McMansions on a hill (continued)

McMansion2GetReligion has front-page readers and then it has comments readers. Thus, I wanted to pull a comment or two out front from the McMansions ghost post, so that more people can see them. Oh, I also need to add my confession about housing. Yes, I now live in a 1930s Craftsman-era bungalow in an older neighborhood -- only one that is currently not hot enough to attract McMansions. Yet. (Click here to see what this whole trend actually looks like on the ground.)

In terms of the ghost that was haunting me, Dan Berger nails it:

Here's a ghost: when was the last time you saw something both serious and profound written about the Seven Deadly Sins? Like Greed? ... I'm reminded of the apocryphal story about a clergy conference in which one of the speakers asks, "Is it possible to own a house that is sinfully large? And how large would it have to be?" From the back, someone piped up, "Bigger than mine!"

Posted by Dan Berger at 9:01 am on October 11, 2005

Also, I invited Rod "Friend of this Blog" Dreher of The Dallas Morning News to write in about this topic, since he has dedicated an entire chapter to the topic in his upcoming book Crunchy Cons.

Dreher's main point echoes that of Berger and can be stated in a question: Would newspapers dare to write about strongly spiritual subjects that are not obvious, on their face, in a news trend? Is it possible to write about greed, other than in the context of Enron? Lust, other than in the context of, oh, the Bill Clinton era?

In this case, the ghost is there and its name is "consumerism," a sin that is very easy for me to spot in the mirror (I don't know about you). Here is the body of Dreher's letter:

1. As David Brooks has observed, many modern people make up for the spiritual emptiness in their lives by fetishizing material objects. I don't suppose that's really a modern thing; after all, the Israelites fetishized the Golden Calf. Its modern version, though, comes with the kind of lifestyle you see celebrated in the upscale shelter magazines. It's easy for me to see that secular lefties fetishize the old historic houses as embodiments of a certain spiritual purity they see threatened by McMansionization, and what it represents (the "More, Faster" society of rampant consumerism).

2. On the other hand, a religious conservative like me arrives at much the same place, for different reasons. I don't think I'm a better person for having chosen this old house of ours, but I do think, in a sacramental sense, it mediates a spiritual ideal of modesty and simple beauty, which I find much preferable to the McMansion ethos. And it's important, I think, to conserve old places, because of the links they provide with our past.

Our neighborhood in Dallas doesn't look like all the other neighborhoods, and the people who moved in long before us, when it was a dismal, drug-infested slum, worked real hard to reclaim the original beauty and integrity of these old houses, and restore the neighborhood to its original charm. All the things they fought for are now being challenged by Republican developers, and Texans who believe in the sacredness of Private Propitty. You can drive around my neighborhood and see obnoxious McMansions that dwarf the other older, more modest houses. What this says to me is that the person who builds and owns the McMansion says to his putative neighbors: Screw you people, I'm going to do what I want to do, and you've just got to live with it.

3. In this sense, perhaps, what secular lefties in that Maryland neighborhood are fighting is an individualistic ethic that asserts the right to disregard tradition and the sensibility of the community for the sake of exercising the sovereignty of the individual. As I believe a lot of what's wrong with this country is out-of-control individualism (on the left, resulting in the extolling of sexual libertinism, and on the right resulting in the extolling of shopping), I would come together with the left-liberals in this neighborhood as a matter of principle. How we arrived at the idea that the old neighborhood ought to be defended is, to the outsider, a distinction without a difference. What matters is that we stand by tradition and community.

Posted by Rod Dreher at 2:40 pm on October 11, 2005

As you can see, there is more to this specific issue than left-right politics or even theology.

"Tradition and community"? Sounds rather religious to these Eastern Orthodox ears.

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