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Utopia: Classical Gas 23 November 2006

Posted by mecca in ABUSHARIF, Philosophy, Politics, Reviews.

What better time for Visions of Utopia than cheerless late November, when daylight is short and the sky covered gray. This thin book comprises three essays on the proposition of utopia, its problems and value in human life. One of the essayists is Martin Marty, an expert on religion in America, who defends utopian visions regardless of their perfect record of failure. I’ve always wondered about utopia, probably because of the problems it creates, especially the siring of psychologies disabled from negotiating reality, especially among those who are “religious.”

The balloon of extremism is usually kept afloat by gassy utopian platitudes of what could be or, worse yet, what once was (a glorious look at the past that is invariably revisionist to the extreme). The disability to accept the difference between what should be and what is brings together a flock of people who are essentially deniers of nuance in life. Now, I don’t mean to say that life should work like a New Yorker short story, a rigid literary realism that pulls the heart out of life, a charmless existential view of things.

Well, Martin Mary says this: “Yes, I know of utopian failures. Yet the world would be poorer had no one ever dreamed dreams of the no-place (u-topia) that is home to perfect sets of human arrangements. One looks for a way to rescue something positive from utopian experiments, since they can also inspire world-weariness and cynicism in the mode of those who groan: ‘Everything has been tried. Nothing works.’”

Marty goes on, sometimes tediously, with examinations of utopian works, mainly from the Christian realm. I appreciate what Marty has to say about the importance of utopian paradigms, but I faintly see seeds of thoughts that seem alien to Islamic civilization which traditionally managed an imperfect world as a Perfect Design, a crucible not for the achievement of perfection but, among other things, of forgiveness-seeking mortals, the Adamic essence that played out in the Garden-Satan episode in which Adam was not the model of fallen man, but of forgiveness-seeking man and, per Quran, forgiveness receiving. The history of salvation is in this paradigm: the world designed for the impossibility of perfection but for the possibility of mercy and forgiveness. To spend brain time seeking what is impossible seems rather wasteful.

Visions of Utopia, by Edward Rothstein, Herbert Muschamp, and Martin Marty. Oxford University Press, 2003.



1. Irving - 24 November 2006

Utopias fail because they do not take into account the procreative imparative of life. Jealousy and resentment follows. There is no free lunch, even if you grow your own crops.

Ya Haqq!

2. talib - 25 November 2006

there are many different visions of ‘utopia’. not all of them as impossible as others.

day-dreaming is such a pleasurable waste of brain time.

3. ABD - 26 November 2006

this is something i’ve really wrestled with. i’ve tried to criticize utopianism without giving up on transcedent ideals in earlier posts (The Sword of Political Idealism, City of God I and II). the result of this strategy, it seems, is an otherworldly view of life. now this is something i’ve drawn much closer to in recent years, but i still wonder how it squares with the life and work of our prophet, on him be peace. was he not a revolutionary as much as a pragmatist, a political activist as much a spiritual teacher?

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