Mansions on a hill?

ChevyChase6OK, what is the statute of limitations for an item here at GetReligion? You would think that I would know. In this case, the late item is even stranger because I am not sure whether there even is a religion ghost in it. Stranger yet, I am not sure that there should be a religion ghost in it. It's more like a hunch on my part.

I wanted to post about this Washington Post story last week to ask for the insights of others, but it got buried in HHGR week -- which is turning into HHGR month, even as I speak. It was a very busy week. Now I am heading out of town for a complete week, so I thought I had better blog on this right now or just forget about it.

The feature in question is Stephanie McCrummen's human-passions-meets-zoning-war drama about people tearing down nice little houses and replacing them with massive retro houses in the highly symbolic elite suburb of Chevy Chase in Montgomery County, Md. This is a life and death battle, it seems. What gets to me is the sense that there is much more at stake than mere bricks and concrete, sight lines and community spirit. It almost seems like there are people who believe in transcendent Good that is clashing with transcendent Evil.

I am not alone in thinking this. Check out this summary:

Indeed, amid all the arguments this summer, something else has lingered awkwardly in the air: the sense that the debate over mansionization has laid bare a culture clash, an impasse in taste, mores and perhaps even values.

"We believe in 'Don't take up any more space than you need,'" said Don MacGlashan, a moratorium supporter who has lived in the town nearly 30 years. "They obviously feel 'The more the better.' It's a different sensibility, a different worldview. It's conspicuous consumption, meaning in a sense their values are all out of proportion."

Now Rod "A Friend of this Blog" Dreher is wading into this controversy in his upcoming book Crunchy Cons, which is about cultural conservatives who love healthy food, elite art, the environment, classic books, large families and other dangerous things. Maybe Rod will drop in to explain some of that.

But in Chevy Chase, there are no "Birkenstocked Burkeans" on the scene. The folks who act as if their values are being shredded are all on the left, at least, as far as we can tell. This suburb is about as blue as blue can get, on the red vs. blue zip code scales. And where are the churches in this debate? Most fights of this kind end up with megachurches fighting dying oldline mini-parishes.

Does anyone else sense a ghost in this story? Are the houses themselves religious objects?

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