Monday, February 20, 2006

UTOPIAN SOCIETY REDUX

Like a flashback to the 19th Century, Domino's Pizza millionaire and devout Roman Catholic Tom Monaghan is bankrolling his own Florida town:
The 5,000-acre tomato field in southwestern Florida sure doesn't look like heaven. Bulldozers scrape the land flat while clusters of Porta Pottis signal an undeniable earthiness. But soon a massive cathedral will rise from this barren spot. Reaching 100 feet in the air behind a 65-foot crucifix, the Oratory will anchor Ave Maria, a whole new town and Roman Catholic university 30 miles east of Naples. Ground was officially broken last week, and the plan is to build 11,000 homes—likely drawing families who already hold the church at the center of their lives.

For Tom Monaghan, the devout Catholic who founded Domino's Pizza and is now bankrolling most of the initial $400 million cost of the project, Ave Maria is the culmination of a lifetime devoted to spreading his own strict interpretation of Catholicism. Though he says nonbelievers are welcome, Monaghan clearly wants the community to embody his conservative values. He controls all the commercial real estate in town (along with his developing partner, Barron Collier Cos.) and is asking pharmacies not to carry contraceptives. If forced to choose between two otherwise comparable drugstores, Barron Collier would favor the one that honored that request, says its president and CEO, Paul Marinelli. Discussing his life as a millionaire Catholic who puts his money where his faith is, Monaghan says: "I believe all of history is just one big battle between good and evil. I don't want to be on the sidelines."

Well intentioned, certainly, (for the record, I am not opposed to most contraception), but it will, of course, fail. History has shown us time and time again that utopian communities do not succeed. Sometimes they become wildly successful flatware manufacturers, but generally they drift into oblivion. If they continue it is without the focus the founders intended.

On the bright side, though, all the right people are upset about the new town:
The ACLU of Florida is worried about how he's playing the game. "It is completely naive to think this first attempt [to restrict access to contraception] will be their last," says executive director Howard Simon. Armed with a 1946 Supreme Court opinion that "ownership [of a town] does not always mean absolute dominion," Simon will be watching Ave Maria for any signs of Monaghan's request's becoming a demand. Planned Parenthood is similarly alarmed.

It's nice to see something good come out of the whole thing.

1 comment:

susanna in alabama said...

Okay, you got an actual out-loud chuckle out of me at the reference to Oneida.