so….

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    1. You Know Who said:

      “This has nothing to do with being “fair” to the magisterium. I am saying that there is a real problem in the US where people complying with the magisterium are left without any support from their parishes at all, a situation which you seem to be unaware of, and I gotta ask, how much experience with various American parishes other than your own do you even have? Because arguing that American pariochial schools are totes affordable is pretty bizarre – then again, you seem to think that asking people to just not have sex once they hit 2 or 3 kids so they can keep paying for school is an ok solution, so….”

      I was saying that it is possible to be a faithful, practicing Catholic with children in private or parochial school for SOME families.

      Not all, but some. It’s not across the board impossible.

      I’m coming at this as the veteran of several discussions online where some Catholics were taking the view that it is unacceptable to use NFP in order to be able to afford Catholic school. That whole discussion is premised on the idea that it is possible to use NFP and have a Catholic-school sized family.

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      1. @AmyP:

        There isn’t anything in Church teaching stating specifics about NFP, other than to not use it like artificial birth control. Beyond that, it’s up to each married couple’s conscience and they have to think about their intentions. I wish people were aware of this. Not all couples can afford 5-6 children. Sure, they could move someplace cheaper and “sacrifice,” but we’d end up with a lot more unhappy people. IMO.

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  10. TPC: May the New Year bring you sweet and recuperative sleep.

    It’s the root because people believe if something worked for them, they’re unable to look beyond their own perspective and admit it might not work out so well for another family.

    The plethora of choices we have are both a blessing and a curse here, and the Benedict Option will require two things of any people who try it:

    1) a willingness to sacrifice some of those choices and the wealth of material benefits they include for the sake of a better future for their children. Prizing a long term normal life over immediate comfort.

    2) The ability to embrace real, faith based community over the community of affinity. This would include accepting differences on peripheral issues. These would include hair length, basic modesty over uniformity, and education (although public schooling would most likely need to be eliminated from the equation by operating private schools for those parents ill-equipped to adequately educate their children).

    I just don’t know if there are enough normal people who are able to accomplish this without it degenerating into weirdness.

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    1. a willingness to sacrifice some of those choices and the wealth of material benefits they include for the sake of a better future for their children. Prizing a long term normal life over immediate comfort.

      What these are differ based on who you ask. “Material benefits” to some could be not using much heat in the dead of winter (my ILs do this. It’ll be below 10 degrees outside, and they consider a house at 60-62 degrees “toasty warm.”) or AC in the summer, cutting out health/dental insurance (or using it for emergencies only), limiting children’s extracurricular involvements or not having them in any at all, hand-me-down clothes until they’re close to falling apart, having many children beyond the ability to afford them (because that’s considered sacrificial somehow), and so forth.

      I can admit going without some of the modern material comforts and luxuries isn’t a bad thing. Cable tv is expensive. Internet has gotten cheaper, and no one really needs the latest smart phone. Because of the suburbs a lot of families need a second vehicle, but busing options make it more affordable. Lots of grocery options allow for cheaper food. My husband and I garden in the summer and save on produce prices, but our gardening to other families would be considered a material luxury.

      I know a lot of children participate in too many activities, but participation in one per season is a good way to teach children to manage time. Hand-me-down’s aren’t always bad when the clothes are well kept, but I’ve seen children wearing clothes with stains or slight tears. The idea of having many children because you should isn’t necessarily rooted in Christian tradition.

      What’s considered a long term normal life? I was able to enjoy many material comforts and I can’t sit here and say they were all bad. I had braces as a teen to fix my teeth, or in adulthood I would’ve been so unattractive I’d remain single past 21…and we all know how awful that is. Or, I could’ve paid for them myself but there’d be complaints about the waste of money because there’s nothing wrong with crooked teeth. My parents purchased a computer for us, because it was more burdensome for us to stay after school. They shared 1 vehicle. They purchased a house and had a mortgage. We could have remained in apartments, but many don’t like having more than 2 children in a family and decided a house was a better place. These are just a few things others go without because they’re material comforts, but to me and my parents they needed to be done.

      The problem I see is what other people think of another family’s choices. I thought there was more than one way to raise a family, and it doesn’t seem reasonable to assume throughout the ages there was one template everyone used. There were fewer choices, but choices nonetheless.

      I just don’t know if there are enough normal people who are able to accomplish this without it degenerating into weirdness.

      I think there are, but there’s always going to be people noting what another family should do with or without.

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      1. Maea,

        I have a few thoughts about that.

        1. If parents go too radical and make the material conditions too unpleasant, their teen or grown children may bolt. (See Homeschoolers Anonymous for examples.)

        2. There’s also the issue of effective Christian witness. There are certain practices that just look bad to good mainstream parents. (For lots of examples, see Free Jinger.)

        3. I more and more believe that the much-blamed activities have an important function in modern family life. For one thing, they keep modern kids from being too sedentary and help to limit screen time.

        I also think that activities can have a therapeutic effect for many special needs children.

        4. “The idea of having many children because you should isn’t necessarily rooted in Christian tradition.”

        Right. I suspect if you explained a lot of current Catholic conversations on NFP and family size to St. Thomas Aquinas he’d say, “Whaaaat?”

        If the Mr. isn’t interested and the Mrs. isn’t interested in marital relations the day before ovulation, why can’t they just read a good book instead?

        5. “I had braces as a teen to fix my teeth, or in adulthood I would’ve been so unattractive I’d remain single past 21…and we all know how awful that is.”

        That’s a really interesting example. I think it’s possible to come up with a lot of similar examples where cutting corners with spending on children may impair their ability to marry and support their own children as young adults.

        6. “I think there are, but there’s always going to be people noting what another family should do with or without.”

        Yes. And you rarely hear people praising choices other than those they themselves have made.

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  11. There were a lot of assumptions implied here by what I mean by “material comforts” and “normal life”, so I will make an attempt to elaborate, although it seems to me (unless I am thoroughly misunderstanding TPC’ s point of all this) that the commenters are wholly committed to the idea that you can have the community being written about here while somehow holding on to all the comforts of modernity (relinquishing nothing) and that if families make any sort of attempt to raise their children outside the matrix they risk their children leaving the family and/or the faith. If that’s true, then why bother with this?

    By material comforts, I am not referring to braces/other medical care, and I’m not referring to giving up extra vehicles unless you live in a place where you could. I could have easily had 10 children (if the speed at which I got pregnant whenever we tried is any indication), but I only had 5. Have I ever (this is to Amy P) given any indication that I am into the quiver full thing?

    By normal life I actually mean something very similar to what I had growing up in our black, working class town before the crack epidemic of the late 1980’s hit. Not perfect, but this is what life was like when I was 12 and younger. By the time I came of age this had mostly been destroyed.:

    1. People knew their neighbors well.
    2. People helped their neighbors.
    3. It was not at all uncommon for young people to marry someone from right there the neighborhood
    4. Christian churches in the town (even of different denominations!) had fellowship at least a couple times a year.
    5. Most women (except pastors’ wives) worked, as this has always been the reality of black women. Yet somehow, when someone died, got sick, or otherwise needed help, the women turned out in numbers with meals and made time to do what they could for that family
    6. Among Christians, there was real accountability for your behavior. There were those who whispered and gossiped but you could be sure that there was at least one someone who would call you to account if your skirt was too short or your jeans were too tight or it was learned you were laid up with someone else’s spouse.
    7. People looked out for one another’s children
    8. Lots of people had substantial yard gardens and this was NOT a rich community by any stretch. Susie would share her bumper crop of tomatoes while Mary might share her bumper crop of collard greens.
    9. Most women could sew well and there wasn’t a choice between wearing hand me down s till they fell apart or shopping every other month.
    10. Even though many women worked, there were a significant number of grandmothers or trusted older women in the neighborhood to provide childcare for their grand kids and maybe one or two other young children who didn’t have a grandmother or aunt to help out. The home daycare brimming with 10 or more kids did not exist then.

    This is what I mean by normal life. With exceptions for blatant violations of sound behavior and decency, people were left to live their lives as they saw fit while maintaining standards and community. Christians held each other to higher standards and extended the grace due to those who were in darkness.

    Oh, and by the way, there were three families I can recall who made a substantial amount of money, got their kids tennis lessons, and sent them to private school. They didn’t leave the town because they had more. My dad bought my oldest brother a motorcycle when he turned 16.

    What I mean by material comforts is the willingness to forgo some of the conveniences of wealth (bigger houses, several cars, etc) for the short term for the sake of building the foundation for a real Christian community while leaving people to work out the details themselves on anything not covered in the 10 Commandments, 1 Corinthians 6, and Biblical outlines of authority.

    So what if people are always going to have opinions about what others should do? This is nothing new, nor is it anything to be alarmed about so long as what I said in the paragraph preceding this one remains the standard.

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    1. Elspeth,

      Your ideas of “material comforts” versus other goods are probably very sound and I’m sure you personally make reasonable choices, but the phrase does make my ears twitch, because I’ve been party to a lot of online Catholic discussions where it was code for “Unless you are homeschooling, have only one car, are wearing three sweaters all winter long, cloth-diapering, making your own detergent, sleeping a maximum of 3.5 hours a night maximum, eating beans and rice every night, etc. you should be having another baby RIGHT NOW.” I didn’t really get the “Catholic guilt” concept until I’d been in about a dozen of those conversations, and I started to realize that there is such a thing, and it’s terrible–as far as I can tell, the idea is that unless you’re totally miserable, you should have another baby, and if you’re totally miserable, you should still have another baby. Maea has probably seen some of this. The manosphere has claimed the term “hamster wheel” but I really want to call the phenomenon the “Catholic guilt hamster wheel” because of the hopelessness of “winning” when nothing you do is ever going to be good enough. (I know it’s not just a Catholic thing, but I’m most familiar with the Catholics that do it.)

      Some more thoughts:

      1. You said: “…the commenters are wholly committed to the idea that you can have the community being written about here while somehow holding on to all the comforts of modernity (relinquishing nothing).” Here’s a problem I see with that–none of us (unless we have income in the mid-to-upper six figures) can have anything close to “all the comforts of modernity” even if we wanted to. We have to pick and choose and plan and prioritize. Choosing one thing means not getting another thing. My husband makes a very good income. But that doesn’t mean all the nice things–it means some of the nice things.

      2. You said: “By material comforts, I am not referring to braces/other medical care, and I’m not referring to giving up extra vehicles unless you live in a place where you could.”

      Unfortunately, a lot of people do treat essential medical and dental care as frills. I grew up without medical insurance and there was medical and dental neglect of the children in our family. This seems to be not uncommon among non-mainstream families. I see from the internet that there are a lot of attempts to keep down family medical expenses by using “natural” remedies.

      I am sure that if I mentioned braces in some of the discussions I’ve been in, they would be pooh-poohed as a luxury item.

      3. I relate to your #10. I had a very involved, generous local grandma (thank goodness!), but I don’t have that to offer my kids. We live 2,000 miles away from the grandparents. Both grandmas are busy working grandmas and the kids don’t see much of them. As the grandmas head into their mid-60s/late-60s, I realize that the way things are going, it looks like they will go directly from “too busy to visit” to “too sick and frail to travel.”

      4. I was an 80s kid and I don’t think we had most of the items on your list. In fact, I’m betting that my parents probably moved us out to the country largely in order to avoid the low lifes in town. It’s definitely worse now, though, but I think it probably always was a rough town. When we were kids, my mom was VERY selective with who we got to socialize with/trick or treat from, and I suspect she knew what she was doing.

      5. Regarding cars, I find that it’s the quality rather than the number that counts. Country people, for some reason, often seem to wind up with four cars, only two of which work. (I believe Jeff Foxworthy was one of the first to point this out–you know you’re a redneck when only half of your cars run.)

      Apologies for length!

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      1. the idea is that unless you’re totally miserable, you should have another baby, and if you’re totally miserable, you should still have another baby. Maea has probably seen some of this.

        Seen it, and experienced it. People assume Catholics in particular should be breeding 24/7. There are a few reasons why I don’t have children, but the main one is unemployment. I’ve had people tell me “you’re both unemployed? JUST HAVE A BABY.” No ideas on how to pay for the baby, let alone pay for prenatal care. Stress is also a pregnancy inhibitor, but I don’t expect people to care about it.

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      2. Maea said:

        “People assume Catholics in particular should be breeding 24/7.”

        And the culture that encourages this approach is quite detached from the relevant Church documents.

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    2. So what if people are always going to have opinions about what others should do?

      Because when the opinions get verbalized, it’s exhausting to listen to after a while. And if you aren’t putting up with it, then you’re “in rebellion” or “unwilling” or something along those lines.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Well TPC, there you have it. I think I know why the Benedict Option will not work. The people who are audacious enough to give it a try are usually too weird and obsessed with control to do it in a way that it could grow and be God honoring rather than full of reasons to ridicule it.

        The rest? Too easily swayed by the slightest fear that someone is going to say something (again who cares about it no matter how often they say it?) or attempt to ruin it by out tradding others or imposing their rule.

        These constant objections to even the notion of giving it a true honest try sound eerily like that sphere that many people love to mock. All focus on the inherent problems and risks, no willingness to consider that it could be done without the worst possible result being the ultimate result.

        For the record, one of the things I mean by “all the comforts of modernity” is the plethora of choices that it is believed we all HAVE to have in order to raise a family of successful offspring.

        For example, what would it take for us to raise children who are able to be gainfully employed and marry well without them all just about REQUIRED to go to college to have a shot at it? No one is willing to consider that, right?

        I have no problem with people who feel that way. My husband whom I adore is among them, but at the very least he is honest and up front about it and what it ultimately means we’re giving up.

        what I see here is an insistence that it isn’t doable and on obsession with those who did it wrong.

        @ Amy: By the mid-80’s what I described was all but gone in my hometown. And it was far from perfect, but it was as close to normal and certainly more of a real community than anything I’ve encountered since.

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        1. I don’t think I’d call it “easily swayed”. Our life is crazy weird and/or stupid to many of the people we know offline, and we struggle a ton because even if they didn’t feel that way, they wouldn’t know how to be more supportive because our choices lie so far outside the norms of even fellow conservatives.

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      2. Elspeth said:

        “Well TPC, there you have it. I think I know why the Benedict Option will not work. The people who are audacious enough to give it a try are usually too weird and obsessed with control to do it in a way that it could grow and be God honoring rather than full of reasons to ridicule it.”

        I think that if/when it works, it won’t be called “the Benedict Option.”

        It will just be normal.

        “For example, what would it take for us to raise children who are able to be gainfully employed and marry well without them all just about REQUIRED to go to college to have a shot at it? No one is willing to consider that, right?”

        I’ve heard that option floated many times, but I have yet to SEE it done successfully in the last generation or so.

        We all know how dire the stats are for marriage rates, out-of-wedlock parenthood and divorce rates for non-college graduates. It’s a big risk to take to believe that our special snowflakes are special enough that those stats don’t matter.

        And when I hear the option floated, it’s often from people online who use the “they don’t HAVE to go to college” excuse to explain why they’re planning on not helping their children with college expenses. And in Catholic and certain Protestant circles, it’s used as a reason why a large family is feasible–because you don’t have to help with college, as college is just a frill.

        That would be all very well, except that as a rule, the people that say that don’t have a clue as to what trade or profession they can establish their child in without college. They’re not usually plumbers or carpenters who have a place in their family business for a kid or two. If they were, it would be different. But the people who say that are expecting their kids to step out into…nothing and somehow raise a large family…on nothing.

        The college/marriage nexus is also very important. I met my husband in graduate school. My mom and dad met and married as undergrads. My MIL and FIL met in college. That’s getting close to being a family tradition at this point, and I fully expect that my kids, if they marry, will do so because of college. It has become the way of my tribe at this point.

        In the rest of my family, there’s a definite difference in level of functionality between my college and non-college cousins. Obviously, there’s some chicken or egg stuff going on, but given that 2/3 of US young adults at least start college (and nearly 3/4 of young women), at this point being left in the 1/3 (or 1/4) that doesn’t start college may (quite unfairly) signal a lot of bad stuff to prospective spouses.

        “@ Amy: By the mid-80’s what I described was all but gone in my hometown. And it was far from perfect, but it was as close to normal and certainly more of a real community than anything I’ve encountered since.”

        The best community I have experienced is in our current area. I’m a little out-of-it right now, by virtue of small child responsibilities, but there are immense social resources available, and it actually reminds me much more of your list than my 80s childhood (without the family support, though).

        The fine print, on that, though, is that our community is fairly privileged, and I understand fully that that sort of community is not available to everybody that lives in our geographic area. We have overlapping communities (our parish communities, my husband’s employer, our school community, etc.), and it has produced a particularly wholesome and supportive environment for our children.

        And come to think of it, when we talk about mainstream middle class parenting, a lot of the weirder aspects of it are actually pretty functional–the crazy stuff that middle class parents do today often does help generate a safer, more functional, more supportive zone for their kids to operate in.

        The downside side, though, is that there is a lot of wasted effort involved, and the blessed bubble of middle class childhood is defined by who doesn’t get to come in.

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        1. We’re not paying for college, but we also completely arranged our lives at a very high financial and physical cost to make it possible for the kids to follow other paths when the time comes, including how to cover their own college expenses in advance. But plans could change, our kids are nowhere near old enough to say anything is settled in stone regarding all that.

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      3. And also when you’re doing something totally different than everyone else, it gets exhausting when nobody can see the benefit/merit/rationale behind your choices as even “a good idea for that individual family”. When you can’t even get that, it’s very hard to stay on that path.

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      4. The rest? Too easily swayed by the slightest fear that someone is going to say something (again who cares about it no matter how often they say it?) or attempt to ruin it by out tradding others or imposing their rule.

        I wasn’t mocking the Benedict Option, nor was I implying that it shouldn’t be tried at all. But as we can all see, what the Benedict Option is for some isn’t that way for others. How are people supposed to follow a Benedict Option when they can’t agree on what it constitutes? There are various ideas around community, and to some it includes definitions of social welfare, whereas for others it includes loving your neighbor and everyone contributes to the greater good. On the surface, they sound the same but the implementation could be very different.

        Just because people point out potential flaws or objections to the Benedict Option– or what people currently tout as it– doesn’t mean it’s entirely thrown out. What I do throw out are a lot of the absurd things and ideas I’ve seen or heard of. These are usually families who believe they are part of isolated islands, ruled by one and I think that’s the main problem.

        As for what people say, I’ve personally experienced unwanted and unsolicited opinions on what life should be like and what kind of choices I should be making. It’s easy to say “who cares”, but when you hear and see it constantly it becomes wearing.

        Liked by 1 person

  12. I wanted to add a thought. for everything that was lost in our town during the late 80’s (I turned 18 in 1989), there are still remnants of what remained. For example, when my dad needs car repairs, he takes his car to the shop right there in town, now owned and operated by the son of the man who owned it when I was a child.

    Same thing when my mother wants to have art or photos custom framed. Right there at the guy in town whose father owned it before he did.

    When my father went looking for an architect to do church remodels on the church where he is head deacon, he went to local churches in the town to inquire if there was someone there who did good work and could use the business. He ended going with a young architect from one of the neighborhood churches, and their church looks great.

    All 3 men do good work (drawing in clientele from outside the town) and although it costs my parents a bit more than it would if they went to a larger outlet, they pay the extra to patronize those young men. Well, young to them I mean because the men are about my age (early 40’s).

    This is also what I mean by making financial sacrifices for the sake of the community. None of what was implied was what I meant, as I have no vested interest in who has braces, cable TV, or the likes. Insomuch as any Christian community is willing to embrace true camaraderie and adherence to Biblical truth and submission to authority, most of that stuff can and will work itself out without the need to police everyone with a heavy hand.

    It’s really interesting the way accountability and real love effect these things.

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  13. The examples you cited aren’t unrealistic at all, Elspeth, but it’ll never be “traditional” enough for many. It’s a problem when Christians feel the need to “outtrad” each other, instead of giving credit where it’s due. When I wrote my comment, I was in no way trying to pick at you, but citing that the definition of a normal life and sacrificing material comforts varies depending on who is asked.

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    1. Yes to what Maea said about never being “traditional” enough.

      I think I’d also point out that just as with hipsters outhipstering each other, competitive tradding is also an inherently unfriendly activity. It kills the possibility of fellowship.

      And yes to the idea of many of Elspeth’s examples being reasonable goals.

      Liked by 1 person

  14. Elspeth,

    Again, I’m sure you’re quite reasonable, but there are so many nutty people out there doing nutty things to their children.

    I was just looking at a thread where a mom of 5 (?) is hoping to move to a “one bag” system for her children, where each child is allowed to keep as many clothes, toys and books as fits in a single suitcase (plus a backpack for their homeschool stuff).

    So much material for their shrinks when they grow up!

    (I’m hoping that mom doesn’t post here. If so, sorry for making an example of you!)

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    1. But that is true even of people who don’t homeschool Amy. That people do nutty things to their kids. Things far worse that a “one bag” policy. As absurd as that is, and I agree that it is, it’s not abuse.

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      1. Two things:

        1. The one-bag rule is way closer to abusive than I ever want to get. Little kids form deep emotional bonds with their stuff and big kids often get into crafts or extracurriculars that would require way more room than that. I have a kid whose sewing machine alone or musical instruments alone would consume nearly her entire personal allowance if she were a member of that family.

        2. I wasn’t criticizing homeschooling with the one-bag story so much as illustrating an extreme in anti-materialism and how inhumane and unkind it can become.

        Liked by 1 person

  15. TPC said:

    “We’re not paying for college, but we also completely arranged our lives at a very high financial and physical cost to make it possible for the kids to follow other paths when the time comes, including how to cover their own college expenses in advance. But plans could change, our kids are nowhere near old enough to say anything is settled in stone regarding all that.”

    Just making some kind of arrangements is a big deal.

    For instance, we bought a house within walking distance of the 4-year college where we are eligible for a staff discount. If any of our kids go there, they will be able to live at home (a major savings) and walk to class (another major savings).

    But I see a lot of “la-la-la plumbers make a good living!” from people who have no idea how they would go about getting their kid the appropriate training, or any idea if their local market is saturated with plumbers, or any idea if their child has any aptitude for plumbing. (Ditto “grocery store managers make a good living!” or “You can make a good living in the oil fields!”)

    The truth is, the current economy is very hard on blue collar workers and has been for some time. A lot of those industries have boom and bust cycles (oil, for example, or construction) or may face near extinction from technological improvements,, and to pin one’s child’s hopes of supporting a biggish family on blue collar employment really isn’t very fair. At the minimum, it’s important to share the facts of life with kids: the economy changes, so be prepared to change with it. Also, booms never last, so moderate your expenses during booms and save so you can survive the busts.

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      1. TPC said:

        “The plumbing fixation is interesting considering the simultaneous fixation on doing all home maintenance no matter how complex yourself “because there’s youtube videos for ANYTHING after all!””

        That’s a very good point and there are probably other fields with exactly the same problem.

        Another issue is that there’s a lot of vulnerability committing to a career doing heavily physical work–at some point, the body just wears out, and a guy can’t do the same stuff at 50 that was easy when he was 25.

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      2. Elspeth said:

        “Not that men don’t get a little boost out of it, but with the exception of the men who come up with it, it really seems to be driven primarily by women.”

        How about this: women are more likely than men to go off the deep end with domestic rules and religious extremism, but when men do, they go very, very far and in leadership positions where they can individually do a lot of harm?

        Note that there aren’t a lot of female cult leaders, at least of the drink-the-koolaid kind. (However, somebody like Jim Jones had a lot of faithful female lieutenants.)

        Liked by 1 person

    1. Why is it that the only people I see coming up with these rules and expectations are always women? I’ve never heard of a father saying his children have to fit all of their belongings into a bag. Fathers usually say not to get too attached to them, or not to have so many it’s overwhelming. Why is it that so much of the Benedict Option, IMO, is driven more by the “neck turning,” than actual, Christian-led and community-based decisions?

      Liked by 2 people

      1. It’s selection bias in the kinds of women who want kids and also want to be conservative and Christian and who are often “smart”. Less bright women aren’t as likely to be directing their yearnings for order into control-freakishness over minutiae of family life. They are more likely to just play too much Candy Crush.

        It’s a misdirection, but women tend to not take the community’s existence as a given, which has its own problems, but will also make them less laid back.

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      2. I agree Maea! This is exactly what I was trying to say. Not that men don’t get a little boost out of it, but with the exception of the men who come up with it, it really seems to be driven primarily by women. Almost every dominant personality man I know in real life (even the most traditional, like my own) has at some point said, “Um, the more kids we have, the more it costs me in time and treasure to raise them. We’re stopping at 4 or 5 or 6.” And then they get snipped if wifey simply refuses to get with the program.

        It’s selection bias in the kinds of women who want kids and also want to be conservative and Christian and who are often “smart”. Less bright women aren’t as likely to be directing their yearnings for order into control-freakishness over minutiae of family life. They are more likely to just play too much Candy Crush.

        LOL.

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      3. Almost every dominant personality man I know in real life (even the most traditional, like my own) has at some point said, “Um, the more kids we have, the more it costs me in time and treasure to raise them. We’re stopping at 4 or 5 or 6.” And then they get snipped if wifey simply refuses to get with the program.

        Yeah, I thought people saw that correlation. The more children, the higher expense along with other things that come with the package. I can’t fathom why a wife would refuse to get with the program, especially if the family is a husband-led one. It comes off as some kind of pet doctrine/idolatry thing at that point.

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  16. “I was just looking at a thread where a mom of 5 (?) is hoping to move to a “one bag” system for her children, where each child is allowed to keep as many clothes, toys and books as fits in a single suitcase (plus a backpack for their homeschool stuff).”

    I cannot for the life of me see any kind of problem with this, except for books.

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  17. And I have a pretty high tolerance for clutter and I like stuff. But restricting children’s belongings is a great idea, it makes life way, way easier. Most kids on the planet don’t own a suitcase worth of stuff, for heaven’s sake.

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    1. You Know Who said:

      “Most kids on the planet don’t own a suitcase worth of stuff, for heaven’s sake.”

      If they don’t as toddlers or preschoolers, they will by the time they’re in their mid-teens, and almost certainly enough to fill a hope chest by 18 (unless they’re nomads or living in a refugee camp).

      Even just a guitar would blow the limits.

      This one-bag ideal was created by single childless hipsters who live on their Macs and in hoodies–it wasn’t intended for developing children. To see the limits of the lifestyle, here’s a one-bag list from a practitioner:

      “I count the following things as my belongings at this point:

      6 T-shirts
      2 sweaters, 2 hoodies
      1 coat
      2 pairs of dress-pant sweat-pants
      6 pairs of socks and boxer shorts
      1 backpack
      An iPhone, a Kindle, 1 notepad and a MacBook Air (+ keyboard and mouse)
      Gym shoes and gym shorts
      Various toiletries like toothbrush, contact lenses, etc.”

      http://time.com/3758013/why-everything-fits-one-bag/

      It’s basically clothes, electronics and toiletries. Granted children’s clothing is smaller than adult clothes so there would be room for other items, but you can see what’s missing–any physical books, any craft item, any musical instrument, any sports equipment, dress up clothes, Halloween costumes, any photo albums, year books, memorabilia, heirloom, etc. Children, especially, like to keep old art projects (at least for a while) and memorabilia.

      It sounds like a very sad, rootless life for a child. When I was reading the one-bag mom’s plans, I was thinking, “That’s probably how much foster care kids are allowed.”

      There’s no room in that lifestyle for old things, which I would think is the opposite of a traditional life.

      Liked by 1 person

  18. Maea said:

    “Why is it that so much of the Benedict Option, IMO, is driven more by the “neck turning,” than actual, Christian-led and community-based decisions?”

    Aside from “neck-turning”, there’s also the phenomenon of laying out a penny’s worth of submission to one’s husband and exchanging it for a full dollar’s worth of bullying one’s children and every other woman in handy reach (which is a whole bunch of women with the amplifying effect of the internet)

    Some less pleasant personalities may find that a good bargain, especially as the husband (however ogreish) will be gone most of the day.

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    1. That sounds downright awful…and not a way to guide a family in the direction of a husband’s mission. There is something to be said about the effects of isolation on families. I imagine if more families had extended relatives around for guidance and help, we’d see a lot less of this.

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  19. Whew. I was reading this and it was making my head spin. 🙂 I can attest to the Catholic breeding thing; in that I have a sister who has one child (not by choice, but because she struggled with infertility). And she was judged like you would not believe. A total lack of charity and understanding. The truth is that some have large families, some have small families, some have none at all.

    In defense of Catholic teaching on birth control — if only from a health point of view, it makes sense. Artificial contraceptives are brutal to your health. So, even if you don’t agree with Catholic teachings on contraception, I’m sure we can all agree that birth control pills, IUDs and the like are really harmful to your health. I don’t get how anybody would want to put that stuff into their bodies. NFP does work and it is natural and doesn’t put junk into your body.

    On the one-bag thing — yes, that is way extreme and I’m against that. But I grew up in a house where clutter ruled the day and my mother to this day has walkways surrounded by stuff. She can’t let go of anything. We knew that the family heirlooms, etc., were more important than us, the kids. I married into a family who sort of has the same problem, but that’s another story…..anyway, I have a real issue with clutter and have girls who are real slobs. (My boys are the neat ones, oddly enough; I was sure it would be the other way around.) It is a struggle to get through to them on a regular basis to get that room shoveled out. We toss out stuff on a regular basis and because we have two children per bedroom, it’s imperative that they pare down their stuff. I got file boxes for each child and we store a select number of items each year, but we keep it limited. I also limit their clothing; four pairs of shoes per person at any given time, the clothes are few in number but of good quality. I keep it organized so we can keep it manageable.

    As far as ideologies go — I’ve been there and have absolutely no use for them. The Benedict Option is all fine and good, but we are not living in the Middle Ages and there is no monastery which is the center around which the city or town revolves. And to make that work effectively, you need the community — it is crucial. I am all for learning how to do things on our own — I can make soap and cheese, I sew my daughters’ clothing, and I enjoy it — but we are living in the twenty first century A.D. We won’t do our children any favors trying to get them to live in a different century.

    And I agree…..surprisingly I see many more women than men embracing this ideology. I think they are cutting off their noses to spite their faces and eventually are going to get disoriented and nutty trying to overdo. I’ve already seen it. Just my two cents.

    (My blog is currently privatized for the time being.)

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    1. The Benedict Option is all fine and good, but we are not living in the Middle Ages and there is no monastery which is the center around which the city or town revolves.

      My thoughts exactly. I think what happens is people romanticize the past, or at least their ideas and versions of what it must have been, versus what it actually was. You know, we always hear and see on the ‘net how great the 1950’s were? We have things the past did not– technological advancements, longer lifespans, more mobility, etc. It’s not like we can undo the industrial revolution, eradicate vehicle engines, or tell people they aren’t allowed to ever leave. I’m wondering if it’s possible to reap the benefits of today to our advantage without succumbing to decay from decadence.

      General thoughts–I don’t necessarily think community is always centered around the church, but traditionally it’s been families and close relations (even non-blood). But what happens when you throw in non-family, strangers, immigrants, etc.? Is it possible to come up with the results of the ideal Benedict Option in action, when there’s so much mobility? If people don’t know each other, they aren’t always willing to open up their arms in welcome. That takes time, because people are cliquey and that’s a human nature thing.

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