Although little was made of it, the year just passed from us marked the 500th anniversary of the publication of a book which brought a new word into the English language.
The word is ‘utopian’, referring to a perfect or ideal state; and the book was ‘Utopia’ by the distinguished statesman, Sir Thomas More. Written in Latin, and published in Louvain, Belgium in 1516, it purports to describe life in an ideal society on an island bearing the name ‘Utopia.’
The island was in the shape of a crescent, but its whereabouts were unspecified, since someone coughed when the details of latitude and longitude were being announced. In Utopia, there was no private property, and doors needed no locks, since robbery was unknown. here was no unemployment, since everyone was required to fill a certain quota of weekly labour.
More’s view of perfection differs from that harboured by many moderns, in that in Utopia the citizens have no access to ‘wine-taverns, nor ale-houses...nor any occasion of vice or wickedness.’ It you think all this is improbable, the answer lies in the title, for the word Utopia comes from two Greek words which mean ‘No place’. That the ideal society does not exist is plain to any thinking person; and even if anyone should find it, it would automatically become imperfect with the arrival of flawed human beings.
The Bible claims that God made everything perfect in the beginning, but the entrance of sin explains the mess in which our world finds itself. The apostle James asked, ‘What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? ...You kill and covet, but you cannot have what you want. You quarrel and fight’(James 4; 1,2).
While God has promised that beyond this life there is a realm where pain and death and mourning are no more (Rev 21;4),He expects us, in our affluent society, to strive for a fairer world. If millions across the world are starving, we can choose to help provide food for them. If millions live in ignorance, we can provide books and education. If millions have inadequate health care, we can send doctors and nurses.
While we may imagine that we can do little as individuals to build a perfect world, the Chinese proverb holds true, ‘It is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness.’