Utopian societies

Let’s face it: We would all love to live in an Utopian society.  At least our own version of it.

With perhaps a few exceptions like Enoch’s city, so far, no religious, political or economic system in modern times has shown itself capable of providing perfectly for everyone and remain a resilient system for a long period of time.

Attempts at Marxist socialism and communism have all failed miserably.  Most of these efforts led to the death of millions of people, and never brought the people out of poverty.  That many in Europe and here in the USA learn to depend upon their entitlements, all derived on socialist concepts, means that Greeks protest when they are told they will have to work until they turn 55.

Capitalism does much, much better.  Still, it has business cycles, which enrich people for a time, but then leaves them hurting whenever a bubble bursts.  There’s also the good odds that capitalism merges with government and we get corporatism, instead.  So, instead of helping out the poor and middle class during this economic crisis, the vast majority of bail outs went to global companies.  While we save banks and Government Motors, ever increasing numbers of people are slipping from the middle class into poverty, while more are losing jobs, homes, and hope.

It seems that we cannot escape corruption long enough to actually come to a resilient solution that lifts all boats.

In the Book of Ephesians, of which I just wrote on for my Gospel doctrine blog at Joel’s Monastery, we find the Paul seeks the unity of the people.  Contention and division seem to be the norm in Ephesus, even among the Christians!  Paul dealt with division frequently in his letters, as he saw some claim to be of Paul, others of Apollos, and yet others of Cephas.

Yet, Paul gives the answers to a unity in his epistles.  First, all must come unto Christ and be saved through faith and repentance (justification).  Second, we must become holy through following the guidance of the Spirit (sanctification).  And Paul notes that there is a foundation to all of this: apostles and prophets with Christ as the chief cornerstone.  Only in following the prophets, apostles and other inspired leaders, can we “all come to a unity of the faith” and no more be “tossed to and fro” by every contentious concept of man.

In the early days of the modern Church, Joseph Smith sought to establish Zion, our own little Utopian society.  It was based upon sound principles: Consecration, where we gave all we had to the bishop, had a portion returned as our private property/stewardship, then tithed thereafter on any increase.  Each was to increase his own talents and abilities, in order to toss them into the storehouse for use by the whole.  All were to be equal: meaning that as long as you worked for Zion, you would receive a fair portion.

Sadly, the early Mormons were often contentious, selfish, and disloyal. The system broke down for a variety of reasons, but mostly because few were completely dedicated to the Lord and its success.

Today, we live the law of tithing, a terrestrial law. Yet, in the temple, we promise to individually consecrate ourselves to God’s work.  Still, I look at my own sad efforts and realize we are so very far off from building or establishing Zion.

While we await our Utopian Zion, what can we do as individuals, wards, cities, or as a nation to arrive more closely to that heavenly goal?

16 thoughts on “Utopian societies

  1. I think that’s why, as it says in The Book of Mormon, that the days of men are prolonged so we can repent…..and get that Christlike attitude we need to concecrate ourselves. I’ve noticed in my life, as I’ve gotten older, I feel like I am better at some areas of concecration and Christlike living. It’s a process…still working on it. Back to work!

  2. I think the first thing we need is humility. We all simply fall far, far short of where we should be.

    Once we are humble, we need to realize that there are many, many things we should be doing. For each person, it is different. But if we use the Savior and modern-day prophets as our models, we can improve in small ways all the time.

    The point is that through individual effort we can all do a little bit better, and that helps build Zion all around us. Multiply this by millions of people, and hopefully one day, hundreds of millions of people, and Zion *can* be built.

  3. I agree with Geoff. Humility goes a long ways. Also we need to not puff up ourselves with pride. Many people are competitive with other church members. They use their possessions, piety, and the success of their children to put other members down, and raise themselves up on a stand like the prideful Zoromites .

  4. I know you probably don’t want to go in this direction, but I really think we misrepresent Communism and Capitalism when we say one failed and the other triumphed. We live in a mixed economy with a blend of capitalism and socialism. In their undiluted forms, neither philosophy works very well, but with a balance of the two, they have created the most peaceful and prosperous society ever known to man.

    As doom and gloom as things seem today, we kind of already live in a utopian society compared to past centuries of war, bloodshed, and tyranny. For the developed world at least, prosperity, freedom and peace abound. The middle class is very recent phenomenon. Only the tiniest fraction of the world’s human population ever even has learned to read, but a greater percentage of today’s population does every year. So we are already growing towards utopia. Every decade on this planet sees more and more nations move out of poverty and towards democracy and peace. In spite of the “wars and rumors of wars,” we actually can see that per capita, violence and war has been on the decline for a long time.

    So at least as the world goes, we are trudging imperfectly and slowly towards a middle class, Terrestrial utopia. Perhaps the success of this utopia will blind us from the vision of a Celestial utopia. But nevertheless, I think all these things are necessary to prepare the world for the Millennium: the UN, the spread of democracy, the fall of Communism, the bridling of capitalism, education, government investment, wise regulation, freedom, universal health care:), etc. These secular concepts are also the building blocks of the Millennial utopia we all are collectively striving for. Mormons have others to offer: faith, consecration, obedience, sacrifice. We all want something similar: peace, prosperity, freedom, safety.

  5. Nate, what I think we end up with is a secular version of a Utopia. History has shown that such just cannot last. The Pax Romana is an example of this. Without a spiritual foundation, corruption sets in. This occurred with the USSR, and we see that corruption has slammed the Western economies, as well. Where is the corruption? In this case, the pride that Geoff mentioned has settled in, where people, corporations, and politicians all demand what they believe they are entitled to. There is no humility or thankfulness for the benefits given in a mixed capitalist/socialist economy. There is no shared sacrifice to make the nation/world a better place.

    The Greatest Generation, which sacrificed to overcome the Great Depression and WWII, are replaced by the selfishness of the Baby Boomers. They insist that the deficit is paid off and the economy fixed, yet we dare not touch Social Security, Medicare, etc. And the following generations seem to be even more self-absorbed.

    We have prosperity for so many today because of the sacrifices of the unselfish of the past. But America is in a spiritual crisis now. Families are falling apart. Schools are failing. Teachers’ unions will not allow us to teach our children, but selfishly protect bad teachers. Gangs are on the rise. Drug use is climbing. Unlike after 9/11 when families gathered in quiet prayer, we now demand the government save us from our woes and fears.

    Unless a major change occurs in the hearts of Americans, we are seeing the beginning of a collapse. America burns while Obama and Congress fiddle. We have no soul left.

    So it goes with most Utopias. They work for a time, but then hit the wall of selfishness and pride. And as the Book of Mormon states, then comes the fall.

  6. You could be right that our secular Utopia cannot last. Perhaps all this recent woeful economic news is a foreshadowing of a terrible collapse which will plunge the earth into a new dark age of violence and wretchedness.

    But I have my doubts. When I look at the Roman Empire, I don’t see a Utopia. I see a society consumed with running over the world for gain, and lived off violence and torture of their enemies. The sadism of the rulers of Rome was far beyond even Hitler, who refused to stoop to the use of gas warfare, and hung and beheaded his enemies, instead of torturing them on the rack over countless days and nights.

    I think we, as humans, have turned a corner. WWII was a great purging of blood, and we are in a new era of peace. True, it is a secular peace. But it is marked by international cooperation, democracy, and anti-imperial attitudes. The world has never seen the likes of this before. It is entirely new, unexpected, beautiful.

    Will it last? Perhaps not, as you say. But I personally believed all we have accomplished as a race of people will not go to waste when we finally build the Millenium. The purging of imperialism and violence that came with WWII will be a building block for the real Utopia Christ will usher in. But who can say?

  7. Hitler DID use gas warfare, only it was on non-combatants rather than soldiers. Just look at the 6 million Jews who went into gas chambers.

    The 20th century was the most violent period of any time on earth. Hundreds of millions died in war. Japanese soldiers turned China and Korea into brothels. Vietnamese tortured American soldiers.

    And the 21st century is not any different. Instead of Fascists and Asian extremists, we have extremists that strap bombs to their backs and blow up buses of school children. Suicide bombers are the new kamikazes. Only these don’t limit themselves to military targets.

    We see that even our own nation has turned to what many consider torture of our captured prisoners. Meanwhile, we see them cutting off heads on Al Jazeera television.

    Then, south of the border, we see the same violence. Headless corpses are found across the US-Mexican border.

    Genocide still occurs. We just now see that the violent bad guys have more tools besides violence. Now they have media wars and seek to win the hearts of people through new methods.

    Just because we can now take out a single house, rather than bomb an entire city, does not make today any better. The violence is still there, and in many ways is getting more intense in how it is being presented to us.

    My hope? That through these very tough times, people (and especially Mormons) will tire of sin, repent, and work diligently to establish Zion as a refuge from the storms still to come.

  8. Rame, I used to see things that way too. It’s true that the 20th Century was historically the bloodiest. But a while ago I read Fox’s Book of Martyrs and started doing a little more research on earlier centuries of blood and torture, which used to saturate many of the cultures we once came from, the Romans, the Greeks, the Europeans. Hitler, although he was a monster, was also a product of his time. Europeans had, for many centuries abandoned the blind sadism that dominated life among waring rulers up into the middle ages. Hitler’s approach to the Jews was not entirely based on passionate hatred and revenge, but a supremely misguided notion that they were infecting the purity of his race, which, like cows with ecolai bacteria, needed to be “taken care of.” The Jews were not crucified by the tens of thousands, displayed publicly for everyone’s enjoyment. They were shuttled off to Poland where no one would see them, and “dealt with.” It’s horrible, and it’s inhumane, but the culture of Germany had already moved beyond sadism for sadism’s sake. They’d moved beyond torture for pleasure (embraced by the culture of Rome as public entertainment), and gone towards treating people as expendable animals. (I’m speaking culturally, not individually.) A step from the lowest level of hell, to one a little bit higher, but still deep in hell.

    The other examples you mention, come from societies that have not yet embraced democracy, and still have pre-20th century minds and cultures. No democratically run 1st world countries has ever waged a war of aggression, and more and more countries join this group every decade.

    Another thing to consider is that although the 20th Century expended the greatest total amount of blood and destruction, it was perhaps one of the very least bloody centuries per-capita. True, hundreds of millions died in war, but at the same time, there was an unprecedented population explosion, so that your chances of dying violently in the 20th Century were much, much lower than in previous ones.

    I think that the idea of increasing violence and instability around the world is a myth. It seems that way only because the media warps our perspective, and we can’t adequately gauge trends towards and away from violence as they span the decades and centuries.

    Steven Pinker presents compelling evidence in this clip, that we actually live in the most peaceful time in our species existence. It’s well worth watching:

  9. Nate wrote: “No democratically run 1st world countries has ever waged a war of aggression, and more and more countries join this group every decade.”

    Actually, that isn’t quite true. President George W. Bush actually promoted the Bush Doctrine of preemptive wars. We went into Iraq on the concept of preemption, which falls under the concept of a war of aggression.

    Most people who died in earlier wars usually died of disease, not the violence. Now, it is the other way around. The 20th century was THE most violent century in all of history. It is estimated that 400 Million people died in wars during that timeframe. ( 20th Century War

    With ancient China as an outlier, the vast majority of major wars have occurred in the last 200 years (and most in the last century): War Casualties

    As for genocide, the 20th century takes the cake (with the exception of the genocide of Native Americans over a several century period) (ibid).

    So to think that the 20th century was any better is to fool ourselves. I agree that true democratic nations tend to be non-aggressors. That said, they also tend to be in the middle of most major wars.

  10. Rame, it’s true that the Iraq war has been defined as a war of aggression by many around the world, although it was not justified as such by Bush and other supporters, and it was a different kind of war than most historical wars of aggression.

    It’s hard to argue that the 20th century was less bloody than others when there is so much evidence to the contrary. However, the number I am interested in exploring is the one from the wikipedia entry you forwarded on War Casualties. The article mentions that these casualties amounted to 1.7%–3.1% of the world population, and I imagine that number means only the percentage of the population during that period. If you were to look at the number of casualties of all 20th century wars compared to total 20th century population, the number would be historically, very low.

    A reading of the Book of Mormon and Bible gives a portrait of small populations routinely devastated every few years by massive war casualties. We live in an entirely different world today.

    One might say that arguing things “per-capita” is not really adequate. When Cain murdered Abel, he wiped out 25% of the population. Was that so much worse than killing 400 million even when that number represents a smaller percentage? So I can see the limitations of this argument.

    But I really think that Steven Pinker has a profound point about the decline of violence, and for me, his evidence is compelling. I would not trade my blessed life with that of any other century, if for no other reason than I will never face war and violence here in the heartland of America.

    Pinker is shortly to release an entire new book on the subject “Angels of Our Better Nature: Why Violence has Declined” and I’ll be interested to hear what others have to say about this rather unique position.

  11. Nate, I can see your points. Yes, as a ratio of people in the world, there have been worse wars and devastations in other centuries.

    That said, today we have the ability (thankfully not used) to annihilate the world. That the chance for nuclear confrontation is greater now than at any time in history, with perhaps the exception of the Cuba missile crisis, is real. Nuclear proliferation is a reality we deal with. With the USSR, the concept of mutual destruction kept both sides behaving well. But with radical Islamists seeking to obtain weapons, with North Korea headed by a lunatic, Pakistan tottering, etc., we could quickly end up with cities glowing across the world.

    Yes, America has generally been safe over the past century and a half, with few exceptions. However, with a modern technical world, that could quickly change. A terrorist with a backpack nuke could kill hundreds of thousands. And if only 1/10th of 1% of Muslims are radicalized into being homicidal/suicide bombers with nukes, we could have nukes or dirty bombs being set off in every major city in the USA and Europe very quickly.

  12. Nate,
    on a per capita basis, the bloody 20th was one of the safer centuries. You were more likely to die by violence as a medieval Englishman, a North American Indian (at the hands of other Amerindians), a New Guinean tribesmen, etc., according to the figures i’ve seen.

  13. Yes Rame, there is no shortage of apocalyptic scenarios that could plunge the world into the same chaos and violence of the world wars. Already twice in the history of our planet, 90% of all life has been obliterated.

    But I don’t personally indulge in naming “signs of the times” because my own hope is that the human race will collectively work it’s way into the Millennial Utopia while avoiding a literal apocalypse on the scale we sometimes imagine. The Biblical prophesies could be spiritual in nature, or perhaps they could already be referring to past events, like WWII. The worst could be over, and now our job is to build for the millennium. This might seem like outrageous naivete, and maybe it is. But I’d rather focus on building zion than hunkering down, preparing for some kind of apocalypse which could be hundreds or thousands of years away, if at all.

    And Adam G., I too would like to see the LDS church support or sponsor communal living experiments, as they once did with the Law of Consecration. Perhaps, through trial and error, we could find a workable way to do it in the modern world.

  14. I’m not a fear monger. I wish I could read the Bible prophecies of great dangers like you do. However, given that the Doctrine and Covenants also speak of upcoming great destructions and wars (D&C 45 notes many, and states that Zion will be a refuge from the storms). President Hinckley noted issues of our day, like the ocean heaving over its bounds in regards to New Orleans and Katrina.

    I believe things will be worse. That said, I also believe that we will build Zion in the midst of the tragedies, just as Enoch did prior to the Great Flood.

    As a constant student of scripture, I find that while there is a spiritual component to each of these items, there is also a physical component to deal with, as well.

    D&C 45 states that those who dwell among the wicked, who will not lift their sword and fight, “must needs flee to Zion for safety.” I can’t see much spiritual meaning in it, so much as a physical requirement to lay down one’s weapons, repent, and move to Zion for safety from the wars and destructions.

    So, while I see the upcoming destructions as real, whether in our life or beyond, we can only guess, I also see the establishment of Zion.

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