Several years ago there was a reality show on Fox that I was really excited about. It was called Utopia and it was going to be like Survivor but the goal was less about one person surviving to the end and winning a million dollars and more about a group of strangers trying to create a community that involved cooperation and peaceful governance. I thought this was going to be a great social experiment to watch.
I watched the first few episodes before the show was canceled. It was a complete disaster. Fox, never known for their subtlety, seemed to have no concept of what Utopia really means. All of the cast of strangers would start the show by telling the camera what Utopia means to them. Each one said something like, “For me, Utopia would be if everyone was on a diet of beets and peanuts;” “For me, Utopia would be everyone wears red hats like me;” “For me, Utopia would be everyone listening to Yo Yo Ma.”
Utopia is a place of ideal contentment among society not a place where everyone takes on my narrowed and personal preferences. Fox didn’t want its contestants to actually find Utopia; they just wanted to find contestants that would double down on their personal biases and then watch the personal conflict sparks fly. The show was sad to watch and was a low point in reality TV.
How do we improve society? Is it the Utopia show approach where individuals try to heavy handedly push their ideologies and personal preferences over another or is it the Jesus approach? The former approach is making an idol out of our selfish ambitions and has little concern for others. This is what John Mark Comer describes as, “a way to usher in utopia without God.” This is doomed to fail.
The Jesus approach, meanwhile, starts not with an individual’s wish list of wants but with personal transformation into the likeness of Christ. It is a heart, mind, and body change that can only be directed by God. Once these individuals start to Grow Up then they start to revolutionize society for the better. Examples abound throughout history.
The early church transformed Roman society. William Wilberforce brought reform to barbaric slave practices. St. Francis restored sacrifice, humility, and surrender to the Catholic church. Bonhoeffer countered institutional evil with commitment to Christ. Dorothy Day brought God’s love to thousands of needy individuals. None of these people from history set out to beat people over the head with their convictions. God ignited a fire in them and it changed their own life and that started to spill over into their community and the people they interacted with and served.
Nothing resembling Utopia is possible outside of Christ and the Kingdom of God.