(04/1966) The Millennial Utopians: Nostalgia for Eden and the Forest Primeval

The Millennial Utopians:
Nostalgia for Eden and the Forest Primeval
by Grady L. McMurtry
(April 1966 e.v.)

There is a recurrent phenomenon in the western world deriving its name from the year 1000 a.d. (Latin mille, thousand) and an interpretation of the Christian Bible which led people to believe that the Second Coming would manifest at the time. As the Second Coming was to be a utopia or “happy time,” especially since its manifestation would mean the end of an impossibly “worldly” world, this attitude of hopeful expectation concerning the possibility of a heaven on earth is referred to as “millennial utopianism.”

While we take the name from that particular time, the idea itself is a dominant theme in western thought. We only need remember the Biblical Eden and Biblical Heaven, or look to Plato’s The Republic, St Augustine’s The City of God, Samuel Butler’s Erewhon, Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, Rabelais’ Abbey of Thelema, More’s Utopia, Thoreau’s Walden, Aldous Huxley’s Island, Skinner’s Walden II, and Bellamy’s Looking Backward, to define the main outlines of this tradition. For that matter, it is not being exotic to consider Voltaire’s Candide and Rousseau’s New Helios to be along the same line.

When we look at these fabulous literary creations, we discover that they have certain elements in common. It is perhaps a matter of individual definition as to which is the most important, but one overriding element in all of them is a sense of romanticism by which a “happy place” is visualized, whether in the future or in the past, and then generally some program of activity is recommended for either achieving this “new earth” or else returning to the happy time of the past.

Kerista falls into this general tradition by virtue of its millennial utopian set of expectations which hopes to achieve a “heaven on earth” in an “exotic” out-of-the-way place (British Honduras) in which certain elements of individual self-determination and gratification will be realized in a “happy” atmosphere of idealized communal-family relations. Due to the wide open acceptance of heretofore undeveloped techniques concerning the liberation of subjective psychological phenomena, some seem to think this is a totally new approach to civilizing the human animal. On the contrary, just as America is the epitome of the utopian dream of freedom as expressed in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, so Kerista is “as American as apple pie.” As Schneider says in A History of American Philosophy (Columbia University Press, 1946):

“The youngest part of America, the ever-reaching frontier, generated a type of social philosophy quite different from either nationalism or individualism; it might be labeled communalism… Little bands of pioneers felt “called by God or fortune” to leave the old, decaying world and to venture upon a new life, a new society in a new world… The stream of pilgrim communities, congregations, and families that left Europe for America with the vision of a promised land guiding them is a familiar theme of American history. Here must arise the kingdoms of God foretold by ancient prophets. These were the latter days, the end of man’s pilgrimage on earth.

The hope of building perfect little societies took both secular and religious forms… Platonic republics; “phalansteries” or “associated” men… pilgrim congregations, missions, “millennial dawn” groups, “Latter Day Saints,” etc.” (pp. 144-60).

But while Kerista participates in American communalism — remembered historically as the husking bee, barn raising, and frontier hospitality — it would not be American without that loose, “swinging” style of individualism that “plays it cool,” hangs flexible, and always insists on the individual’s right to detachment from the group.

Swingers are wingers. They reject the rigidities of dogma and ideological fixation. They insist that it is possible, through inner growth, to realize multitudinous possibilities within the individual. They reject caste, but they welcome the person. They assert that individualism is achieved by application of an inner discipline to clarify the meaning and significance of our lives. They realize that the criterion of civilized behavior is reciprocity.

Note: Originally published in Thelema Lodge Calendar, May 2004