Utopians are tolerant of differing views on religion and "on no other subject are they more cautious about making rash pronouncements than on matters concerning religion." (122) However, they scorn unbelievers in any deity or afterlife, and "do not even include in the category of human beings" nor "count him as one of their citizens" if he "should sink so far below the dignity of human nature as to think that the soul dies with the body or that the world is ruled by mere chance and not by prudence." (119) "For who can doubt that someone who has nothing to fear but the law and no hope of anything beyond bodily existence would strive to evade the public laws of his country by secret chicanery or to break them by force in order to satisfy his own personal greed?" (119) "He is universally looked down on as a lazy and spineless character." (119) In fact, "a religious fear of the heavenly beings" is "the greatest and practically the only incitement to virtue." (127)
There are several religions on the island: moon-worshipers, sun-worshipers, planet-worshipers, ancestor-worshipers and monotheists, but each is tolerant of the others. Only atheists are despised (but allowed) in Utopia, as they are seen as representing a danger to the state: since they do not believe in any punishment or reward after this life, they have no reason to share the communistic life of Utopia, and will break the laws for their own gain. They are not banished, but are encouraged to talk out their erroneous beliefs with the priests until they are convinced of their error. Raphael says that through his teachings Christianity was beginning to take hold in Utopia. The toleration of all other religious ideas is enshrined in a universal prayer all the Utopians recite.
The idea behind the references to the "Golden Age" in the literature of the ancients represents a nostalgic yearning for a kind of life which they imagined was free from the stresses of their more competitive, more commercial civilization. Similarly, the poetic creations of imaginary gardens, the earthly paradises described by Medieval writers, often reflect yearnings growing out of dissatisfaction with things as they are. Another familiar manifestation that took literary form was the pastoral, an idealized representation of simple, happy shepherds. Examples can be found ranging from the eclogues of Theocritus and Virgil to Tasso and Spencer in the Renaissance. In several of Shakespeare's comedies the escape from the city and the court into "the green world" is described in appealing terms. The Duke Senior in As You Like It contrasts his life of exile in the Forest of Arden with the ways of the court in these terms:
More was beheaded in July 1535 and his property was attained due to his refusal to subscribe to the marriage of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn. More believed Henry's marriage to his first wife Catherine of Aragon was valid. He believed that by marrying Anne the King of England was not in obedience to God's law. More believed the church should be governed from Rome rather than be ruled by the King of England. He hated Martin Luther condemning him to hell. More was inimical to the Protestant Reformation. His faith was in the old church which had governed Western religion for a millenium.
Looking Backward (1888) by Edward Bellamy is the fictional utopian novel that first described the foundations of the socialist movement. In the book, main character becomes transported from the war filled nineteenth century to the peaceful utopian world of twenty-first century. After its release, it quickly became one of the biggest bestsellers of its time, and its influence shaped the works of many future philosophers, novelists, movements and utopian communities.
The eponymous title Utopia has since eclipsed More's original story and the term is now commonly used to describe an idyllic, imaginary society. Although he may not have directly founded the contemporary notion of what has since become known as Utopian and dystopian fiction, More certainly popularised the idea of imagined parallel realities, and some of the early works which owe a debt to Utopia must include The City of the Sun by Tommaso Campanella, Description of the Republic of Christianopolis by Johannes Valentinus Andreae, New Atlantis by Francis Bacon and Candide by Voltaire.
Yet, the puzzle is that some of the practices and institutions of the Utopians, such as the ease of divorce, euthanasia and both married priests and female priests, seem to be polar opposites of More's beliefs and the teachings of the Catholic Church of which he was a devout member. Another often cited apparent contradiction is that of the religious tolerance of Utopia contrasted with his persecution of Protestants as Lord Chancellor. Similarly, the criticism of lawyers comes from a writer who, as Lord Chancellor, was arguably the most influential lawyer in England. It can be answered, however, that as a pagan society Utopians had the best ethics that could be reached through reason alone, or that More changed from his early life to his later when he was Lord Chancellor.