I was struck today, rereading George Orwell’s 1984, at how easily one can substitute Christian terminology into a particular passage, which is from the book within the book, Emmanuel Goldstein’s The Theory and Practice of Oligarchical Collectivism. Let me show you what I mean:
Christian society rests ultimately on the belief that God is omnipotent and that the Bible is infallible. But since in reality God is not omnipotent and the Bible is not infallible, there is need for an unwearying, moment-to-moment flexibility in the treatment of facts. The keyword here is infallibility. Like so many Christianese words, this word has two mutually contradictory meanings. Applied to an opponent such as the Catholic Pope, it means the habit of impudently claiming that error is truth, in contradiction of the plain facts. Applied to a conservative Protestant, it means a loyal willingness to say that error is truth when the doctrine of Biblical inerrancy demands this. But it means also the ability to believe that error is truth, and more, to know that error is truth, and to forget that one has ever believed the contrary. This demands a continuous alteration of the past, made possible by the system of thought which really embraces all the rest, and which is known in Christianese as faith.
One could easily reverse the Protestant and Catholic examples, or make other substitutions.
The book is all about worldview maintenance and the manner in which people are kept complacent and the status quo maintained. And yet it is hard to see the notion of following Jesus, as reflected in early Christian sources, as involving complacency – indeed, it seems to be directly challenging the status quo. And so the point I am making here is not about any and all forms of Christianity, nor about Jesus, but about what Christianity can be and has become, including in our own time, typically in spite of the example and teaching of Jesus.
Orwell’s writing is incredibly insightful, but I suspect that few read it and apply it to their own thought, as opposed to those they consider their enemies. In doing so, they illustrate his point rather than grasping it and taking it to heart.
Perhaps the way to get people to grasp this point would be to make other substitutions? How about this one?
The conservative Christian is not allowed to know anything of the tenets of the other two philosophies, but he is taught to execrate them as barbarous outrages upon morality and common sense. Actually the three philosophies are barely distinguishable, and the social systems which they support are not distinguishable at all. Everywhere there is the same pyramidal structure, the same worship of semi-divine leader, the same economy existing by and for continuous warfare. It follows that the three major worldviews not only cannot conquer one another, but would gain no advantage by doing so. On the contrary, so long as they remain in conflict they prop one another up, like three sheaves of corn. And, as usual, the ruling groups of all three religions are simultaneously aware and unaware of what they are doing.
As I reflect on this, I find myself gravitating towards doublethink. Orwell has written a book that seems like it ought to change the world. And yet, having published it, and with it being read and appreciated by millions, the world does not change.
Perhaps part of the reason is that, when we read the book as teenagers, we tend to skip the “book within the book” sections, which seem tedious and boring.
I think I know what we’re going to focus on in class today…