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On March 15, 2011, The Remnant issued a challenge to which I responded. The challenge was for the Catholic laity to “make their voices heard, to take action to implement Catholic Social Teaching (CST)… by issuing… concrete proposals and guidance to the perplexed.” Among the several any of us could have proposed I offered just two: 1) develop and implement a lay-delivered, diocesan approved curriculum that supports a parish level paradigm shift toward what I called a Co-Creational Movement; and 2) replace “initial cost” with “total cost” as the primary metric in all public contracts, loan criteria, curricula, and development standards for projects. It’s only the first that I now address.

In my response I only said that Co-Creational curriculum (CCc) development needed to be done, but now I’m undertaking an initial attempt at my vision and hope others join in to improve upon it to form an actual, approvable, lay-deliverable, effective way to demonstrate to parishioners far and wide what actual lifestyles, institutions, policies, and relations their church would sanction. It’s not enough to simply re-configure what the Church has said in words and phrases more commonly palatable. It’s not enough to develop a set of lessons that parishioners can go to school on to become better informed. Sure, the substance of the curriculum must be true to Catholic Social Teaching (CST) which is daunting enough, but the real challenge is how to infuse this curriculum into the lives of parishioners so that it can compete for and win their “consideration time” in the face of so many other “informational” streams with which they are constantly bombarded. Is it a series of ads that work best, a game, a television series, radio programming, website…what? Maybe parts of all contribute to the ultimate campaign, but what won’t work is a seminar/classroom approach, this I’ve tried and it simply does not attract in the numbers required to energize an actual paradigm shift. It’s in this delivery aspect that our real innovational task resides, and one in which I’m ill-prepared to take on alone, even in an initial sense; so you won’t find any of that in what follows.

My intention with this initial curriculum framework is to propose the foundational substance of what a CCc should contain. I offer it first online to what I would consider, and what The Remnant calls, the Catholic Intelligentsia that view websites like this one on which it is first published; but for it to take hold among the many needed for paradigm transformation, the curriculum will ultimately have to partner with non-Catholic Christian and even secular entities that share our desire to live right on this created planet, in concert and proper relation with God’s total creation, and for His glory only.

I’ve attempted before to introduce “Co-Creationalism” into the margins of the Catholic social “debate,” but was unable to articulate it, given my literary short-comings, into an acceptable book-length form. I’m hoping that perhaps this more direct, practical, curricular enterprise will be better suited to getting the Co-Creational notion into play as suggested in the previously mentioned Remnant response. In that response I laid out what I thought the CCc should contain, let me recap those thoughts before further fleshing them out. I contended that the components of a CCc should be: 1) a more operational understanding of dominion; 2) an introduction to “economic maturity”; 3) the benefits of “living close to creation” in terms of a primary human-land relationship and focus of attention; 4) devotion to using the community as both curriculum and classroom for local learning about home and rural-urban symbiosis; 5) the mutual social, material, and metaphysical benefit of living as part of nature rather than apart from it; 6) dedication to maturely-paced production and consumption; 7) a better understanding of the role that boundaries play as transactional pace regulators and counting mechanisms; and 8), the societal contribution of a distributist view on property, subsidiarity, solidarity, and the universal destination of goods. Looking back I can see how these could be fewer because some, like #5, 6 & 7, are really parts of #2 & 3; but then maybe not because it appears I dumped several important concepts worthy of singular separation into #8. All of these topics, though, contribute to Co-Creationalism in some major form and all need to be considered in developing courses of action toward a foundational program that will move us, whether or not it is an exhaustive list, or even that Co-Creation and its variants (Co-Creator, Co-Creative, etc.) resonates as the phrase coined, is still in dispute.


It’s not that I’ve engaged in any extensive research regarding the intense theological treatment of dominion, but I’ve looked for it in most of the usual places and have yet to find it in any comprehensive form. Yet it seems that it’s a concept in want of explanation because it’s been easily bandied about to rationalize lifestyles, relations, and policies that are, sometimes radically, non-appreciative, self-serving, and definitely non-glorifying. It’s pretty clear that although the church has not scrutinized dominion to the extent it deserves as the basis of humanity’s charter relationship to creation, it does magisterially reject the notion that “dominion” is equivalent to “domination.” The CCc, then, should fundamentally demonstrate that dominion, granted us over creation by God, is more than a gift; it is a charge, an assignment, a responsibility…the responsibility to love creation, “till” it, “keep” it (Gen 2:15).  John Paul II tells us, in Mulieris Dignitatem, that loving is giving; if we can’t give, we can’t love, and if we can’t love, then we can’t glorify.  Dominion, then, is sacrificial.

The whole of our Co-Creative work consists of loving: loving God, loving each other, and loving earth. Without all of these cycles of love running concurrently, Co-Creation is undoable, and, thus, the charge of dominion neglected or even rejected. Loving God and loving each other, though, are not the sides of this “Love Triangle” in most urgent need of an awareness upgrade. We understand these from early in our lives, we are reminded of these in the liturgy and catechism repeatedly, and even though we fail regularly we continue to work at these more directly.  It’s the third side of the Triangle—loving earth as co-creator—that we need to remember, emphasize, and include in our dominion-ative work more explicitly.

Economic Maturity

We mature as we accept and demonstrate the dominion-ative sacrifice in our use of creation as one of its fellow creatures rather than its dominator. We mature, in general, as we learn to love, which of course means learn to give; we mature economically as we learn to sacrifice consumption (our’s) for condition (earth’s), learning to trust in earth’s inherent, instilled ability to provide for the rest of creation for all time, in response to our dominion-ative gifts of labor, affection, and technology (right-directed technology that is). Caution must be taken in this particular Co-Creational component, because Pantheism looms: earth is a creature, like humanity, created to serve (love) other creatures; in so doing, we are biblically taught, we serve (love) God as well. Earth should be loved (tilled/kept/stewarded) as an act of adoration and glorification, not worship. Through our love of it, earth provides for us everywhere, and for all time.

Extractive use, contamination, inefficient use, deteriorative use, and un-natural use do not correspond to giving, loving, nurturing, or keeping the brilliantly created ecological entity we are dominion-atively charged with stewarding—of integrating and communing with, thus these uses should be designated economically immature and reversed. There is no economic rationalization that relieves us of our doctrinal dominion-ative responsibility. All economic system arguments reduce to the following: if our economic actions result in a planet less capable of providing the stuff of life for anyone, anywhere in the present or the future, then we’ve 1) neglected our duty, 2) will remain economically and spiritually immature, and 3) will ultimately have to answer for it.

Living Close to Creation

Progression towards economic maturity and dominion-ative use of what earth provides requires re-orienting ourselves to keep creation in front of us, not turning our backs to it. It would be more useful to understand nature as home, to watch it closely as we use it to sense its reaction: the land will show us if we are using it right, which is to say in a way that nurtures; conversely it will show us when we’re using it wrong as well, which seems to be the overwhelming character of the ecological signals earth now emits. So, as Wes Jackson has written, we need to increase the “eyes-to-acres ratio,” which means not just (many) more private primary producers in the Distributist spirit, but re-directing secondary and tertiary output and sensitivity back toward the primary, too.

Emphasizing and prioritizing primary (direct between human and earth) economic choices, so that we can live as close to creation as is commonly possible, means economic decisions, in the spirit of the Catholic principle of subsidiarity, are being made as close to their impact on creation as possible. If we desecrate instead of venerate in our direct contact with the land, if we take instead of give in our direct use of earth, the error will compound as it moves through the production throughput cycle from primary, to secondary (manufacturing/building), to tertiary (moving/selling/services/information managing), and then be much harder, if not impossible, to notice, understand, and “fix” later. To be Co-Creative throughout all levels in our economy, in other words, we have to be intensely Co-Creative with our first economic choices. Our primary economic decisions are the most important, so it’s critical that, if we are to adhere to the economics of dominion, our most direct economic transactions are our most mature, our most reasonable. Catholic professor, John Senior, puts it this way, “the restoration of reason presupposes the restoration of love, and we can only love what we know because we have first touched, tasted, smelled, heard, and seen it.”[1]

We are only human and capable of managing well, relatively little information within a rather narrow scope (even with today’s computers). The less cluttered our brains, the sounder our reasoning (probably). Plus, the more primary producers there are sharing production, the more neighbors we have in primary production, the readier we are to admit our deficiencies and ask for help and the larger the pool of wisdom from which we draw. We are emotional and social creatures, and must “feel” our way to a conclusion as much “think.”  So our co-creative primary relationship with creation should be: 1) simple, 2) small, and 3) close.

Simple and small (scale), so as not to distract us or overwhelm us with too much information, simple, too, so that we are encouraged to meaningfully connect with others. Large adds complexity. Bigger land parcels send too much feedback to reliably and meaningfully consider and interpret, some will be missed, some will be distorted. And close so that we can remain intimate in our relationship. The further away we are from the land itself, the less our ability to receive the full message in the feedback earth provides; if a message is not heard direct it dilutes and transforms into something it was not.

Distance increases in subtle ways: when we use big machines, for example, or are absent from the land we own, or use managers instead of owners to do the “hands on” work. Bigger farms increase distance between farmer and farm. There is only so much time, so task automation through increased machinery deployment and size is inevitable the bigger the farm gets, which means the farmer directly touches (sees, hears, smells, or even tastes) his little piece of creation fewer times, and feedback signals are lost. If the farmer, for example, is the sensor that is to interpret earth’s feedback for all of us, then distance desensitizes his ability to measure his land, and interpret the signals he receives, the rest of us without land are then pushed farther away too.

Mature Patterns of Inhabitance

It makes more sense to me now to combine the following sentiments under the titular heading for this section, because recognizing, understanding, and integrating these principles into dominion-ative lifestyles makes for steady cultural, spiritual maturation, and it’s through maturation that we are able to enter heaven. These concepts—Making our Home in Creation, Universal Destination of Goods, Part of Nature v. Apart From Nature, Full Costing, Current Energy Reliance, Rural-Urban Symbiosis, Bounded Transactional Pace Regulation, Building Authentic Community, and Community as Classroom and Curriculum—constitute a Co-Creative lifestyle. Many have been discussed intensely in various Christian “intelligentsia” forums, others like Full Costing or Community as Classroom come from specialized secular forums, and others like Rural-Urban Symbiosis and Bounded Transactional Pace Regulation are of my own design, but all should be fleshed out and their particular contributions made explicit and integrated into how each contributes to Co-Creative glorification. A brief/not-so-brief description of each follows:

  • Making Our Home in Creation—we and earth are of the same substance and intended for each other, we are integrally linked; we will learn about each other as Co-Creational partners and engender wisdom that is best, most intimately, achieved within the context of home. Catholic Intelligentsia literature on “home” is prevalent (Senior, Ahlquist, Chesterton, etc.).
  • Universal Destination of Goods—magisterial document trail on this concept is extensive. This is an essential point in Co-Creation, but one also that is relatively quickly made.
  • Part of Nature v. Apart From Nature—this concept would be endorsed by, among others in the church, the Pontifical Council of Justice and Peace, and Pope Paul VI (Gaudium et Spes). Humanity, in short, has devised its own economic system (eco-system), and operates by its prescriptions (classical/neo-classical/keynesian/etc.), even though earth already operates according to an ecosystem that contains relationships, processes, and substances that are tested, tried, and true. Earth, for example, already: 1) manufactures ridiculously hard substances like diamonds, protective shells, and so on; 2) contains feats of engineering wizardry like spider webs; and 3) moves materials, like whole continents or air masses, vast distances without using up its terrestrial store of converted solar energy. We as “subduers” of this highly complex system, do so as members from within, whether we like it or not, whether we know it or not. Even though dominion designates humans as lead entities in nature—controllers—it does not separate us from the realm of the natural.
  • Full Costing/Current Energy Reliance—market systems, like any ecosystem components, produce output that will reflect its input… GIGO is in operation. Many human-induced production schemes, because of our relatively short material life spans, I guess, or our astounding lack of faith, concentrate on initial returns at the expense of the larger and later public on which many of these externalized costs fall due. Rules of operation need to reflect our status as creatures, dominion-atively responsible for others; and concepts like the “negawatt” (units of electrical (and fuel) energy we needn’t generate at all, because we’ve improved our ability to get more out of less) need drive our economic activity at a decelerated pace.
  • Rural-Urban Symbiosis—work done in cities is generally different from work done in the countryside, yet the two types are classically meant to complement each other rather than the one, urban, substituting for the other—a consequence of urban machinery and technology displacing rural landowners. Cities, because of their social closeness, are idea incubators, innovation being the outcome of information exchange. Output from city work is meant for both rural and urban areas, but in the modern world has rarely been directed “backward” to rural zones with the intent of nurturing over extracting. In a Co-Creative ecosystem, though, the urban should complement the rural by assisting them in providing Co-Creative innovations: innovations that improve rural efficiency, innovations that help rural Co-Creators sense natural feedback and improve God’s creation, innovations that are bound in love. The innovative energy of cities does not need to be restricted, simply re-directed toward a moral, mature, primary, Co-Creative ideal. Although it reveals my rural bias, I love the way Monsignor James Dey the rural primacy of this proposed symbiotic relation in his essay on “The Church and the Land,” in Flee to the Fields:[i] “the Providence of God stares the countryman in the face at every moment of his day’s work. The townsman gazes rather on the ingenuity of man, and exaggerates his power. The countryman deals directly with Nature which is the external manifestation of God the Creator, and all the wonderful processes of creation, birth, development, maturity and decay… The townsman deals with what is often only remotely a product of nature… Seeing God daily at close view, in the fresh work of His hands, breeds in the peasant an instinctive reverence for his task. By his daily occupation, he is apt for religion… He is extremely unpromising material to make into an atheist or a communist.” In this “backward” (in a throughput sense, not social sense) shift of focus, urban dwellers live as close as possible to God’s creation, and become Co-Creators themselves. Instead of urban dwellers looking out at the rest of the globe, in effect turning their backs on their own landscape, they’ll turn around, face the land and through authentic dialogue, prayer, and grace, remain bonded to God through their own places.
  • Bounded Transactional Pace Regulation—boundaries, in a Co-Creative society, are useful accounting tools; the place that separates one place from another; the place where the flow of goods, services, finance, people, or anything stops long enough to be counted; a way to monitor and regulate the flow of things both in and out of one place to another. Economically speaking, accounts are extremely valuable for decision-making, even more-so for Co-Creative decisions. A market, for example, requires, among other things, all throughput costs be counted and known as much as possible by all decision-makers, buyers and sellers alike, or real outcomes will be compromised and real consequences felt, often unexpectedly. When costs are hidden, ignored, mis-recognized, skewed, falsified, or knowledge of costs selectively distributed (usually the consequence of clever advertising), the producer undoubtedly gains a higher initial return (hence their motivation for translucence) and initial prices are probably held lower (depending on degrees of monopoly conditions). But costs so externalized still accrue, and will be paid in other ways, usually more expensive ways. In other words, although item costs stay lower, total costs go higher. Fr. Vincent McNabb believed that “the area of production should be as far as possible coterminous with the area of consumption. [He explains that]… utilitarians were wrong in saying ‘things should be produced where they can be most economically produced.’ The true principle is: things should be produced where they can most economically be consumed.”[ii] Boundaries are useful in facilitating such a Co-Creational production-consumption relationship.
  • Building Authentic Community—to conform to the Catholic spirit of solidarity and subsidiarity, communities are critical in implementing a CCc. John Powelson, in explaining success and failure of land reform in many of the world’s nation-states in which it’s been attempted, points to whether the reform was “by leverage” or “by grace” as an indicator of its ultimate success.[iii] Land reform efforts that resulted from leverage, which he defines as having been built up locally over time by peasants organizing themselves into various influential associations able to vertically and horizontally integrate, are successful in achieving lasting reform, whereas those efforts emanating from the “grace” of the state fail; like land reform, Co-Creation cannot succeed if instilled “top-down.” Building authentic community refers primarily to the nature of the dialogue within a Co-Creational community, which is how the community determines its Co-Creative methodology, it’s how the community educates itself. Co-Creative people care about other people in their community as much as they care about the condition of their own home. That care should motivate them to play full-out, give their utmost in a transparent way. It’s incumbent upon each of us to spend some time observing, interpreting, and analyzing what we sense (see, hear, etc.), forming it into a position, keeping that position open to new information, and articulating it openly, honestly, respectfully, and completely; telling it like it is, so to speak, but remaining open to the new information that you get when you listen. Don’t popularize it, don’t oversell it, and don’t hide it. Don’t utter it in secret behind-the-scenes, in the meeting-after-the-meeting. And when you listen, don’t stereotype what you hear; consider context, don’t hear selectively/partially; and question respectfully. A Co-Creative authentic community, in other words, will not stand by while market forces undermine the deliverance of justice and charity in their use of creation. The community asserts itself in accepting its Co-Creative responsibility, knows the eco-system over which it is assigned dominion-ative responsibility, acts wisely on that knowledge as directed by Christian dogma and doctrine, and conscientiously monitors its activities to ensure their future accountability to God.
  • Community as Classroom and Curriculum—the main thing, several have contended, that rural children have learned over the last half-century or so is that their rural homes are the last place they should end up. Rural folk have perfected the art, mostly without even realizing what they were doing, of ushering their children out the door and toward the nearest city as quickly as they can, primarily through devaluing home: not teaching their children how wonderfully intricate and sacred their home territories are, and not celebrating how capable and honorable its inhabitants are and always have been. Local schools seem to have bought into the notion that there is simply nothing worth learning nearby, so their various curricula tend to ignore the local for that which was standardized elsewhere. Co-Creative education, though, would derive from an intense, internally-focused, experientially-gained knowledge and understanding of home. A Co-Creative school would treat its community as the classroom in which its students would observe and examine, and it would consider all that was contained in the community and went on there as grist for its curriculum. Math story problems that utilize local landmarks, businesses, and families; natural science classes feature local flora, fauna, and landscapes studied in the actual outdoor laboratories themselves; social science classes examine local histories, local information flows, local transportation networks, local consumption and production patterns and businesses; and so on. There’s not a subject that can’t take advantage of local phenomena as a proxy or milieu for its examination. The revelations of John Senior present the higher wisdom of ensconcing education within local creation, because it’s not just the facts that are inspiring, but their facts: “when you plant even the best children’s literature in even the brightest young minds, if the soil of those minds has not been richly manured by natural experience, you don’t get the fecund fruit of literature which is imagination, but infertile fantasy. Children need direct, everyday experience of fields, forests, streams, lakes, oceans, grass and ground so they spontaneously sing with the Psalmist, ‘Praise the Lord from the earth, ye dragons and all ye deeps, fire, hail, snow, ice, stormy winds, which fulfill His word; mountains and all hills, fruitful trees and all cedars; beasts and all cattle; serpents and feathered fowls.”[iv] Senior contends, and I agree, that “secular [non Co-Creative] education is not only incomplete but contrary to both God and nature; it is sacrilegious and unscientific… the structuring of learning must follow the order of nature and of the learner from sensible to imaginative to intelligible knowledge.”[v]

These are the components I suggest be featured in what a Co-Creative curriculum would contain, some I would insist must be present, some are negotiable, some probably exist outside of this in-exhaustive list. Each of these is underlain by magisterial and doctrinal reason in a long, well-documented trail; each of these would serve to strengthen society in a primary way, from the inside-out. The human economic systems of which I’m aware, remove the natural from what is considered “economic,” and as Belloc would concur, with this removal in a transactional energetic sense I wouldn’t quibble, but human activity in a moral, emotional, social sense mustn’t be assessed in separation from the condition of the very creation on which humanity was created to depend. We—earth and humanity—as creatures are inherently, co-dependently linked, the condition of one is a reflection of the condition of the other. Dominion, in the interest of spiritual maturity, demands attitudes of sacrifice and nurture in both: earth already displays these properties; it is we that must catch up should we choose to shoulder the yoke of Co-Creation.

[1] John Senior, The Restoration of Christian Culture (Norfolk, VA: IHS Press, 2008), 14.

[i] Msr. James Dey, “The Church and the Land,” in Flee to the Fields: the founding papers of the Catholic Land Movement, ed. Rev. John McQuillan (Norfolk, VA: IHS Press, 2003), 100.

[ii] Fr. Vincent McNabb, The Church and the Land (Norfolk, VA: IHS Press, 2003), 19.

[iii] Powelson, John P., and Richard Stock, The Peasant Betrayed: Agriculture and Land Reform in the Third World, CATO Institute, 1990, p. 4.

[iv] John Senior, The Restoration of Christian Culture (Norfolk, VA: IHS Press, 2008), 112.

[v] John Senior, The Restoration of Christian Culture (Norfolk, VA: IHS Press, 2008), 121.


About the author: Dr. James Knotwell


Dr. James Knotwell is a former economic geography and regional dynamics professor, specializing in human-environment relations and regional development, now plying his trade for the Army in Afghanistan. Jim is a member of St. Teresa Parish, Lincoln Diocese, Nebraska, with family of six, still in residence there since gratefully converting to Catholicism in 1996.


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