Beware of Utopia

Because human beings are created as the imago Dei, we are hard-wired for extension, development, economic growth, even globalization. But, because we are fallen, the usual result are misguided visions of utopia on earth. From these we produce conquest, empire, mono-culturalism (consumerism, for example), subjugation, exploitation, plunder, and extinction. As a matter of course we often create cultures that are nothing short of abusive, inhumane, and unjust.

Clearly, “east of Eden” (Gen 3:24) and “under the sun” (Eccl 1:9) the human project is flawed. Existence is conditioned by finitude, falleness, and God’s curse (Gen 3:14–19; Ps 90). This is the “present evil age” (Gal 1:4), as Paul wrote. As a result, there will never occur in this eschatological epoch a utopia through communism or socialism, capitalism or consumerism, Islam, or any of the myriad alternative spiritualities. This side of eternity, there will never be a true “holy fill in the blank empire.”

Christians should be continuously wary of incarnations of the cultural mandate gone awry.

The reality is that history is full of failed and tragic experiments in culture building and identity formation. Consider the many corrupt leaders and violent empires of destruction, beginning with Babel: ancient empires such as Pharaoh’s kingdom of the sun-god or Caesar’s Pax Romana, the medieval Holy Roman Empire, modernity’s myth of progress, and ideologies like Nazism, communism, and totalitarianism.

We should honestly ask ourselves: How many millions have perished because of the lust for empire and its cousin, colonialism, throughout human history? God alone knows the suffering and injustice inflicted due to the divine right of kings and manifest destinies. How often have lands been acquired, peoples dispersed, raw materials confiscated, or access to the sea or trade routes expropriated for purposes of security, gain or glory? How often has mankind raped the earth of its natural resources, failing to steward God’s goodness? How many people have been enslaved or exploited for want of manpower or greed? And most importantly, how often has Christianity affiliated with the powerful and prosperous, but overlooked the victims of empire: the poor, exploited, enslaved, abused, and condemned? Surely, for all this creation “mourns” (Jer 4:28; 14:2; Hos 4:3).

Christians should, therefore, be continuously wary of incarnations of the cultural mandate (Gen 1:26-28, Psalm 8) gone awry. Whenever we hear a neo-Babelite battle cry, “Let us build ourselves a city . . . that we can make a name for ourselves” (Gen 4:11a); whenever would-be Pharaohs exclaim, “Who is the Lord?” (Exod 5:2); whenever God’s people declare “Give us a king to lead us” (1 Sam 8:6); or whenever an ideology proposes to “put an end to war and set all things in order” (spoken about Caesar and Pax Romana), the church should take heed. The impetus may be religious or philosophical, but the social and economic manifestations are usually totalitarian and theocratic. The forms can be explicitly religious (Islam or medieval Catholicism), ideologically secular (communism, National Socialism, Imperial Japan, North Korean Juche, or even secular humanism), or implicitly religious (consumerism).

 

 

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