Sunday, June 25, 2023

Utopia as a By-Product

Henry Giroux wrote that a utopia is “an imaginary community or society that possesses highly desirable or near-perfect qualities for its members”. He was generalizing based on the way the concept has been used (and misused) for over five centuries, trying to distill a jumble of ideas down to a basic concept everyone can agree about. The word itself comes from a 1516 book of the same name written by Sir Thomas More, but Plato’s Republic took a crack at the same ideas almost 2,000 years earlier, and it may be argued that even the Tower of Babel was an early, misguided stab in that direction. It would be hard to find a time when men have not dreamed of and yearned for social perfection, though always on their own terms and by their own standards.

Literally, utopia means “no place”. You would think more people might take More’s not-too-subtle hint.

No Place

The expression has become convenient shorthand for just about everyone who aspires to make the world more like they want it to be. Oscar Wilde wrote, “A map of the world that does not include Utopia is not worth even glancing at, for it leaves out the one country at which Humanity is always landing. And when Humanity lands there, it looks out, and, seeing a better country, sets sail. Progress is the realisation of Utopias.” Science fiction author Henry Kuttner hoped to die in a utopia that he had helped build. Even more recently, Lukáš Perný associated utopias with social justice.

What do all these notions have in common? They look toward the ultimate society as the product of human ingenuity or moral evolution. The secular idealist’s utopia is made for man by man. Since this is the case, wiser writers caution us about the improbability of human beings ushering in social perfection. Lyman Tower Sargent writes that the diversity of human preference creates major issues for utopian thinkers:

“There are socialist, capitalist, monarchical, democratic, anarchist, ecological, feminist, patriarchal, egalitarian, hierarchical, racist, left-wing, right-wing, reformist, free love, nuclear family, extended family, gay, lesbian and many more utopias. Utopianism, some argue, is essential for the improvement of the human condition. But if used wrongly, it becomes dangerous. Utopia has an inherent contradictory nature here.”

That’s a major fly in the ointment for would-be social engineers, isn’t it: Which vision of the ideal are we following, and what if not everyone wants to go there?

The Ideal Society

The writers of scripture talk a great deal about the ideal society. It’s called the millennial reign of Christ. To refer to the millennium as “ideal” is not to insist that all its inhabitants will be morally perfected, or even that they will all enjoy living as citizens of it, but merely to say that Christ’s millennial governance will be without any of the built-in moral flaws, structural weaknesses or inability to anticipate the consequences of our choices that characterize humanity’s attempts to perfect society.

The millennial reign will be genuinely perfect, not by the wildly inconsistent, unreasonable and ever-shifting standards of humanity, but by the standards of almighty God, who created the heavens and the earth and all who dwell herein. Only he knows exactly what works and what doesn’t. Believe me, if earth’s climate is actually changing in dangerous ways, he will quickly get it sorted. Moreover, only God is qualified to appoint leadership that can execute his plans and purposes for this planet. Only God has the limitless power necessary to create, maintain and uphold perfection.

The millennial reign will “work” because, like God’s plan of salvation, it requires nothing of man except obedience to the Divine will, which, during the millennial reign, will be impossible to circumvent or defy. Of the nations that rage against Christ it is said, “You shall break them with a rod of iron and dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.” That line comes from the glorious Psalm 2, probably my favorite of David’s. A close second is Psalm 72, which bookends it. Both are concerned with the millennial reign, but where Psalm 2 is advice to the nations, Psalm 72 is a series of requests to God on behalf of the “royal Son” — a prayer, really.

Psalm 72

“Give the king your justice, O God,” he begins, “and your righteousness to the royal son! May he judge your people with righteousness, and your poor with justice!” That “may he” formula appears four more times: May he defend the cause of the poor, May he be like rain that falls on the mown grass, May he have dominion from sea to sea, Long may he live. In English, the word “may” occurs a full twenty times in the psalm. Even where it is not “may he”, Christ remains the object: May all kings fall down before him, all nation serve him, In his days may the righteous flourish.

But you see the point. Almost nothing in the psalm is about us human beings, the self-styled center of the universe. Where men are mentioned at all, it is only in reference to Christ. When Henry Giroux tried to describe utopia, it was all about the “highly desirable or near-perfect qualities for its members”. Humanity is the object of utopian aspirations; it is our desires we are looking to fulfill. David, by way of contrast, looks at perfect governance and sees it as a means of bringing glory, honor and even fear to the Son of God.

A Comparative Afterthought

Is humanity blessed in the process? Of course! The Lord Jesus Christ will judge the people with righteousness and the poor with justice. He will deliver the oppressed and crush the oppressor. Under Christ, the righteous will flourish, peace will abound, grain will grow so plentifully you will find it on the tops of the mountains, and people will blossom in the cities and be blessed in him.

But all that is a by-product of Christ’s reign, not the purpose of it. In God’s plans and purposes, we are a comparative afterthought. We matter because we are his Son’s; apart from and outside of Christ we do not matter at all. No grand reworking of the social order will ever succeed apart from Christ. It is not possible. When the whole earth is full of his glory, this planet will be the most wonderful place to live that could ever be conceived by human imagination, and then some. Put the Lord Jesus in his rightful place and everything else will work as it was originally designed, in harmonious and delightful ways such as mankind has never seen before.

Try to achieve utopia apart from him, and nothing ever will. In short, we are going at it all wrong.

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