The City of God (Thought Experiment)

An artistic depiction of the city of God.
What about the world would you change if you could?

The city of God is an imagined place in which everybody lives the way they ought to live. Everything in the city of God is held constant—including nature, weather, geography, and technology—but one important variable changes: human behavior. I initially intended to create a visualization exercise where I would invite you to meditate on the city of God as I conceived of it. However, I quickly found myself short on ideas. I also realized that people can approach the ideal from many different angles. Instead of sharing my own fragmented view, I decided to survey 10 of my friends instead.

You can find the prompt I sent them and their recorded responses below. The diversity of responses reflects the diversity of people I surveyed: the US, Africa, Latin America, and East Asia were all represented. What struck me the most was how practical most people’s ideals are, and the real possibility of making individual progress toward them. I invite you to think about how you would answer the prompt—and to share what you come up with in the comments.

There is an ideal in literature called the city of God or the virtuous city (Plato, Al-Farabi, etc.)–a place where everyone lives the way they should. How does the city of God as you define it differ from the world as we know it?

Respondent #1: Everyone would be happy. Employers would take care of their employees. Employees would treat each other better.
Respondent #2: The world would be a place full of justice, equality, and health. And no more animal instincts.
Respondent #3: People would treat each other better and wouldn’t be so focused on money.
Respondent #4: Each part would be conscious of it’s relation to the whole, but we live in a world of fragments.
Respondent #5: Love would be the norm. Love changes everything.
Respondent #6: Everyone would have a lot of empathy, and development would be defined by cooperation, not competition. And there wouldn’t be violence. As a result, everyone would have access to technology and its benefits (health, culture, traveling, etc.)
Respondent #7: I guess for me it’s the Taoist way—no strong government control, not many people, natural, moral-oriented. . .
Respondent #8: God’s kingdom would be manifest, There would be righteousness, justice, and peace. God would be king of that city.
Respondent #9: Tolerance and acceptance for others. There simply isn’t enough of it in our world.
Respondent #10: I think it would be a stress-free world. I think the majority would be happy. No killings. The world we live in is filled with greed and selfishness. The rich get richer and the poor stay poor.

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