Literature Study GuidesUtopiaBook 2 Chapter 9 Summary

Utopia | Study Guide

Sir Thomas More

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Utopia | Book 2, Chapter 9 : Of the Religions of the Utopians | Summary

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Summary

Utopians are, by and large, religious people—but living in the New World, they are not Christians. According to Raphael, some worship "the sun, others the moon or one of the planets." Some worship great men of the past as deities. Most, however, worship "one eternal, invisible, infinite, and incomprehensible Deity" whom they called Mithras (the name of a Roman god).

Raphael describes himself as acting as a missionary by explaining Christianity to the Utopians. He says, "It is not to be imagined how inclined they were to receive it." He believes this inclination may be because the teachings of Jesus are similar in some ways to the philosophy of Utopia. Unfortunately, as neither Raphael nor his friends are priests, they were unable to give the sacrament to the new converts. The Utopians, however, decide they would choose one among themselves to be a priest, "even though he had no authority derived from the Pope."

Despite their positive reception of Christianity, however, Utopians are not willing to hear their own religions disputed. After one convert to Christianity calls Utopian rites "profane," he is banished from Utopia. Banishment was a punishment recommended by Utopus himself. Utopus thought that "different forms of religion might ... all come from God, who might ... be pleased with this variety." Utopus, Raphael says, "Thought it indecent and foolish ... to threaten and terrify another to make him believe what did not appear to him to be true."

Raphael goes on to describe Utopian priests and religious individuals who consecrate their lives to hard work. The priests are highly venerated, and they cannot be punished for any crime. The Utopians have "magnificent temples, that are not only nobly built, but extremely spacious." The temples have no images of god in them and are open to all worshippers no matter whom or what they worship. Everyone refers to their god as Mithras, "by which they all express the Divine Essence, whatsoever otherwise they think it to be."

At the end of this chapter, Raphael gives a long monologue in which he presents his ideas of the world as they relate to his experiences in Utopia. He describes all other governments as "a conspiracy of the rich, who, on pretense of managing the public, only pursue their private ends." He argues Utopian values are the most likely to lead to happiness. He says pride alone keeps other nations from acknowledging the wisdom of Utopia. He explains, "Pride thinks its own happiness shines the brighter, by comparing it with the misfortunes of other persons." He compares pride to the snake from the story of Genesis.

The character of More then reflects on what he has heard. He describes "the manners and laws of that people" of Utopia as very absurd. He also considers absurd "their way of making war, as in their notions of religion and divine matters." He is particularly critical of the idea of sharing goods in common without money. He says the nobility, magnificence, splendor, and majesty "which, according to the common opinion, are the true ornaments of a nation, would be quite taken away." Nevertheless, he concludes, "There are many things in the commonwealth of Utopia that I rather wish, than hope, to see followed in our governments."

Analysis

The Utopian religion is, of course, very different from More's devoted Catholicism. It does, however, reflect More's own unique combination of faith, realism, and humanism. The real Thomas More would not approve the Utopian plan of sanctifying priests without papal authority. However, he would certainly support their apparently pure and simple faith in the "Divine Essence."

One of the most significant reasons for the Protestant Reformation related to the issues described in Utopia exactly. The main issue was the greed of both the Church and the monarchy for riches and glory. The Church sold "indulgences" that were essentially "get out of Hell free cards" to the wealthy who could afford to pay for them. Though More could not find it in himself to support the Reformation, he himself wrote in protest against some of the practices of the Church.

More also includes some of the traditions and practices of the Catholic Church in his description of the Utopian religion. The temples, the self-denying religious individuals, the highly regarded priests, and giving up worldly goods are all part of the Catholicism he loved.

Raphael's diatribe against the Church and monarchy is blunt and strongly worded. Presumably, it includes some kernels of More's own beliefs. More, however, is careful to include a conclusion that distances his own ideas from those of Raphael—though some of his comments are tongue in cheek.

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