An Introduction to Utopia

By Joe Boot / September 1, 2013

Series Jubilee 2013 Fall - Utopia

Context Jubilee Journal

Topic Philosophy

Scripture Ephesians 1:3-14; Proverbs 16:4

Print

Christianity is irreconcilable with any form of utopian philosophy. Since God is in charge of history, and has revealed the plan of his Kingdom reign, efforts to bring about utopia are acts of rebellion against God

Origins of the Term

The term Utopia originates with Sir Thomas More’s ideal society and it literally means “no place“. This is disorienting at first, since More was a devout Catholic who has been revered by some churchmen for centuries. The reality is that he was far from biblical faith in his thinking despite being made a saint by the Church of Rome in 1935. More was basically an educational reformer and an “apostle of culture” with a humanistic bent. His famous work, Utopia, is essentially a plea for the abolition of private property and the establishment of communism.

Utopianism is inherently anti-Christian

It is evident that his work is actually anti-Christian, because the normative reality for More is nature, not God and his law, and a life ordered according to nature is depicted by him as virtue. Critically, the “nature” that More has in mind is one molded, governed and controlled by institutions, by the state. Consequently, although More retained the idea of God, functionally his god was the state, as man’s re-creator, provider and preserver. Furthermore, like all Utopians, unity was the supreme virtue for More, since peace could come only through this humanly wrought oneness. As a result man is absorbed into an immanent one, the state. It should also be noted that like most humanistic intellectuals, More saw himself as one of the elite rulers of this new total order in which his fellow man must be manipulated in such a manner as to remove all social divisions. It is not surprising, then, that Lenin himself found inspiration in some of More’s ideas. 

The Christian Hope

True Christian orthodoxy does not produce, indeed cannot produce, such Utopian illusions or plans. The reason for this is that the creator, redeemer God, in his complete word, has already declared his purposes for the future – his Kingdom and rule, established by his power and will. Since God governs history, the Christian, in faith, obedience, and confidence can move toward God’s predestined future (Eph. 1:3-14; Prov. 16:4). The triune, sovereign Lord, who by his providence and power sustains all things (Heb. 1:1-3), is the one in whom the Christian trusts.

Utopianism is a Religious Commitment

The non-believer on the other hand has no such security but posits an entirely different worldview. Utopianism, which denies God’s predestinating purpose, is therefore much more than a political idea; it is a philosophy of life, a religious theology. At its foundation is the idea that the God of the Bible is less than real, and that man has taken his place. Instead of a good, though fallen, creation being man’s environment under the purpose and providence of God, man is perceived to be in a chaotic universe perpetually threatening to crush him. The noted British Utopian dreamer, Julian Huxley, encapsulates well the modern humanistic temper:

Who or what rules the universe? So far as we can see it rules itself … even if a god does exist behind or above the universe as we experience it, we can have no knowledge of such a power: the actual gods of historical religions are only the personifications of impersonal facts of nature and of facts of our inner mental life.

On this view “nature” is as potentially capricious as the pagan gods of Greco-Roman mythology and of man’s own inner life of evil thoughts.

Implications of a Utopian Worldview

It is inescapable that our view of ultimate reality will dramatically affect our view of social order because “our vision of the universe inevitably influences our vision of society and, hence, our organization of society. If the universe is hostile to us, we conceive of society, our little universe, as also hostile.”  Thus, in Utopian thought, having jettisoned the God of the Bible, man is necessarily confronted by a world of flux, a chance aggregate or random collocation of atoms. In such a view, there is no God to give meaning, purpose, direction or even rationality to life. This world of chance and chaos in which man’s “freedom” runs wild is thereby thought to jeopardize its own existence by its unpredictability – humanistic man lives in fear or even terror of this perceived, ever-present threat to his well-being. Man’s sin means that he sees himself in such a world as a victim of fate so that his overwhelming view of himself is characterized by self-pity, not responsibility. Therefore, without the God of the Bible and his predestination, man in the world needs a different source of certainty and more, an agency of control. The insatiable desire for control is rooted in the belief that control will save him from chaos, through freedom from choice (unpredictability) – into the true freedom of necessity! As J. B. S. Haldane, a Marxist Utopian put it, “There is nothing behind nature, though there is infinitely more in nature than we know at present. There is no supernatural and nothing metaphysical…freedom is the recognition of necessity. This is a paradox, but a truth.”[i]

Utopian freedom is in fact Enslavement

Clearly then, in holding the absence or irrelevance of God as basic, liberation or freedom is allegedly from the providence or sovereignty of God in the name of human autonomy. But this leaves man with a serious problem. An absolute autonomy (self-law) would logically lead to a total anarchy of thought, and what is seen as even worse, social chaos. Man must avoid this disaster at all costs. As a result the individual is inevitably plunged into a collectivity that will assume the role of God in creating, predestinating, saving, guiding and providing for the newly liberated, autonomous man. Man enlarged, the new man-god, is the collective agency for planning and organizing for man’s “liberty” and salvation.

 

For a more complete treatment of this subject, see the Editorial in the Fall 2013 issue of Jubilee.

 

[i] J.B.S Haldane, in Julian Huxley, I Believe: The personal philosophies of twenty three eminent men and women of our time (London: George Allen and Unwin, 1944 reprint), 11-112.