Two Utopian Visions of a 1600 Year Civilization in One Page, Research Time, 13/07/2018

One of the reasons I wanted to review Raphael Sassower’s new book formally* was that it’s relevant to my own major book of political philosophy – the messianically in-progress Utopias.

Few images of Jesus better communicate the essential idea of the
Incarnation better than Buddy Christ – He really is one of us.
* Which these blog posts are most definitely not. I’ve already outlined the review formally speaking, and know which points I’ll be covering. No specific critiques or interpretations that I’ll be throwing down in the review at the end of this month will be included in these blogs. It’s a compliment to Raphael that I consider his book complex enough to sustain more than one take. As all books should if they’re worth the paper or the hard drive space.

Concepts of prosperity all tend to focus on building a more perfect society. This refers at least to concepts in the Western tradition, in which I grew up and which until recently dominated the popular imaginary of most of Earth. To prosper is a joyful wealth, joy in wealth. Prosperity is a wealth about which you need no longer worry, a secure wealth.

How individualistically you read those last couple of sentences tells me a lot about your ethics and personality. The progressive political movements of contemporary Westerners share a common ground in their economic philosophy – we no longer believe that the prosperity of individuals in a community is the same as the community’s prosperity.

We ask how many individuals are prospering. We measure highest achievements, averages, create ranks, tax brackets. But if those prosperous individuals become wealthy from dynamics that keep others poor and suffering – whether intentional, systemic, or both – you don’t have a prosperous community.

Never mistake the prosperous man for a sign of a prosperous
In a single page from his introduction, Sassower lays out the religious and ontological framework that – broadly speaking** – Christian civilization has centred in thinking. Put very broadly, the Christian engagement with time is a sublime and terrifying teleology.

** This is based on a note from page 6. Literally the first chapter of The Quest for Prosperity. We’re still talking in broad strokes before more detailed examinations of the concepts. It always annoys me to meet academics who’d quibble over the details of clearly broad ideas to accuse an author of sloppiness. People with enormous institutional authority acting as if their research was to poke needless holes in the work of their colleagues. It’s called contributing to the current debates.

The Christian Bible is organized as the history of existence, and so conceives of the passage of time itself in human, Biblical terms. Christianity’s foundational and focal idea is the event of the Incarnation – when God literally becomes a creature, and that creature is human. Given that, you conceive all of existence as being for the sake of humanity.

Humanity’s existence and development is the purpose of the universe. How is that purpose framed? By utopias.

When the first skyscrapers of the United States
were built, popular culture conceived them as a
great achievement of human (and Western)
culture – the towers of our living paradise. Now
they're a sign of gentrification, condo crises, the
marginalization of poor people to distant suburbs,
the longest commutes, stress, misery.
Time begins with Eden – the pure presence of God with humanity on Earth. Time ends with Heaven – Earth’s corruption is cleansed and God now lives with humanity on Earth as one of us in this newly pure world. God the Creator is now God the Neighbour.

Jesus built my hot rod. Literally.

It’s not only time that happens in the middle of those two utopias – perfect existence at the beginning and perfected existence at the end. A Christian framework of thinking understands that middle temporality as purposeful suffering. We suffer now so that we can live in the utopia of Heaven.

Time becomes a process toward perfection, and the suffering of the present is an investment in achieving that perfection. You can secularize*** Christian utopian time, ending up with a teleology of technological progress. Human scientific, technological, industrial, and capitalist endeavour end with achieving paradise on Earth.

*** That’s how I want to understand secularity when I’m examining the religious aspects of Utopia’s argument. I may not engage with this too much, but it’ll be in the background. Faith: dogmatic religious belief. Atheism: pushing the logic of materialism to its limit (like Spinoza, or some readings of Kabbalah). Agnostic: Fucked if I know. Secular: retaining the concepts, the frameworks for understanding, of faith, but dropping reference to the dogma.


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