Utopia Before the Quakers – Friends Journal

uaker utopias do not have such an Edenic and idyllic playground in which to live out their principles but instead must incarnate their convictions in the gritty world that, at best, will find the community baffling and, at worst, threatening. A spirit of perseverance is especially crucial in the face of societal hopelessness. To live prophetically against the dominant culture means living in tension with a way of life or thinking that seems impenetrable and immovable. While having not read the examples provided in this issue, I hypothesize that, besides internal strife, one of the most significant causes of utopian collapse is the erosion of hope: participants giving up because of a lack of “progress” or impact and giving in by rejoining the world at large. The mark of authentic Quaker utopian and prophetic living is not whether such a community can be imagined, articulated, or even implemented but whether such a community (or even personal ideals) can withstand the unrelenting temptation of realpolitik and the crushing pressures of conformity and expediency.

The most significant point of departure between More’s Utopia and Quaker utopian communities is that it is likely More never intended for these Utopian ideals ever to be actualized in reality (the very word utopia in Greek is translated as “no place”). Thus, it has always existed as little more than a thought experiment and, in terms of socio-political impact, a more ephemeral than effectual one. The danger for Quaker distinctives is that they ultimately become more abstract than actual and that theorizing about these convictions becomes preferable to incarnating them, in all of their messiness and complications, in our relationships and communities.

Depending on the translation, More, at the end of Utopia in Robert Adams’s translation, reflects on the probability of England implementing any Utopian policies: “I don’t really expect it will” or, in Ralph Robinson’s slightly more poetic version, “I may rather wish for than hope after.” May readers, as they reflect upon the Quaker utopias in this issue, be encouraged and inspired by the faith and love made flesh in the actions and attitudes of these communities, and may all possess the prophetic, utopian hope of what could be.

Utopia Before the Quakers – Friends Journal

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