As you are probably aware the US was gripped this past weekend with lottery fever and just about everyone here – myself included – tried (mostly unsuccessfully) our luck at becoming ludicrously rich. Conversation in my local bar was of little else than what we would do with the money from the lavish expenditure to the altruistic and charitable benevolence others planned to show. Of course my James Bond Watch has and always be my primary purchase should a win occur but in conversation with a good friend (and recent closet Agnostic !) I started to relay that old classic of buying an island and making it my own country – much like the attempts made by the principality of Sealand but with slightly less underhanded tactics.
I did of course stop day dreaming about such colossal sums of money and quickly realized even with a win as big as the one on offer, after taxes and all even developing an Island to a position where it could be a sovereign state (unless it had of course its own valuable resources and a queue of hungry investors) would be probably beyond the scope of your winnings. I mean you are wanting a country with its own government, infrastructure and probably for the planned Utopia you want, enough space to invite all the right-minded people to make that Island a Utopia.
Now of course I should want an Atheist Utopia where people of like mind and reason could come together in one place and live a total secular (and religion free) existence – quite an appealing fact so you are already looking at an island of some size so everyone can happily accomodate themselves. A quick bit of research and it seems that even just 850 Acres can cost as much as 80 million US Dollars so already the plan is somewhat wobbly. You’ll need a power station, roads and sanitation. You would also need civilian protection (whilst all Atheists are generally good they’ll still need policing, as well of course as for fire/rescue and so forth), government, education, healthcare, accommodation – and that is just scratching the surface. The cost would be astronomical and beyond a lottery win even of this magnitude.
But the silliness aside it did get me to thinking what an idea of Atheist Utopia would be like. First stop on my web travels is ‘old faithful’ or the Wikipedia entry for Utopia – without paraphrasing half the article it clearly states it’s definition of the word and varieties – Ecological, Economical, Religious, Peace/political, Feminism and Science and Technological. A further delve into these, particularly for this entry and those which are most relevant seem to be religious and scientific/technological – the former for its freedom from it, the latter as it would hope to be more conducive with our reasonable ways. However the entry is quite interesting in that the scientific entry talks only of worlds where technology assists human life to the maximum, where suffering and even death are eradicated – nice though that may seem that one is a long way off in theory.
Looking at the entry for religion I was quite miffed to find no entry for a Utopia with freedom from religion – in fact the only mention of Atheism within the entry is regarding Thomas More’s Utopia where Atheists ‘are the only despised people as they do not get rewarded for good behavior’ . Now assuming (and there is no hyperlink in the article to confirm) that Thomas More in this case is Sir Thomas More who was one of the apparent Renaissance Humanists – a movement pushing towards the teachings of science, law, natural philosophy and medicine – it seems odd that he would take such a stance – except he was a Roman Catholic and this was 1516 when he coined the very term ‘Utopia’. Anyway he was later beheaded for some of his anti-monarchy stances and also sainted apparently by the Catholics which I am sure they will still happily inform you about.
Anyway an ‘Atheist Utopia’ – well it appears to have been overlooked by certainly Wikipedia and any writers of note or hence they would have been surely mentioned. It seems that we must go to google and see if such a place has been debated or considered – it appears that in fact such a place existed – a place called Liberal in the State of Missouri. I say existed as although it is still a small town, it’s founder George Walser relapsed to spirituality (probably not helped by the missionaries who bombarded the city with their brethren to convert the godless heathens – more can be read here) and it seems nowadays this small town is just like any other American small town with about half the population adhering to some faith or another.
Whilst the town of Liberal failed because of the founder’s newly developed spirituality it at least means that it has been tried and now some 90 years on America has changed, as has the world. Would such an undertaking today be as successful? One could perhaps imagine much like areas of big cities such as New York for example where ethnic or social communities ‘adopt’ areas of the city so like people live amongst their own, could this not happen for Atheists? As a social experiment I think it would be pertinent to at least attempt. Whilst I do feel that integration and variety certainly help in conquering tensions between communities, I think also communities of like-minded and like people also bring multiculturalism and understanding through celebration and visibility. Certainly the LGBT communities which have transformed areas they have adopted have helped raise their profile and gained better understanding through this method, so I wonder if it could be the same for Atheism? Could we one day enjoy living in a neighborhood free from religion but home to reason?
It is certainly an idea – like in Liberal at first I think we would be a target to so many of the walking preachers who insist on disturbing our free time but I am sure that this would encourage debate in this day and age and hopefully after a bit of reasonable discussion and a realisation that they were at a loss – some peace. But above all I think if it were well publicized it could be a great step forward in acceptance by modern American society. It could also be a rallying point for the closet agnostics, free thinkers and skeptics looking for support. I imagine also it would be a wonderful multicultural community with people from all walks of life who chose our reasonable way of life. I’d imagine it to be a hotbed of discussion, idea and scientific discovery as like-minded people come together to share ideas and opinions free of the shadow of superstition. And through the simple ethos of morality through loving each other I’d hope it to be a safe place where people would genuinely look out for one another. And a place where people could come to escape religious persecution, to be welcomed and live a free life without fear of oppression from superstition. And a place to call home.
Sounds like a bit of a pipe dream I suppose – but it would certainly be at least an interesting social experiment. Here in New York, like many cities across the globe religious groups often flock together to make their own communities – as have the aforementioned LGBT communities. The two are of course different in their social classification and I would like more to class us more alike the latter, purely as the former is a religious assembly of a community, whereas the latter is more multicultural, more progressive and I think more with a point still to prove. And it is from these communities we could learn a lot – certainly they have communicated their point across by being visible, certainly colorful but also by leading by example. LGBT communities I have visited have generally been safe, clean, respectful yet not shy of their way of life. An atheistic community would have to work in the same way – our morals through our humanity would certainly go a long way to also starting safe environment, perhaps adopting a run-down community and doing our bit to clean up. One would hope our reasonable lifestyle would encourage the respect we would show to others around us and these would go towards acceptance. Be vocal about your skepticism and denial of faith but certainly respect those in the community who retain it (it still makes me cringe when the supervisor in my building, or the arabic storekeeper wishes me ‘God Bless!’ but I simply thank them as it is meant well – they know not of my Atheism). But above all it would be a great opportunity of strength through numbers.
Of course this is very much a simple idea and one that has probably been discussed before – I am new to America and new to my devout atheism, but I have found strength in community from the likes of the people at the Reason Rally. I’d hope that maybe it might at least spark a little discussion – I certainly welcome criticism. But the idea of waking up on a Sunday morning, strolling to a cafe to read the local papers and be surrounded by people who I feel comfortable and at one with -who you can look in the eye and converse with because you know you do it without fear of judgement and yet enjoy debate and ideas simply as that person – maybe that neighbor or stranger you have never met – does it with the reason and rationality, the humanity and understanding, the morality and freedom that we all hold so dear to us all.
Yeah, that to me is my Utopia