Friday, March 10, 2006

Short Note on Tom Monaghan's "Theocracity"

I'm behind the curve on Tom Monaghan's plan to establish a Catholic city in Florida. Others have already said most of what there is to say about it, such as Mark Shea, Dom Bettinelli, Erik Keilholtz and the Curt Jester. The media's hateful bias against the project has also been commented on by the above, and by Newsbusters. I'm sorry that I've left some people out, but at this point it should be asked why, after all this exhaustive commentary, I'm going to blog about it.

Because, as I've had occasion to say before, I'm a blowhard with a blog. I get to blog about anything I want, even if it's a dead horse covered in strike marks from a thousand Louisville Sluggers.

Is it right for Catholics to segregate themselves in theologically-gated communities? Erik and Jeff think it's not. I'm not so sure. As Mark points out, the urge to found distinct communities of like-minded individuals is a deep part of American culture, and one that doesn't seem to have done America much harm. I wouldn't like to live there, primarily because only time will tell if this place can (or is permitted to) exist as something besides a function of Tom Monaghan's enthusiasm. I wouldn't like to live there, secondarily because I'd be wondering if my "virtue" was merely fear of ostracism, and because I like to operate "outside the green zone" so to speak, dealing with all the heretics, goofballs, nuts, and wicked people. What does that say about me? I think the only sure thing that can be said is that I'm not cut out for life in a religious community; the rest of the judgment only comes in the form of my conscience and my awareness of what God wants from me. Does He want Abraham leading his rag-tag band through Egypt, or does He want David ruling a godly community? Both options are possible; one man's retreat from responsibility is another man's Cluny.

That brings up something else interesting about some Catholics' reactions to the project. (Having mentioned their opposition, I hasten to say this does not apply to the Curt Jester or Erik). Some of it sounds a lot like Protestant criticism of monastic life -- that it's "sheltered," "decadent," and pretends to a purity that, in reality, is just the result of fear at the prospect of doing God's work in the world, etc.[1] I don't say any of the Catholics who make such arguments are "not really" Catholic, only that they might be failing to appreciate the Church's tacit dictum that one should pursue holiness "by all means necessary." If that means wandering through the Hittites and Egyptians of modern America, or the relative (and it is, after all, relative) seclusion of "theocracity," so be it. The real test of "theocracity" will be its residents' ability to appreciate that fact.

If Ave Maria residents regard themselves as a part, albeit a unique one, of the Church's vast tapestry of social life, and can authentically pursue and articulate that identity beyond the life of Tom Monaghan, then Ave Maria will be proved a Heaven-sent opportunity for sanctity and sanity. On the other hand, if residents come to regard their project as a superior example of Catholic life, perhaps even (God forbid it) as a Church within a Church, then Ave Maria will be a failure.

So it seems to me the people involved are undertaking an enormous, heart-wrenching, and difficult task. They are trying -- at least if they're doing it right -- to prove how abnormal Catholic life really is, when compared to the world's standards. If they begin cheering at having crossed the finish line now, as though they had said "goodbye to all that" ("that," of course, being secularism, sin, and their discontents) that will be a very bad sign indeed.

[1] This is not entirely the Protestant view. Anglicans, Episcopalians and Lutherans have traditions of celibate religious communities (primarily in Europe). But this is, in the main, the reaction most Protestants have to monastic religious life.

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