A man walks down the main street of a traditional American town. He sees a pharmacy, a bank, a few restaurants, a police office and a church. Does it occur to him that a grand history of ideas has come together in the place that is right before his eyes? Or does he just see it all working together by chance?
We could go into deeper detail about every building, every business, and every bill that brings a town together as a community, but I just want to lay out the basics in this post. I believe there is a string theory that has been around for centuries, and it would be more accurate to call it a religion. To the average modern man of the West, the medieval man lived in simple times -- so he could afford to have a simple worldview. At the turn of the sixteenth century things started to change. The man of the European Renaissance lived at the dawn of modernity, so the arts and sciences were still simple enough for him to become skilled at many of them within his lifetime.
Then the gentleman became complex in everything from professions to emotional expressions, leading to movements like the Enlightenment in the sciences and the Great Awakening in religion and the Impressionists in the arts. Simplicity became a good place to start, and nothing more. Even a simple painting, like Starry Night, was considered sophisticated in that it represented the complicated ideas flooding the modern landscape that we just could not seem to get into focus. As a modern man, my vision is also blurred by fragments of truth, goodness and beauty. Each fragment has its own specialization. I want to see if anything can make sense of it all. I think Christian culture can do so because it has produced the best ideas I know of, and I've seen those ideas prevail.
The Small Town In the small towns and communities of America, ideas and lifestyles are shared in close-knit and intimate settings. You know the guy on the front page of the local paper. I talked about everything from my cosmology to my plans for the day in the local coffee shop. We look at the big cities and assume that that’s where it all happens, but in places like that everything may be connected, but no one is really connecting. I wouldn’t be surprised if the world changed in result of a good conversation between two neighbors at the local diner. I'll give another example of where the tight-knit community can do wonders: the university. Look at the typical college town that springs up around a good university and you’ll see what I’m trying to say: authenticity, prestige, community, locale, sense of atmosphere, appreciation for one’s surroundings.
But today our landscape portrays the decadent mentality dominating our minds: a bland, utilitarian mindset filled with slabs of concrete and wires. It's no wonder we're so depressed and confused. We can't even see a sunset without utility poles getting in the way.
For years I've been playing around with a dream to build a Catholic community where there is an impetus akin to that of a small town or university town. Modeled after the centuries-old concept of a large village, it could be built around small businesses that could serve like guilds, and it all can be centered around a church. I’m not talking about anything grand here. I just ask for an environment that makes me interested, curious, and intrigued, and I think many other people would want it too. In order to be inspired, motivated, in fact to properly live, I need my surroundings to be more than just efficient. I need them to meet more than my practical needs. But to build such a place would go against so many norms of society today.
The small town would have to decentralize the idea of society in people's heads today. Right now people think we depend on countless outside sources to sustain our communities: power plants miles away, education based in a capital city miles away, defense, food sources, even jobs all ultimately centered miles away. To create a community that is self-sufficient by today's standards would mean providing all modern conveniences within an area of about ten square miles. Any larger than that and driving becomes a necessity which brings with it a whole new list of needs. But we need this. We need self-sufficient small communities to thrive and spring up everywhere in order for anything we stand for to survive.
Countless civilizations fell once their center of government crumbled -- including Rome. But the West lives on because her soul is Christianity. She has too many hubs. Whenever someone tries to bring her down she just pops up somewhere else -- because her culture spreads locally from Main Street to Main Street, household to household, heart to heart. But we can't have that happen without main streets.
This article was fist published on ramblingspirit.com on September 30, 2013. It was modified on October 29, 2019.