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MonkeyNotes-Utopia by Sir Thomas More
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Notes

This part of the book has raised the greatest controversies due to its supposed sacrilegious content. More was a practicing Catholic who died for his religion, but the ideal religion prescribed in Utopia does not really resemble Catholicism although it does have many similarities with Christianity. It is an undenominational religion that imposes two main precepts, belief in a Supreme Being and in the immortality of the soul. Other similarities are the use of priests, hymns, and prayers and a deep morality. It is no surprise that Christianity was received well by the Utopians as the metaphysics and teachings are quite similar.

Other than that, the similarities stop. Even though it is looked upon as being primitive, some people worship the sun, the moon, various planets and even the souls of the dead. There were also a variety of sects that practiced differing beliefs and ceremonies. Maybe More advocated tolerance because he was only too aware that religious intolerance led to religious controversy. This was the bane of sixteenth century Europe. The Reformation was slowly inching across Europe and gathering a large following. Catholicism was losing its grip due to its strict adherence to one doctrine. People were torn between the old religion and the new.

The priests in Utopia are very respected people. In sixteenth century Europe, priests were not respected at all. They cheated and shirked work and were held in contempt by most people. Priests in Utopia have a lot of secular duties as well. All this is very progressive, but More makes erring priests punishable only by the clergy. Civil authorities have no jurisdiction over priests in Utopia. Women are allowed to be priests and priests are allowed to marry- a complete reversal of two very intractable Catholic doctrines.


Everything possible is done to make worship appealing. Definite days of worship are set aside. Churches are large, gorgeously decorated and kept somewhat dark. There is no image of God or any rite of sacrifice. Common prayers are the rule. The priests, like shamen, wear an interesting outfit decorated with feathers.

The Utopia idea of death is also very unique. As they believe firmly in the immorality of the soul, death is not a disaster but a change from one level of being to another. So the Utopians sing joyously at funerals and moan only the death of those who die in fear.

Many of these ideas introduced in this segment of the book were actually part of the reformist movement within the Catholic church and therefore do not appear that radical. Whether or not More supported these ideas is equivocal and could be argued either way.

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