This summer America witnessed the dying spasm of Sixties’ utopianism, as visions of peace and love degenerated into mayhem and violence. I’m talking about Woodstock 1999, inspired by nostalgic memories of the flower children. By the end of the festival, teenagers faced off against the police, destroying property, looting, and setting fires — while chanting, “I won’t do what you tell me,” a line from a song played by one of the bands.
In a microcosm, Woodstock illustrates the complete failure of utopian visions of society — and their tendency to devolve into chaos and violence.
Utopianism has been among the most pervasive myths of our age. It lies at the heart of the great “isms” of the twentieth century, from National Socialism to Marxism. Utopianism denies the biblical doctrine of sin, defining the human dilemma not as moral rebellion against God but as ignorance, poverty, or oppression. The proposed solution, then, is simply better education or income redistribution or political reform.
The promise is that if we reform unjust social structures, natural human goodness will flourish. A utopian society can be created.
But how realistic is this utopian vision? Put bluntly, the entire twentieth century is a record of its failures. Everywhere utopian schemes have been put into practice — from Nazi Germany to the Soviet Union to Cambodia — they have produced tyranny and famine, secret police and hard labor camps.
Why? Because utopianism rests on the denial of a central Christian truth: the Fall. Christianity teaches that God created the world good, and that one of the good things He created was free will. But the first humans exercised their free will to reject God’s commands, which brought sin and evil into the world — resulting in suffering and death.
Modern thinkers often criticize the doctrine of sin as pessimistic and negative. But ironically, this doctrine is precisely what undergirds liberty. The American founders understood this clearly: They instituted a balance of power among three branches of government precisely on the grounds that due to the tendency to sin, power should not be concentrated in any one person or group. The founders built structures designed to limit the effects of sin, while maximizing liberty.
By contrast, utopian systems deny the reality of evil, and thus they build no safeguards against sin — which gives free rein to evil and tyranny.
Because of its biblical heritage, America has never had labor camps. Yet ever since the vaunted “idealism” of the Sixties, utopian ideas have moved into the mainstream: into education theory, psychology, government policy, and even the general culture — with the result that no one is responsible and everyone is a victim, entitled to government largesse.
Nowhere does the clash of worldviews have greater social impact than in the denial of sin and the consequent loss of moral responsibility. As Christians we need to learn to detect false ideas and to show why they are wrong. For if we fail to recognize prevailing worldviews, the worst that may happen is that we ourselves will be sucked into false thinking unawares — and lose our distinctive message.
And that would be disastrous, not only for ourselves but also for American society as a whole.
Copyright (c) 1999 Prison Fellowship Ministries. Reprinted with permission. “BreakPoint with Chuck Colson” is a radio ministry of Prison Fellowship Ministries.
Proverbs 3:1-35 (NKJV)
1 My son, do not forget my law, But let your heart keep my commands;
2 For length of days and long life And peace they will add to you.
3 Let not mercy and truth forsake you; Bind them around your neck, Write them on the tablet of your heart,
4 And so find favor and high esteem In the sight of God and man.
5 Trust in the LORD with all your heart, And lean not on your own understanding;
6 In all your ways acknowledge Him, And He shall direct your paths.
7 Do not be wise in your own eyes; Fear the LORD and depart from evil.
8 It will be health to your flesh, And strength to your bones.
9 Honor the LORD with your possessions, And with the firstfruits of all your increase;
10 So your barns will be filled with plenty, And your vats will overflow with new wine.
11 My son, do not despise the chastening of the LORD, Nor detest His correction;
12 For whom the LORD loves He corrects, Just as a father the son in whom he delights.
13 Happy is the man who finds wisdom, And the man who gains understanding;
14 For her proceeds are better than the profits of silver, And her gain than fine gold.
15 She is more precious than rubies, And all the things you may desire cannot compare with her.
16 Length of days is in her right hand, In her left hand riches and honor.
17 Her ways are ways of pleasantness, And all her paths are peace.
18 She is a tree of life to those who take hold of her, And happy are all who retain her.
19 The LORD by wisdom founded the earth; By understanding He established the heavens;
20 By His knowledge the depths were broken up, And clouds drop down the dew.
21 My son, let them not depart from your eyes– Keep sound wisdom and discretion;
22 So they will be life to your soul And grace to your neck.
23 Then you will walk safely in your way, And your foot will not stumble.
24 When you lie down, you will not be afraid; Yes, you will lie down and your sleep will be sweet.
25 Do not be afraid of sudden terror, Nor of trouble from the wicked when it comes;
26 For the LORD will be your confidence, And will keep your foot from being caught.
27 Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due, When it is in the power of your hand to do so.
28 Do not say to your neighbor, “Go, and come back, And tomorrow I will give it,” When you have it with you.
29 Do not devise evil against your neighbor, For he dwells by you for safety’s sake.
30 Do not strive with a man without cause, If he has done you no harm.
31 Do not envy the oppressor, And choose none of his ways;
32 For the perverse person is an abomination to the LORD, But His secret counsel is with the upright.
33 The curse of the LORD is on the house of the wicked, But He blesses the home of the just.
34 Surely He scorns the scornful, But gives grace to the humble.
35 The wise shall inherit glory, But shame shall be the legacy of fools.
The Millennium – David Jeremiah