Study Guide

Utopia Book 2, Section 8

By Thomas More

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Book 2, Section 8

Religions of the Utopians

  • Utopia has a bunch of different religions and different people worship different things: sun, moon, planets, a virtuous man of the past. Most, however, believe in a great, unknowable power that was the origin of the world and they call this power Mithra.
  • Factoid! Mithra is actually the name of a god in the Persian religion. In fact, there are a good number of similarities Hythloday mentions between Utopia and Persia.
  • Anyway, once the Utopians were told about Jesus and Christianity, they were very impressed, particularly by the important role community plays in Jesus's teachings. Some were even baptized.
  • While Hythloday was in Utopia, two of his crew died and were not able to be buried according to Christian ritual.
  • When King Utopus first conquered Utopia, he saw what damage was being done by all this fighting about religion, so he made it a law that everyone could practice whatever they wanted. He thought it was likely that God was present in all kinds of different beliefs and that true faith would be revealed by its own qualities, so fighting is never necessary.
  • The only belief they really look down upon is the idea that there is no justice in the afterlife. Still, people who think this aren't punished, they just can't hold public office.
  • Since they think of death as having lots of rewards after it, they don't really mourn those who die unless it was way before their time. After someone dies, they also think it's important to recognize all their good qualities.
  • They don't believe in fortune-telling, but do believe in miracles.
  • Most Utopians show their respect for God by studying science and literature. Others, however, devote themselves to helping the needy. Some of these people are celibate and live together while others still choose to be married.
  • They only have a small number of priests, who are considered very holy. They are responsible for leading religious services and monitor who's being naughty or nice. If someone is extra bad, they can be turned away from religious services, which is a big disgrace. They also teach children.
  • Women can also be priests (!), usually older widows.
  • Priests are considered to be the most honorable position in the whole country. Even if a priest does something wrong, he isn't punished, just left to God's justice.
  • Priests accompany soldiers to war and spend the battle praying for peace. Once the battle is over, they are responsible for making sure the Utopian soldiers are merciful.
  • Every first and last day of the month is a holiday. We like this idea.
  • They have beautiful churches, big and dark to keep people focused on the service going on.
  • Although the details of various services are different, they essentially all worship this unknown, powerful force. Churches don't have any images of God; that way, people can imagine him/her as they wish.
  • On one of their holidays, they all make sure to go home and tell everyone in their family things they've done wrong or things they're angry about. That way, family life runs smoothly. Hmmm… this doesn't go over well at Shmoop's Thanksgiving dinners.
  • Men and women sit on separate sides during church and children never sit with each other, only with other grown-ups. Keeps the noise level down, we guess.
  • They don't believe in any animal sacrifices, they just burn incense and wear white clothing to services.
  • They all bow when the priest enters the services and then sing beautiful hymns in which the topic of the song always matches the feeling of the music.
  • While praying, they thank God for what he gives and hope that everyone will be inspired by him. They also pray that for an easy death and a good afterlife.
  • After church, they either play games or engage in military training.
  • Whew! That's pretty much what there is to know about Utopia, the country Hythloday thinks is the best in the whole world. It's also actually a commonwealth (unlike places in Europe that just call themselves that), because the wealth is literally shared in common.
  • And really, life is better in Utopia because people aren't worrying about money and property all the time, says Hythloday. In other countries, the predominance of money creates all these useless jobs, like noblemen and goldsmiths that make lots of money, whereas useful jobs like carpentry make nothing. Utopia is way better.
  • Way. Better.
  • In Europe, the rich not only get richer, but also spend their time trying to get more money out of people who are already poor.
  • And what's worse? All this is completely legal. If you got rid of money, everyone would be so much better off. People would finally understand that it's better to have just enough in this life than to have too much. It would also prevent people from becoming conceited and proud, the biggest obstacle to Utopian laws becoming common in Europe.
  • Why is Pride so awful? Because, as Hythloday describes, "Pride measures her advantages not by what she has but by what other people lack" (2.109) and he goes on to list a whole bunch of destructive aspects of Pride. He ends, however, by worrying that Pride is a difficult failing to get rid of.
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