Why Has Utopia Failed?

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Would you like to live in a better world? Mankind has spent millennia looking for a perfect society—a utopia—where all can live in peace and happiness. Why has it always gone wrong? Will we ever have utopia on this earth?


Will there ever be a time of peace on the earth? What will it mean to you?

Would you like to live in a better world—a world filled with peace, equity, happiness and prosperity for every man, woman and child? Most of us would. But why does such a world seem so far out of reach?

For thousands of years, philosophers have debated: What would a perfect world be like? How would it come about? Yet, in spite of all their ideas and efforts, human beings have not been able to create a perfect world. Why not? Has Utopia failed—or is it even possible?

The term "Utopia" to describe a perfect world was first coined by Sir Thomas More, in 1518. More wrote a novel depicting a fantastic new society, free from problems. More set this seemingly perfect society on an island, and gave it the name "Utopia." Since then, "Utopia" has become a kind of shorthand for a perfect place.

But did you realize, utopia literally means "no place"? The Greek ou means "no" and topos means "place." Even More knew that the place he wrote about was only imaginary. Indeed, there is "no place" on earth where human beings are all living together in real peace, with real harmony, experiencing lives free of worry, stress or pain. Rather, everywhere we look we see problems—poverty, crime, hunger, disease, war and corruption.

Truly, Utopia does not exist on earth. But why not? Is it because we are not educated? Eighteenth century British philosophers Jeremy Bentham and James Mill believed that "with universal education all serious social problems would be solved by the end of the century." But were all social problems solved by 1800? Of course not!

Nineteenth century Russian philosopher Mikhail Bakunin rejected the idea of divine law. "The first revolt is against the supreme tyranny of theology, of the phantom of God. As long as we have a master in heaven, we will be slaves on earth" (Pleasures of Philosophy, Will Durant, p. 279). Bakunin envisioned a world where education would make obsolete the need for God or state. "Bakunin… predicted that education would spread so rapidly that by 1900 the state would be unnecessary, and men would obey only the laws of nature" (ibid.).

But he, like Bentham and Mill, was proved wrong.

Neither did the 20th century bring Utopia. Indeed, the two most destructive wars in all of human history were fought in the first half of that century. In World War I, as many as one out of every seven adult males on earth was in uniform—more than 50 million men. Thirteen million died while fighting. And World War II was even more devastating. In World War I, just 5 percent of those killed were civilians, but in World War II, fully half of the casualties were civilian noncombatants. With 50 different countries involved in the conflict, World War II was truly a world war. The United States alone sent 16 million men to fight in that war, and around the world the estimated death toll is as high as 60 million. Truly, it was, "the bloodiest conflict, as well as the largest war, in history…" ("Second World War," Encyclopaedia Britannica, 15th ed.).

Time has not brought us closer to Utopia. So, maybe we just need more time? Surely, if given enough time, humanity will figure it out, and find the way to make a perfect society, yes? That is what the Marquis de Condorcet, a French philosopher, thought in 1793 when he said, "No bounds have been fixed to the improvement of the human faculties; the perfectibility of man is absolutely indefinite; the progress of this perfection… has no other limit than the duration of the globe upon which nature has placed us" (Durant, p. 243).

Is that what history teaches us? Or, if we look at the track record of mankind, should we expect that poverty, disease, corruption and war will become even more deadly, if we are left to our own devices?

What Man's Efforts Will Bring

Bible prophecy foretells that there will be a coming war so devastating that World War I and World War II will pale by comparison. "Then the sixth angel sounded: And I heard a voice from the four horns of the golden altar which is before God, saying to the sixth angel who had the trumpet, 'Release the four angels who are bound at the great river Euphrates'… Now the number of the army of the horsemen was two hundred million, and I heard the number of them" (Revelation 9:13–16).

That army will swoop into the Middle East from the east, and its arrival will lead to a climactic battle for control of the whole earth. What will be the result? "And thus I saw the horses in the vision: those who sat on them had breastplates of fiery red, hyacinth blue, and sulfur yellow; and the heads of the horses were like the heads of lions; and out of their mouths came fire, smoke, and brimstone. By these three plagues a third of mankind was killed by the fire and the smoke and the brimstone which came out of their mouths" (vv. 17–18).

Scripture makes plain that this is where human beings, by themselves, will go—into chaos, destruction and death. Mankind does not know the way to peace, and its crowning achievement, at the end of our modern era, will be to very nearly wipe out every human being on earth. In fact, it is only through God's grace and mercy that humanity will escape total annihilation.

Notice what Jesus said about the end times: "For the trouble at that time will be far more terrible than any there has ever been, from the beginning of the world to this very day. Nor will there ever be anything like it again. But God has already reduced the number of days; had he not done so, nobody would survive. For the sake of his chosen people, however, God will reduce the days" (Matthew 24:21–22, Good News Translation).

Yes, to save us from the certainty of total cosmocide, Jesus Christ will return to earth, and intervene powerfully and decisively!

What will it take to have Utopia on earth? What is the missing ingredient in our search for a new and better world? Notice what the Apostle John wrote about the condition of mankind at the end of this age: "But the rest of mankind, who were not killed by these plagues, did not repent of the works of their hands, that they should not worship demons, and idols of gold, silver, brass, stone, and wood, which can neither see nor hear nor walk; and they did not repent of their murders or their sorceries or their sexual immorality or their thefts" (Revelation 9:20).

John describes our sinful world, where billions routinely break the Ten Commandments, which God gave mankind to regulate society and teach us how to love each other—and how to love God. Yes, this is the missing ingredient: obedience to the laws of God. Billions today think they can achieve happiness by becoming free from law—especially from God's law. But God says just the opposite. Ancient King David knew this, when he wrote these inspiring words in the Psalms: "Blessed are the undefiled in the way, who walk in the law of the Lord!" (Psalm 119:1). "Make me walk in the path of Your commandments, for I delight in it" (v. 35). "Great peace have those who love Your law, and nothing causes them to stumble" (v. 165).

David knew the blessings of God's law. He did not think that "freedom" meant the freedom to murder another person, or steal their possessions. Many today believe the false notion that law brings unhappiness, and that unrestrained liberty brings absolute joy. However, God reveals that His law brings true liberty—James even calls the Ten Commandments "the law of liberty" (James 1:25; 2:12).

God's law is also called the "royal law." We read: "If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself,' you do well" (James 2:8). When James called God's law the "royal" law, he meant the Ten Commandments. In case there might be any doubt, he names two of them: "For He who said, 'Do not commit adultery,' also said, 'Do not murder.' Now if you do not commit adultery, but you do murder, you have become a transgressor of the law" (v. 11).

Christ had come to "fulfill" the law, not to destroy it (Matthew 5:17). Christ—as the very same God who had given the Ten Commandments at Mount Sinai (for more on this topic, please write for our free reprint article, "Who Was the God of the Old Testament?")—showed His apostles and followers how to live the full spiritual application of that law, through His love.

Many who call themselves Christians mistakenly think that Jesus, by emphasizing love, was doing away with God's law. But what did the apostles think "love" meant? "Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and everyone who loves Him who begot also loves him who is begotten of Him. By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and keep His commandments" (1 John 5:1–2). Yes, as we love God, we will obey Him, which means to keep His commandments. Note also: "For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments. And His commandments are not burdensome" (v. 3).

God's Law, or Man's?

Even this world's philosophers usually admit that a perfect society will be ruled by law. The disagreement is over what the laws should be. The philosopher Bertrand Russell summed up what the Greek philosopher Plato considered an ideal society. Plato "proceeds to apply his communism to the family. Friends, he says, should have all things in common, including women and children. He admits that this presents difficulties, but thinks them not insuperable… Marriage, as we know it, will be radically transformed… ['These women shall be, without exception, the common wives of these men, and no one shall have a wife of his own.']" (A History of Western Philosophy, p. 108).

What about children? Here is what Plato envisioned: "All children will be taken away from their parents at birth, and great care will be taken so that no parents shall know who are their children, and no children shall know who are their parents… Since no one knows who his parents are, he is to call everyone 'father' whose age is such that he might be his father, and similarly as regards 'mother' and 'brother' and 'sister'… Mothers are to be between twenty and forty, fathers between twenty-five and fifty-five. Outside these ages, intercourse is to be free, but… abortion or infanticide is to be compulsory" (ibid.)

That is what Plato thought would be the ultimate happy, peaceful society. Does that sound to you like an ideal world? Would it build stable and healthy relationships? Would it build trust, friendship and fulfillment? Would it build close and loving families? Of course not!

Yet, sadly, modern society has in some ways moved closer to Plato's ideal than to God's. Traditional marriage is under assault, by some who believe it is unnecessary, and by others who want to redefine it in an unprecedented way. Millions of children, born out of wedlock, do not know their fathers. Why does this approach inevitably fail? God gave the very simple answer with His law: "You shall not commit adultery" (Exodus 20:14). God designed society; He knows that family is the building block of society, and that when you destroy it, you destroy society. God instructed us: "Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long upon the land which the Lord your God is giving you" (Exodus 20:12). A society in which children fail to honor their parents will quickly fall apart. And a society where parents may legally murder their unborn children is far from a Utopia. Have the 43 million children aborted in the United States since 1973 experienced Utopia?

Indeed, modern Western society is moving closer and closer to Plato's "ideal"—but what has that move brought us? More fulfillment? More joy? Or has it brought regret, pain and heartache?

Even in the realm of politics, we are moving closer to what Plato envisioned. Read what he taught about the importance of lying: "Lying, Plato says explicitly, is to be a prerogative of the government.… There is to be 'one royal lie,' which, Plato hopes, may deceive the rulers, but will at any rate deceive the rest of the city. This 'lie' is set forth in considerable detail… The most important part of it is the dogma that God has created men of three kinds, the best made of gold, the second best of silver, and the common herd of brass and iron. Those made of gold are fit to be guardians; those made of silver should be soldiers; the others should do the manual work… It is thought hardly possible to make the present generation believe this myth, but the next, and all subsequent generations can be so educated as not to doubt it" (Russell, p. 108).

Plato taught that it was the government's right—even its responsibility—to lie to its citizens. How does that sound today, in our world where many governments have been caught lying to their citizens? Have those lies brought about Utopia? Lying is a plague in modern society. One estimate suggests that 91 percent of Americans lie regularly—and that they most often lie to those closest to them (The Day America Told the Truth, p. 45). When you find out that someone has lied to you, how does it make you feel? Does it bring you closer, or do you feel hurt, betrayed and let down?

God does not deceive, and He commanded His people not to practice the way of deception. The Ninth Commandment plainly instructs: "You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor" (Exodus 20:16).

Utopia for You?

In your own life, have you fallen victim to the myth that God's law is harsh, unkind and restrictive? Or are you willing to test His law to see if it works as He says it does? When Jesus Christ returns to earth, as King of kings and Lord of lords, He will teach—and exemplify—God's law. But Christians today can experience the blessings and benefits of that law, right now, by putting it into practice in their own lives.

What will the world be like when Christ rules it through His law? We read: "Now it shall come to pass in the latter days that the mountain of the Lord's house shall be established on the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and all nations shall flow to it. Many people shall come and say, 'Come, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; He will teach us His ways, and we shall walk in His paths.' For out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem" (Isaiah 2:2–3).

This is not a fantasy or an allegory. Jerusalem will be the seat of God's Kingdom, from which Jesus Christ will rule the earth, based on the solid foundation of His law. Then, the world will experience unprecedented peace. Wars will cease: "He [God] shall judge between the nations, and shall rebuke many people; they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; Nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore" (Isaiah 2:4).

Truly, the earth will then be at peace: "The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the young goat, the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little child shall lead them. The cow and the bear shall graze; their young ones shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. The nursing child shall play by the cobra's hole, and the weaned child shall put his hand in the viper's den. They shall not hurt nor destroy in all My holy mountain" (Isaiah 11:6–9).

That world is coming. It is not just a dream. Human beings, who have for thousands of years sought to build Utopia on their own, will find under God's rule the peace and prosperity they have never achieved by themselves. Why will this finally be possible? Because "the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea" (Isaiah 11:9). We all await that day. But each of us can begin living that life right now, and experiencing today the blessings that the rest of humanity will finally taste in Tomorrow's World.

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