Ignorance is Strength

Ignorance is Strength April 2, 2013

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…

"Thank you so much!!!! This fixed my problem and saved me a ton of money."

Solving the Annoying Flashing Input Menu ..."
"ONE LAST THOUGHTAnd, this Postmodern approach is very important, because if we simply identify someone ..."

Another Nice and Accurate Call for ..."
"ONE LAST THOUGHTI don't know of many for whom it would be very useful/meaningful to ..."

Apostle Paul APB 2: Paul’s Fanaticism
"This is actually a good case study of what the early Postmoderns like Kierkegaard and ..."

Another Nice and Accurate Call for ..."

Browse Our Archives

Follow Us!

TRENDING AT PATHEOS Progressive Christian
What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • I have recently tried to convince my church friends (protestants) that the Roman Catholics (RC) are really very much like us. (Still in the process of trying.) A protestant believes in humans that inerrantly decided on the canon (and inerrantly declared that canon inerrant), while an RC believes in the inerrant pope.

    Also, a (Trinitarian) protestant equates Jesus and the Spirit with the one God YHWH, and prays to both YHWH and Jesus (and for some the Spirit too), whilst an RC “prays” to saints.

    (If protestants can add Jesus and Spirit to a Trinity and wrongly call it one God, while also declaring the bible inerrant, I think the RC are at least justified in elevating their pope and saints to positions they perhaps do not deserve. In other words, protestants are upset at the RC for having more dogmas than they do!)

    Regarding “doublethink”: If it means to simultaneously hold two contradictory beliefs, then it is a position that condones logical inconsistency. I shudder to imagine what that would do to the world!

    • Dr McGrath, after some thought, I think I realised how doublethink makes sense. It’s not about placing 2 contradictory statements within the same system/argument. Rather, it’s about setting up separate systems to accommodate the 2 contradictory statements, with one statement in each system, so that both systems are internally consistent!

      In this way, I must wholeheartedly agree. This is essentially what it means to be agnostic. I can see how certain expressions of Atheism can be internally consistent, while certain expressions of Theism are also internally consistent. Being agnostic means I cannot prove either one to be true/false. But ultimately, I can only follow (be faithful to) one system. (Or perhaps I can be an Atheist on weekdays, and a Christian on weekends?)

      • arcseconds

        Why should an agnostic need to be faithful to any system?

        I’m sure there must be things that you just don’t know one way or another. You surely don’t believe every proposition or its negation. What’s your position on string theory? Did neolithic painters paint only on cave walls, or also on perishable materials or exposed surfaces? Was Plato’s 7th letter written by Plato?

        • There is no “should”. One could perhaps vacillate between various systems, if one is so inclined. However, I find that part of being human means that I want to be faithful to one particular ideology, whilst accepting the validity of other ideologies as long as they are internally consistent.

    • arcseconds

      You don’t have to imagine; it’s already done; that’s the world we live in.

      It’s a world where:

      – there are people that hold both that the USA is a Christian nation, to be American is to be Christian, and that America always does and should instantiate Christian traditions. And that Christians are a persecuted minority within the USA, and most Americans aren’t Christians and don’t know anything about Christianity.

      – there are people that hold scientists in a position of considerable respect and trust; yet think that scientists are incompetent or ideologically blinkered enough to fall for theories with very obvious flaws (evolution or global warming)

      – there are people who believe that capitalism produces all manner of good things, and that to seek another model or even restrict its activities would be to kill the goose that layed the golden egg; yet believe that corporations are evil, dehumanising institutions heroically struggled against by the little guy.

      • You’re quite right, but In those cases, I would say that those people are not really conscious of how their beliefs are contradictory/inconsistent. If people were to consciously hold contradictory beliefs, that would be far more disastrous (but that’s actually difficult to achieve, because cognitive dissonance would kick in)!

    • Holly

      how blind you are, thinking you are so erudite, to willingly resist seeing the doublethinking we are steeped in. Ask more questions, ask questions you aren’t supposed to ask, like, am I being lied to? Why are you not shuddering at this world right now?

      • Humans are naturally irrational creatures. And yes, I am shuddering at this world right now.