On utopianism and how dreams (or the hope for the “as if” and in Christian terms, what I imagine the in-breaking of the new creation on the old) plays itself out practically, William Morris says in A Dream of John Ball:
Men fight and lose the battle, and the thing that they fought for comes about in spite of defeat, and when it comes it turns out not to be what they meant, and other men have to fight for what they meant under another name.
In the same book by Christopher Hitchens that I have recently posted on, he continues by mentioning Robert Conquest as having a low view of Utopians. According to Conquest, most of our woes derive from idealists. But Hitchens takes him to task on this insomuch as the above quote puts things into historical context:
To train the condemnation upon Utopians is to miss the historical point that Utopians become tyrants when they start to emulate their former masters. It is also to miss the teleological point that we are somewhat so constructed as to feel the permanent lash of discontent; it is not possible to immunize people against the hope of extraordinary change.
It’s important that we as Christians recognize that whilst the Son (Jesus) does emanate from the Father (God the father), the relationship is not one in which the tyrant and the Utopian exchange their role. Rather they continue a harmonious and expanding relationship with themselves and (or perhaps through) creation. If we have any other understanding of God and the relationship of the trinity and in turn its relationship to creation including human beings, and what will happen to creation at the end of time, then we have completely missed the mark in understanding the Gospel and its impact on the reality we live in now. The Greeks made this mistake. Derrida has emulated them in assuming that Cronus the Titan, the father of Zeus must be destroyed by his son, in order for reality to continue. In order, for the tyrant to be destroyed and for “the thing that we fought for” to occur.
But what does this mean practically to you and I, the the Young Contrarians, in Hitchens eyes?
Hitchens goes on to describe what character is needed to fulfill the role of the Utopian-Realist. The one who does not take part in the learned oppression of the tyrant, yet looks towards a new, better reality fully aware of reality in which he finds himself.
I think what Hichens describes in his Letters points to some of the characteristics that Jesus expects from us. Not all of them mind, and Hitchens recommendations need to be rightly understood. Nevertheless, I go so far as to say that understood rightly, Hitchens’s closing remarks describe Jesus’ Foreign Policy, if by the word “policy” we mean a commitment through the principle or rule that describes decisions we make or will make; and if we understand our loyalty to belong to the Kingdom of God, and our role in life to be emissaries implementing a foreign policy of this Kingdom where ever we are. Then, Hitchens’s closing recommendations bind together the focus of Jesus’ act on the cross and his later resurrection with the real Utopian anticipation (his vision of the aforementioned ‘as if’). If Jesus Christ is our head then our ‘high ambition’ according to Hitchens should be to:
strive to combine the maximum of impatience with the maximum of skepticism, the maximum of hatred of injustice and irrationality with the maximum of ironic self-criticism…
to “learn from history rather than invoking or sloganising it.”
Of course there is more to be said about what other characteristics Jesus would have us develop, but if the problem of the Utopian is his romanticism (as it is for many of us), and if the problem of the other pole, the Realist, is his lack of a vision for the possibility of the “as if” mixed with a tendency towards cynicism, them the above instructions, as filtered through a reading of Jesus seen through the gospels stories will allow us, both as the body of Christ and as individuals to work towards realizing the Kingdom of God.
I will leave it to the readers understanding and explain how impatience, skepticism, and self-critical irony are Christian virtues. They are, and they are the stance that we need to adopt more, not less.