Can’t We Build a Just Society?

This is the title of the first chapter of Jay W. Richard’s book, “Money, Greed, and God.”  

Last week I wrote about the “Zero-Sum Myth.” 

This week we’ll talk about the Nirvana Myth.  Jay says the Nirvana Myth basically believes that we can build utopia if we just try hard enough, and that every real society is intolerably wicked because it doesn’t measure up to utopia. 

“To grasp the biblical message of God’s reign, we must avoid two tempting but false extremes.   The first temptation is to quarantine God’s kingdom safely in the distant future up in the clouds, in “heaven,” sealed off away from the blood, sweat, and tears of the present.  In this view, we should expect the world to be not only corrupt but beyond repair.  There’s nothing we can do about it.  The world’s going to hell in a handbasket.  Don’t bother polishing the brass on a sinking ship.  The best we can hope for is that in the end we’ll be saved, maybe raptured before it gets really bad, and perhaps we’ll be able to bring a few converts along with us.  In this telling, Christian faith is at worst a story about me-and-Jesus, about saving my soul and little else, and at best it’s about a gospel message that can save souls but has little power to transform the larger world for good.  On this model, God’s kingdom has little to do with worries about poverty, injustice, and the physical struggles that mark our earthly lives.”

The Bible describes God’s kingdom as “at hand,” and “near.”  Jesus also talks about his kingdom as being “not of this world.”  He also goes on to say that his kingdom will come suddenly and in power and judgement.  He’s talking separately about spiritual and physical things here.  In the future, the Bible says that there will be a new heaven and a new earth, and a New Jerusalem where God will make everything new.  So, there’s a bit of a conflict here it may seem.  God’s hand is at work in the world, but at the same time all the world is cursed because of sin.  We won’t fully experience God’s kingdom here on earth until Jesus return.  Jay says, “Wherever believers are obeying God’s commands in the world, there should be some glimmer of his kingdom.”

“That doesn’t mean, however, that we will establish god’s kingdom in its fullness through our own good works.  God is responsible for establishing his kingdom, not us.  God came first in humility in Jesus.  He will come again in power and glory.  But that hasn’t happened yet, and we can’t trigger it.  If we try, we won’t just fail, we’ll do far more harm than good.

The grand communist experiment is a secularized attempt to establish God’s kingdom on earth.  Marx’s story has the main elements of the Christian story: primeval paradise, fall, redemption, eternal paradise.  It’s just stripped of references to God, sin, Jesus, and the afterlife.  If Christians can’t bring about the kingdom of God on earth, however, it’s no surprise that this secular surrogate was doomed to failure as well.”

And now we come to the second of the false extremes he mentioned earlier.  The first was to believe that God’s kingdom is relegated only to the future, and that we’re just hanging around waiting to die.  The second extreme is the idea that we can actually create that ideal here and now. 

“It doesn’t do anyone any good to tear down a society that is “unjust” compared to the kingdom of God if that society is more just than any of the ones that will replace it.””

“The Nirvana Myth dazzles the eyes, to the point that the real alternatives all seem like dull and barely distinguishable shades of gray.  The free exchange of wages for work in the marketplace starts to look like slavery.  Tough competition for market share between companies is confused with theft and survival of the fittest.  Banking is confused with usury and exploitation.  This shouldn’t surprise us.  Of course a modern capitalist society like the United States looks terrible compared with the kingdom of God.  But that’s bad moral reasoning.  The question isn’t whether capitalism measures up to the kingdom of God.  The question is whether there’s a better alternative in this life.”

“If we’re going to compare modern capitalism with an extreme, we should compare it with a real extreme – like communism in Cambodia, China, or the Soviet Union.  Unlike Nirvana, these experiments are well within our power to bring about.  They all reveal the terrible cost of trying to create a society in which everyone is economically equal.” 

“So how should we answer the question that began this chapter: can’t we build a more just society?  The answer: we should do everything we can to build a more just society and a more just world.  And the worst way to do that is to try to create an egalitarian utopia.”

Here are some disturbing stats. 

Deaths by communist regimes in the twentieth century:

China – 65 million

USSR – 20 million

North Korea – 2 million

Cambodia – 2 million

Africa – 1.7 million

Afghanistan – 1.5 million

Vietnam – 1 million

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3 Responses to “Can’t We Build a Just Society?”


  1. 1 Chris February 27, 2010 at 8:25 AM

    I know that I have fallen into the first extreme before. Believing there is nothing I can do so why try very hard to do anything, but worry about my own sanctification.


  1. 1 The Healthcare “Debate” « Doomed To Fail Trackback on March 9, 2010 at 7:28 AM
  2. 2 Isn’t Capitalism Based on Greed? « Doomed To Fail Trackback on March 31, 2010 at 6:15 AM

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