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On the Zombie Apocalypse and Canned Tomatoes

posted Jan 22, 2018, 8:00 AM by Carmina Chapp

One of the things, I think, that most vexed Peter Maurin and Dorothy Day about the Catholic Worker Farms, was how often people who came to the farms to live and work, ignored what was, to Peter and Dorothy, the central purpose of the farms: to bring us closer to God.  Peter and Dorothy were both greatly influenced by the example of the great Catholic monasteries, especially the Benedictines (Dorothy was a lay Benedictine oblate), and wanted the farms to reflect that same vision:  manual labor, communal liturgical prayer, spiritual reading, and the development of arts and crafts rooted in the land.  Peter referred to this as the coming together of “Cult” (prayer), “Culture” (the artisanal skills rooted in that prayer), and “Cultivation” (working the land).  The greatest poverty of the modern world, according to Peter and Dorothy, was the poverty of the loss of God.  All other problems are rooted in, and flow from, this fundamental blindness.  That is not to say that they believed that if you could just get everyone back in Church that paradise would be restored. They weren’t naïve fools.  But they also understood that no transformation of the social order can even begin on any other footing, since only a faith in a Transcendent God allows us to prioritize the proper relation between the political and the non-political.  In other words… only in a society that acknowledges God as its center can the power of our political and economic overlords to be held in check. 


That is why Dorothy and Peter wanted the farms to be “schools” (“agronomic

universities” as Peter called them) for the training of our spiritual souls, first and foremost.  And the relationship with the land would be part of this schooling as we learn, humbly, to submit ourselves to the discipline that nature imposes.  The learning of certain lost skills like spinning wool, milking dairy animals, and canning vegetables, were also part of this schooling, as well as relearning how to just do absolutely nothing other than to sit and “be” with others in the leisure of a warm afternoon.  After all, the idolatry in our lives of the industrial model of “production” can only be broken with a nice block of cheese and some good wine, shared with friends under a tree on an afternoon where I could be “doing something”, but choose instead to do “nothing”. 


Unfortunately, much to the dismay of Peter and Dorothy, many of the people who came to the farms were very much enamored by the “back to the land” ethos of the place, but really wanted to have very little to do with all of that other religious gobbledygook.  They liked the idea of living off of the land, but were not much interested in the poor, social transformation, God, the spiritual life, community, or even getting along with the other folks on the farm.  And so, inevitably, the farms would fail, as they succumbed to the entropy of human selfishness and pettiness.


I have been reminded of this lately as a result of conversations I have had with people I know who have expressed an interest in “getting back to the land”.  As many of you reading this might know, there is currently a revival of this interest on the part of many people in our culture.  And I do indeed applaud and encourage this desire, obviously.  Peter’s vision of social transformation through a return to small, agrarian communities seems to be gaining traction in the hearts and souls of many modern people!  And this brings me great joy and hope.


However, I have also noticed some troubling attitudes (troubling to me anyway!) that many of these same people have expressed to me, attitudes that are closely related to what I guess you can call the “prepper” movement.  From what I can gather “preppers” are people who think that our culture is on the brink of some kind of economic and/or political implosion that will necessitate a return to the land for the sake of survival.  Furthermore, many of the preppers believe that owning a gun or two, and learning how to use them, in order to protect your food stores from marauding bands of brigands intent on stealing your canned tomatoes, is essential. 


Now, we very well may be on the brink of some kind of total social collapse complete with the dreaded Zombie apocalypse.  I am not smart enough to know what the future holds, so it may very well be that the near future will be a dystopian nightmare where burly men riding motorcycles will come to my door demanding those tomatoes at gun-point.  Obviously, I am being a bit sarcastic here for the sake of humor, but all of those Hollywood movies might just be onto something. 


But here is what I want my prepper friends and, while I am at it, some of my other “hippie back to the land” friends as well, to know and understand about our farm.  We are here to live out the Christian, missional vision of Peter Maurin and Dorothy Day.  We are here to grow closer to God even as we reach out to the least among us to give them food and shelter.  We are committed to their vision of non-violent transformation.  We desire, to the best of our abilities and with the grace only God can give, to love our enemies.  We seek to grow closer to God in a life lived in prayer, material simplicity, and devotion to the needs of the poor and the outcast. 


Therefore, we are not a hippie commune filled with aging refugees from the sixties, seeking a good cannabis buzz and free love, as we grow our own organic veggies to aid us in our “body cleansing”.  A Catholic Worker Farm is not a “lifestyle choice” or a fashionable statement about the evils of corporate agriculture.  We are also not a “last bastion” or a “bug out property” for people fleeing the apocalypse.  If the Terminator or Mad Max or a Zombie come to my door demanding canned tomatoes, then they can have them. I will not kill anyone, or even threaten to harm anyone, in order to protect “my” jars of pickled beets.  (I might think of resorting to violence to protect our bacon.  Bacon is a whole different level of concern.  But the Zombies can have the bacon too.  Sigh.)


Christ taught us what the two most important commandments are:  Love of God and Love of Neighbor.  And those two things are deeply intertwined and related.  THAT is what our farm strives to be about.  Nothing more and nothing less.  We welcome, therefore, anyone who shares that vision to join us. 


Here endeth the lesson.