I applaud those who want to make their community a better place to live. Followers of Christ are called to do just that. But how? Ah, that’s where the responses get interesting.
Historically, America has been a breeding group for utopian communities, groups working to build a perfect society from the ground up. Between 1825 and 1860, America had close to 100 utopian communities, each one built on different ideals and principles. But where are they today? The one consistent thread tying all these communities together was failure. Sociologists can give you their reason for failure, but I want to look at their history from a biblical perspective.
This is the second of a three-part series, looking at three of these utopian societies.
If you could reduce the problems of society down to one thing, what would you choose? In last week’s blog, I noted that Robert Owen blamed all our ills on individualism. He attempted to set up a community where everyone worked for the sake of the community rather than for themselves. He failed.
Charles Fourier would say the community failed because the problem was the exact opposite. He said the problem was not the individual, but that society has squelched the individual. Society keeps us from pursuing our own individual passions. This Frenchman started spouting his self-centered philosophy in the early 1800s, but it was a New Yorker named Albert Brisbane who gave legs to Fourier’s ideas.
Here’s the gist of what these men believed. Society squelches our true passions, and if we could get society to support and encourage our passions, we’d all be better off. We’d feel fulfilled; we’d be “benign.” This wasn’t about sexual passion alone, although that was certainly part of the equation. If we could just embrace our passions and run freely with them, my, how happy we’d be. Underlying this is a sense that anything goes, and when you put that in the context of sexual passion … well, like I said, anything goes.
Albert Brisbane bought into this and wanted to build a whole community around the freeing of the passions. But Brisbane didn’t want to set up one ideal, utopian community; he wanted scores of them scattered around. He called them phalanxes, and between 1840 and 1847, there were about 20 of these phalanxes. These were rural communes where the residents would live together, pursuing sensual lives of love and passion.
These communities didn’t last. Most failed after two years. Historians and sociologists debate this and might point to a variety of things, like laziness and mismanagement of the community, but I see one glaring flaw.
Living for self is never harmonious.
To be sure, God has given us our passions. The hungers we have within us? God placed them there, but they need to be fulfilled and enjoyed with a healthy dose of self-control. When we let our passions and desires run unhindered, we bring harm to ourselves. It is freer to live with self-control under the power of God’s Holy Spirit than to let my passions control me. When I let my passions run wild, I’ve given control over to the self-centered sin nature resident within me. What’s free about living as a slave to sin?
Let’s add another layer to that. If I’m pursuing only what I want, and you are pursuing only what you want, a collision is going to occur. Add more self-centered people, each pursuing their own passions without restraint, and we’re going to have a major collision. To think a utopian society can exist where we are all chasing our own passions is foolish. It is no wonder this communities failed. But don’t take my word for it.
“For where there is envy and selfish ambition, there is disorder and every evil practice” (Jas. 3:16).
“What is the source of wars and fights among you? Don’t they come from your passions that wage war within you? You desire and do not have. You murder and covet and cannot obtain. You fight and wage war. You do not have because you do not ask. You ask and don’t receive because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your pleasures” (Jas. 4:1-3).
The greater joy—the infinitely greater joy—comes not from living for self, but living for Christ. Happiness eludes me when I make my own passions my gods, but the contentment and satisfaction I crave is there when I rest in Christ and live for Him. That sounds foolish to the person living apart from Christ, but it’s a wonderful and amazing truth I have found—and experienced.
And by living for Christ, I’m contributing to a better community.
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