New Florida town to banish sin

by Richard on March 4, 2006

Apparently, Domino’s Pizza founder Thomas S. Monaghan is to fund a multi-million dollar new community in south-west Florida, to be governed on “Catholic principles”.

The town of Ave Maria is being constructed around Ave Maria University, the first Catholic university to be built in the United States in about 40 years. Both are set to open next year about 25 miles east of Naples in southwestern Florida.

The town and the university, developed in partnership with the Barron Collier Co., an agricultural and real estate business, will be set on 5,000 acres with a European-inspired town center, a massive church and what planners call the largest crucifix in the nation, at nearly 65 feet tall. Monaghan envisions 11,000 homes and 20,000 residents.

During a speech last year at a Catholic men’s gathering in Boston, Monaghan said that in his community, stores will not sell pornographic magazines, pharmacies will not carry condoms or birth control pills, and cable television will have no X-rated channels.

Homebuyers in Ave Maria will own their property outright. But Monaghan and Barron Collier will control all commercial real estate in the town, meaning they could insert provisions in leases to restrict the sale of certain items.

I find this determination to keep sin (and sinners) at bay very disturbing, and antithetical to the gospel. Christians are not called to live in holy (self-)righteous enclaves, but as salt and light in the mess of the world. We follow a master who was accused of “eating with sinners and tax collectors”. Not only is the idea that a wall can be built that will shut out the evils of the world plainly absurd, it speaks of a theology that portrays “sinners” as “others”. Not Christian at all.

[tags]Florida, catholic, Monaghan, Ave Maria[/tags]

{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }


Becky 03.04.06 at 5:06 pm

Sounds to me like the typical ‘Christian in a box’ scenario…whilst living within church circles is great, supposedly without temptation(!), and even challenging, living as a Christian in the real world leaves us open to all kinds of trials and temptations, Jesus lived in this world and resisted, we can only try to follow his example, using our time within the church to be refreshed and renewed to tackle the trials and temptations that will raise thier head in the coming week. Whilst a community without sin, or at least attempts to remove all temptation sounds wonderful how could the people living there minister the good news to the ’sinners’ outside of their community? It will be interesting to see if purely by removing tempting material, if temptation itself will be removed. Me thinks not….


Pieter Friedrich 03.04.06 at 6:12 pm

Richard, where do you get the idea that this new town intends to banish sin? Monaghan says the intent is to cut out some of the avoidable products of sin, but that’s a far cry from banishing sin itself. I’m sure even Monaghan would admit it’s unavoidable that the townspeople will still lust, get angry, and lie.

Of course, if this town COULD banish sin, it would be ludicrous for Christians to oppose that. After all, is not sin what separates us from God? Is not sin the reason for Christ’s death on the cross? If we could banish that sin ourselves, I’d say go right ahead.

Not that we can. Christ died on the cross because we are incapable of living sinlessly, and so He had to do it for us, then act as our substitute. But you know that.

Suffice it to say that this town is not banishing sin. Nor are they cutting themselves off from the world, as there’s no reason to believe the townspeople won’t spend time outside the town befriending and witnessing to those in need of His forgiveness. The town is simply trying to make it a little easier for Christians to love God by keeping His commandments.


Chris Tilling 03.04.06 at 7:56 pm

Christians are not called to live in holy (self-)righteous enclaves, but as salt and light in the mess of the world.

Amen with cream on top.


Kim 03.04.06 at 9:42 pm

Ave Maria sounds to me like a downsized and modern Florida version of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, an exemplary case - I’m thinking of the stories of John Cotton and Anne Hutchinson - of the fate of Christian communities founded on “good moral order” and “pious social control”: they become dystopian nightmares of self-righteousness and exclusion.

That’s the problem with God’s wild and profligate grace - it is not conducive to such theological policing. And indeed such policing is actually an inversion of the gospel. “The town,” Pieter claims, “is simply trying to make it a little easier for Christians to love God by keeping His commandments”. But tht’s not the way it works: you don’t learn to love God by keeping his commandmenets, you keep his commandments by learning that you are loved by God.


Pieter Friedrich 03.04.06 at 10:53 pm

“…you don’t learn to love God by keeping his commandmenets.”

I agree. I didn’t say that. I said you love God by keeping His commandments. Note the difference.

Jesus said, “If ye love me, keep my commandments.” Jesus is God. Therefore, God said, “If ye love me, keep my commandments.” The implication? Christians who love God keep His commandments.

What I didn’t mention before, though, is that I think the town is likely to fail. There have been several attempts at creating Christian utopias of this sort (although the others I know of have all been Protestant attempts), and they’ve all lasted for a couple years before falling apart. I think the reason this town will fail, however, is not that attempts at maintaining a sense of public morality and propriety are inevitably doomed, but that the attempt is not on a large enough scale for the necessary peer pressure to kick in and keep people on the straight and narrow.


Kim 03.04.06 at 11:32 pm

“. . . the necessary peer pressure to kick in and keep people on the straight and narrow.”

Again, Pieter, if the community were “successful” on these terms, wouldn’t its very success actually be the sign of its failure? They are certainly not the terms I would associate with the church, the community of Jesus Christ, which is held together by love, not by “pressure” (which inevitably becomes coercion).

The problem is not the practical one of building a communiy like Ave Maria, it is the theological one that its foundations are made of clay.


Richard B. 03.05.06 at 1:14 am

Anybody remember the Arcadia episode of the X-Files?

b/p - Richard B.


Richard 03.05.06 at 7:23 am

I don’t think I’ve seen that one.


Eugene McKinnon 03.06.06 at 3:32 am

Or M. Night Shamalan’s sequel to the Village. We could call it Ave Maria. One of the scenes could be someone getting burned at the stake by the Grand Inquisitor of the Home Owners’ Association and the crowd crying “Burn ‘em! Burn ‘em!” What did they do? They put a tacky lawn ornament on their front lawn.

I am always leary of alternative communities too. I actually belong to one. You would know them as Evangelicals. ;)



J 03.06.06 at 4:02 am

First, where you see the word “community” substitute the more accurate “housing development”.

“”This is un-American,” Kissling said. “I don’t think in a democratic society you can have a legally organized township that will seek to have any kind of public service whatsoever and try to restrict the constitutional rights of citizens.”‘

If Kissling thinks this, he’s wrong. A housing development can in fact incorporate and become a town (see The Dominion, TX) and retain it’s CC&Rs. But a lot of this deal won’t live up to what’s being proposed. Retailers in the town can probably do what Monaghan proposes…if he is the retailer. If it’s a lessee, I have to disagree with the ACLU guy - lease restrictions on zoning compliant sales will be laughed out of court instantly, not after years of litigation. Porn sales can probably be stopped by strategic placement of schools (something any community could do). As to keeping porn out of the cable system, the last neighborhood I lived in had a restriction on satellite dishes and ops tested this one - prohibiting DirectTV specifically violates the access to telecommunications act and is not an enforceable deed restriction.

I see this as an effort to keep temptation, not sin, at bay, much like our beloved Book of Discipline bans on alcohol or gambling. It’s also pretty good niche marketing for a master planned retirement (11K home/20K resident) community.

Richard B - Loved the Arcadia episode, but frankly this brought to mind the condo board of Del Boca Vista (phase II, I think) impeaching Morty Seinfeld because of the Cadillac Jerry bought him.


Bene D 03.06.06 at 4:33 am

There are a group in SC that plan to make an area where those of like mind can live - called Christian Exodus.

Is this much different than Mormon towns or housing projects? Is it much different than scientologists moving into Clearwater?

Gated communities are a reality in the US, this idea is merely using theology to set different gates. This is a driven business mogel setting this up for pete’s sake. People worship that skill set and equate it with order. And apparently good governence and holiness.
Seems to me if you believe you need that kind of social control in your life, then you buy in chosing to play by the rules and see that everyone else does.
Makes me think of the short story The Lottery.


Joel 03.06.06 at 6:47 am

Besides a being a grand retreat from the world, such a community would probably create a false illusion among those who lived there. Just as many people consider themselves Christian merely because they attend church, many folks would also likely consider themselves righteous by the fact of where they lived. Instead of encouraging humility, it would probably create a sense of false pride.

Further, restriction by coercion would likely bring in a black market for all manner of goods. Outwardly, then, the community might have the appearance of purity. But we all know that many of the most destructive things we do as sinners are done in secret. Many sinners would love to live amongst perceived non-sinners because they will want to be able to practice their own vice while being protected from the sins of others. I’m with Kim that the community of Jesus Christ is held together by love.

I have a great love for the Catholic Church, but it seems to me that coerced celibacy has often detracted from the church’s mission rather than enhance it.


Ben Myers 03.06.06 at 10:43 pm

And anyway, where will all the Protestants go to buy their contraceptives?


J 03.07.06 at 12:27 am

“And anyway, where will all the Protestants go to buy their contraceptives?”

Well, I mean we’ve got two children and…

“Besides a being a grand retreat from the world, such a community would probably create a false illusion among those who lived there.”

Communities like this are in need of Christian influence, just like any other.

As to the black market, let me be the first to predict that by the time this project is halfway complete, no home built or proposed in it will be more than ten minutes from a WalMart Supercenter.

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