THE word utopia was coined in 1516 by Thomas More as a pun meaning both a good place and no place. How apt.
Now we have the Internet, a virtual society, the first real no place, where impossible dreams of perfection abound.
But the personal therapy cults, obsession with consumerism and religious cults promising utopia are all symptoms of an age of confusion. The cyberworld seems crammed with paranoid gurus suffering delusions that they are God, claiming special powers of clairvoyance and advancing absurd theories about the universe.
C.S. Lewis, in Mere Christianity, noted two things odd about the human race.
“First they are haunted by the idea of a sort of behavior they ought to practice, what you might call fair play or decency or morality, or the Law of Nature,” Lewis wrote.
“Second, that they do not practise this.”
Lewis said the Law of Human Nature must be something above and beyond the actual facts of human behavior.
According to Lewis, moral choices always alter the core of our souls.
Slowly, we turn into either heavenly or hellish creatures.
“To be one kind of creature is joy and peace and knowledge and power,” he wrote.
“To be the other means madness, horror, idiocy, rage, impotence and eternal loneliness.
“Each of us at each moment is progressing to the one state or the other.”
So why do we keep dreaming up impossible schemes of perfection when this world, with all its messiness, is as good as it’s going to get?
We cannot control this world, and we are not really in charge of many things about our lives that we like to think we are.
But we each have the capacity to respond to life as we choose. That’s the real utopia. We can learn from the wonderful messiness of life, and make active choices. How things really are and always will be on this planet is neither all evil nor all good . Life is imperfect and we have to deal with that with our eyes open.
The great spiritual teachers, Jesus, Mohammed and Buddha, did not talk of false utopias.
Instead, they encouraged their followers to pour their lives out for others; to engage this world and transform it.
In the end, they all said, spiritual choices mean a life is either lost or given to the world.