Friday 7 October 2022

Utopian idealism - wanting way too much, yet pitifully little

What now strikes me about utopian idealists is how pitifully little they want! 

Consider some of the early socialists and communists. Supposing Marx had got absolutely everything he desired - the fully communist atheist society of common ownership, even to the degree that the state withered-away and New Men did all the right things because that is what they desired... What a pathetic life! Merely a brief animal existence of farmyard contentment, followed by a meaningless death and annihilation. 

Or William Morris, with his (to me, far more appealing) vision of a medieval-style, rural and beautiful, utopia of farmers, craftsmen and artists. But again, a world without transcendence, without eternity - hence without purpose, hence without any meaning except the pleasurable distractions of hand-labour, crafts, song and poetry. Then disease, decline and death; and then Nothing - forever. 

Or the modern transhumanists; who seek to abolish disease, ageing, death and suffering. If they somehow got everything what they wanted - what would it amount-to? A world without suffering, a world of continuous (or continuously modulating and varying) pleasure... forever! It takes a peculiar lack of imagination to suppose that even all this impossibly-unlikely transformation would make life worthwhile

This-worldly utopians think of themselves, and like to present themselves, as untrammeled by the 'possible' or even the plausible - as sweeping dreamers who dreams will create-themselves, by sheer force of untrammeled desire and will... And yet how pathetically restricted are those dreams!   

But, it might be asked - what about Christians? What about our goal of resurrected eternal life in Heaven - how could this be made... not just bearable, but profoundly and eternally fulfilling

I know of nobody who gave this matter deeper and more sustained consideration than William Arkle - most directly in his booklet Equations of Being. In this he allows himself to imagine what would be the necessary characteristics of a genuinely idealistic utopia - actual Heaven. 

What combination of change in ourselves and of an ideal environment, would we personally find fulfilling, motivating and joyous - forever

And then; can we conceive of how God - our loving Father and the Creator - might have made such a thing possible: made it happen?

If we can conceive of it; we finally need to ask whether it is true, and accessible to us; and how? 

Suppose that we are personally motivated to perform such a feat of sustained imagination about Heavenly life, what then? 

Well, that may then be a solid basis for Christian life in this very different, and temporary, mortal life and world. 

The contrast with any-and-all worldly and material 'utopias' shall then become very evident; and we may recognize that that kind of idealism is profoundly, tragically, misplaced.


ben said...

Sorry for the scatteredness of the thoughts.

Maybe Heaven isn't exactly a place for dwelling but instead, what's offered is development, Good-orientation, a greater concentration of matter. Maybe various 'contexts' are offered - I struggle to find a word broader than context that can really fit what I mean. The transitions would all be handled extremely intelligently, but not in a way that would seem manipulative, 'reality' wouldn't be threatened.

I tend to think of the offer as that of more 'reality', more context, profundity, richness, meaning, purpose, and of course Participation in the Original/Final Participation sense, to become increasingly like a god. All of this would be dynamic and open-ended, not something that can be pinned down as a stable vision. Certainly not eternal rest, or eternal contemplation, or something like that.

The idea of spending an eternity in close proximity to God is probably a function of what people were doing pre-mortally. As is the idea of statically existing in a place of pleasant feelings. The traditional vision of Heaven would be really a memory of pre-mortal existence whereas the real deal is becoming more like God; the activities, or contexts, or places people will be in are presumably greatly varied. And individuals wouldn't 'have a handle' on things, wouldn't understand everything in their environment, things would be 'up-in-the-air', up for grabs. Necessary activity and yet-to-be decided outcomes, not a game, or a simulation, or something predetermined by God.

I imagine the offer is of something that can't really be pinned down, like a neverending adventure, or a story, or Eternal Life! How glad we should be. To have an extremely powerful being that loves us similarly to how a father loves a child, and is trying to guide our development into gods (with all the qualitative improvement to existence it involves) What could be better?

Lady Mermaid said...

That was the point of the TV show about the afterlife called The Good Place. Based on secular metaphysics, heaven ultimately was a place where every pleasure and whim could be satisfied. While this is enjoyable for a while, it eventually gets old. Therefore, everyone eventually goes through a door into oblivion.

@Ben- C.S. Lewis and J.R.R Tolkien seemed to have similar ideas of heaven being a time to co-create w/ God. Tolkien referred to this as subcreation. While rest will probably be needed at times (even God rested on the 7th day), I believe that heaven will be an eternity of open ended creative work building new worlds alongside God. Children's imagination and desire to make up pretend worlds is a reflection of heaven in which imagination can become real if aligned w/ God.

Bruce Charlton said...

@LM - I watched the Good Life through. It began as brilliantly inventive comedy, then lapsed into political correctness for the third and fourth series - but it was fascinating to see the authors make a pretty sincere attempt to envisage Heaven from a materialist, utilitarian perspective.

As you describe, the authors were honest enough to admit that even the most perfect situation they could imagine was not sufficient for eternity; and therefore there was the final offer of oblivion. This corresponds to mainstream modern New Age spirituality - which draws selectively on the Eastern (Hindu, Buddhist etc) ideas to offer final 'peace'; and final escape from endless serial existence, even if it is existence in kind of oblivion or nirvana state (a fusion-with/ assimilation-into the divine, envisaged as universal 'creative-life'; when we are weary of living in whatever version of leftist, or transhumanist, utopia.

In other words; the authors had excluded by assumption the possibility of Heaven; and discovered that without Heaven there could be no Good Life. By first excluding all purpose and meaning, they then discover that - no matter how they re-arrange the pieces - there is no purpose or meaning in the world they imagined.

They then make a self-gratifying gesture of bleak, honest stoicism by acknowledging that life is futile - yet neither honesty nor stoicism can have any meaning in a world without purpose: therefore, all that remains is the 'fact' of bleakness.