I recently read a book by Shane Claiborne titled “The Irresistible Revolution”, and I must admit that the type of Christianity that Shane describes in his book is the type I was desperately searching for in my youth.
Christmas is a special time of traditions in our house, it is a time to invite friends, and family over for dinner, to enjoy each others company and reflect on the past year. We often hook up some kind of video over the internet to connect to family back east, and spend the day sharing the time as best we can with each other. I want each day of the year to feel like Christmas, the love of family, that moment of joy, and everything else that can not be described in words to extend beyond the season of a few weeks in the cold of winter. And it does for the most part, because we love each other.
The word Shane uses most in his book is love. But it’s a love with priorities all mixed up. I’ve been involved with many intentional communities and they all have one thing in common, the members have a lack of connection to the family they come from, the community has replaced that family. In Christian, Messianic, and Eco-Farm intentional communities the story is all the same, families complicate your life, they challenge your resolve, and they force you to look at your goals, Shane’s “simple life” is not family friendly. I myself am guilty of this. I remember a time when I thought Christian charity was the keystone of what being a Christian was all about, it isn’t. Being a ‘true’ Christian maybe beyond my understanding, but I know what is wrong for me to do, and what is right, family comes first, it is the primary reason that Ontario is the only place I am looking for land now.
I related very much to Shane, his book is often a reflexion of my own experiences when I was involved in mission work as a Christian, as a street kid, and a member of several intentional communities. The message of community rings loud in my ears as echoes of “The Basin Farm”, “The Rainbow Family of Living Light”, and even Indymedia. The time I spent trying to make the world better, has not ended, the methods have just changed.
I do not believe in socialism, nor do I believe that Shane’s voluntary simplicity is totally voluntary. People make choices between what is available to them, and what they understand, and most of them tend to choose the easier way. Group Think is always easier then individuality. In one part of the book, Shane makes reference to “Give a man a fish, you feed him for a day, teach him to fish and you feed him for a life time, but who owns the pond?” or something similar in context.
The answer to that question is that some one does own the pond, and no one has the right to take down the fence except the owner, the steward of the property in question.
Shane’s communes are city based, charity based, religiously based, Utopian, and doomed to failure. They are based in a Borg mindset no matter how much he tries to deny it, and he is not fighting poverty as much as he is fighting individuality. And I note to make a point, that this is his, and those with him, that I am referring to, because little of it has anything to do with whether or not Christ himself desired his followers to take up this cross, this is Shane’s interpretation of the message of Christ. It has been tried before, and failed countless times. I believe that it looks like it helps at the beginning, but it grows old fast, and the fundamental reason is lack of individualism.
This is the same reason I reject consensus based decisions over democratic vote, the same reason I prefer sovereignty over solidarity, and the same reason I choose Libertarian over Liberal. But most important, and connected to all, is the ability to freely choose, the individuals right to self ownership, and to own property. Shane wants us to tear down the fences around our fish pond, to feel guilty that we have enough to eat, and share it. When we deny him the fruits of our labor he calls us capitalists, part of the empire, and consumers. I refuse to be labeled.
I believe that the worse place to live in the world is on the shores of Victoria in Africa, the level of poverty in that region is beyond the understanding of most Americans, let alone the people that live there in the middle of it. I’m sure that Calcutta is no different in a lot of ways, and other poverty areas on this planet where greed, corruption and international corporations have taken advantage of those that do not know any better, or are over powered by limited options.
But the truth of the matter is, it is we who have created this level of poverty in the world by consumerism, and on that note I agree with Shane’s simple way. We continue what can be stopped in a matter of months by simplicity, instead of forming communes to feed the poor with industrial “freegan” food, we should get back to the land, and grow our own. You can not do that with out property rights. Some one has to put it in the effort and labor to produce the food, better me and my family, then an industrial farm that is part of the problem in the first place. The same can be said for ANY other product or service, and none of it is free. It costs human labor, and I own my labor like I own myself, and anyone who claims anything else is a thief.
As harsh as I sound at this moment, understand I still believe in charity, in teaching to fish, and being fare in trade so that others can buy their own pond. But I refuse to believe that the answers to all life’s ills is charity alone. Socialism is a means to an end, that end doesn’t sound to good to me. Every attempt in human history to create utopia has been distorted, that why they all ended up under the title of dystopia in the history books.