To the context in Part 1, the Judaeo-Christian tradition has much to say. The living God of Abraham has long covenanted with the people a ‘promised land’. The land is a gift, not of their choice, but where they are sent, participating in the providence of an abundant Creator. Their task involves dedicated will, common struggle and not necessarily much in the way of personal comforts – rather they are to travel light and be ready to move on. At one point in history, having been taken into exile, the Jews in Babylon (note 1) are told through the prophet Jeremiah simply to:
‘Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.’Jeremiah 29:5-7
Moreover, these people are urged, in every generation, not to be anxious or afraid for themselves. They are valued for what they are. They are to fear (reverence) God, the Everlasting Lover, alone(2).
Note first that neither the house, the gardens, the produce nor welfare are defined for them, nor assumed to be spelt out by the powerful government that had taken them into a place of exile(3): rather the exiles are to use all their collective resourcefulness with humility. Secondly, they are to participate fully in creating the welfare of the city, in body, mind and spirit. They are also to keep faith with the covenant made by God. ‘Seek’ is given in the present tense, not as a performance indicator or target to be met, ‘for here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city which is to come’ (Heb. 13:14).
This vision up-ends the forces that dominate land, housing and planning policy and practice in England and Wales, by starting from the point that welfare is first and foremost ‘of the city’, that is, the whole place and all who live there. Welfare is not to be codified or measured, but to be received and shared in as a gift. The welfare of the city(4) amounts to the sum of participation in the ordering of society here and now, for integral human development, and towards the Kingdom of God that is now and not yet: a lifelong conversion in which each person loves neighbour, place and nature with increasing freedom(5). Government cannot create welfare. Neither house nor home can create welfare. Welfare is seen as an abiding in ‘real time’ relationships: stable families and changing, potentially shifting communities of place, working with the materials to hand.
Picture: The walls of Babylon, Iraq. (Source)
- cf. Augustine, City of God, Book XVI, Chapter 4.
- Jer. 31:3; Matt. 6:25-34, 10:28-31; Phil. 4:6-7.
- This is not to imply there were no planning rules in Babylon, but rather to emphasise the common undertaking and interdependence.
- One argument might run that this is a synonym for the common good. However, given the nature of housing and planning, I have preferred to use a more ‘concrete’ and perhaps more focused definition. For example, the common good might be misinterpreted as a trade-off between productivity and full employment.
- cf. Laudato si, 138, 142; Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1905-6.