Western Literature 2 lesson 15

Was More risking persecution by the church because of his book Utopia?

The socialist ideas that decorate Utopia’s pages offend every educated person who reads it; and the ideas contained in this book certainly offended the Catholic Church of the 1500s. This was during a time when the Church persecuted anyone considered to be a heretic: any person who openly disagreed with Catholic religious policies. Therefore, More was indeed risking persecution by the Church because of his book “Utopia.”

Religion in the fictional land of Utopia differed from the religion of the Catholic Church in some key areas. Firstly, in Utopia people could believe whatever they wanted without being persecuted. Some citizens worshipped idols and everybody was OK with that because the “powers that be” were confident that all people would hearken eventually to the idea of the Supreme Being if they were simply left alone. Secondly, none of the temples in Utopia contained depictions of God so as to not influence worshipers’ concepts of God. Perhaps God liked variety. Thirdly, the priests of these temples were not pushy in their doctrine and never preached hellfire and brimstone to non-believers. Finally, religious ceremonies took place rarely (at the end and beginning of every month and the end and beginning of every year); were fairly simple with quiet meditation, singing, and a homily by the priest; and sacraments were absent (most notably, the Eucharist). How unusual that Utopians were accepting of religious variety while the concept of peaceful coexistence of different Christian religious beliefs did not exist in Western Civilization.

Utopia’s general religion was contradictory to many of the Church’s teachings in the 16th century when going against the grain of the Church could lead to a swift death. Unsurprisingly, Thomas More’s head ended up on the ground only 19 years after writing his book.

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