Love and Wisdom in the Culture of the Religious Left
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Toward an Age of Equality and Ecology in Partnership Culture
Making our material lives consistent with our spiritual beliefs is the ideal of “material spirituality.” A material-spiritual lifestyle results from a mindful “intentioneering” of culture toward a preferred lifestyle, which includes the deliberate design of religion. Cultural self-determination through induced spiritual evolution is essentially the subject of James Davison Hunter’s Culture Wars: The Struggle to Define America. Hunter states that the dominant culture’s affirmation of its conservative moral authority is challenged by progressivism’s efforts to “resymbolize historic faiths according to the prevailing assumptions of contemporary life.” (Hunter, 1991, pp. 44-5) This is similar to Riane Eisler’s explanation in The Chalice and the Blade of the “re-mything” of the Creation and other ancient stories by the Hebrew priests who last rewrote the Torah or Old Testament of the Bible around 400 B.C.E. (Eisler, 1988, p. 85) In the same way, it is to us today to re-symbolize and re-myth patriarchal religion for the creation of an ecologically-responsible Material Spirituality and a socially-egalitarian Partnership Spirituality. We say it is true, then for us, truth it is!
Partnership Spirituality asserts that constructing a preferred culture of social and ecological responsibility requires a balance of patriarchal religion and women’s spirituality, in favor of environmentalism and of gender and racial partnership in an egalitarian religion. From such a cultural base of partnership, human society may best respond to the range of problems now aggregating into a potential perfect-storm of a 21st Century Dark Age, defined as a time when children can no longer be educated. Many educational systems around the world today are struggling against increasing challenges including: racism, sexism, climate change, and viral pandemic. Educating and inspiring people to cherish and safeguard equality is necessary for preserving the political equality of democratic governance, so easily challenged in and potentially lost by a free society.
Mutual-Aid, Socialism, the Social Gospel, and Social Capital
Intentioneering a partnership religion supporting non-traditional gender roles in which care-work often done by women is valued equally with labor traditionally done by men, affirms that women’s lives and intellects are equal to that of men. The Center for Partnership Studies founded by Riane Eisler asserts that nurturing our humanity through gender and racial equality, and saving our environment from the human “conquest of nature,” requires turning from systems of domination to partnership systems in which self-interest and empathy for others and nature are intended to be mutually supportive. (See: centerforpartnership.org)
Tribal mutual-aid has always existed, while democratic, egalitarian economics around the world is practiced in consumer and producer cooperatives. The cooperative movement began in each country with the rise of their Industrial Revolution. Beginning in England the ravages of industrialization inspired the rise of mutual-aid societies, adopting many different names, including Friendly Societies and Odd Fellows, providing mutual social services before government got the idea. As mutual-aid evolved into economic solidarity the term “socialist” was created to embrace consumer and producer cooperatives, worker-ownership, and communal colonies integrating all three. The term was first printed in The London Cooperative Magazine in 1827 (vol. 2; “socialism” appeared in 1837; Arthur Bestor, 1948, Evolution of the Socialist Vocabulary, pp. 277, 290).
Late in 19th century and early in 20th century North America the Social Gospel movement developed among Protestant Christians, similar to the liberation theology of the Catholic Base Communities in late 20th century Latin America, both as social reform movements addressing social justice and environmental issues.
Cooperative movements have brought economic independence to cultures around the world, such as to the ancient Basque culture of Spain’s Mondragon Cooperatives after the Spanish Civil War, and to building social capital among Black Americans by strengthening their “individual competencies and community capacities.” (See: Jessica Gordon Nembhard, Collective Courage, 2016, pp. 24, 237, 302)
Social-Democracy and Democratic-Capitalism against Communism
While socialism as a cultural movement originated during the early Industrial Revolution in England among the middle-class as a means of reforming laissez-faire capitalism, communism as a cultural movement originated in Paris, France among the ex-patriot German working-class as an illegal, underground, secret-society challenging both the old monarchist and the new constitutional republican conservatism. From the beginning, or at least after the 1848 publication of Marx’s Communist Manifesto, German-French communism was set in contrast with and against English socialism, with communist theory providing justification for class conflict between the workers (i.e., proletariat) and the middle-class (i.e., bourgeoisie). Two consequences arise from this socialist vs. communist dichotomy, first, English socialism is credited with providing needed outlets for the oppressed to organize for political-economic-social improvements without violent insurrection, while on the European continent communist agitation encouraged the trends toward civil war and violent revolution.
The second consequence of the English-socialist versus German-French-communist dichotomy, is the rather confusing usage today of the term “commune” in contemporary radical circles. The English definition of the term “commune” is the economic meaning of common-property ownership, while the French definition of “commune” is the political meaning of a local government subdivision, like a city ward, borough, neighborhood, or other district. The latter definition has been taken up by the Institute for Social Ecology (ISE), thanks to Murray Bookchin’s use of “commune” to refer to small-scale, decentralized, political-economic units, like a village or a neighborhood within a town, organized in mutual-aid networks utilizing democratic or other participatory governance systems. The choice of the term “commune” in this context was probably intended to emphasize the use of the theory in reference to the ten-week-long 1871 Paris Commune. The ISE’s use of the term now refers to social-libertarian cultural movements as in Barcelona and other Spanish cities, the Italian Emilio-Romagna region, Kurdish self-governing regions such as Rojava, Syria, the Mexican Zapatista region, and other places where the cooperative sector of the economy is significant, like the San Francisco Bay Area. In fact, these democratic-decentralist “communes” typically have no or very little actual common ownership of property, and instead represent small-scale, decentralized, democratic-capitalism.
In contrast, organizations outside of the ISE such as the Federation of Egalitarian Communities (FEC) emphasize the English definition of “commune” to mean strictly common-ownership of property, with almost no private property within their and similar small-scale, decentralized, communal societies, practicing various forms of participatory governance. While the oldest FEC group, Twin Oaks Community, has lasted over fifty years as a communal society, the ISE never mentions the Egalitarian Communities as examples of their “commune” theory. This is probably partly because the FEC groups are small-scale communal groups at only 100 adults plus children in the largest community, Twin Oaks in Virginia, although there are now in Louisa County, Virginia a number of separate communal and non-communal cooperative societies enjoying mutual-aid within their network, called by the present author the “Louisa County Commonwealth,” which together may constitute an “ISE commune.”
It is the opinion of the present author that the choice of the use of the term “commune” by Murray Bookchin and the ISE was and is to emphasize the political-economic model of the 1871 Paris Commune, which lasted only ten weeks. While the Paris Commune lasted such a short time and resulted in a terrible tragedy for nearly all the radical French who supported it, in comparison, the American egalitarian communities have now existed over half-a-century and continue to peacefully grow, although slowly.
There is a second potential reason why the ISE omits the FEC groups in their “commune theory.” This is a contemporary version of the conflict between utopian communal societies versus social-democratic movements like the ISE’s “communes.” In the same way that Karl Marx initiated the conflict by contrasting his Marxist-communist, working-class “scientific socialism” against the social reformist, middle-class “utopian socialism,” so now is the ISE perpetuating the communist bias against both working-class and middle-class intentional communities by omitting them from their lists of and discussions about “communes.”
Motivation for this conflict-of-terminology is rooted in the original German-worker meaning of the term “communism” as they developed the concept in the early 18th century Paris underground, to refer specifically to violent class-conflict. Marxist Communism specifies two stages of communist revolution, the first being the violent take-over of State power, followed by the second stage of construction of the “worker’s paradise” of non-monetary and therefore non-capitalist economics, presumably involving communal, common-ownership of all property, not just the means-of-production.
While Bookchin and friends in the ISE may have recognized that communal societies like those of the FEC represent a peaceful means of attaining communism’s communal “worker’s paradise,” without the intermediary step of class-conflict and the seizing of State power, their neglecting to present and discuss this truth indicates an ISE bias against communal society. Note that the ISE almost never mentions the FEC in anything they do. In this intellectual conflict, the ISE buries the truth of the matter under a pile of “Bookchin communes;” the truth being that small-scale, voluntary communal societies skip the violent part of communism’s first stage and go directly to communism’s second stage of non-monetary, time-based, communal economics.
Truth is that the nature of the second stage of Marxist Communism is utopian, and has been attained in small-scale communal society, best represented by Twin Oaks Community and the FEC. Therefore, it would be reasonable to cede the issue of the use of the term “commune” to the ISE, and restrict reference to the FEC and similar societies to the terms “communal” and “communalism,” while refusing use of the term “communism” in reference to any peaceful communal society. To clarify, in the School of Intentioneering: “communism” refers to violent, revolutionary militarism against capitalism and especially fascism; “commune” refers to ISE style decentralized, democratic-capitalism; and “communal” refers to common ownership of property in any form, from indigenous tribal traditions, to communal intentional communities, to the intellectual commons and open-source technology.
20th century neo-liberal market capitalism saw 19th century political-economic theory develop from the nation-state scale to a global economic system. Today, democratic-capitalism and democratic-socialism are essentially synonymous, both referring to various aspects of market capitalism regulated in the interest of social needs and economic justice, such as: “Keynesian economics,” the “welfare state,” the “Nordic model,” and the “social-market economy.” Another private-property oriented, capitalist reform movement is called “geonomics” or “Georgism,” named after Henry George, who based his economic reforms on the rather arcane yet essential foundation of capitalism called “economic rent.” Geonomics affirms that individuals own what they produce, while everything in nature, especially land yet also the electro-magnetic spectrum (i.e., “airwaves”), and the knowledge commons, is ethically “owned” in common by all humanity. The fairest method for sharing natural wealth is via the capture of economic rent for the use of society, rather than it being claimed by landowners and other capitalists. On the small scale, the land-value tax (LVT) and community land trusts (CLT), along with large-scale government programs such as auctioning the airwaves to broadcasters, utilize aspects of Georgist theory, all as forms of democratic-capitalism.
Gender Equality against Patriarchy and Property
The missing piece required for an Age of Equality is egalitarian religion, which then along with political equality can together support economic equality. The ultimate form of equality is communal society, and among these, the Federation of Egalitarian Communities goes the furthest in structuring time-based economies using no money internally, instead using labor systems for the production of both income for trade with the outside-world monetary economy, and for internal production of services including food, housing, transport, healthcare and childcare, valuing all labor which benefits the community equally. In this way domestic labor often performed by women is valued equally with all labor traditionally done by men. In fact, when “All Labor Is Valued Equally!” (ALIVE!) barn-cleaners are rewarded the same as business managers, as all members have the same access to community resources by virtue of their membership, which is conditional upon their observance of community norms and especially participation in the community’s labor system. In their statements-of-religious-belief the two largest Federation communities, Twin Oaks and East Wind, both affirm the intent to confront and eliminate: classism, racism, ageism, patriarchy and other forms of oppression. Through management by participatory governance of a time-based economy, egalitarian communalism shows the furthest extreme of the ideal of equality, in which governmental equality and egalitarian religion, in the forms of Material Spirituality and Partnership Spirituality, together support economic equality in society. (See: http://www.theFEC.org)
Since language affects thought, and it is helpful when our language reflects our values, the New York City feminist writer Mary Orovan proposed in 1970 that people replace the use of gendered pronouns, like he/him and she/her when not knowing or avoiding the gender or preferred gender reference for another person, with the gender-neutral pronoun “co.” Twin Oaks Community started this practice the year after Orovan suggested it, and it has been practiced sporadically over the decades by people in the Federation communities. The possessive version, replacing his and hers, is “cos.” When people use the pronoun as a noun, as in “All you good cos,” that use is considered to be slang. “Co” is particularly suited for use as it appears in the prefix of terms referring to different types of intentional community such as: cohousing, coliving, cohouseholding, and cofamily. Further supporting the use of the gender-neutral “co” is its appearance in the first syllable of many terms such as: coequal, coexist, cohere, cohort, colleague, collective, common, communal, commune, community, compassion, compersion, complicated, comrade, convoluted, cooperative, …
Time-Based Economics for the Common Good
While communalism provides an immersive experience in the sharing lifestyle, few people choose it for their lifetime. Like the Greek philosopher Plato visiting Pythagoras’ communal philosophical school when he was dispirited by Athenian politics, becoming inspired with Pythagorean political-social theory and returning to Athens newly energized to found his own philosophical school, the Academe, and write a study of political-philosophy called The Republic, many people today find similar inspiration upon visiting egalitarian communal society. For one example, after twelve years in the Federation communities the present author has founded the School of Intentioneering (SoI) to clarify and systematize the methods of teaching about intentional community, and has written The Intentioneer’s Bible (TIBible) as an alternative, non-competitive, non-capitalist history of Western tribalism and civilization, focused upon gifting and sharing cultures. The School of Intentioneering serves to set specific definitions of terms used for intentional communities in order to resolve the confusion caused by people playing fast-and-lose with the terminology, while the TIBible presents a history of utopian thought and movements through the ages.
The many economic forms of intentional community range from common-ownership-only communalism to economically-diverse community land trusts, to shared-private-property cooperatives, cohousing, and class-harmony intentional community. All of these use various forms of time-based economies when people work for the common good.
Time-based economics is also used outside of intentional community in the dominant culture as forms of labor exchanges, often as part of local currencies, and in structured Time-Dollar computerized accounting systems, and now in Mutual-Aid Networks (MANs) utilizing freely available Internet applications like Zoom for meetings, and Slack for mutual-aid work-group communication, education, and coordination, in the context of a group-communication process called “authentic relating.”
Cofamily Alternative to Marriage and the Nuclear Family
Small groups of adults who are not related, working, playing, and living together, typically form as a result of their common interests, needs, values, or ideals, a sense of “family” outside of the usual bonds of marriage and of shared family DNA. As such people develop a set of affinities, it may be said that a “cofamily” results.
Three-to-nine mostly unrelated persons (note: when they are all related that is an “extended family”) making commitments to each other similar to those in traditional families, can result in mutual-aid among unrelated adults for creating and maintaining clan-like support for child and elder care, housing, transportation, maintenance, and other needs. Such non-traditional families especially provide an alternative for women who may be considering an abortion due to a lack of traditional family support for their pregnancy, birthing, and child-raising.
The term “cofamily” is offered for referring to non-traditional family designs, as distinguished from the traditional forms of family, including: single-parent family, nuclear family, serially-monogamous, blended and extended families. While restricting use of the term to refer to three-to-nine persons, with or without children, the “co” prefix in “cofamily” is unspecified as it can mean: cooperative, complex, collective, compound, communal, composite, community, combined, compersion, or even complicated family! Also, a cofamily can be nested within a larger intentional community, such as an ecovillage, a housing cooperative, cohousing, a communal society, or a community land trust, as a “nested cofamily.” And further, a cofamily may be comprised of married couples, or of a polyamorous group, or of unattached individuals.
The following information compiled from U.S. Census reports and other sources provides background for the need to recognize cofamilies as a viable alternative to traditional family types:
1. For all households, including single-parents, the average number of family members dropped from about 3.6 people in 1967 to about 2.5 people in 2016.
2. About 23 percent of the population of the United States is children under the age of 18.
3. Over a third of all women with more than one child had them with more than one father, called “multiple-partner fertility.”
4. The number of married-adult households has been dropping to now about half of all households.
5. The number of adults living alone has been steadily rising to now nearly a third of all households.
6. Births to unmarried women comprised 40% of all births in 2014, resulting in about a quarter of all households being of single-parent families, with half of all single-parent children living in poverty.
(See: “Families and Living Arrangements.” United States Census Bureau. Retrieved December 17, 2016, from: http://www.census.gov/hhes/families/data/adults.html, tables: AD-3a, and http://www.census.gov/hhes/families/data/households.html > Households > Table HH-6;
See also: “America’s Children in Brief: Key National Indicators of Well-Being, 2016.” Federal Interagency Forum on Child and Family Statistics. Retrieved December 17, 2016, from: http://www.childstats.gov/americaschildren/glance.asp > America’s Children at a Glance > Demographic Background > Children as a percentage of the population; and http://www.childstats.gov/americaschildren/glance.asp
See also: Guzzo, K. B. (2014). New partners, more kids… http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4182921/; Logan, C., Manlove, J., Ikramullah, E., & Cottingham, S. (2006, November). Men who father children with more than one woman … http://www.childtrends.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/08/2006-10MultiplePartnerFertility.pdf; Martin, M. (Host). (2011, April 19). Multiple partner families …National Public Radio News. Washington D.C. Retrieved October 9, 2015, from http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=135541549)
There is a clear benefit to society of the non-traditional cofamily in helping to keep children and their parents out of poverty, and potentially also in reducing the incidence of abortion, as people work together to support each other in what is sometimes called “partnership culture.” (See: Riane Eisler, The Partnership Way, 1998) There is also a clear benefit to the individual of having a clan-like home comprised of like-minded people who are mutually supportive, caring, and nurturing. In this way the cofamily becomes the basic building-block of the “Communitarian Dream.”
Integrating Immanence and Transcendence in Partnership Spirituality
The Judeo-Christian spiritual tradition has evolved over time, with a contemporary trend in the Religious Left toward an alignment with ecological and egalitarian values. While the Christian Religious Right affirms a patriarchal Trinitarian monotheism and the domination of nature by humanity, Partnership Spirituality affirms a Binarian monotheism emphasizing a balance of opposites. Such a balance involves elevating traditionally female gender-roles to parity with male gender-roles, such as through time-based economics, and especially by elevating management of the natural commons to parity with the management of the monetary economy, such as in: the Green New Deal, solidarity economics, Martinez-Alier’s ecological economics, and Bookchin’s social ecology.
Patriarchal Judaism was set against ancient matriarchal culture in part so that men could keep track of who were their own sons for purposes of inheritance, among other things; yet Hebrew women’s spirituality avoided being entirely subsumed by that patriarchy. While the Early Christian Church was initially substantially led by women, orthodox Catholicism later almost entirely subsumed women under their patriarchy. Today, the blending of the Judeo-Christian tradition with women’s spirituality and earth-centered pagan, Native American, and liberal-religious traditions serves to create a balance of patriarchy and matriarchy in a Partnership Spirituality. Balancing the traditions of transcendent, revelatory religion with immanent, mystical religion is the process of “intentioneering” a preferred spiritual-religious tradition affirming an ecological lifestyle within an egalitarian, partnership culture, while the common terms for such uniting of opposing principles are: synthesis and syncretism.
Political, Economic, and Religious Pluralism in Unitarian Universalism (UUism)
Liberal-progressive politics, economics, and religion working together uphold democratic governance, economic solidarity, partnership society, ecological sustainability, and individual and cultural self-determination. Dan McKanan of the Harvard Divinity School states in Prophetic Encounters: Religion and the American Radical Tradition that “religious ideas, institutions, and practices have always been intertwined with radical activism, …” The Religious Left, including interfaith groups, multi-faith UUism, progressive Protestants and Catholics, Jews, Moslems, Sikhs, Pagans, and others, has championed anti-slavery, anti-war, anti-death penalty, anti-nuclear power and energy, and pro-women’s rights, economic solidarity, ecological responsibility, and Earth-based spirituality. (McKanan, 2010, pp. 2-8, 11-15, 163, 187, 271, 276-77)
In the same way, the Religious Left, in particular Unitarian Universalism, can champion intentional community as methods of economic self-help and political self-determination. The Unitarian Universalist Association refers to its multi-faith spirituality as “religious pluralism,” while the idea of the UUA championing intentional community may be an expansion of its identity toward a political-economic-religious pluralism.
Egalitarian religion provides a balance of divergent concepts of spiritual ideals toward an age of equality and ecology. In this new age, partnership culture merges feminine and masculine religious expressions, and integrates the natural commons economics with monetary economics through democratic-capitalism or democratic-socialism, which ever term is preferred. Affirming both common-property and private-property systems in partnership culture provides for different lifestyle options during one’s lifetime, reducing stress and conflict by providing choice. Elevating women’s spirituality to partnership with male-oriented religion is a strategy for emphasizing environmental and social responsibility. Traditionally, “God is Love” and “Goddess is Wisdom,” and together they create a Partnership Spirituality. We say it is so, then for us, so it is!