July 27, 2009

HE JUST BARELY MISSED A KEY POINT IN PASSING:

Utopia isn't a dirty word: As the left searches for meaning, it would do well to reflect on Christianity's utopian vision for humankind (Theo Hobson, 7/26/09, guardian.co.uk)

Modern Christianity has tried pretty hard to forget about this, but it cannot entirely. For Christians pray "your kingdom come, on earth as it in heaven", which sounds pretty utopian to me. Christian faith, properly understood, expects the transformation of everything, life's semi-imaginable perfection. This ideal cannot be translated into fully rational terms: it always veers into cosmic mythological stuff about predators turning cuddly, the defeat of death, the end of evil, the triumph of God over all contrary powers. This is not the supposedly rational utopia of Marxism. But I think "utopia" is a pretty good summary of the vision. As I explain in my forthcoming book Faith, this total utopian hope is a key part of the Christian vision. Christianity is the only grown-up utopianism. It is the only form of historical hope that is also realistic about our capacity for evil.

But isn't every account of utopia intrinsically dangerous? This assumption has recently been re-stated by John Gray, in his book Black Mass: Apocalyptic Religion and the Death of Utopia. He argues that Judeo-Christian hope is the source of all the destructive utopian projects of modernity. What defines the west is the "pursuit of salvation in history", and it is a poisonous mistake, for it fails to accept the reality of human nature.

From a Christian perspective, Gray is making a sort of category mistake. He is saying that utopia is impossible, on the basis of what we know about humans. But Christian utopianism takes this into account: it awaits divine action rather than seeking to force utopia into being.


Indeed, it is the rejection of rationalism combined with the understanding that utopia is beyond the human capacity to create, that insulates Judeo-Christianity, and perhaps Shi'ism, from the corrosive effect of hope. It is precisely because salvation rests outside History that we in the West can accept that History is at an End and yet Heaven is not arrived. We can't make a heaven, nevermind Heaven, only organize ourselves half decently.

Posted by Orrin Judd at July 27, 2009 5:55 PM
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