CATHOLIC NEWS OF THE WEEK . Saturday, 15 June 2019

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Visions of a better world

HONG KONG (SE): Is a perfect society possible? A valid question for our present time.
 
Plato (ca. 427 to 347 BC), envisioned a rigid class structure with the topmost—the golden citizens—training for 50 years to become benign oligarchs, or philosopher-kings whose wisdom would supposedly eliminate poverty and deprivation fair distribution of resources.
 
The utopia (The Peach Blossom Spring) of Tao Yuanming (ca. 220 to 589 AD), is a seemingly timeless place where the people lead an ideal existence at harmony with nature. It is a place of escape where the community is secluded and unaffected by external troubles with no decline nor need to improve.
 
In his new book, A Better World Is Possible: An Exploration of Utopian Visions (James Clarke & Co. Ltd, ISBN: 9780227176924), Father Ambrose Mong OP, proceeds to delve into the thinking of influential intellectuals and scholars from both eastern and western traditions, from ancient China to Renaissance Europe and today, including Thomas More, Teilhard de Chardin, Confucius and Mo Tzu, and even 20th century political reformist, Kang Youwei.
 
The part-time lecturer and research associate at The Chinese University of Hong Kong, and assistant parish priest at St Andrew’s Church, Hong Kong, posits that without a utopian spirit, a society would “lack the collective will to change for the better.” He writes that the belief in an ideal society where human thrive in peace, prosperity and security has been “one of the driving force of change in history.”
 
In his introduction, Father Mong explains, “The search for a better world Has always existed throughout our history, partly because, as Jesus said, the poor are always with us, (Mark 14:7).” 
 
He further notes that “without the support of men and women who struggled, fought, and died for a just and equitable world, the idea of utopia would remain no more than vapour-ware, confined only intellectual discussion, without practical, economic benefits.” 
 
Father Mong writes, “The idea of utopia suggests a vision for a better life, which implies a certain degree of dissatisfaction with the present state of things. This desire for change is deeply embedded in our human nature and is thus ubiquitous. There are, of course, differences between Eastern and Western concepts of utopia. Western utopias are identified with life in the city or polis, whereas Eastern utopias, especially those of the early Daoists, are closely associated with the rural and agricultural way of life. The Eastern vision of a perfect society lies not in the future but in the memory of the past—‘nostalgia for a state of primitive happiness for mankind and for a Golden Age.’ Influenced by Christianity, Western utopia generally looks toward the future and the world to come.”
 
He also questions the conventional assumption that utopia is a western, Hellenistic-Christian concept and brings together the western nowhere or no place of Thomas More, with the eastern vision of the better place. 
 
Father Mong notes, for example, in an in-depth examination of Confucius (Kong Qiu), that the great teacher’s concern for the equitable distribution of wealth parallels More’s concern for social justice; advising rulers to develop virtues and culture. 
 
In his foreword, Father Mark DeStephano SJ, writes that “one of the most fascinating aspects of Dr. Mong’s work is his sensitivity to cultural and religious differences. Rich in comparative analysis, this book reminds that the search for a model of how to construct an earthly paradise is universal.” 
 
He notes that regardless of whether the search is undertaken from a philosophical, economic, political, or religious perspective, there is one point of commonality: putting the human at the centre.
 
In A Better World Is Possible: An Exploration of Utopian Visions, Father Mong makes a challenging topic and complicated material understandable and accessible. A worthwhile exploration that gives hope that, indeed, a better world is possible.
 
The book is available in paperback or in eBook formats (PDF, ePub, Kindle) at the website of James Clarke & Co. Ltd. https://www.jamesclarke.co/title/better-world-is-possible and also from Amazon at amazon.com.