A Countercultural Religious Left response to the Dominant Culture’s Religious Right
A. Allen Butcher • The School of Intentioneering • Denver, Colorado • November 4, 2020
For definitions of terms and explanations of concepts see the glossary at the end of Part 5.
Toward an Age of Equality – Part 2 of 5 – The Communal Ideal
The Mix of Politics, Economics, and Religion
There is good reason to value the separation of church and state on many levels, in part because the two have very similar natures, and thus the two working together are able to concentrate great wealth and power. Both religion and politics range from authoritarian, unified-belief systems on the Religious Right, to diverse, inclusive systems on the Religious Left. The dichotomy is between orthodox, conservative religious culture aligning with centralized, plutocratic and oligarchic governance at one end of the spectrum, to multi-faith, liberal-religious pluralism with democratic decentralism and other forms of participatory governance on the other end of the spectrum. A quote by Mohandas Gandhi summarizes this basic dynamic: “I do not believe the spiritual law works on a field of its own. On the contrary, it expresses itself only through the ordinary activities of life. It thus affects the economic, the social, and the political fields.” (Breton & Largent, frontispiece)
When politics and religion work together they can be a strong influence upon the culture in many ways, especially negatively as through the oppression of political dissent and of lifestyle alternatives, since orthodox religion provides the justification for unified-belief systems, political authoritarianism, and patriarchal culture. Yet politics and religion can also be strong positive influences upon culture when used to uphold and advance participatory governance, economic solidarity, partnership society, ecological sustainability, and individual and cultural self-determination. This perspective on positive and negative influences is typically reversed by cultural conservatives.
Dan McKanan states in his 2011 book Prophetic Encounters: Religion and the American Radical Tradition that, “religious ideas, institutions, and practices have always been intertwined with radical activism. … Indeed,” McKanan writes, “leftist activism is almost a form of religion … [although] radicalism is best described as a sibling of religion rather than a form of religion.” (McKanan, pp. 4, 8)
Campaigns of the Religious Left can and have positively influenced culture, such as historically by: being against slavery and for women’s suffrage, anti-nukes, anti-war, anti-death penalty, for economic solidarity, ecological responsibility, and the acceptance of Earth-based spirituality. (McKanan, pp. 2-7, 11-15, 163, 187, 271, 276-77) Intentional community can certainly be added to the list of methods of economic self-help and political self-determination for a Religious Left campaign. As detailed in The Intentioneer’s Bible the Quaker religious tradition has been the second most engaged in the intentional communities movement, after Catholic monasticism with its nearly 2,000 years of monastic orders. Begun in 17th century England by George Fox, communal groups like the Shakers grew out of Quakerism, and other forms of intentional community afterward, including the community land trust at Celo in North Carolina and in at least the founding of the communal Alpha Farm in Oregon. Today the Quakers are not as actively involved in the communitarian movement, leaving opportunities for Unitarian Universalism to accept the communitarian baton and run with it as a social justice campaign of political-economic-religious self-determination.
Yet politics and religion do not mix perfectly, as it has been found in America that the greater force is politics. This was determined by some in the Religious Right in recent decades who expressed the realization that, “When you mix politics and religion, all you get as a result is more politics.” And this is not a new idea, since in the 1850s a group of Catholic bishops published a statement saying, “when religious leaders enter into electoral politics, it is more likely that religion will be debased than that politics will be elevated.” (Kramnick, 2001) Of course, none of that has prevented either religious conservatives or liberals from engaging in politics, yet it does suggest the need to be aware of the potential for both liberals and conservatives to sink ever deeper into the muck when either tries to drain the swamp. Recognizing the risk, it is helpful to analyze how cultural change has evolved in the past. For an introduction to that discussion consider first political-economic change, and then consider change in religious beliefs.
The same time that the American Declaration of Independence was written in 1776, Adam Weishaupt (1748-1830) in Europe published the founding document for an association which was then spread in secret through the Masonic Orders. Being a Mason, Thomas Jefferson, the third American president, was familiar with Weishaupt’s work. Weishaupt’s idea was for a third cultural power-center to arise in opposition to that of church and state. At the time, politics and religion were unified in the Holy Roman Empire (962 C.E.-1806), and to break that cultural monopoly Weishaupt and friends began an organization of newly-wealthy business owners wanting to resist Imperial power by creating a third economic power-center. Weishaupt taught Catholic church law at the University of Ingolstadt in Bavaria, Germany before founding a secret society which he named the “Order of Perfectibilists,” later to take the name “Illuminati.” Adam Weishaupt had been in the Catholic Jesuit Order, and designed his new order with similar grades or levels of initiation. (Durant & Durant, 1967, p. 507; Knauer. 26-7; Walters, p. 270)
Nearly two-and-a-half centuries later, global, transnational, corporate capitalism, more formally called “neo-liberal market capitalism,” is the greatest power in the world, due to those in the corporate hierarchy serving on interlocking corporate boards-of-directors, bending both church and state to the dictates of the economic imperatives defined by the “1%,” as those in the Occupy Movement of the post-Great Recession refer to the people comprising the corporate oligarchy, which can be said to be the modern Illuminati. Adam Weishaupt’s idea has become a global, monolithic force creating great wealth, ecological destruction, protest, poverty, and extinction.
While politics and religion can both be explained as ranging from unified to pluralist systems—which is part of why the two have historically been united—economics is different. As is taught in the author’s School of Intentioneering, the opposite poles of the different forms of economics have to do with the two different forms of ownership of property, ranging from private to common ownership systems. This economic-systems dichotomy of privately-owned versus commonly-owned property relates differently to authoritarianism as found in political oligarchy and religious orthodoxy, than it does to participatory governance practiced in democracy and liberal religion.
Another way to view the many different political-economic systems is to consider that economics involves the different methods of the ownership of property (i.e., private versus common), while politics involves the different methods of controlling property (i.e., authoritarian versus participatory systems). For a graphical representation of these relationships between politics and economics see the paper by the present author, Democracy and Capitalism: Are They Critical Elements of a Climax Human Culture? (Butcher, 1991)
Lamenting the Loss of Tribal Communalism
Communal sharing of material things and labor has always existed as an alternative to the dominant culture of taking things, from land to other forms of wealth, including enslaving people, and exchanging these formerly free and wild things as forms of private property.
The concept of the free and wild “noble savage” has been a romantic notion all through the history of Western Civilization, first recorded in the time of Ancient Greece as the Greeks had colonies on the north shore of the Black Sea where they encountered the nomadic Scythians, a confederation of nomadic tribes of Central Asia from about 700 B.C.E. to about 200 C.E. The Scythians “showed the national character of good temper, plain-living, and justice. … they are well-behaved towards one another, and have all things in common …” (Morgan, 1946, p. 124)
In his 1946 book Nowhere was Somewhere: How History Makes Utopias and Utopias Make History Arthur Morgan, the founder of the Fellowship of Intentional Communities in 1948-9, quotes an earlier writing by authors Lovejoy and Boas titled Primitivism and Related Ideas (p. 289) explaining, “At least from the 4th century B.C. on, then, the Scythians apparently were to the ancients very much what the North American Indians were to the primitivists of the sixteenth to the eighteenth centuries in modern Europe—except that, if anything, they were somewhat more realistically depicted than the American aborigines were.” (Morgan, 1946, p. 126)
Arthur Morgan explains the corruption of primitive cooperation and communalism through the property code and greed of civilization by quoting the Greek historian Strabo in his 1st century B.C.E. book, Geography, saying of the Scythian tribes north of the Black Sea that some of them were cruel while others were humane. Strabo quotes the earlier Greek writers Homer and Hesiod saying, “… life in our manner has spread to almost all peoples a change for the worse, introducing luxury among them, and pleasures and evil practices and countless selfish acts. Hence much of this type of evil has penetrated to the Barbarians …” (Morgan, 1946, p. 124)
Jack Weatherford relates a similar story in his 1994 book Savages and Civilization: Who Will Survive? from an even earlier time, going back to about 2000 B.C.E. The author explains that the ancient Sumerian myth of Gilgamesh presents the same theme of the primitive encountering civilization, to the loss of the former’s simple yet noble lifestyle. As king of the Sumerian city-state Uruk, the semi-mythical Gilgamesh befriends the wild man Enkidu, who succumbs to the ways of civilization, first learning agriculture, then destroying the forest and killing the wild animals to extend the range of cultivated land, until on his deathbed Enkidu regrets and laments “having abandoned his savage life for the luxuries of the city.” Weatherford states that the English word savage actually comes from the Latin word for forest. (Sandars, p. 31; Weatherford, 1994, pp. 113-5, 282)
The loss of communal tribalism is a very old story, continuing today, 4,000 years after the writing of the Epic of Gilgamesh. And the story is similar for people of the First World (i.e., market-based economies) who go native or who live for a while in communal society or other forms of intentional community, which is part of the Fourth World of locally-based economies. For my current book project I have collected statements of former members of communal groups who reminisce about what they experienced and have lost. One is from the late 20th century by an Israeli kibbutz member named Yael who lamented, “For several years now we have been undergoing a gradual process of dismantling the kibbutz. … What sort of place shall we become? What is the red line we shouldn’t cross? … The decisions are made by men, but the burden falls on women. Everything, everything is falling on women. … Now I hear people saying that they wish we could go back in time to have the kibbutz of twenty years ago. We want that old kibbutz! We lost many good things in the transition. Only after the changes were made did we realize how much we lost, the mistakes we made.” (Lieblich, pp. 63, 84)
Keep in mind that not all Late Stone Age nomadic cultures were patriarchal or matriarchal. Many were egalitarian, at least as much as Native American culture can be considered egalitarian. An example is the Scythians. The queen of one of the Scythian tribes, Tomyris, led a coalition of Scythian tribes against the Persian ruler, Cyrus the Great, who had created the greatest empire in the world up to that time, killing Cyrus and destroying his army in 530 B.C.E. Women have served as warriors and even as military leaders, like Tomyris, in many cultures throughout time. The earliest stories of women warrior societies called “Amazons” came from ancient Greek historians familiar with nomadic culture, reinforced today with discovery of ancient Asian nomad grave sites in which female skeletons are found next to weapons.
Jack Weatherford explains why the stories of female “Amazon” warriors came from the east European and Asian steppe, pointing out that while combat with sword and pole arms requires upper-body strength, which men have to a greater degree than women, archery requires more skill and control than strength, and so women can be just as effective mounted archers as men. Weatherford further explains that pastoral nomad children all learned at an early age to ride horses and to use the bow and arrow to protect their herd animals from wolves and other predators. While the girls typically looked after the smaller herd animals like sheep and goats closer to home, the boys would take care of the cows, yaks, and camels over a larger range. (Weatherford, 2010, pp. 120-1)
Girls and women of sedentary agricultural cultures did not usually have similar early training as mounted archers as among nomadic herders, and so fewer would have become women fighters, although there are accounts of women joining the military all through history. Women fighters today are most common in Israel where they are universally conscripted just like men, and among the Kurdish resistance in Syria and Iraq where they constitute an entire military corps called the Women’s Defense Units, comprising about forty-percent of the Kurdish military.
The idea of an all-women “tribe of Amazons” is unlikely in reality. More likely would be women-only warrior societies. Warrior or military societies among men were common, and some women probably joined them, or created their own. Warrior societies were usually created to protect a village or tribe and to attack its enemies, and so were not “tribes” in their own right. The best-known warrior society is the Cheyenne Dog Soldiers of the Northern Great Plains states. The term “dog” in this usage is not a derogatory epithet used by their enemies, it is a chosen name referring to the qualities of guarding, defending, and loyalty of village dogs. The Cheyenne Dog Soldiers played an important role in the defeat of General Custer at the Battle of the Little Big Horn in 1876, and later fought, probably along with other Native American warrior societies, in the American military in most conflicts from World War I and II through the Middle-Eastern Wars, perhaps, one might imagine, even at times supporting the Kurdish Women’s Defense Units. (Hoebel, pp. 38, 129, 131)
While the Scythians returned to the steppe after destroying Cyrus II and his army and did not try to conquer his empire, other nomadic and semi-nomadic barbarian peoples deliberately fought to destroy urban life and civilization, typically using, ironically, weapons of metal made in cities. After the Chinese built much of their Great Wall to keep out the barbarian tribes, the Huns turned westward, invading as far as central France by 375 C.E., fighting both the Eastern and Western Roman Empires. The Germanic tribes then finished off the Western Roman Empire by 476 C.E. Later, beginning about 1200, the united Mongol tribes arose from the Asian steppe to destroy several empires, some most people have never heard of, like the Khwarezm of Central Asia. The Mongols destroyed hundreds of cities, towns, and villages, often massacring all the inhabitants. Mongols killed ninety-percent of the Persian people and nearly destroyed the entire Persian culture, like they did the Khwarezm. By the mid-13th century the Mongols had conquered the largest empire ever, stretching from Finland to Korea and Vietnam, laying siege to at least one city on the Adriatic Sea coast of Dalmatia, a region of Croatia. The Mongol hordes had the benefit of Chinese siege weapons and expertise in taking cities, while a later semi-nomadic Turkic people, originally from the Central Asian steppe then pushed westward by the Mongols into Anatolia, now Turkey, called the Ottoman Turks, employed the new Chinese technology of gun-powder-activated cannon. The Ottomans pounded Constantinople day and night for nearly two months before taking the city in 1453, destroying the Byzantine Empire, which had succeeded the Eastern Roman Empire, and changing forever-after the methods of warfare in Western Civilization. (Weatherford, 2004, pp. 121, 167)
The strength of experienced and coordinated tribes of mounted archers was formidable. In America the Comanche, more than any other tribe, were comparable to the Mongols in their skill as mounted warriors and their use of terror as a weapon, as they are credited with preventing the Spanish from claiming the Southern Great Plains and connecting their western territories, California, Mexico, and New Mexico, with their eastern territory in Florida. The Spanish had conquered hundreds of Native American tribes and civilizations, yet could not defeat the Comanche. Santa Fe, New Mexico was settled about the same time as the English settled James Town, Virginia, so the Spanish had the time and motive to conquer eastward, yet the Comanche stopped them at the western edge of the Great Plains, while later also holding the American frontier in East Texas. While the Mongol tribes in Asia numbered about a million people, there were only about 20,000 Comanche, and both owe their success to the horse. It was not until the invention of multi-shot rifles and six-shooter hand-guns during the Civil War that the invading whites finally had a weapons parity with the Indians, who could shoot as many as ten arrows with deadly accuracy in the time that it took to reload a single-shot, muzzle-loaded weapon. (Gwynne, p. 27, 49, 55, 59-60, 71, 172; Weatherford, 2004, p. xviii)
The genocide of the indigenous peoples of the Americas by Christian civilization, was matched by the earlier genocide of civilized peoples by the pagan, tribal Mongols. Genocide is neither simply a civilized nor a primitive tribal problem; genocide is a problem of human competition, conflict, and intolerance. Jack Weatherford writes, “Civilization has produced a savagery far worse than that which we once imputed to primitive tribes. Civilization has made its worst fear come true; it has created the very savagery that it feared and projected onto others for thousands of years. The savages have become internal to civilization. … If we cannot change our course, then our civilization too may become as dead as the stones …, and one day the descendants of some alien civilization will stare at our ruined cities and wonder why we disappeared.” (Weatherford, 1994, p. 291)
Glossary of Terms and Concepts used in the School of Intentioneering
Communal—although this term has various dictionary definitions, in the School of Intentioneering it is used exclusively to refer to the common ownership of property and wealth, whether the governance structure is authoritarian or participatory.
Democratic decentralism—participatory governance for large numbers of people like towns divided into neighborhoods, with each having separate decision-making bodies, all sending representatives to a central coordinating body. This is basically how the Federation or FEC is organized, although those communities are not contiguous and instead are some distance from each other, while the largest communal societies tend toward subdividing in this way as well. Representatives of neighborhoods or communities may be delegated the authority to make decisions as they think is best for their constituents in delegate assemblies, or may be limited to only casting votes in representative assemblies according to instructions received from their constituents. Although they all mean the same thing, the term “democratic decentralism” is used in the School of Intentioneering in part to differentiate from the terms with the same meaning used by the Institute for Social Ecology, including: “confederal municipalism,” “democratic confederalism,” and the French meaning of “commune.”
Egalitarian Communalism — the furthest expression of gender partnership in which all property is owned and controlled in common by women and men, including the means-of-production. Community-ownership or common-ownership, with women and men sharing all domestic and other labor, and facilitating gender-equality in governance, is the most egalitarian social structure. Communal members may or may not form families, cofamiles, or polyamorous relationships within the communal society.
Worker-Ownership — the means-of-production, or capital, is owned in common and profits are shared. Shared governance with open bookkeeping or transparent accounting is usually practiced.
Land Commons — “the commons” is the natural and cultural resources shared by all. In traditional societies this may be practically everything, while for the present private-property system legal designs have been created to protect various forms of commons, from land, to the electro-magnetic spectrum, to open-source knowledge. The land commons may be protected: by governments, such as for maintaining parks and waterways, or by taxing for the public good via the land-value tax (LVT) that portion of land value created not by the land owner, instead by society through population density and government services; or by private organizations called conservation land trusts for keeping land wild; or by community land trusts (CLT) for housing, schools, businesses, self-reliant homesteads, etc.
Class-Harmony Community — the means-of-production and usually most property is owned by an individual or small-group, while others rent property from the (hopefully) benevolent owners. Tenants may be individuals, families, or cofamilies.
Methods of Domestic Sharing:
Matriarchy — all or most property is owned by women who are head-of-the-household, inheriting family names and property. Typically, siblings grow up together in large households headed by a matriarch. Upon adulthood each young woman is given a bedroom in the household with one door opening to the outside and one door opening to an interior space or courtyard of the multi-room women’s house. Upon reaching adulthood the men live outside of the women’s household in smaller male-only housing, becoming male partners of any number of women, with children in different women’s households. The women would know their own children; while the men may never know which children are their own. Men run the businesses that support the family or extended family. (See: Goettner-Abendroth, 2009 & 2012).
Patriarchy — all or most property is owned by men who are head-of-the-household, inheriting family names and property. Typically, women leave their families to marry and live with their husband’s family, called patrilocal marriage. Monogamous marriage, serial-monogamy, blended families, polygamous families, and extended families, may all be headed by a patriarch. In some patriarchal cultures men essentially own women and girls like with all other property. In many patriarchal cultures women have to win and maintain their right to own property, own businesses, participate in governance, and lead religious institutions.
Partnership — property is owned by women, by men, or in common. Gender-equality is practiced in governance, business, and domestic home-life. Gender-equal or egalitarian marriage, serial-marriage, polyamory, or cofamily may be practiced.
Polyamorous families — women and/or men have two or more intimate partners, whether all of the involved adults live together or separately. The pleasure in seeing one’s partner enjoying being with their plural partners is called “compersion,” a term coined by the polyfidelitous Kerista Commune in 1970s San Francisco.
Cofamilies — three-to-nine, non-related people, with or without children, living in community. Women and men in cofamilies may or may not have polyamorous multiple intimate partners within the group. When a cofamily forms within or joins a larger intentional community, whether communal, cohousing, land trust, ecovillage, cooperative, etc, they are called a “nested cofamily.”
Cohousing — involves the sharing of privately-owned property with no or minimal commonly-owned property. The “common house” in cohousing is not owned-in-common, it is legally a form of private ownership called “undivided interest,” and is surrounded by the privately-owned housing units. The community is typically structured as a condominium or housing cooperative. Gender-equality is typically practiced in the governance structure of the cohousing community.
Ecovillage — a traditional village or an intentional community, either minimizing its impact on the natural world or enhancing the symbiosis of human and nonhuman living things, by incorporating ecological and sustainable features and practices, often called “permaculture.”
**End of Part 2 of 5**
Portions of this article were previously published in the author’s 2016 e-book The Intentioneer’s Bible
(see: Amazon.com), and other portions are to appear in the author’s forthcoming book.
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