I remember back in my school days hearing about utopian societies. Such groups are the attempts of the members to form a perfect society. In my limited knowledge of them, they were small, insular societies. To me, the world didn’t seem like too bad a place so I did not grasp the point of trying to establish a utopian group. What were they trying to accomplish?
I want to offer two clarifications before continuing. First, when one thinks of small, insular groups, one might think of cults that are devoted to a person or particular movement, often professing a religious belief, that misuses it members. These are not utopias in the honorable sense that I mean.
One might also think of monasteries. They can be small, insular communities but their purpose is centered differently than the utopians I am talking about. One’s purpose in going a monastery should not be rooted in escaping society. The purpose of joining a monastery is to answer the call of God to live a particular lifestyle. Monastic life may share traits in common with utopian groups but it’s center is different.
That being said, in today’s society, the idea of a utopian society seems more attractive to me than in the past. I feel society is on the decline. We are losing a sense of morality. We hear about more violence and hatred. People are no longer listening to God. It seems our society is shaping our faith and beliefs when it should be that our faith shapes society. It can seem tempting to escape this by forming a utopian society.
Are utopias even possible or does their attractiveness fall under the saying that the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence?
Why won’t they be possible? My first thought is that, as human beings, we are called to be holy and to strive for perfection, but we are not perfect. Is it possible to have a perfect society with imperfect people? This should not discourage us. It’s just a reality that needs to be considered.
My second thought about the possibility of utopias is how does one relate to rest of the world? Would the group need to cut off all contact with the outside world? That would mean no cell phones and no Internet. Honestly, some days this might seem attractive but would you really want to cut off all contact with your family and friends outside the group?
Another thought I have about utopians is the sustainability of the group. How does the group provide for all its needs. Where does one get their electricity and heating fuel from? Can the group grow all the food it needs? What about clothing needs? Would they have to go to the outside world for some of their needs?
What about freedom in a utopia? Is absolute freedom really possible? At times doesn’t the greater good of society mean we need to give up some things we want? We can’t have everything we want. Sometimes two people may have two different wants that can’t both happen.
I’m not saying utopias are not possible. After all, we are called to live in this world but we are not of this world (see my article, “In the World But Not of the World”).
So, rather than trying to form our own utopia, I think we need to continue to live in this world. We need to work to make the world a better place. How is this possible?
How do we define what it means to make the world a better place? We should not look for the answer in purely human sources. To strive for perfection, we need to turn to the one who is perfect. We need to turn to God. God has the answers. This is why we pray, “thy kindgom come, thy will be done.”
God loves us. We are created to know his love. We move towards perfection when we strive to love God and love our neighbor. I think we are struggling to even know what it means to love in this way.
The task might seem impossible. That should not deter us for Jesus says, “For human beings this is impossible, but for God all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26, cf Mark 10:27, Luke 1:37, and Luke 18:27).
I don’t have all the answers but I do have faith. We can change the world but to do so we need to hand it all over to God.