Sunday 21 October 2012

Protestant monks? Christian communal living


While early marriage and the family are properly the Christian ideal for most people, there are some called to chastity and many others who have a more or less long period of adult life living outside of their birth family but not yet married.

This is an extremely  hazardous time for young Christians in the modern world; that period of early adulthood, living alone or among groups of non-Christians; their time filled by studies, work and leaisure activities almost all of which are anti-Christian.

The temptations are severe, and the alternative to yielding to temptation may be extreme loneliness, boredom, isolation. Most churches do not fill a person's life.


For such people it would be desirable, I think, for there to be an option for Christian communal living.

I envisage single-sex residential houses in which the young adults took vows of chastity (until marriage), and lived a semi-monastic existence of regular and compulsory (twice a day, early morning and evening) group worship (equivalent to the daily office); communal eating; frugal living and generous tithing; and obedience to the Church elder who was in charge of the house.


Yet this semi-monastic state would explicitly be intended as temporary, a phase - rather like attending college (and indeed might be while attending college, and afterwards), and would be directed towards establishing and supporting the ideal of Christian marriage and family.

I envisage that Evangelicals might do this best; and might have the energy and desire to do it - if their aversion to monasticism could be overcome. 



Thursday said...

From my experience there are many larger Protestant churches here in N. America which do have activities for people every single day. You can fill up your life with church.

However, this may not be the case in rural areas, in smaller churches, and in some denominations which don't have that kind of tradition.

Jonathan C said...

Parts of this seem very attractive to me.

I don't think it should be just for the young, though. I daresay you'll have nearly as many folks emerging from divorces who have need of arrangements like this, as well as a smattering of lifers who can't attract any mate at all (surely at least 5% of men these days). Marriage is increasingly ephemeral, occupying fewer and fewer of people's years.

And there's more and more men whose child support payments leave them with too little money for an apartment of their own, for whom this sort of shared living arrangement and group support would be a godsend.

I wonder about the tithing. Who could I give a tithe to these days with any confidence that it will be used for less evil than good?

Matias F. said...

The closest thing to this kind of communal living that I know are student centres of Opus Dei. They have a daily Mass in the morning, communal meals etc.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Thu - well that's excellent. However (from my experience living as a 'Don' in college at Durham), I think something extra, and vital, is gained by sleeping in the same building and sharing morning and evening meals.

@Jonathan - re: older men and women, agreed 100%. But these would need to be institutionally separate from the young persons hostels - having a different purpose.

Humans are not meant to live alone, but in families - either biological families, or adoptive families.

Tithing - I was thinking that this would be part of the regime of frugality, and go to the 'mother church' that ran the Christian hostel.

Such hostels ought to be financially self-supporting, indeed should always make a small surplus to go to the organizing church.

But tithes would not to some remote and unaccountable 'charity'.

@MF - Good point, I had forgotten Opus Dei - although I visited one of these hostels a couple of times when I lived in Glasgow. But these were quasi-monastic, and did not at all feel like they were aiming at marriage.

Unknown said...

This sounds wonderful.

But why not go further? Get some Christian families together and live semi monastically your whole life! Sort of like Opus Dei but with women and children. The Bruderhof and the Twelve Tribes communities already do something very similar.

Bruce Charlton said...

@U - Well fine! There are many possibilities. But I think the one I suggested - for teens and young adults - is the most urgent and important.

I am, however, aware that it's one thing for you and I to have ideas about what we would like to happen, but a lot of hard work for anybody to do this kind of stuff!

My reason for writing this is that I think it will only actually happen in the real world if evangelicals want to do it; since only they have the requisite combination of devoutness, energy and youth.

For that to happen would probably involve evangelicals taking a more positive attitude to 'monasticism' as a broad concept - but monasticism was one of the things that the Reformation (wrongly) discarded and indeed disallowed.

(e.g. In England, instead of refounding and reforming corrupt monasteries and convents, they were simply eliminated (often destroyed) for about 300 years. And along with them went other forms and possibilities of the 'religious' life.)

Anonymous said...

I think some evangelicals do this informally. I bought a motorcycle once from a young Christian guy wo was living with a few others. I think evangelical churches encourage at least young people who need roommates to have Christian roommates. But if this was a more formal policy it would be much better. It would be a simple thing for churches to arrange and supervise.

Matias F. said...

It is true that Opus Dei student homes don't specifically aim at marriage, OD seems more like an adoptive family, if you get involved.

@deconstructingleftism: I don't see how it would be a simple thing to find a suitable leader for this kind of student homes: if he lived with them, he would have to forfeit having an own family, but let his students grow to be adults and not try to adopt them as his own family.

Thbe other alternative would be to have a more distant Church supervisor and have some member stay a few years after "graduation" as head of the house.

Catherine said...

I don't think this goes far enough. It would serve couples hoping for marriage, but not the type of people who (among others) have traditionally been served by monasticism.

I will complain to anyone that listens that modern Protestant Christianity (and Protestantized Catholicism) has nothing to offer people who don't fit the modern nuclear-family model, and that people are going to turn elsewhere for acceptance.

Who am I talking about? Men and women who are not interested, for whatever reason, in marriage and childbearing. People who aren't interested in the opposite sex, or in sex/emotional intimacy at all. Infertile couples who aren't eager to adopt. The type of people who in former times would have either been caught up in monasticism or helped out with an extended family.

Of course, it's not entirely the church's fault that the extended family/tight-knit community is out of style, but they've done absolutely nothing to cope with this. In general, and especially in American, they've just battened down the hatches on "the family" - "Focus on the family", "Family Radio", etc. Creating the impression that those outside the family are also outside the church. (Of course, there are some notable exceptions).

What's really weird is that a lot of otherwise smart, compassionate Christians (online especially) will simply deny the existence of this sort of person. For example, the general Christian blogosphere's response to single childless women is to lament (with a touch of schadenfreude) that they will surely regret being childless when they're 45.

Will some of them? Sure. But there are women who are born without a maternal bone in their body. I've known women who have nightmares about being pregnant, who shudder when it's mentioned, who look forward to menopause - not because of some horrible past trauma but because they've just always been like that. In the past, they'd have been nuns or "maiden aunts." Now mainstream Protestant Christianity has no category to fit them in, so is telling them that they don't exist, and then wonders why they fall away and into groups of non-religious people who accept them. Given the disproportionate effect unmarried/childless people seem to have on the culture, this is a big deal.

20something said...

This would help a great deal. Your average 20 something usually lives in a townhouse in a big city were he gets drunk and tries to hook up every weekend.

One of the hardest things for young people is just how often they move. Once for college. Once again for their first job. Perhaps again for their second job. All of this can easily happen before 30. It's hard to build a community when you move every couple of years.

Bruce B. said...

My cubicle-mate here was part of a Christian fraternity in college. They had a frat house but I don’t know what their practices were e.g. morning prayer, etc.