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 5 of 5 – Communitarian Mysticism
So Here We Are In Utopia! 😊
Welcome to a lifestyle expressing your highest ideals and most cherished values! People can make any kind of agreements they like, creating many different forms of intentional community. Designing and living in a communal society presents four primary challenges of communal organization: governance, economics, children and family life, and land and legal structure. A fifth, optional challenge is religion and spirituality, unless the communal society is incorporated as a Religious and Apostolic Association (IRS 501(d)), in which case a statement of religious belief is required. Aspects of these five challenges are characteristic of other non-communal intentional communities as well.
• Participatory governance: consensus, sociocracy, planner-manager, democracy, and democratic decentralism. There are communal societies, like monasteries, using authoritarian decision-making processes yet those are not participatory and therefore are not egalitarian.
The planner-manager system, similar to sociocracy, involves the whole group delegating responsibility for decision-making in particular areas of the community to individuals, crews, or committees, which may be self-selecting rather than elected positions, yet open communication, agreement-seeking, petition, overview, and recall make this a participatory form of governance.
Democratic decentralism provides 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.”
• Communal economics: income-generating and other production labor, such as construction, agriculture, maintenance, governance etc., and domestic or reproduction labor such as food service, cleaning, childcare, education, recreation, and healthcare, are all integrated within one time-based, non-exchange, non-monetary economy. In the time-based economy called by the present author the “vacation-credit labor system” all labor is valued equally [see the last four paragraphs of the section “LIVE FREE”]. In this way, no money or any other exchange system is used within the communal society, and all domestic labor or “women’s work” is valued equally with all other kinds of work, including income-generating labor.
Since no community is totally self-reliant, engaging with the outside world’s monetary economy is necessary for everything the community needs or wants yet cannot produce for itself. Typically, half of the community’s on-system labor supply (number of working members x weekly work quota = labor supply) is devoted to income-producing labor, either in the community’s own businesses or in jobs outside of the community.
Distribution of commodities or services within the communal society does not require setting a value on the commodity or service, instead, a member’s right to access to services and things simply depends upon the availability, with shortages requiring additional production. To provide things to members, the community simply plans the production of them, or plans to make the money to acquire services and things, usually through annual planning processes, which includes adjusting the labor quota as desired. Distribution may be: according to need like healthcare; or according to chance like rolling dice or drawing straws; or first-come-first-served for things “up for grabs;” or by more sophisticated processes like the “double-blind preferences matrix,” in which particular things, like private rooms, are assigned to members by matching individuals to the available things in the way that assures that the greatest number of applicants possible receive their first or second choice. The “double-blind” aspect involves a set of things like rooms being given names of something like flowers, then the people desiring them are given names of something like animals, then someone who does not know how the rooms or people are coded arranges the matrix so that as many as possible of the animals gets their first or second choice of flower.
Community-owned businesses, generating income for the community, are technically owned by all the members, not just by those who work in them, so they are not simply “worker-owned business,” yet the workers are part of the ownership group and so in this way communal societies are part of the worker-owned business movement.
• Children and family life: Communal childcare is a wonderful thing for children and parents when it works, and it works best in small groups. There are at least two major problems in large-group communal childcare programs, the first being that parents tend to leave the community with their children by the time they reach school age, and the second being that if the family does stay in the community the children will usually leave once they become adults, and so community members who do not have children tend to not want to support children in the community, or tend to want to limit the number of children in the community. Part of the reason for parents taking their children out of communal society is to avoid having to struggle through annual planning processes for the support they want for their children, causing some to think it is easier to leave communal society and take their chances in the outside world. Another problem in large communal childcare programs, involving many children and adult caregivers, is the turn-over in children, parents and other caregivers as adults come and go with their children, often resulting in the whole group having to renegotiate many childcare issues with each new caregiver. The obvious solution is then to design small-group childcare around each child or family or age cohort, involving less than ten children and adults, called by the present author a “cofamily.” This is the childcare model now in use at Twin Oaks and East Wind communities. Both of these communities ended their large-group childcare programs in the mid-1990s and evolved the cofamily design, although they may not yet be using that term to describe their current model of communal childcare.
Cofamily communities of three-to-nine persons of any age exist as either small intentional communities in their own right, or as a “nested cofamily” when joining or arising within a larger intentional community, like a communal, cooperative, cohousing, land trust or other form of intentional community.
The cofamily concept adds to the existing forms of “family” based upon marriage or blood relations, including: single-parent, nuclear, serially monogamous, blended, and extended families. The “cofamily” then is a different type of family created around a set of affinities and agreements among the cofamily group.
Communal societies may be said to include a housing cooperative, food cooperative, childcare cooperative, etc., however, they cannot be said to include or be a cohousing community. Cohousing communities are typically designed specifically for families with children, with a particular space-use design involving each individual or family having their own apartment or house, including a private kitchen and bath, while also sharing a central building providing community services, usually including a kitchen and dining space large enough for the whole community, a childcare space, and maybe a community office, healthcare clinic, library, greenhouse, workshop, or any other amenity the community decides to provide for itself. Unlike communal societies, cohousing communities have no commonly-owned property, instead they share privately-owned property usually through a condominium or other homeowners association.
• Land and legal structure: land in a communal society could be said to be in a form of community land trust (CLT), yet the legal ownership structure is different from the basic CLT model, which typically uses a state non-profit corporation, and sometimes a federal tax-exempt organization. The legal structure designed specifically for communal societies is the IRS 501(d) Religious and Apostolic Association. This is essentially a form of partnership, in which the total annual community net income is divided equally on paper for each member, who then claims the income on their personal tax return. If the average personal net income is less than the taxable amount, and it usually is, then the community pays no taxes. Because the community shares so much it does not need as many cars or as much of hardly any consumer commodity that a similar number of people would have in the outside world, and so communal sharing enables practically a lower-middle-class lifestyle on poverty level income.
Communal societies emphasizing self-reliance in food, building materials, energy and other forms of self-reliance often refer to themselves as ecovillages, which is a separate network of intentional communities. The Global Ecovillages Network or GEN is comprised of communities using a range of different legal structures and design formats, including some cohousing, housing cooperatives, community land trusts, communal societies, class-harmony communities, etc. Ecovillages emphasize ecological sustainability through permaculture and related design concepts. The particular value of communalism is that the lifestyle can be one of the most efficient in the use of resources, therefore enabling one of the most environmentally responsible lifestyles.
The IRS does require each 501(d) organization to file a “Statement of Religious Belief,” which can say practically anything since religion cannot be defined by the government. Federation communities using the 501(d) incorporation status typically write a one-page religious statement including a range of spiritual ideals and values, usually drawing from religious traditions such as: Unitarian Universalism, Native American Spirituality, Eastern religions, Christianity, Paganism, Humanism, and other sources.
An ironic aspect of egalitarian community is that while religions usually develop first and then seek to inspire and support communal expressions of their values, in the case of the Federation of Egalitarian Communities, the communal application of equality as a lifestyle was created first, with its religious expression developing as an afterthought. The design of egalitarian communalism provides a model of communal society representing the furthest expression of egalitarian religion, which then inspires people to create forms of egalitarian community in their lives providing for various degrees of private versus common property, whether communal, collective, cooperative, cohousing, coliving, cofamily, class-harmony, ecovillage, land trust or other. Any of these forms of intentional community can practice at least gender equality in governance and labor-gifting, without also being economically communal.
Mysticism and Revelation Blended in Partnership Spirituality
Egalitarian religion affirms a balance between different beliefs and lifestyle preferences, such as between private and common property ownership, between patriarchy and matriarchy, and between mysticism and revelation, all to be balanced in Partnership Spirituality. Generally, the idea of equality requires or assumes differences between at least two things, such as the two forms of property, common and private, the two primary genders, female and male, and the two forms of spirituality, mysticism and revelation. The intent is to not emphasize any one thing to the exclusion of the other, as in subsuming a lesser thing into a dominant thing, whether belief or lifestyle, yet instead to affirm and highlight opposites, such that the holistic perspective of balancing differences creates a strength greater than either alone.
With respect to religious beliefs and spiritual convictions, transforming the dominant religion in America from the Trinitarian monotheism of Christianity to a Binarian monotheism of Partnership only requires looking into how the Judeo-Christian tradition was developed and model that for creating a Partnership religion. As discussed in the second section of Part 1, “Social Change and the Culture Wars,” in the same way that earlier matriarchal traditions were re-mythed in service to patriarchal religion, so can patriarchal religion be re-mythed in service to Partnership Spirituality. In the same way that Jesus was deified as a co-equal part of Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit, so also can Jesus’ partner Mary Magdalene be deified as Maid, Mother, and Elder. We say it is so, then for us, so it is!
Regarding Partnership Spirituality in the Old Testament, consider that Hebrew women worshipped for centuries the Canaanite mother-goddess Asherah, often quietly at home since women were excluded from many of the rites of patriarchal Judaism. William Dever explains in Did God Have a Wife? that Asherah was a patroness of women, and many terra cotta female figurines which may have been representations of the Goddess have been excavated in Palestine. (Dever, pp. 176-180) As Raphael Patai explains in The Hebrew Goddess, “of the 370 years during which the Solomonic Temple [dedicated to Yahweh] stood in Jerusalem, for no less than 236 years [nearly 2/3 of the time] the statue of Asherah was present in the Temple, and her worship was a part of the legitimate religion … opposed by only a few prophetic voices crying out against it at relatively long intervals.” (Patai, p. 50) Asherah worship often took place in hilltop groves of trees, or with the Goddess Asherah represented by a single tree, or even a simple pole in the ground, so it is not known exactly how she was represented in Solomon’s Temple. “Asherah remained in the Temple, at home alongside Yahweh, where many Israelites (perhaps most) thought she belonged.” (Patai, p. 212) There are many representations of female aspects in Judaism, often with respect to wisdom as a female trait. The most provocative is Proverbs 8:1-36. “Can’t you hear the voice of wisdom? She is standing at the city gates and at every fork in the road, and at the door of every house. … I, Wisdom, give good advice and common sense. … For whoever finds me finds life and wins approval from the Lord.” (Proverbs 8:1-3, 14, 35) Bible passages are explained in different ways, and for those seeking her the Goddess can be found among them.
With regard to property, while the goal of Marxist communism may be a communal equality, which is now realized in egalitarian communalism, what has been found is that communal societies need the alternative of the private-property system of the dominant culture, as much as that dominant culture needs the alternative of egalitarian communalism. With respect to gender, the goal of androgyny or sexual ambiguity is one way of balancing female and male, while another way is valuing, honoring, and celebrating the differences between the genders such that neither overlords the other. With an appreciation for religious tolerance and pluralism a Partnership Spirituality balances the revelation of a transcendent patriarchal God with the mysticism of an immanent matriarchal Goddess, such that together the feminine and masculine aspects of spiritual and religious ideals and beliefs reflect the nature of gendered sentient life on the planet!
With the range and speed of changes occurring today this is a particularly good time to suggest alternatives to the values and systems of the dominant culture, including lifestyle, political-economy, and religion/spirituality. In 2018 and 2019 the Pew Research Institute conducted a survey of religion in America and found that significant changes are under way. The report titled “In U.S., Decline of Christianity Continues at Rapid Pace” shows that people are moving away from organized religion to “none of the above.” The report states, “65% of American adults describe themselves as Christians when asked about their religion, down 12 percentage points over the past decade. … Both Protestantism and Catholicism are experiencing losses of population share. Currently, 43% of U.S. adults identify with Protestantism, down from 51% in 2009. And one-in-five adults (20%) are Catholic, down from 23% in 2009. … Meanwhile, the religiously unaffiliated share of the population, consisting of people who describe their religious identity as atheist, agnostic or ‘nothing in particular,’ now stands at 26%, up from 17% in 2009. Self-described atheists now account for 4% of U.S. adults, up modestly but significantly from 2% in 2009; agnostics make up 5% of U.S. adults, up from 3% a decade ago; and 17% of Americans now describe their religion as ‘nothing in particular,’ up from 12% in 2009. Members of non-Christian religions also have grown modestly as a share of the adult population.” (Pew Research, 2019)
Clearly, the research shows that there is a significant ongoing shift in religious attitudes in America, so this is the time to offer a belief structure that builds upon what already exists, toward a spirituality that reduces conflict between the genders, between those who are attached to private property and those who prefer common property, and between those who only care for a patriarchal, transcendent sky-God known by revelation coming from outside our mind, and those who appreciate a matriarchal, immanent earth-Goddess known by the mysticism of intuition coming through the Earth into our body and mind.
While there is a large amount of written material about and experience of the dominant, transcendent, patriarchal religion, the conservative perspective of which is called the “Religious Right,” there is less about its opposite, the countercultural, gender-equal, Earth-based, immanent spirituality indwelling or inherent to the universe, comprising part of the “Religious Left.” Generally, the Religious Left includes forms of Christianity focused upon social justice, which would include: the Catholic Worker communities; the Protestant “social gospel” movement; and the traditions that came out of Christianity including the Quaker’s concept of the “inner light,” Transcendentalism’s “inner divinity,” and Unitarian Universalism’s religious pluralism.
One way for a person to appreciate Partnership Spirituality would be through the common religious experience of a sudden realization or self-actualization, such as through Abraham Maslow’s concept of a “peak experience,” yet in the absence of an epiphany reorienting one’s entire perspective on reality, people can simply affirm Partnership Spirituality with the affirmation, “We say it is so, then for us, so it is!”
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 5 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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