Study Guide

Utopia Religion

By Thomas More


[A] certain friar [...] found such pleasure in this jest at the expense of priests and monks that he too began to make merry [...] (1.26)

Hey, should a friar really be making fun of monks and priests? Aren't they all on the same side? Why does More cast this character in this particular position?

But preachers, like the crafty fellows they are, have found that men would rather not change their lives to fit Christ's rule, and so [...] they have adjusted [Christ's] teaching to the way men live (1.37)

Hmmm, this sounds familiar. Is Hythloday depicting religion as facing some of the same challenges as politics?

[In Europe] there is a great lazy gang of priests and so-called religious men. (2.52)

Ouch. Laziness isn't just a wealth issue, it's also a religious issue. Hythloday is suggesting that religion is responsible for some of the economic problems Europe is facing.

[The Utopians] never discuss happiness without joining to their philosophical rationalism certain principles of religion. Without these religious principles, they think that reason is bound to prove weak and defective in its efforts to investigate true happiness. (2.68)

Aha. So in Utopia, religion and philosophy think about the same questions. We're wondering if Hythloday sees this as a model for Europe as well.

The religious principles [the Utopians] invoke are of this nature: that the soul of man is immortal, and by God's goodness born for happiness; and that after this life, rewards are appointed for our virtues and good deeds, punishments for our sins. (2.68)

This religion does sounds a bit familiar. How much does it overlap with Christianity, the religion of More's time? In what ways is it different?

But after [the Utopians] heard from us the name of Christ, and learned of his teachings, his life, his miracles, and the no less marvelous devotion of the many martyrs whose blood, freely shed, had drawn nations far and near into the Christian fellowship, you would not believe how they were impressed. (2.97)

This moment in Hythloday's story would have sounded very familiar. After all, religious conversion was a huge reality of New World encounters. Of course, most real life encounters were less successful than the Utopian reception of Christianity depicted here.

As soon as he had gained the victory [... King Utopus] decreed that every man might cultivate the religion of his choice (2.97)

Considering people were being killed for their religious beliefs when More wrote Utopia, it's a pretty astounding statement. Go King Utopus.

In [matters of religion], [King Utopus...] suspected that God perhaps likes various forms of worship and has therefore deliberately inspired different men with different views. (2.97-8)

Another pretty radical take on religion for the time, c/o Thomas More. Does this idea that everyone can be right in their own way exist today?

[The Utopians] think that dead persons are actually present among us, and hear what we say about them, though through the dullness of human sight they remain invisible. (2.99)

The Utopians... see dead people.

Their priests are of great holiness and therefore very few. (2.101)

This quick remark sounds obviously different from what we've been hearing about European priests. Is More setting Utopia up to be the opposite of Europe? Whatever Utopia has, Europe doesn't, and vice versa? Or are Europeans supposed to see enough of themselves in the Utopians that they feel Utopia is an attainable goal?