In this month’s Prospect, Anthony Dworkin explores the idea of utopias. Utopian ideas have been a disaster in the twentieth century: Nazism, Marxism, Communism… and we can go further back in history to see their failures in both political and religious manifestations.
In the 19th Century many utopians tried to create perfect societies in their small settlements, often in the ‘New World.’ Utopian visions are about creating utter harmony, and are thus about cleansing and getting rid of ‘dirt’. In the 20th Century, the mistake appears to have been to try to force these visions onto the world at large, and the ‘ethnic cleansing’ that so violently broke out as a result. Bush and Blair’s campaign to ‘rid the world of evil’ can really be seen as the last hurrah of this ideology.
Dworkin discusses John Gray’s book Black Mass: Apocalyptic Religion and the Death of Utopia, which argues that after the horrors of the 20th Century and the Iraq/neo-con debacle, liberal society should lean towards abandoning all political idealism.
I myself can see some parallels here in the church. We’ve seen so much, seen so many projects with such great hopes flounder, so many prophecies of impending revival fall flat, that we’re just prepared to give up on any grand vision at all. And the corollary of that is: we stop pushing the dirt away at all. We abandon any difference/distinction from the society we are in.
Having spoken to many people over the years about the Emerging Church, I’ve heard people get really excited that ‘finally this is what we’ve always been looking for’… and then, more recently, say ‘I just don’t care and I want to jack the whole thing in.’
So is the Emerging Church conversation just another hopeless utopia? Should we just abandon any grand vision and admit that it’ll probably just end up hurting people?
I’ll try to answer that in the next post.