I have spent the last few days at a conference organized by the Four Quarters Interfaith Sanctuary near Artemas, Pennsylvania. Titled ?The Age of Limits,? it was well attended and promises to be one of a series of annual conferences to address the waning of the industrial age and the social adaptation it makes necessary. This conference was quite different from all the others I have attended.
First, the venue is a campground; a beautiful one, consisting of lush meadows surrounded by an equally lush but passable forest girded on three sides by a fast-flowing creek of cold, clean water. This sanctuary is dedicated to nature spirituality, and includes a very impressive stone circle and a multitude of little shrines, altars, charms and amulets hung on trees. (Also included is an assortment of cheerful hippies skinny-dipping in the creek.) Second, spirituality was prominently featured in the presentations: the question of spiritual and emotional adaptation to fast-changing, unsettled times was very much on the agenda. Third, the campground is owned and run by a church; one of undefined denomination, theological bent or specific set of beliefs, but a church nevertheless. Lastly, the campground is run by a monastery that is at the heart of this church; the monks and nuns do not wear habits, do not seem to have not taken any specific vows other than those of loyalty, poverty and obedience, but in substance not too different from, say, the Benedictine Order: work is seven days a week, there is a meeting at eight sharp every morning, all meals are prepared and eaten together, and, except for insignificant personal effects, all property is shared.
In case the term ?new-age hippies? has sprung to mind, let me add some more detail. This is not California (where the new-age flakes mostly reside) but southern Pennsylvania, on the Maryland border, some 30 miles from the dead industrial town of Cumberland, and, other than that in the middle of nowhere. The campground is outfitted with hot and cold running water, electricity from a 10kW diesel generator, a septic system, a large communal kitchen and everything else needed to comfortably house and feed several hundred people. The buildings that are used year-round are super-insulated and heated with local wood. There is a machine shop which turns out, among other things, precision components for biomedical equipment, and a winery that makes several varieties of mead. The place has a strong survivalist bent, not of the doomsteading variety, but focused on being prepared to do whatever it takes, depending on future brings, be it farming or repairing the neighbors' farm equipment and firearms. It is a perfectly good, successful example of thoughtful preparation and adapting in place.
I do not have an awful lot to say on the subjects of mysticism or spirituality, but since these were on the agenda at this gathering, at which I was invited to speak, I had thought that I could add something to the proceedings by holding forth on a (possibly) related topic of religion and the (potential) usefulness of religious institutions in helping us adapt to the unfolding deterioration and collapse of industrial civilization, all the while steering well clear of any mystical or spiritual matters. What follows is a summary of my talk, based on the notes I had scribbled on some index cards.
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