Intentional community – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
I left the Roman Catholic Church after three years because I found an Eastern Orthodox intentional community that relieved the loneliness and alienation that I felt. I had read Robert Nisbet’s The Quest for Community for a political philosophy elective course around the same time that I encountered this community, so my decision to join and become Orthodox was based on a set of related convictions that:
- individualism and community are inversely proportional to each other
- we were meant to be, give, and receive love
- love and community are necessary conditions for one another
- individualism leads to alienation, love leads to belonging
- the alienation of our culture, and the increasing alienation of each successive generation, can only be cured by a radical embrace of the Gospel, of love, and necessarily, of community
In this context, community is no longer a natural, normal thing that happens. In order to create healthy communities that enflesh the Gospel and counteract the loneliness and alienation of our times, we must be intentional about it. Intentional community, in a Christian context, is primarily about intentionally embracing values that lead to community. If we want communities that are not weak associations of coincidence but strong networks of love and support, that is a goal that must be pursued. They will not appear magically from mere hope and good will.
Paige criticizes intentional communities with a variety of informal fallacies. She begins by defining intentional communities as exclusive and then continues arguing as if this is the defining quality of intentional communities. Neither of these hasty generalizations is true of intentional communities as a whole, though they may certainly be true of a specific community. She makes another hasty generalization by arguing that because the community in which she grew up was unintentional and beneficial because of its diversity, therefore all diverse communities will be unintentional.
She puts forth (apparently as a joke) the straw man of Jim Jones and The People’s Temple as a negative example of intentional community (which it is). Ironically, “the Peoples Temple was initially structured as an inter-racial mission for the sick, homeless and jobless.” The emphasis on community is undoubtedly one element of the Jonestown tragedy. Yet, like a fire which needs heat, fuel and oxygen, Jonestown probably resulted from a mix of potencies, which included Jones’ cult of personality, the community’s paranoid fear of the state and its cloistering from public life. The exact mix of factors will probably never be clear, but there are many intentional communities which have not become cults. Intentional community by itself does not lead to becoming a cult.
Her last paragraph summarizes the strongest objection to making parishes into strong intentional communities:
If someone wants to join my church but hates me, they only have to be around me like four hours a week, and even then they don’t have to talk to me. But if you’ve turned your church into an intentional community, and you get someone who doesn’t want to live in your neighborhood, hang out with you, arrange marriages between their kids and yours or whatever, are they going to feel welcome at your church?
There are several false assumptions about the nature of intentional community, but the basic objection stands: The Church is universal. What if someone just wants “church as usual” and doesn’t have what it takes to sacrificially create a loving, welcoming community. What if they live in the suburbs and just don’t want to live downtown? I think the answer lies in creating a workable solution so that parish members can opt-out of the stronger community without shame or coercion. However, another answer might be intentional communities which do not have the parish as their center.
There will certainly continue to be discussion about this subject, but I doubt that the Church will acheive critical mass until there are concrete communities incarnating this idea in welcoming ways that avoid our common fears of Jonestown and Heaven’s Gate.