I am all for improving society and culture, but what should that look like?
My Democratic friends tell me one thing. My Republican friends tell me another.
Some of my evangelical friends tell me one thing. Others with more ecumenical, liberal views tell me another.
Perhaps the best thing we can do is draft our own standards for society, gather likeminded believers, buy a huge chunk of land and start our own community. We’ll follow the rules we’ve set up (based on biblical principles, of course) and everything will be perfect.
Just one problem: History has shown over and over that trying to create a utopia just won’t work.
Early in American history, scores of people flooded to this continent in hopes of a better life. Even after we became a full-fledged independent country, scores more continued flooding in for the better life. This “grand experiment” with a democratic republic was good – but for many it wasn’t good enough. So the great expanse of untapped land (never mind the Native Americans already here) seemed to be the ideal solution: Start their own town and lead it according to their own rules and interpretation of scripture.
Starting your own utopian community was especially popular in the 1800s. Eighty were started in the 1840s alone. Probably the two most well-known are the Shakers, who practiced celibacy, and Oneida Community, where everyone was married to everyone else (they called it “complex marriage”). Two communities with opposite views, both espousing their way as integral to a utopian community.
One of the utopian communities, the short-lived Fruitlands, was based on transcendental principles: People are inherently good, society has corrupted us, and we are at our best when we are fully independent and self-sufficient. So how do you achieve this transcendental goal in a community? Don’t eat any meat, don’t consume any “stimulants,” don’t use any form of animal labor, don’t use any artificial light, don’t take hot baths and don’t drink anything but water! (A side note for fans of Little Women: Louisa May Alcott lived for a while in this community because her father was one of the founders.)
These communities are a fascinating part of our American history, especially considering how unique they were from one another. But note this: They are a part of our history, not a part of current culture.
The reason is simple: They were created and led by imperfect, fallen, sinful people. And the people that flocked to these communities were imperfect, fallen, sinful people. We’ll never reach a utopia – a perfect place to live – as long as imperfect people are allowed to start them or live in them. The only perfect utopia would be lived under God’s law. His laws are perfect, but we’ve done a lousy job living up to His laws.
As we read in Romans 3:10-12: “There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands; there is no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one” (NIV).
There is a “utopia” in the future of those who follow Christ, but we will only live in it when we are living in His presence in His eternal Kingdom. Until then, let me suggest the following.
Instead of running off to start a utopian community, get involved with the culture you’re in. Partner with your church family in engaging and interacting with the people in your community. You don’t have to embrace everything in culture, but by your presence – by living for Christ in the power of His Spirit – you can infuse that culture with the gospel.
Be Jesus to those around you.