Do you see merit in The Good Place by Michael Schur as an appropriation of utopia? 

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I think any discussion of merit should address how Shur’s idea of paradise aligns with Christian ideology. For my purposes, whether you accept this ideology isn’t important, as I am evaluating the merit of this appropriation of utopia on the grounds that it reflects historical views of heaven that have characterized religious debates. As such, I believe it has merit. So, to answer your question, I am going to explain my take on Shur’s vision of utopia.

In The Good Place, the way to get to heaven is through good works. When you die, your good and bad deeds are calculated, and if your good deeds outnumber your bad deeds, you are rewarded with a blissful afterlife. You are accountable for your actions, and you cannot cheat your fate. There is the recognition that while in your earthly life, you are watched over and judged for everything you do, and you will be rewarded or punished accordingly. The people who rightfully belong in the Good Place model behavior that reflects what would typically be described as consistent with Christian principles. People are judged by their deeds and their deeds alone; they are not judged by race, gender, or religious affiliation.

Though people have different visions of heaven, or utopia, Shur’s vision reflects the commonly held view that heaven is a beautiful place that mimics what we typically consider a beautiful place on earth. Because the only way we can envision heaven is through our worldly frame of reference, the things that make heaven a wonderful place are the things we covet on earth—a big house, a soul mate, frozen yogurt, etc. These types of ideas have characterized religious debates for centuries, as has the central question of whether the path to heaven is through good deeds or through faith and faith alone. Shur addresses this question when he introduces a twist in the plot—his heaven, in fact, is hell. Therefore, Shur forces viewers to question what it means to be good, and whether, in fact, good deeds are the key to our salvation.

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