Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Utopia and the Myopic Evangelical Vision

I am participating in this month's Synchroblog with the theme of utopias. The topic was stimulated by my recent post on the topic as I read through an issue of What is Enlightenment? magazine with this as the theme.

As I've commented on before, as I researched the Burning Man Festival and intentional community for my graduate degree, particularly as I considered what lessons it might have for Christians who can practice personal and community reflexivity, I considered the aspect of utopian thinking. One of the scholars I interacted with defined utopianism as "a state of mind embodied in actual conduct seeking 'to burst the bounds of an existing order.'" This author went further and noted that there "would seem to be some innate connection between utopianism as a mode of thought and social action and the vision of salvation held out by different world-historical religions."

As this author developed the idea of utopian thinking he made the connection to Christianity, and it is earliest expression he understood this as a form of utopian community. As I wrote in my thesis:

"...the early Christian community and its utopian unity in Christ, drew upon 'the Jewish prophetic tradition of the end of days, [and thus] Christianity was itself an attempt to radically alter the social world of late antiquity in line with a vision of a new order, of a new heaven and a new earth.' This utopian community 'was symbolized by the Eucharist,' and as an alternative community '[e]arly Christianity thus presented an alternative locus of social identity and community that was rooted in the experience of grace and the experience of the Parusia [sic].'"

I found this analysis of Christianity as a form of utopianism interesting. I'm not aware of many Christians who consider their church membership or participation in Christian community as a form of a realized eschatological utopia. But thisline of thought is particularly interesting as it is tracd historically in the development of the church. In the view of the scholar quoted above, the Protestant Reformation brought about a change in the assumptions underlying the Christian utopian vision.

"Seligman states that, '[w]ith the Reformation, secular callings were given a religious legitimation and were perceived as possible paths to salvation, thus opening up the possibility of a radically new articulation of utopian themes in terms of this-worldly realization of spiritual ends.'"

This would make for an interesting historical and theological thread for further exploration, and there may be great validity to it. My research indicates that the Christian celebration of festival as part of the sacred calendar (beyond Christmas and Easter) may have been stamped out of the church in a reaction against Roman Catholicism. Is it possible that the Reformation also brought about changes in the way the church viewed itself and its relationship to culture, and with this came a redefinition of the utopian vision, perhaps myopically so, one that may be perpetuated by evangelicalism? Perhaps the presence of utopian or heterotopian communities like Burning Man can provide a point of self-reflection and redefinition for the church in the West so that it might rediscover the current presence of the Kingdom, a realized eschatology that is already/not yet, and a new sense of Christian community as a foretaste of the utopian vision.

Please visit the other contributors to this month's Synchroblog:

Steve Hayes at Notes from the Underground
Phil Wyman at Phil Wyman's Square No More
David Fisher at Be the Revolution
Adam Gonnerman at Igneous Quill
Sam Norton at Elizaphanian
Sally Coleman at Eternal Echoes
Sonja Andrews at Calacirian
Erin Word at Decompressing Faith
Julie Clawson at One Hand Clapping


Pastor Phil said...

Nice set of questions to pursue. Thanks for the challenge.

MikeCamel said...

Nice to have the academic bent, and the link back to the Reformation.

Just so you know, I also participated: Mike's Musings

John W. Morehead said...

Sorry, Mike. Didn't mean to exclude you. I think I posted a collection of Synchroblog links that was earlier in the process than the final result. Glad to have your comments and contribution.

Jeremiah said...

I like the thought that just because Jesus will return and make all things new doesn't mean we shouldn't keep trying to make things better. I stray from the dominionists in that I don't believe God is waiting for a reformed society to return - but we are commanded to be as genuine as we can be in an ungenuine world (and church)