Countercultural activism needs a spiritual home, while religious pluralism needs cultural visionaries, dissenters, and organizers. In some ways such a religious-activist partnership already exists, needing only to be affirmed and nurtured. While there is said to be about 200,000 Unitarian Universalists in the U.S.A., there is no complete accounting of the number of persons living in intentional community, although it is believed that that number is somewhere between 100,000 and 125,000 in the U.S.A, including members of the largest communitarian movement, the Catholic monastic orders. In the definitions used by the School of Intentioneering, “communitarian” and “intentioneer” are the same thing.
Unitarian Universalism (UU) has far fewer members than Catholicism, and fewer than most Protestant denominations. Universalists organized their denomination in America in the 1790s, and Unitarians organized theirs in 1825. The two merged their denominations in 1961 to create the Unitarian Universalist Association. Robert Broderick states in his The Catholic Encyclopedia that the Unitarians’ rejection of the Catholic doctrines of the divinity of Christ and of the Most Holy Trinity, and the Universalists’ belief that “all persons will be saved” from eternal damnation, are heretical. Evangelical, fundamentalist Christians condescendingly, arrogantly, and ironically sometimes call UUism a “cult.” (Broderick, pp. 590-2)
Last year I re-joined my local Unitarian Universalist church after being gone many years, and since the beginning of 2020 I have begun a project which I call “Gifting and Sharing Lifestyles,” setting up a table display at the Sunday services of the First Unitarian Society of Denver about intentional communities (ICs), worker-owned businesses, and similar cooperative and solidarity economy initiatives in the area. I plan to begin a discussion group and other related projects for our Faith-In-Action program. I define ICs as simply people practicing common agreement and collective action while usually living together in either one building or in an “intentional neighborhood.” I have been pleasantly surprised at the number of UU folks who have talked with me about their interest in and experience with intentional community, and the potential for a Unitarian Universalist–communities movement partnership. A primary example of such a partnership is the UU folks in Boston, MA, home of the UU denominational headquarters, who have created an urban community land trust, now with two large buildings, one 11-bedroom and another 15-bedroom, called the UU Community Cooperatives (UUCC).
Also near Boston was the famous 19th century utopian society named Brook Farm (1841-47), founded by a Unitarian minister named George Ripley. Ripley helped develop the concept of New England Transcendentalism, which is defined as there being an inherent divinity within each person which enables thoughtful reasoning as the source of truth and a guide to action. This is opposed to the Christian concept of an external Holy Spirit which must come into the individual, although Transcendentalism is in agreement with the concept in women’s spirituality of immanence, or of grace and wisdom coming from within or through ourselves, grounded in nature.
The second part of the Gifting and Sharing Lifestyles initiative is to encourage people in the IC movement to engage with their local Unitarian Universalist church or fellowship to create UU-IC partnerships, focused initially upon educating UUs and others about ICs in general, and specifically about communities and worker-owned businesses in their particular area. Teaching intentioneers about UUism is also a priority, while creating new UU ICs like UUCC would be a possible later step. In the mean time, my focus is upon further developing the educational initiative I call the “School of Intentioneering.”
It is a problem that different people use the same words to mean different things when talking about intentional communities, and so the School of Intentioneering serves, among other things, to clarify and standardize the terminology. For example, the use by the UUCC of the phrase “community cooperative” confuses the question of how exactly the UUCC houses are legally structured. Since they are incorporated as nonprofit organizations and not as legal cooperatives, they are actually a community land trust, although I have not seen them use that term in their descriptions. They probably use the term “cooperative” because that term is in the name and mission of their primary funding organization, the Cooperative Fund of New England. To resist such confusion in the communities movement I have developed a set of definitions of terms, theories about intentional community versus the dominant culture, an alternative history of gifting and sharing societies in Western Civilization, and various materials on specific concerns such as children in ICs and legal structures used by various types of communities. All of this and more I am making available for a UU educational, networking, and organizing initiative through the Gifting and Sharing Lifestyles project.
Whether or not liberal-religious persons live in community, they develop a partnership between Unitarian Universalists and some of the many socio-cultural movements creating intentional communities when they help to educate people about and support those who are living in community. At the same time there have been efforts on the part of intentioneers to initiate partnerships with UU congregations, since many are supportive of gifting and sharing lifestyles. Good examples of such partnerships are the current UU Community Cooperatives in Roxbury, MA, and the aid given by the Thomas Jefferson Memorial Church Unitarian Universalist in Charlottesville, VA to help build a UU meeting hall at Twin Oaks Community in the early 1970s called the Ta’Chai Living Room.
Many religions, major and minor, have countercultural off-shoots founding intentional communities, like Catholic monasticism and the Protestant/Anabaptist Hutterites, both of which exist today. Many other intentional communities are not as religious as were most of the earlier groups, and today are typically cooperative or collective rather than communal, such as: community land trusts; cohousing communities; and most ecovillages.
A good discussion about the connection between religious traditions like UUism and countercultural radicalism is provided by Dan McKanan in his 2011 book, Prophetic Encounters, in which the author states that, “religious ideals, institutions, and practices have always been intertwined with radical activism. American radicals drew inspiration from religious community … It is common nowadays to speak of a ‘religious Left’ that is distinct from secular radicalism …” McKanan lists several historic campaigns of the American religious Left, including: the abolition of slavery; women’s rights; labor organizing; racism and civil rights; nuclear power and weapons; war; and environmentalism. Intentioneering, or advocating, supporting, and building intentional community, can certainly be added to that list. (McKanan, pp. 4, 8, 55-9, 97-111, 192, 213-14, 231, 253-4, 260-1, 274, passim)
Unitarianism and Monotheism, Christian verses Christian, and the Question of Evil
Although “unity” is an aspect of both unitarianism and of monotheism, the difference between the two is that while unitarianism is monotheist, monotheism is not necessarily unitarian, since monotheism can refer to a multi-part God like Trinitarian Christianity’s Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and like the Triple Goddess: Maid, Mother, Elder.
There are books explaining why Catholicism settled on the patriarchal Church doctrine of the Holy Trinity, and two of them, by Davis and Pelikan, are in the references. However, before the Council of Nicaea a large part of the Early Christian Church was led by women, with women founders and prophets. The orthodox Catholics wanted women silenced, so to serve the patriarchy the women leaders of the Early Christian Church were pushed aside although not totally forgotten. In the same way, the Jewish communal society called the “Essenes” is rarely mentioned in Jewish or Christian writings of the period. Whether deliberate or not, the Christian-Trinity concept would have overshadowed the much more ancient concept of Goddess-Trinities, comprised of the three life stages of the feminine: maid, mother, and elder; or maid, bride, mother, also reflected in the three phases of the moon: waxing, full, and waning. Elaine Pagels writes that “probably as late as the year 200 virtually all the feminine imagery for God had disappeared from orthodox Christian doctrine.” Christianity succeeded in silencing women within the patriarchal Church, subsuming women’s spirituality in the same way that it adopted many aspects of Paganism. (Durant, 1950, pp. 75, 746; Eisler, p. 25; Gimbutas, 1989, pp. 316; Goettner-Abendroth, pp. 21-2; Harrison, pp. 262, 286-292, 647; Pagels, 1979, p. 57)
Certain religious ideas appear periodically throughout history in different contexts, such as: the idea common to most religions that “God is Light;” the fact that most all religions have an expression of the Golden Rule; the idea that all of humanity exists as a single blessed family; and the idea that all religions come from the same source. While ideas are expressed in different ways, and contexts change over time, essential truths remain relevant. We say it is true, then for us, truth it is!
Some people may believe that unitarianism began with the monotheistic idea of the oneness of God, in response to polytheism’s innumerable gods and goddesses. The Jewish patriarch Abraham and his family may have originated the monotheism idea around 1900 B.C.E. (i.e., Before the Current Era) while living in the ancient Mesopotamian city-state of Ur. They then joined the back-to-the-land movement leaving city life to settle in rural Palestine, with their descendants becoming known as Hebrews or Jews, with a large number residing in Egypt. Later in Egypt the monotheist idea arose again, as the worship of the sun god Ra gradually overshadowed the worship of all other gods and goddesses in polytheist Egypt, until around 1340 B.C.E. when the Pharaoh Akhenaten mandated belief in a single god named Aten. This Egyptian experiment with monotheism ended with the Pharaoh’s death. No connection is asserted between the god Aten and the Hebrew god Yahweh, although for a while both belief systems existed in Egypt at the same time.
The Judeo-Christian concept of evil in the world grew out of the simple dichotomy of good and bad. In Zoroastrian Persian dualism, beginning about 500 B.C.E., a supreme deity creating goodness and justice is named “Ahura Mazda,” and a secondary deity creating greed, anger, lies and other forms of evil is named “Ahriman.” In Zoroastrianism, as in the Judeo-Christian tradition, good overcomes evil. It is believed that Judaism picked up aspects of Persian dualism when the Hebrew people were held captive in Babylon by the Neo-Babylonian Empire from about 605 to 520 B.C.E. The later Jewish Temple-rites dissenters, the Essenes, further developed the dualist concept into a great battle between Light and Darkness to occur at the end of time. Many aspects of Persian dualism entered Christianity, including the names of the angels, the concept of Paradise, the Three Kings of the Orient or Magi in the Jesus’ birth story, and the idea of an End Times battle between Light and Darkness called Armageddon. Manichaeism, which started in Persia in 230 C.E. (i.e., Current Era), “thought to reconcile Christianity and Zoroastrianism, and was bitterly buffeted by both.” (Durant, 1950, p.47) Manichaeism would later influence the Cathari of South France from the 11th to the 14th centuries, against whom the Catholic Church created the Inquisition.
The influence of Persian dualism upon the Judeo-Christian tradition addresses the question of evil with an entity named “Lucifer,” meaning “light-bringer” in Latin (Isaiah 14:12). In The Origin of Satan Elaine Pagels explains that Lucifer was the name of a fallen angel subsequently renamed “Satan,” which Richard Broderick says means “the opponent” or “adversary.” In the Old Testament Book of Job, Satan is God’s obedient servant testing Job’s faith (Job 2:1-7 ). Then in the Book of Zechariah, Satan’s role changes from a servant to an opponent of God. (Zech. 3:1-2) Christianity later picked up this evil Satan concept, added Persian dualism, and created the New Testament “Devil” who is much more powerful and independent than the earlier Jewish concept of a fallen angel still serving God. Both Judaism and Christianity are considered to be monotheistic rather than dualist religions, even though both affirm an evil spiritual entity opposed to a positive, virtuous, righteous spiritual entity. (Broderick, p. 542; Pagels, 1995, pp. xvii, 39)
Many forms of Christianity were created in the Early Christian Church, including unitarianism, later opposed by Trinitarian doctrine as affirmed at the Council of Nicaea in 325 C.E. Since Early Christian unitarianism and later Catholic Trinitarian Christianity are both monotheistic, the issue in this case is not monotheism versus polytheism or dualism, instead the issue is Trinitarian monotheism versus unitarian monotheism. Confusing?
At the Council of Nicaea, Arius, a priest in Alexandria, Egypt, rejected the Catholic doctrine of the Trinity (i.e., Father, Son, Holy Spirit), insisting through rational argument that God the Creator is a spiritual being and that his creation, Jesus, was a material creature. In response, Saint Athanasius, the Bishop of Alexandria, rejected Arius’s ideas and his Arian Christianity and championed the Trinity and the divinity of Christ to affirm the primacy of faith over reason. Arius was subsequently excommunicated from the Catholic Church by the Nicaean Council. (Davis, p. 50; Pelican, p. 194)
It was Athanasius who said, as the historian Will Durant writes, “Reason must bow to the mystery of the Trinity.” (Durant, 1944, p. 660) During the Reformation the Protestant reformer Martin Luther said the same thing in his comment that, “Reason is the greatest enemy that faith has.” (Durant, 1957, p. 370) The Arian controversy split the growing Christian Church with the two sides sometimes fighting each other to the death in the streets. Will Durant writes, “The great debate between Athanasius and Arius had not ended with the Council of Nicaea. … for half a century it seemed that Christianity would be Unitarian, and abandon the divinity of Christ. … Probably more Christians were slaughtered by Christians in these two years (342-3 C.E.) than by all the persecutions of Christians by pagans in the history of Rome.” (Durant, 1950, pp. 7-8) It was Arian Christianity that converted the pagan Goths and other Germanic tribes to Christianity, such as the Vandals who later raided and sacked Catholic Rome during the fall of the Empire.
Universalist Christianity and its Stoic, Phoenician, and Minoan Antecedents
Universalism does not have as clear a starting point as does unitarianism. Something similar to universalism may have originated in the ancient Minoan Civilization, which itself was influenced by ancient Egyptian culture. The evidence for a Minoan universalism is implied and plausible given the story of Stoicism, although tenuous and unproven.
Aspects of universalist thought can be found in Stoicism as portrayed in the Christian New Testament through Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. Saint Paul, as Griscom Morgan wrote in “World View of the Galiliean” in his 1988 publication called Guidebook for Intentional Communities (Morgan, pp. 29-31), was from the “Stoic university city of Tarsus” in what is now south-central Turkey.
Stoicism as a philosophical school-of-thought was founded in Athens, Greece about 300 B.C.E. by Zeno of Citium. Zeno was of Phoenician ancestry, and in his time he was called “the Phoenician” by the Greeks because he never lost his Phoenician accent. (Freke & Gandy, p. 228n) Phoenician culture was likely influenced by the earlier peaceful, non-militaristic, non-patriarchal, partnership-culture of Minoan Civilization, stretching back to 2,500 B.C.E. (Platon, p. 51) In her book The Chalice and the Blade, Riane Eisler uses the term “partnership model” to describe a “gender-holistic perspective,” as opposed to the assumption that pre-patriarchal cultures were matriarchal, when instead many seem to have been egalitarian, enjoying the political-economic-social equality of women and men. (Eisler, pp. xvii, xix)
Minoa was the first European civilization, developing on the Isle of Crete as a Bronze Age matriarchal trading culture, very unlike the patriarchal, warrior culture of the later Mycenaean Greeks whom the Minoans influenced. The Minoans built extensive, maze-like “palaces” housing large numbers of people, with no fortifications anywhere on their island, suggesting a peaceful, gender-partnership culture. The Minoans did make bronze weapons and armor since they traded with many war-like cultures, including the exceedingly cruel Assyrians. (Mellersh, pp. 178-9) Minoan art featured women in public rather than domestic activities, with both women and men enjoying peaceful pursuits rather than the war-like pursuits of men in other cultures. See the color reproduction of the “Prince of the Lilies” plaster-relief fresco from the Great Corridor of the palace of Knossos on the cover of Rodney Castleden’s book, Minoans. (Alexiou, pp. 24, 30-9, and appendices; Eisler, pp. 32-8)
The Semitic people at the Minoan trading ports-of-call around the Mediterranean Sea seem to have adopted the peaceful aspects of Minoan culture, like an emphasis upon trade as opposed to the warlike culture of the Mycenaeans and Assyrians. Beginning around 1800 B.C.E. the Phoenician city-states began to grow at some of these Minoan ports-of-call along the Levant, at Carthage in North Africa, and elsewhere, and they likely received Minoan refugees following earthquakes on Crete, the eruption of the volcano on the Isle of Thera (now Santorini), and subsequent tidal waves about 1628 B.C.E., all thought to have inspired Plato’s “Atlantis” myth. (Gimbutas, 1991, p. 148)
Later invasions of Crete by Iron Age Dorians and Mycenaeans beginning about 1450 B.C.E. drove out or subsumed the Minoans. The archaeologist Marija Gimbutas states that the early, peaceful, matriarchal cultures found in southern Europe and Asia Minor after the last Ice Age and later on Crete expressed an egalitarian culture. If the Minoan culture on Crete and elsewhere extended their gender-partnership concept to include all people, then the universalist idea that all of humanity is of the same blessed family is potentially more ancient than the “God’s chosen people” concept of Judaism. (Eisler, pp. 14, 24-8; Gimbutas, 1991, pp. 94, 324, 331, 347-8; Gimbutas, 1999, pp. 3, 112, 158; Platon, p. 51)
In his article cited above, Griscom Morgan, son of Arthur Morgan who served as vice-president of the American Unitarian Association, writes that the, “Stoics were the first to urge obedience to the holy spirit in the hearts of [people] rather than merely to the laws of nations. … The Stoics bade [people] live simply in accord with nature; Jesus gave this its most beautiful expression in such of his sayings as, ‘Consider the lilies, how they grow’.” (Morgan, p. 30) Whether or not Jesus actually said this, it is clear that the Early Christian Church was significantly influenced by Greek Stoicism, which had developed the concept of Natural Law as distinct from the human-made laws of cities and nations, called “positive law” by political scientists.
In the 1st century C.E. the Stoic philosopher and freed slave, Epictetus, taught the universalist concept that “You are a citizen of the universe.” While some ancient Stoics were much like the countercultural Hippies of the 1960s and since, for which the term “counterculture” was first coined, Stoicism was also the belief system of the “philosopher kings” as expressed in the 2nd century C.E. Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius’ writing called Meditations. (Morgan, p. 30)
The Spiritual Home of the Counterculture
Both unitarianism and universalism are countercultural as both have been in opposition to aspects of the dominant culture, and both have essentially been congregations of cultural visionaries, principled dissenters, and radical activists.
UUism, however, is not the only countercultural religion, as most religions developed in contrast with, or in opposition to, or were otherwise derived from an earlier religion. The Quaker religion, or Society of Friends founded in England in the 1640s by George Fox, has probably a greater experience of persecution by the dominant culture than UUism, and has founded or inspired far more intentional communities than UUism, particularly the Shakers yet also many smaller communitarian groups. Differences between UUism and Quakerism include the former having more of a non-dogmatic, non-Bible-centered, pluralistic-belief structure, including even atheism and humanism. While UUism includes Christians and came from Christianity, some people no longer consider UUism to be a Christian denomination. In contrast, Quakerism is more confrontational with regard to opposing injustices in the dominant culture, and has a more formalistic method of worship based upon the Judeo-Christian Bible. Quakers affirm a personal “inner light” which is more like Transcendentalism’s inner divinity than Catholicism’s Holy Spirit.
In many parts of the U.S.A. and other countries today there are Unitarian Universalist congregations of liberal, progressive activists coming together weekly to practice the gifting and sharing functions that reinvigorates members for the coming week of work to sustain themselves, their community, and their political, economic, and cultural ideals. In the region around many UU congregations exists a counterculture comprised of people living and working in small to medium-sized intentional communities in a decentralized network, who often know very little about and rarely see each other. These two countercultural networks, one built upon centuries and even millennia of opposition to the dominant culture, and the other arising as contemporary alternatives to it, could each benefit from a closer association between them. Yet for the most part there is little awareness or affirmation of their ethical, philosophical, and spiritual commonalities, or of the potential for mutual aid and support between them.
Many communitarians know about Unitarian Universalism and sometimes attend UU churches, while some UU members know about and even live in intentional community. In some cases UU fellowships exist, or formerly existed, within intentional communities. Given the ideological affinities and historical interconnections between Unitarian Universalism and communitarianism, there is clearly a significant potential for these two entities or networks to enjoy a closer association. Together both can be more than either alone.
In a recent article by Michael Bones in the Australian Canberra Times about the counterculture needing a spiritual home titled The Left Needs to Change the Way it Thinks About Protest, the author writes that while street protests are necessary there are other “less eye-catching but incredibly powerful ways to organize for social change.” Bones makes the point that street protests are “inherently unsustainable—as the Occupy movement showed, you can’t protest forever.” Organizing through churches may affirm not only resistance against injustice of all kinds yet also a commitment to building just and joyous lifestyles. “Churches offer belonging and meaning,” Bones writes. “While we progressives stoke our anger, vent on social media and get more stressed and depressed, they use ancient practices to care for souls. They make music, share food, read, pray and play, all the while reinforcing their core beliefs. … Don’t blame right-wing religious people for being more organized, generous and active than us. We need to get smarter. Let’s learn from how they build spiritual community, and start doing it. Because it’s good for wellbeing, and it works.” (Bones, 2020)
To respond to Michael Bone’s question, “can we find a grand narrative, faith or practice to draw a larger circle … [to] unify typically fragmented, issue-based groups into an open, belief-accepting community?” the answer is yes we can, through Unitarian Universalism! (Bones, 2020) Further, Dan McKanan quotes Jim Wallis, of Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) and the Sojourners Community and magazine of the same name, saying that “most of the important movements for social change in America have been fueled by religion.” Given the history of the religious Left’s engagement in social issues, a partnership between Unitarian Universalism and intentional communities is potentially of great importance in this time of rapid, unsettling change. In fact, such a cultural-religious partnership could be developed with other liberal religious traditions as well, such as with the United Methodists or the United Church of Christ. (McKanan, pp. 239, 265; Wallis, p. 19)
Unitarian Universalism is particularly suited to being the spiritual home of intentional communities of all kinds because the nature of the UU association is to accept differences among people, and the intentional communities movement is very diverse in how different groups structure their gifting and sharing processes. That diversity tends to keep each community and their related community movement in its own silo, separate from the others, and so a neutral common ground, like meeting in the context of the acceptance of differences practiced in Unitarian Universalist churches, can help bring various intentional communities together for mutual aid, not only among communities yet also in how those communities relate to the larger, dominant, outside-world culture.
In Colorado in the latter half of the 1990s a couple organizers, including the present author, founded a regional network of intentional communities called the “Community Network of the Rocky Mountains.” We met several times for a few years at different communities. Sixty-five people came together for our first gathering at a cohousing community, about one-third being from established or forming intentional communities while the rest were interested in learning about community. After a few years the network went dormant as only a few communities had the space for such large groups of people, and we did not want to keep imposing upon them. Having such local networks forming around UU congregations could make UU churches the home of ongoing local associations of intentional communities, keeping up with the changes in the communities, assisting local communities in working together for mutual aid, helping new communities to form and grow, helping the “outside world” to understand intentional community, providing the space for periodic gatherings of intentioneers, and increasing the awareness of those UU members who are not familiar with intentional community. As a consequence, some intentioneers may very likely become members of their local UU church since many want to be involved in social justice issues, and perhaps get involved in other forms of activism through the church, and generally help to build the UU church community.
Versions of Gifting and Sharing Lifestyles
Some intentional communities focus upon providing a comfortable, cooperative lifestyle for their members, while others are actively engaged in social service programs. The hospitality offered by Catholic Worker communities to poor and working-class people is an example of how intentional communities help people survive in an inhospitable world.
An example of therapeutic intentional communities is the Camphill Village movement begun in Scotland and others like it, such as L’Arch begun in France, which both create communities around differently-abled children and adults. These communities pool the social security funds received by their members with developmental and other disabilities, along with donations from their families and income from their cottage businesses, to build intentional communities welcoming normally-abled people as “co-workers,” to live with and provide support for the differently-abled “villagers.” Visiting such communities a person sees how positive and able the disabled can be when they are not institutionalized and instead are appreciated for who they are in their village. Hopefully the effort to create a Colorado Camphill Village will be restarted.
Another example of a social service community is one started in the Denver Metro Area focusing upon providing a home for foster teens. Angelica Village adapts the Camphill model to serve family-less teenagers, relying upon the same means of support of government assistance plus donations of money and time from families and friends.
However a person grows up, college or trade school can be an ordeal. Many community college students rely upon food banks and some are homeless. Shared rental houses, or student housing collectives, require appropriate zoning laws to be more common. A very helpful step in Denver is currently being made in which the city planning office itself began a process for revising city ordinances to provide more housing options for “residential care” such as community-based corrections, shelters, and transitional housing, for more “congregate living” such as tiny-home villages and single room occupancy units, and for increasing the number of unrelated people who can live together from two to eight in housing cooperatives, collectives, and cohouseholding. There are no restrictions in Denver or in most cities upon how many people who are related to each other can live together, and so revising the city’s zoning code to permit cooperative housing is justifiable. Supporting cooperative housing would be a positive response for any city in which the cost of housing has increased or is increasing. The City of Boulder has a long-standing regulation providing for cooperative housing (ordinance no. 5806, 1996) which may serve as a model. (See: https://denverite.com/2020/02/06/do-you-know-denvers-rules-about-living-together)
A program of supporting student housing cooperatives in Denver may seek aid from local nonprofit housing organizations like the Boulder Housing Coalition, and from the national student organization named the North American Students of Cooperation (NASCO). NASCO has regular conferences and co-op development programs, and some observers have noted that the student co-ops are the most racially integrated of all intentional communities.
These are difficult times for teens becoming adults. You are born onto a planet with a dying biosphere. The economics of the dominant First World, market-based economy is enriching a few and impoverishing many, including you. Politics is trending toward abhorrent fascism, and religious war is ludicrously anti-Golden Rule. Denver currently has an increase in teen-on-teen violence and other juvenile delinquency, including teen suicide. Colorado Public Radio says teen suicide in the state is higher than the national average, increasing 58% from 2016 to 2019, and is now the cause of 1-in-5 adolescent deaths. (Colorado Public Radio, 9-17-2019)
Juvenile angst provides easy targets for radical-right youth outreach and recruitment campaigns. The German youth movement growing up after the German defeat in World War One was both anti-religious and apolitical, making it easy for the German fascists to define their religion and politics for them, and then draw them into World War Two. Today groups from neo-fascists to international terrorists are proselytizing and recruiting our youth. To counter such influences an activist congregation can provide a communitarian pathway for young adults from student housing co-ops to worker-owned businesses and community land trusts, all using participatory management and governance processes for building abilities and confidence in people. The assurance of these organizations’ values statements affirming racial, gender, economic, political, and cultural justice would hopefully allay parental anxiety about what influences are attracting their children.
A UU young-adult outreach program could be developed similar to or perhaps in cooperation with the existing NuMundo (“New World”) initiative providing “transformational experiences” for youth having the resources for traveling among a “decentralized network of ecovillages, intentional communities, permaculture farms, social projects and retreat centers.” (See: http://www.numundo.org) This is similar in concept to a countercultural Peace Corp or Americorp. For young adults without the resources to travel, learning about the opportunities in their locality for visiting and joining intentional communities could be facilitated by a UU Gifting and Sharing Lifestyles project.
A common legal structure for student housing cooperatives and other groups is the community land trust (CLT). CLTs provide for economic justice by the de-commodification of land and housing, by removing it from the speculative market to hold down the cost of access. The three-neighborhood group, the Globeville, Elyria-Swansea Coalition in north Denver, is inspired in part by the older and much more developed Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative in Roxbury, Massachusetts, which happens to be the same neighborhood as that of the two Unitarian Universalist groups organized under the CLT called, UU Community Cooperatives.
Worker-owned and controlled businesses, social entrepreneurialism, and benefit or B-corporations all affirm economics for the people, as their bottom line is no longer profit. Instead the corporation can choose any priority desired for its bottom line, such as providing benefits to workers, practicing environmental stewardship, or benefiting community organizations. An example of a community organization providing services to its neighborhood is the Re:Vision organization in the Westwood Neighborhood of Denver. Re:Vision has begun a food cooperative to serve people in the local food desert, a community-led Nutrition and Cooking Education program, and a community-oriented healthcare program called Community Health Equity Champions employing local residents trained to assist others with options for healthy living, such as encouraging urban agriculture.
Cohousing is a specific form of intentional community susceptible to much misunderstanding. The term “cohousing” has been used as an eponym, identifying all forms of intentional community with just that one form, such that a person can mean any kind of community when they say “cohousing.” Many people assume that the term “cohousing” can refer to a shared household, which is more appropriately called “cohouseholding.” Some people even use the term “communal” when talking about cohousing. Rather, cohousing involves many households, each with its own kitchen, along with an industrial kitchen, dining room, childcare space, and other amenities, all arranged around a pedestrian-only land-use design in the center of the community, resulting in an “intentional neighborhood.” The term “common house” is another confusing use-of-terms in cohousing since there is no commonly-owned property in cohousing. Instead, “classic cohousing” communities are legally structured as condominiums, and so they are sharing privately-owned property. Every year the U.S. cohousing movement has a national open-house day offering tours of cohousing communities. In 2020 that is Sunday, April 26. (See: http://www.cohousing.org)
While it is a very good thing that the middle-class now has a form of intentional community designed for it, the problem is that cohousing communities are very expensive. New cohousing developments require people to purchase a condominium unit, typically via mortgage financing. Older cohousing communities may have rental units which working-class persons may be able to afford. Yet many cohousing residents realize that most of their children growing up in cohousing simply will not be able to or cannot now afford to purchase a cohousing unit, and therefore cohousing children and their parents often look for other kinds of community which the young adults can or will be able to afford, like housing cooperatives, cohouseholding, and the for-profit, long-term hostels called “coliving.”
Ecovillage is another term which has become an eponym for the larger communities movement. There are no specific criteria for ecovillages as there is for cohousing, since the term only refers to the intention, presumably accompanied by appropriate actions, to create ecologically sustainable, cooperative lifestyles. Given such a generic description, practically any community can be called an “ecovillage” simply by expressing the intention to be one. And so the ecovillage movement has grown quickly, now with an Ecovillage Design Education course created by the Global Ecovillage Network (GEN), headquartered in Edinburgh, Scotland (see http://www.gaiaeducation.org). Gaia Education is an international non-governmental organization (NGO), and GEN’s North American affiliate is called GEN-North America or GENNA. GEN’s youth program is called “NextGEN.” The present author’s School of Intentioneering is similar to part of the Gaia Education curriculum and the two may someday collaborate. (Gaia Education, 2012; see: http://www.ecovillage.org/our-work/nextgen).
Class-harmony community is a term created by the present author for the School of Intentioneering, to represent the model of a community involving one or more landlords and tenants. Typically, people have not thought of such a power imbalance among members to be appropriate for an intentional community, yet the model is very common. In the communities Directory (see: http://www.ic.org for print and online versions) about twenty-percent of the listings state that one person or a small group owns the land and buildings while other members rent housing from them. A unique example of class-harmony community is Ganas Community on Staten Island, New York, where a communal core-group of about ten people own eight houses in which about seventy people rent rooms.
Historically, class-harmony intentional communities are what Karl Marx called “utopian socialism,” which he contrasted with his idea of “scientific socialism,” which was supposed to eventually result in some form of communalism. Marx and Engels were only able to describe communalism using Morelly’s Maxim; “from each according to ability; to each according to need.” While the term “communitarianism” can be associated with either “community” or “communism,” using instead the terms “intentioneer” and “intentioneering” denies association with the class-conflict of Marxist communism while affirming, inspiring, and advocating the utopian socialist ideal of class-harmony through collaborative, co-creative solidarity among those with and those without money.
Today there are multi-faith communal societies of up to a hundred adults existing around fifty years using time-based, labor-sharing economies with no money exchanged internally, such as the vacation-credit labor system, so ways have been found to make communalism practical. However, many communal groups have restrictions on how many children they will support, such as Twin Oaks and East Wind communities, causing some members who want to have children to leave the community. Since cohousing is too expensive for working-class families, that leaves class-harmony community as one of the few options for the working poor with children who want to live in community.
Cofamily community is another term created by the present author for the School of Intentioneering. Cofamilies are small groups of from three-to-nine people, with or without children. Since small communities often do not have a defined structure, it is convenient to simply call them a cofamily since the “co” prefix can refer to: communal-, collective-, cooperative-, complicated-, complex-, convoluted-, or simply community-family (although not consanguine-family). While cofamilies can stand alone, when they are part of a larger intentional community they are called “nested cofamilies,” regardless of the type of that larger community; whether communal, land trust, cohousing, ecovillage, etc. The cofamily represents a kind of “family” that is not comprised of people who are related via blood or marriage, instead they choose to live together based upon their commonalities or affinities. This adds a fifth form to the existing forms of family including: single-parent, nuclear (regardless of gender), extended, blended, and now cofamily.
In 2016 I researched American families in U.S. Census reports and found some startling statistics which suggest failings of the “American Dream,” for which the need for a new “Communitarian Dream” featuring the cofamily is indicated:
- The number of married-adult households has been steadily dropping to now about half of all households. (“Families and Living Arrangements” Table AD-3b)
- The number of adults living alone has been steadily raising to now nearly a third of all households. (“Families and Living Arrangements” Tables AD-3a and HH-4)
- 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. (“America’s Children in Brief: Key National Indicators of Well-Being, 2016” Family and Social Environment and List of Tables; also, “Families and Living Arangements” tables HH-1 and CH-1)
- Over a third of all women with more than one child had them with more than one father, called “multiple-partner fertility.” (Guzzo, 2014; Logan, Manlove, Ikramullah, & Cottingham, 2006; Martin, 2011)
The two countercultures of Unitarian Universalism and of intentioneers have much to offer each other for addressing their common interests and concerns, now as always. Interactions between the two have been common, although rarely recognized, yet for both there are likely benefits to be realized as the two begin to work together in partnership. The basic idea of UU faith-based intentional community is not a new idea as there are several that have been lived in America over the last two centuries and currently in 2020. These include: Brook Farm, MA, 1841-47; Harmonia, NY, 1853-63; Altruria, CA, 1894-5; New Clairvaux, MA, 1900-1909; Fellowship Farm, MA, MO, CA, 1912-27; The Vale, OH, 1946-present; Twin Oaks, 1967-present, Springtree, 1971-present, and Shannon Farm, 1972-present, all in Virginia; Lucy Stone Co-op, 2011-present, and Margaret Moseley Co-op, 2016-present, both in Massachusetts. For the very diverse network of intentioneers, Unitarian Universalism offers the perfect spiritual home, as UUism is just as diverse in the composition of its form of spirituality. The need for and benefit of an intentioneers-UU partnership is expressed by Arthur Morgan, a Unitarian himself, as he was surely thinking about this when he wrote, …
Any vital social program is possible only if it is the expression of a religion which calls on the whole loyalty of [women and] men … The more adequate the interpretation of life which is provided by a political or economic philosophy, the better foundation does it constitute for a social and economic program … [and that interpretation needs] a religious motive to vitalize the program. —Arthur Morgan, founder of the Fellowship of Intentional Communities, wrote this view of the importance of religion in his study of utopian theory, fiction, and practice in: Edward Bellamy: A Biography of the Author of ‘Looking Backward’. (Morgan, 1944, pp. 302-3)
In the quote above, Arthur Morgan presents the case for making our spiritual or religious identity consistent with our cultural intentions. Extrapolating from this; when people want to live in a gifting and sharing culture outside of the dominant, competitive culture, then a religious expression which respects non-traditional lifestyles is helpful.
It seems like there’s a new convergence of religious and secular groups that hold the same values and are able to comfortably hold differences in belief. This feels like a new and important development, like everyone did a lot of throwing out babies with bathwater, and now it’s time to bring it back together to help the world see a different vision for humanity living in peaceful, sustainable community. —Sky Blue, former Executive Director, Foundation for Intentional Community, In Community, On the Road: Dispatch #7 – Taos Initiative for Life Together, April 17, 2019.
In the second quote above, Sky Blue suggests that the ideal of peaceful, sustainable community through the future can be served by reuniting corresponding secular and religious values. Writing 75 years apart from each other, these two leaders of the same network of intentional communities, originally called the “Fellowship” and now the “Foundation,” can be interpreted to be saying nearly the same thing; that a society without spiritual expression or religious myth lacks the vitality critical to the alignment of a people’s commitment to a lifestyle ideal.
Community is important and necessary for preserving and developing our humanity in both good times and bad. While some are enjoying good times today, others are not, and many of those having good times worry that it may not last for themselves or their children. Unitarian Universalists and intentioneers can together create a Gifting and Sharing Lifestyles partnership that can make for all a material life consistent with our highest spiritual beliefs and ethical ideals.
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