Monday, January 30, 2012

Chasing Utopia

I am reading a pretty fascinating book.  10 Books That Screwed Up the World and 5 others That Didn't Help by Benjamin Wiker takes Professor Wikers own list of the world's (or, at least, Western Culture's) 10 worst books and summarizes them to show their detrimental effect on society.  A common thread of the offending books is that they present a vision of utopia and, in more or less detail, a plan for how to bring about this utopian vision.  Even casual students of modern history will recognize the names Hitler and Lenin who both make the list.  Professor Wiker presents an interesting case for how these universally reviled figures, among others, stand in the flow of a philosophy developed by others rather than as unique, evil figures who somehow made themselves.  The thing that struck me today, however, was how we relatively mild-mannered contemporary westerners tend toward the same method for bringing about our own happiness.

The common element of the method of achieving utopia is to eliminate anything (and anyone) that is "undesirable."  The problem with the modern prophets mentioned in the book is that they approach the idea of utopia as one that humanity can create on their own, namely without God.  What makes Hitler and Stalin so malevolent is that they were so sure of the truth of their own vision of utopia that any cruelty or inhumanity needed to bring about this utopia was justified because of the benefit to the great society that would ensue.  Dr. Wiker does a very good job of pointing out that any utopia believed to be attainable by humanity alone must neglect the reality of sin.

Of course, that is not the only vision of utopia that is possible.  The Christian doctrine of Heaven and, more specifically, the new Heaven and new earth mentioned in Revelation 21 and 22, entails a utopia that is brought about by God.  This vision can only be brought about by God and involves the removal of sin, the great undesirable neglected by the radical eugenicists of the early and mid- 20th century.  This is no trivial distinction.  Appreciating that utopia is the direction we are going causes me to work toward that end as best I can.  Understanding that I cannot ultimately bring this utopia about causes me to be patient with those who disagree with my efforts.  If I, or some other human being, can bring about the utopia without divine intervention, then the sooner the better.  Whatever stands in the way can be eliminated.

Now back to us.  I will assume that you have not entertained thoughts of eradicating any group of people based on race, creed, or any of a host of other criteria.  What, however, lies at the back of our consumerist bent.  Maybe I cannot bring about utopia, but the next bigger television would make me a little happier.  Eliminate the undesirable and bring in the new one!  Trivial?  Perhaps so, but what of the resources that could have gone to bring about God's directives to care for the poor and orphaned that are now used to bring about a small measure of my own personal utopia?  More seriously, I wonder if this has something to do with the state of marriage in our country.  I construct a version of a utopian (perfect) marriage.  I can use my favorite movie, story, or celebrity couple for a model or I can use that nice, smiling couple at church that I don't know well enough to really see what their life is like.  The source doesn't matter; my family is not like that so how about eliminating the undesirable spouse and starting over with the "right"one?  The statistics on second and third marriages should be plenty to show how poorly this works.  Clearly, there are legitimate reasons for divorce; even Jesus said so but my own casual observation puts those cases in the minority.

I would love to think about this more but I need to spend some time drooling over the next coolest TV on some outlet website. . . .

1 comment:

  1. Welcome to the blogosphere, my friend. Sounds like an interesting book, you're reading. Jesus words are confusing to the person looking for an earthly utopia. "The first must be last?" "blessed are the poor?" "blessed are those who mourn?"

    LP, when you get a chance, come on over to my blog and check it out.