2012-10-18

The Utopian Connection

How does "Unitarian" and "Universalist" fit with "Utopian"? Generally, UUs tend to be a fairly practical lot. There are no UU Utopian Communes today. Nor do we have monasteries (a kind of commune that might be seen as Utopian).

Nevertheless, the leap from “Unitarian” to “Utopian” is not so long -- for those who may be inclined to make it. Here's the chain of logical links:

1. “Unitarian” means god is one, not three. The first Unitarians – both in Europe 450 years ago and in American 200 years ago – adhered to the Bible. So “God” meant Yahweh -- “The Lord” of the Hebrew Bible.

2. Since there is but one God, Jesus isn’t God, but (only?) the preeminent prophet and rabbi/teacher.

3. This approach de-emphasizes the immaculate conception, the virgin birth (two different things, BTW), the resurrection, and even the miracles. Instead, early Unitarians gave more emphasis to Jesus' life and teachings. How he lived was more important that how he died.

4. As the emphasis was on Jesus in this world, rather than resurrection into some other world, so the Unitarian emphasis came to be on this world for all of us, rather than heaven or hell in the next world.

5. The emphasis on this world led to attention to the question of how this world could be better designed and organized.

And that’s how we can get, if we want to, from rejecting Trinitarianism to embracing Utopianism: in five logical steps. Is this a bit of a stretch? We might think so, except that our history shows that many of us did follow that chain. While UUs aren't notably diving into Utopian experiments today, past Unitarians and Universalists did.

Before 1600, Unitarians in Poland had founded a planned community of sorts at Racovia.

The first hippie? George Ripley (1802-1880),
Unitarian minister and founder of Brook Farm
Brook Farm, the famous Utopian experiment in communal living in Massachusetts in the 1840s, was founded by Unitarian minister George Ripley and other progressive, Transcendentalist Unitarians. It was inspired by the ideals of Transcendentalism, as they were expressed by such transcendentalist luminaries as Unitarian minister Theodore Parker, and former Unitarian minister, Ralph Waldo Emerson. Each member of Brook Farm could choose to do whatever work she or he found most appealing, and all were paid equally, including – radical for its time – women. The Brook Farm motto was:
“industry without drudgery and true equality without its vulgarity.”
Ripley wanted Brook Farm to be a model for the rest of society. In its six years of existence, the initial 10 members expanded to 32. Unitarian Margaret Fuller never officially joined but was a frequent visitor. New York newspaper editor Horace Greeley, also Unitarian, pressured Brook Farm to adhere to the communitarian ideals.

At about the same time as Brook Farm, other Utopian communities were organized: the Universalist Adin Ballou organized Hopedale Community, and the prominent Unitarian, Bronson Alcott, founded Fruitlands.

Our interest in the possibilities for making this world better keeps Unitarian Universalists open to what may be learned from Utopian communities.

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This is part 1 of 4 of "Where Did Nowhere Go?"
Next: Part 2: "Twin Oaks Community"
See also: "Odyssey: part 8: The Commune Attraction"