Sunday, February 26, 2012

Utopia vs Eden

I think it's hardwired into who we are, as people, to try to create a paradise. It's the ultimate imitation of God: as he creates a paradise, so we try to create a paradise. Our own efforts may be small: maybe it's a home or a classroom or a garden. Maybe it's a holiday dinner, a summer vacation, a Sabbath -- or some other temporary paradise. Maybe it's a work of art or music.

The ambitious try to create paradise on grand political scales: cities, states, nations -- even the whole world. A big, ambitious paradise can only work if everyone works together. So it quickly seeks legal authority to make people cooperate. If we agreed on what was good and right, there would be no need to force other people to conform. And so the big, ambitious schemes usually come to that point sooner or later, where they go into the business of identifying opponents to be oppressed, discredited, and neutralized. We find that the "paradise" has come with its own ruler, a kind of god (or idol), and a system of values that must not be questioned, along with the laws to promote those values. Hitler, Lenin, Stalin, Castro, Mao, Pol Pot ... are there more? They were all, in their own minds, the heroes leading in the glorious new age, though history is tending to remember them as butchers. How many times did that pattern play out in the 20th century alone? In previous centuries there were other figures, both religious and anti-religious, who tried to create paradise on earth at any price, and likewise became tyrants in a reign of terror. If we can't agree on what is good, then attaining that "good" requires oppressing those with different ideas; whatever else you may call it, it will never be a paradise; there will never even be justice.

They say that "Utopia" is the ancient Greek word for "Nowhere". It has never lasted; in many cases it has never worked at all. In stories, there are so many tales of a utopia gone wrong. In history, there are so many accounts of good intentions, good beginnings, and bad endings.

In Eden, we see some of the same themes: a paradise lost. We see how different ways of deciding "What makes something good or evil?" made the whole thing fall apart -- and involved the question of who was really in charge. But in Eden, that is told without the oppression, and without the reign of terror. There was just a sad ending: as long as there were disagreements about what is right, and what is wrong, and who is in charge -- it can't last. That wisdom has escaped us. That "tree of life" that would make it last forever remains out of reach.

1 comment:

Martin LaBar said...

Yes, it must be hardwired into us.