catapult magazine

catapult magazine


utopias - real and imagined


Feb 23 2005
10:18 am

There’s some interesting conversation going on deep inside some of the blogs connected to this site. In the interest of serving the “”">technological sphere sovereignty" Rob speaks of in his recent blog post (and following Laryn’s example) I’m going to drag some of it into the light for general discussion, because the issues involved are of central concern to me.

Gideon Strauss posted the following comment on his blog yesterday morning.

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

A biblical cosmopolitanism …
… is what we need as a corrective to the romantic agrarian notion of the rural utopian enclave. This is about more than a city/country distinction. It is also about where our hope is to be found, how we are to be rooted, to what or whom we belong … ultimately.

It seems to me that he is picking up on a discussion of Wendell Berry’s agrarian values which took place on his blog on February ninth. Here is the discussion that followed yesterday’s post:

Post 1:
OK. Explain your terms…
by: Joe Kearns (URL) on 2005-02-22 09:19:38
Post 2:
What about non-romantic and non-utopian agrarian notions.

Anyone can knock down a straw man.
by: Caleb (URL) on 2005-02-22 11:08:56
Post 3:
Are you saying that after all is said and done the kingdom of God is actually about buildings and food? Unless you explain your terms some of us might think that this is what you are saying in light of your earlier post on your utopia and this simpleton sees things quite differently.
by: brad (URL) on 2005-02-22 12:16:10
Post 4:
Brad, are you suggesting that the kingdom of God is somehow not about buildings and food, in addition to everything else?
by: Henry Bakker (URL) on 2005-02-22 12:27:35
Post 5:
Gideon I’m fascinated by the interaction between agrarian and cosmopolitan societies, the way they can opperate in relation to each other. In fact my “Utopia” would probably center around that union/juxtoposition.

I’ve been thinking about W. Berry a lot these days. You might be interested in this post:
by: daniel silliman (URL) on 2005-02-22 19:24:50
Post 6:
Ah yeah… “for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit”…Of course, I realize that Jesus is Lord of all so yes he is Lord of buildings and food. BUT for all practical purposes, I do not think it is even helpful to teach people to place such high value on the things that are passing away. This high view of things is so foreign to me. For example, the CITY coming down out of heaven is a metaphor for the church…"Behold, an angel said “Do you want to see the bride..and he showed me a city arrayed…golden streets etc” This is a metaphor of the moral beauty of the church in all her glory. Rev 19:21ff. So my question to Gideon is are you talking about “big versus small community” or are you talking about “big versus small buildings”? Serious question!! Because if you are talking about buildings, well I think you are missing the point of God’s vision of city, for the Kingdom of God is not about buildings and food.
by: brad (URL) on 2005-02-23 09:37:24
Post 7:
I don’t know, Brad, sounds pretty dualistic to me. How are we to experience “righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” except in our daily interaction with the people and places that are “passing away” as you put it? What good is a metaphor of the “moral beauty of the church in all her glory” unless it is actively working in us (the only church worth talking about – the body of Christ) as we seek to transform everything around us into the image of that metaphorical, beautiful, perfect, city. The things that are passing away are the only things we have, it is our role (as I understand it) to seek to reclaim ALL of creation because ALL of it was created good and fit for eternal life. A big part of that, for me involves right relationship in how we house and feed ourselves and others, and it is over-intellectualized, platonic, this-world-escapist, visions of the kingdom of God that I dismiss as “utopian”, for the kingdom of God IS about buildings and food.
by: Henry Bakker (URL) on 2005-02-23 09:54:12

Any thoughts?


Feb 23 2005
01:28 pm

This is a great discussion, but this is getting awkward. I guess I should have just linked to it in the first place. I need to get better at this stuff. I apologize for the unwieldiness of this attempt.

Post 8:
I have a saying “people over things”. I value people over things so I give away my things to people in need. This is not other worldly. Exact the opposite. It is because I value relationships and people over things that I do not buy myself a new pair of shoes if my neighbor is without food and shelter. I am being very practical. I am not platonic at all. I believe the Morally Beautiful Community is to be lived NOW in the church today. But we build that city by incarnaing the moral attributes of God not by making beautiful buildings while people starve to death. On planet earth. Today. In our context.
1 John 3:16-18.
The kingdom makes very radical claims on our lives and valueing people over things is core to the kingdom.
by: brad (URL) on 2005-02-23 10:18:11
Post 9:
Brad, quite apart from the question whether or in what sense we may be transforming & reclaiming our world under Christ in our age, it seems pretty plain in all common experience that having a high regard for & caring for people implies having a high regard for & caring for “things”. It isn’t a matter of convoluted abstract reflection to get that “things” & people are intimately, intricately intertwined in the world we belong to. To see this is as simple as to observe that we were created in dependence on them, among them. In fact I think your very term “morally beautiful” reflects this interwovenness in creation; in what character of existence does this notion beauty have to be rooted, if it’s meaningful to describe our behavior toward each other with reference to it? The higher our regard for people, I’d say, the higher we necessarily regard “things”. The over-valuing of “things” that you’re concerned about I think actually comes down to an under-valuing of them, driven by a misunderstanding & a mis-valuing of self. Jesus addresses us on our concerns & pursuit of our this-worldly well-being; however it isn’t how we understand “things” he’s effectively confronting, but how we understand ourselves before God.
by: paul bowman (URL) on 2005-02-23 11:34:31
Post 10:
Paul (and this is my last comment I promise),
The point is how it works out in our story. The nuance of our language is not the issue. I am speaking from a very different paradigm and so all sorts of assumptions are made regarding what I am saying. First, I will write two posts on this idea this week. Second, to value I mean to love and by love I mean have an affection to be with and to enjoy. Things don;t have “well-being” so to love a thing is simply to want it as in the love of money. So are we to value things or the well-being of people. Is it a good testimony for the church to build ornate aesthetic artifacts or to be frugal and give the to the poor in the name of Jesus. We live in a real world wit hreal people who live without. Therefore, the church is to be content with food and covering and to be generous with the rest. Is this the moral distinction that the church displays or do we love things obver people. This is an ethical issue. Therefore, when we say city do we mean people or buildings? From Gideons, utopia list, I infered that by city he might be thinking buildings to which I make a challenge in the name of Justice, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. Does ornate and luxury items (nice buildings and food and clothes) violate love of brother? When Jesus says Solomon is not arrayed like a lily and then says people are more valuable than lilies He is calling us to value people’s well being over nice things (treasures) on earth. Any other interpretation of what Jesus is saying is actually Platonic. The Hebrew mind would never have thought that Jesus was talking about the atitude of our heart. Such a view is Greek and Platonic.
by: brad (URL) on 2005-02-23 12:24:35
Post 11:
Try saying the kingdom is not about buildings and food to a starving, homeless person. The kingdom is about buildings and food; and not just any, but beautiful buildings and delicious food. This is what the kingdom means. It is not about things over people but about everybody having the necessities of life in the fullest. Obviously, in a practical context, this may work itself out in different ways. But to build huge cathedrals while the peasants starve is a misunderstanding of God’s Kingdom, as is some sort of sanctified spartanism.

peace in christ
by: the coob (URL) on 2005-02-23 13:07:29
Post 12:
Brad, for my part I can’t think but that the more carefully we consider what the well-being of people must be & demand of us, the more we’ll be drawn to work out & attend to the well-being of “things”. This is an ethical issue. Therefore when we say city we mean people ? and buildings :)

Looking forward to your posts!
by: paul bowman (URL) on 2005-02-23 13:08:34


Feb 23 2005
03:35 pm

yeah, this is a good discussion. what are the chances they’ll move it over here so we can be involved? :)

(i can’t go over there to discuss because of technological sphere sovereignty)

it sounds like brad is outnumbered on this one. i can understand the point he is trying to make, but i this he’s incorrect in the implementation of his ideas and probably has some wrong ideas about the types of buildings and the needs of people. (ie. just because a building is important doesn’t mean the people aren’t; buildings can also be useful to people—even poor and needy ones).


Feb 23 2005
09:23 pm

I posted an extended response to this discussion here.

The post is called: The City, The Kingdom snd Nice Things

God Bless,


Feb 27 2005
08:57 pm

perhaps you’ve all read it already, but i’d like to refer to this issue’s feature article as directly applicable to this discussion. the question can be framed in terms of what is necessary in the Kingdom. when this topic comes up, we tend to pit glorious cathedrals against food for the starving masses, but what about high-tech mega churches vs. health insurance for children? and how does the notion that the poor will always be with us inform putting our resources toward “frivolous” things?

by the way, henry, i’m glad you copied the whole conversation here. i don’t know about other people, but i’m reluctant to follow links because i’m too easily sucked in. though i will check out brad’s link.