I shall not cease from mental fight
Nor shall my sword sleep in my mind
Till we have built Jerusalem
In England’s green and pleasant land.
William Blake was quite mad, even madder than most Swedenborgians—and that is saying a good deal—but Christians less insane than Blake have dreamed of building a new Jerusalem where the unpromising specimens of humanity they had known all their lives would live in peace and joy. When such experiments have been tried, as in Calvin’s Geneva, Puritan New England, or Jacobin France, the reality is more nightmare than paradise.
The utopian dream is not specifically Christian. Plato and Plotinus had their notions, as did the Stoics, but pagans may be more easily excused for succumbing to their own intellectual fantasies. Christians are supposed to follow the teachings of their Master, Who firmly declared in one of His final public utterances, “My kingdom is not of this world.” There is an ancient story that the emperor Tiberius was so impressed by the example of a Jewish prophet who did not contest imperial authority that he asked the senate to include the Christ in the Roman pantheon. Few historians (apart from Marta Sordi) put any stock in the tale, though it is quite consistent with Tiberius’ ironic sense of humor and just improbable enough to be true.
The first Christian...