FROM UTOPIA TO THE KINGDOM OF GOD
There was a moment, about a month ago, when I opened an envelope which had come with the morning post and found it contained the programme and a poster for this conference. The poster was already familiar to me, so I ran my eyes down the programme - and panic seized me. Eleven o'clock, it said. Eleven o'clock: Robert Maguire. From Utopia to the Kingdom of God! And then a subtitle, even: The experience in practice!
This is impossible, I thought. And preposterous. I'll ring Ian and tell him they'll have to change it. All these people will be thinking - and to judge by their Newsletter, so many of them with such well-developed perception - they'll be thinking 'Does this fellow Maguire really think he's made that journey? - Arrived?' They'll have to change it. But they can't change it. They've sent these envelopes out to everyone else, and at this very moment everyone else is opening them over their breakfast. 'Blast', I said, and I put the stuff back in the envelope. And then I put the envelope on top of that pile of papers that I'm going to do something about, some time.
I had in fact been thinking about what I might say in this contribution to the Conference theme for some time, and praying for some guidance through the fog which always seems to envelope me on those occasions when I have to get down to serious thought; and discussing it with my wife Alison who doesn't suffer in the same way from fog. And of course sitting at the kitchen table with the Bible and a Concordance, looking up all the references to the Kingdom of God, because I'd woken up to the fact that I was very woolly about it. - And anyway, I thought, I'm sure these people will expect me to start off in a nice dignified manner like Bob Macleod did last year, with a long passage from Corinthians or something.
Well, the Lord did answer the prayers because he gave me, through something Alison read to me one morning, a very short piece from Galatians, and because this one sentence has a kind of glow around it for me at the moment, it is the only passage of Scripture I'm going to give you today. It is part of Galatians 3: 3 and it says:
You began by God's Spirit: do you now want to finish by your own power?
Now, if you want to do that, that would be a journey very precisely in the reverse direction to the journey contained in this title I've been given - from the Kingdom of God to Utopia. And if we now look at my subtitle, The Experience in Practice, I put it to you that our common experience in practice is that we are always finding ourselves going in that direction. That's my experience - does it ring a bell with you? We keep wanting to finish by our own power.
The Futures Business
We planners and architects are in the 'futures business'. Our direct professional responsibility is to attempt to determine the future disposition of bits of God's creation and, in particular, bits which quite fundamentally affect the future lives of people. It is of course presumption, in the purest sense of the word, and from time to time we are made to realise that. I have a friend who some years ago did a scheme for a largish slice of a foreign capital city. A proper Government commission. He made an elaborate and very beautiful model, but while he was actually on the plane taking it out there, there was a coup d'état and when he got off the plane at the other end there was no client - because apart from being deposed he'd also been shot - and quite certainly no fees or even expenses.
But although it is a presumptuous occupation we are nevertheless called upon to do it, and the great problem of working in the futures business is that you have constantly to exercise judgement as to how bits of the future ought preferably to be: where to site the power station or what shape to make students' rooms. It's a problem because although both professions put out a strong line about taking informed decisions at every stage - informed, that is, through the application of very serious and painstaking processes, as our professional mystiques would have everyone believe - we all know privately (as I'm sure the members of other professions know of themselves) that methodology is a very small part of the story. It gets you some of the way, but a great distance short of the whole way to key decisions - not only to key decisions but to most of the subsequent decisions as well. And if we are honest with ourselves we have to see that even in the midst of the methodology we are in the grip of our Western world-view, we are culturally conditioned; and as Christians we have to see that that cultural conditioning gives us a strong steer towards humanism and will tend to pervade our Christianity. It will constantly affect our personal value-systems and therefore be a main determining force in our decision-making. And so if we wish to give real substance in our professional lives to our acknowledgement of the Kingship of Christ - to place ourselves under Kingdom authority - we have, each one of us personally, to do a lot of work on shifting ourselves off this essentially man-centred view of the world and onto the God-centred view exemplified by the first Christians.
The Need for Thought and Insight
Someone, I feel, is going to ask me just what difference I think that makes in one's professional life, so let me forestall the question and say straight away that I can't say; because, quite simply, one cannot presume upon the manner of acting of the Holy Spirit. What is certain is that each one of us in different ways will find the change very great, and particularly the change should be quite astounding in the area beyond methodology. Methodology, as I have said, gets us only just so far. Beyond that we are relying on insight.
Now, insight (it seems to me) is developed partly through experience and partly through knowledge, both maturing into understanding. That maturing is dependent on one's state of mind and, I believe, of spirit. I think we are all aware that it happens when we are feeling 'open', and that in periods when we are 'closed up' or lacking in love or compassion, the development of insight tends to escape us. It also seems obvious that the kind of insight you will develop depends on your personal value-system. So considering such matters, it will be evident that a shift from a man-centred view of the world to a God-centred view should have a profound effect. Belief that the Holy Spirit can work in us and through us completely changes our view of the development of insight, and of course it restores a proper meaning to the word inspiration.
I put it to you, therefore, that this is what the Kingdom of God means for us as professionals: that if Jesus Christ really reigns as King in our hearts, then a new outlook, new perceptions, new insight, new meaning to our methods, new inspiration will inform our work; and perhaps most important of all, a new persistence or determination to apply these gifts through all the vicissitudes which beset the plying of our professions today.
What Does this Mean Practically?
Well now: some of you may be thinking 'That's all very well, but how in practice does it actually make a difference to conserving the rural landscape or designing starter-homes? How do we get from there to practical guide-lines?' I want to approach that by looking at the reverse journey I talked about at the beginning of this paper. The enemy is always at hand, and all our cultural conditioning conspires to send us back on that journey daily.
You began by God's Spirit: do you now want to finish by your own power?
You will all know that this comes in the middle of Paul's long rebuke to the Galatians for reverting to 'what the Law requires' instead of living by the Gospel. There is a very real sense in which freedom is difficult to handle. Freedoms of all kinds imply responsibility, and the glorious freedom of living by the Gospel, in which our only ultimate authority is Jesus Christ as King, means greeting each situation in our lives - and that must include our professional lives - as a fresh situation not subject to the old rules we applied to similar situations in the past but to be thought out anew, and prayed for. It is of course hard work, and while it is often exhilarating it also frequently gets us into trouble of one kind or another. And there are no charts - although we can and must help each other constantly, and accept help, we all have to find our own route.
It is much easier to have a rule book and a set of firm Ordnance Survey maps, as the Galatians had discovered. It does save you from having constantly to do your own surveying. But as Paul remarks, if it can all be done through the rule-book it means that Christ died for nothing. Now I put it to you that if ever there are two professions truly addicted to the rule-book in one way or another, they are planning and architecture. They pursue their addiction in rather different ways, I think. My planning colleagues seem always to be either seeking to codify new and often valuable principles and thereby wither them, or to interpret the codes thus made, while architects (with whom I am of course much more familiar) will pounce upon any new approach, invention, technology or style and stereotype it, in order to make it a clearly recognisable, and so followable, Law. There is even a very small but immensely powerful group of 'historians of the immediate future' to give architects proper warning of the coming of new such Laws (I suppose one could call them minor false prophets) and several pages of the professional press are weekly given over to devotions.
I also put it to you that 'living by the Law' is a principal attribute of Utopias. Utopian thinking is in fact characterised by the setting up of a model by which a society may live: in other words the people in that society must 'live by the Law' in Paul's meaning of the phrase.
Utopian Thought and a Framework!
So bringing these two things together, what I am saying is that planners and architects in general have a strong tendency to Utopian thinking, because it seems to provide a firm (and therefore safe, secure) framework within which to operate, whereas to exercise their God-given gift of creativity in freedom means risk. And I am saying further that a Christian planner or architect can have the strength to face that risk - a risk of toil, opposition and probably some tears but also of creativity and joy - if he or she places the exercise of freedom under the authority of the Kingship of Christ. And I am also saying that, even so, there will still remain the nice warm comfortable tendency to drift back to the Law in some of its forms, because our professions have for so long espoused Utopianism, and because our Western cultural conditioning reinforces that.
I know that some of my friends who are not Christians, and probably some who are, will ask me what is so very wrong with that. There is nothing wrong in individual rules as such, they would say, just as there was nothing intrinsically wrong in not going for a long walk on the Sabbath or wearing a hat when you prayed. My answer would be that, in that, they are right. The devil's work starts in the negative obligations of such rules, which prevent positive action and so inhibit love (as in healing the sick on the Sabbath) and in promoting the whole system to being the road to salvation - actually or figuratively.
I want now to bring some examples of how certain ideas or approaches, mostly from my own profession, architecture, were ossified into Law-systems, adopted as Utopian formulae and so put hundreds, in some cases thousands, of professionals into blinkers as far as creative thought was concerned. On close inspection, I believe, it could be shown that they produced or encouraged a range of evils such as social and psychological distress, an increase in the suicide rate, murders and muggings, contempt for the needy, and attempted restriction of the development of the Christian Church.
There is, fairly obviously, the Corbusian dream. I refer here not to early Modern Architecture but to the highly Utopian idea of the Ville Radieuse, which captured so many architects' and planners' hearts in the reconstruction years following World War II. It is now standard PR for the architectural profession to blame the very well documented social evils of the tower blocks onto the politicians who wanted the votes for achieving the housing figures, yet it cannot really be denied that there was a mutual exploitation here. The tower blocks were not built against their architects' or planners' better judgement. Most of them were manifestos.
I would like to look briefly, next, at Industrialised Building. When I was a student in the late forties/early fifties there was a general conviction that the true modern architecture - the one which would be wholly relevant to the age (which was the criterion by which desirable modernism should be judged) would be the wholly machine-made architecture. Builders would be white-coated workers clipping panels together and nasty wet trades would be eliminated. Many of my generation and of the generation of our tutors were totally single-minded in trying to bring that about. It did of course coincide with political reality in such matters as the primary schools programme. But for some it became an ideological fixation; they were totally under the dominion of this Law. It was argued that it was economical - sometimes that it was the only generally economically viable choice - when all the evidence pointed the other way. And I know that one building was built specially to demonstrate this in an official Government bulletin - the bulletin having been planned from the start - and the figures were 'cooked' to make it fit. Fortunately someone of integrity cancelled the bulletin at a late stage and so it never appeared.
I think this is a very good example of people seeing their security as invested totally in a Law-system and so becoming increasingly blind and uncreative; bound in by it.
The Architect - Artist or Servant?
Next, I would like to say something about a phenomenon which I see fairly clearly from my position as Head of a school of architecture; not particularly in my own school, fortunately, but in the architectural education world generally. This is a re-emergence of what I call the Michelangelo syndrome - because the Victorians built up a great aura of myth, admiration and moral licence around the very idea of 'the artist' and they so idolised Michelangelo as the supreme example of the species.
The phenomenon I refer to is connected with the now fashionable debunking of the Modern Movement. The Modern Movement could itself be seen as a Law-system in the sense I have been talking about, but I believe that in fact it was too wide-ranging, it embraced too many ideas which had developed over so long a period, for it really to be so. People were always narrowing it down - as in the two examples I've already given - to bodies of restricted theory, part truths, which appeared to offer an easy security. And certainly in the hands of commercialism and through more and more diluted or partial teaching it became, in its widespread form, a threadbare modernism. Yet it was the outcome of a number of traditions of thought which I believe it would be unwise to throw out in hasty reaction to late products which actually make no reference to them, except perhaps in unthinking lip-service. If one takes the Arts and Crafts stream of thought, for example, with its concern for the quality of life, for the users of buildings, for the workpeople making them, for responsibility in design, and with its concept of truth to materials, one finds a valuable and often explicitly Christian contribution to the extremely difficult subject of design philosophy.
I think that one very laudable tenet in the Modern Movement's early body of theory was the concept of service. Now, there is nothing intrinsically humanist about the idea of service. I want to stress this because I know there are those who decry the idea of service as central to architecture and I just have to disagree with them. I believe that service is fundamental to architecture, as it is fundamental to, say, poultry-farming. There is nothing wrong with service. And the early Modern Movement put service very much to the forefront, well before expressing oneself through art, for example. One can perceive, down through the years, the fruits of that idea - a considerable number of buildings which were often quite unassuming, served their users and others well by creating an environment which enriched people's lives. Such buildings came about through a tradition of working which at its best - that is to say, applied with openness and care and love for one's neighbour - is, I believe, difficult to surpass. But the enemy is always near at hand, and openness and care and love for one's neighbour can, as we all have found out for ourselves, not always be there. (That is, I think, the 'experience in practice'.) And so we find ourselves again and again hankering after a safe little bit of Law to relieve us of the necessity of remaining open and to give us a bit of cosy security. This is particularly tempting when others are following the latest fashion and looking successful on it. But when suddenly the whole structure - that is to say the steadfastly good, the toweringly bad and the ubiquitous indifferent - is all thrown out by a confused public whipped up by very knowing journalists of the Sunday papers and the television screen, then a safe bolt-hole and a nice new rule- book become very tempting indeed.
The Post-Modern is a journalist's invention, constructed from false distinctions fabricated for personal profit. Such distinctions in a very short time create polarisations, and polarised ideas have all the desirable characteristics of the Law: clear rules, clear identification for the keeper of the Law, the social advantages of membership of a sect. Immense security; at least until that Law is discredited. However, this Law came about through division and reaction, and so in large measure we see the concept of service diminished (in some cases seemingly totally absent) and the re-emergence of the idea of architecture as self-expression, and of the cult of the individual artist. The Michelangelo Syndrome. I find this development very disturbing, and particularly so when I come across students for whom the very idea of service is boring and dull.
Living Conservation or Frozen Heritage
My last example concerns the ossification of official conservation policy, with which many planners and architects are collaborating, perhaps because it is a consistently codified approach and so affords great security, and perhaps (at least in the case of private architects) co-operation promises much financial reward, following a banner on which is inscribed the unfortunate word 'Heritage'.
You will all remember that conservation used to be distinguished regularly from preservation by emphasising its positive, creative, regenerative aspects. Fitting new useful buildings beautifully in among the old; revitalising churches by making them responsive to the needs of renewed, living parishes; handling 'change' in such a way that the new revived the old by creating a fresh, lively whole - that is to say, related to life.
The accent on 'heritage' as the prime concept, now officially enshrined, has meant that the old - not merely the old, but history as manifested in the old - is to be preserved. It is said to be conserved, but the word is used as in jam. The work is often done by 'conservators', who are experts in preservation, and the whole process through legal frameworks and the conditions of grant-aid, is tightly controlled by officialdom. And officialdom's attitude to history is that it stopped at midnight last night. You are not allowed to go on making history by changing things further; conservation now means that everything must be preserved for all future time in the form in which it existed last night. I suggest that we have here a quite extreme example of a Law-system maintained by a priestly cast in the name of the general public. I suggest also that its authority derives from public fear of change (which is understandable) upheld by Government (which is very understandable) and that its effect is progressively to stifle life and encourage a make-believe world of sentiment.
I want quickly to describe from my own experience one of its threatened effects. There is a very neglected (for extraordinary historical reasons) medieval church in East Anglia for which my firm were appointed architects. We were asked by the parish to report, first, on possibilities for re-ordering. We did this, but since it was obvious that a rather vast sum would have to be spent on repair, the 'man from the Ministry' (let us call him) was asked along to the PCC meeting. He was aghast at the thought of any change, and when it was pointed out to him that the parish wanted to have a living church in which it - the parish - could be the Living Church, thriving and growing and using the building fully for the worship of the Lord in that place, he said: 'The building is, more than I have ever seen anywhere before, a Museum of Neglect, and it should be preserved as such'. You are not, you see, allowed to heal on the Sabbath.
Thinking Things Through
I have given a few examples of Law-systems which afflict us and they are recognisable as major ones. I think it is important, though, to realise that our retreat to this kind of security happens in many much smaller ways, and constantly . We have always with us the tendency not to stand but to lean; not to stand in responsibility, taking responsibility under the authority of the Kingship of Christ. We have always with us the lure of ready-made or directed decisions; ready-made or directed by some actual or figurative rule-book and so putting us safely beyond criticism. I believe we have to see our job as involving us fully as Christians in every single stage of decision-making, never passing-up responsibility, and particularly responsibility for questioning our own assumptions, as much in the formulation of the decision to be made as in the taking of the decision. And if there is one action we can take to predispose ourselves to that exercise of responsibility, it is to make that shift of world-view of the world to the God-centred view exemplified by the first Christians. Which in itself will entail prayer, the fellowship of like-minded Christians, perhaps some acceptance of counselling, and certainly an invitation to the Holy Spirit to flow into, to fill this part of our lives so that we may always finish by his power and not by our own.
There is one last thing I want to say. You will see from what I have said that there is, as far as I am concerned, no recognisably Christian Planning or Christian Architecture: there will only be planning and architecture imbued with true Christian values. I think that this may disappoint some who may be hoping for the dawn of a new style or a new planning theory, that out of such conferences as this a statement may emerge, perhaps to the sound of trumpets, which would rank with, and hopefully beyond, Pugin's great clarion-call for a specifically Christian Architecture a hundred and fifty years ago. I do think that that is illusory, and that it would represent yet one more attempt to set up a new Law for ourselves. And we should consider ourselves well warned against such statements, for the Kingdom of God, as Paul said, is not a matter of words but of power.
From ACPA Newsletter No. 4, 1984
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