From Jim O'Brien
February 10, 2017

Hi Friend,


Utopia is a word coined by the Catholic theologian Sir Thomas More. It referred to a mythical island with perfect social, legal and political systems. It sounds like the world described by the Apostle Paul when he wrote "Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him." (1 Cor. 2:9)

What are the bedrock values of the utopia that God has prepared? Surprising to some one of those values is the individual's right to private possessions. The 8th Commandment comes to mind first. "Thou shalt not steal" means you have the right to own land, a home, a car and numerous other things. It belongs to you. If you want to paint it, add a room, change the oil or sell it, you can because you own it. Down through time enough people believed God that that law became a fundamental concept of American democracy. The world would never be the same.

The concept is so important to God, and maybe so underappreciated by man, that God instituted a Year of Jubilee that required family land that had been lost, to be returned to the next generation. It didn't go to the state or the church, nor was there an inheritance tax-it went directly to the person.

When a man named Zelophehad died his land was to be divided among his brothers. His five daughters complained to Moses because their family inheritance would be lost. Moses went into the tent of meeting and God said, "The daughters of Zelophehad speak right; you shall surely give them a possession of inheritance among their father's brothers." (Numbers 27:7)

What are we to learn from these examples? Clearly man's, or woman's, right to own property is important to God. But why?

Part of the answer may be explained by the history of our country. The United States was established upon the unique concept that even the King could not take property from citizens without permission. It's one of the principles for which our fathers fought a war. They called it "Taxation Without Representation" which meant that even though they were willing to pay King George his due, they thought he had no right to reach in their pockets and take whatever he wanted. God must have agreed with the colonists.

But the 8th commandment is not the only one granting private property rights. So does the 10th. No person should "covet" your house, your implement of work or even your spouse. And that leads to the commandment against adultery, meaning man-or woman-has the right to "have and to hold" another human being. That's three commandments in which God affirms an individual's right to personal possessions. And the same argument could be made for the right to possess life, children and God. Yes, when a person is baptized he becomes part of the family of God. You pray, "My Father, in heaven..." He is your God, meaning no man or organization can exclude you from access to Him.

This brings us back to Utopia. Karl Marx was an atheist who wrote about the ideal communist state. That was his utopia but where did Marx get the idea? Karl Marx got the idea for his utopian government from Sir Thomas More the Catholic saint. Today there are many schools and colleges named for Saint Thomas More, one right here in Cincinnati. He was the subject of the movie, "A Man for All Seasons."

How ironic that Karl Marx, an atheist was inspired to create a government to persecute Christians based on the writings of a Christian. So why did Mores' writings influence a man like Marx?

The simple answer is that Saint Thomas More rejected the core values of God's commandments. A man may talk about the Laws of God but if he does not respect another man's property rights, he is breaking several of the commandments.

Communism is a system that claims the government owns all property. The rights of the citizen come from the state. America's founders claimed that man's rights come from God. The citizen can own property because God's Law supersedes state laws.

So, it is a particular irony when a church, that teaches the commandments, prohibits congregations from owning property. In the Utopia of Thomas More, an individual only had rights to own something as long as the state or the church allowed it. Peace was achieved by prohibiting open discussion. So he wrote a book, Utopia, where the need for order and discipline was paramount, and private property was not allowed. Any attempts to discuss public policy outside officially allowed forums were punishable by death. Karl Marx simply took God out of Mores' Utopia and he was left with the ideal communist state.

The lesson of history is that Christian goals cannot be achieved without core Christian values.

Until next time,

Jim O'Brien