Utopia–Reality or Illusion?

“Who is the realist today—the so-called practical men who are plunging toward disaster on a universal scale, or the prophetic visionary of the brotherhood of man under the Fatherhood of God?”

In this sermon delivered on April 21, 1968, just over 2 weeks after Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. had been assassinated, Rabbi Olan begins by contrasting “practical men” who believe only in power, and idealists, “utopians” like himself, who understand that “unless men do justice and love mercy there can be no peace”.

When he looks at the events of his day, the Vietnam War, the threat of nuclear destruction, violence in American cities, Rabbi Olan repeatedly uses the word “brutal” to describe them.  He rejects the idea that the only way to counteract abuses of power is by using greater power: “The fantasy of all fantasies is that you can get peace by making war.”

However, even in the face of “brutal facts”, Rabbi Olan still believes in “a potential for maturation in character”, for moral growth.  “Despite the melancholia which engulfs us, mankind has made progress through the centuries, not only in science, but also in human sympathy and social justice.”  For Rabbi Olan, the key to that progress is the recognition that all people are created in the image of God and therefore deserve to be treated with respect: “man must either accept the idea that all men are made in the image of God and treat them with dignity and respect or else invite violence and revolution and a threat to human survival.”

Rabbi Olan concludes that against the realities of “violence, hatred, selfishness, bigotry” we can set “love, mercy, kindness, and decency”.  “We must choose our ideals and work for them if we are to be truly practical men.”[1]

[1]      Like almost all writers of his time, Rabbi Olan used “men” where we would use “people”.

Follow this link to read the sermon text.
Follow this link to listen to the audio recording.

*Written by Lionel S. Joseph & Frances M. Olan*