I read a very interesting essay in the Wall Street Journal yesterday. Alain de Botton writes about the loss of a sense of community that people once had from church membership and involvement, and how he envisions a secular version of that community spirit.
Identifying community meals and rituals as elements that enable perfect strangers to establish community in the context of religious meetings, he speculates on how those elements might be used without the religious context. He describes “an ideal restaurant of the future, an Agape Restaurant” where people come together without regard for social class, family background, professional status, or ethnic background.
Rather than leave people to figure out for themselves how to engage one another in meaningful conversation, there would be written guidelines on how to behave, what happens when, and what kind of things to talk about. People would know that it was safe to open themselves up and talk about things that they usually kept to themselves or their closest friends.
I can’t say it couldn’t happen, but I am skeptical. The basis for community among believers is not communal meals or rituals, though those certainly help foster community. What draws people together from different walks of life, and creates a place where they do not need to posture or pretend, is transcendence.