Wednesday, December 31, 2014

the truth behind and beyond dystopia

A few years ago, I spent a lot of time driving. To help with that, I would get some audio books from a library. I got to listen to audio book versions of the Dune novels, along with several of Asimov's Foundation books. More recently, I've taken an interest in the Warhammer 40K books, reading several of them.

Those are a few examples of dystopian stories. Yes, I think even Foundation was dystopian, even though I doubt that was Asimov's intention. Outside of not finding the appeal of those stories, not to mention the arrogance of the ideas behind the Foundation, there was simply the extreme cyclical view of history, such that the fall and rise of the space empire has to follow a certain pattern based on one man's researches and conjectures, and that everything must to done to insure that this pattern is not interrupted in any way. That's pretty dystopian, in my mind.

Dystopian fiction has been fairly popular. I suppose my first exposure to it was the old movie Logan's Run, though my interest at that young age had more to do with robots and lasers than in a deep and dark future world. But whether it's a dark future of the Alien movies, or a dark present or near future in which zombies rule the world, it's all dystopian.

So, what does it all mean?

“Certain new theologians dispute original sin, which is the only part of Christian theology which can really be proved. Some followers of the Reverend R.J.Campbell, in their almost too fastidious spirituality, admit divine sinlessness, which they cannot see even in their dreams. But they essentially deny human sin, which they can see in the street.” Chesterton, G. K. Orthodoxy (p. 7). Kindle Edition. While I suppose there might be dispute over whether original sin and the Fall are the only part that can really be proven, I think it's fairly clear that original sin and the Fall are as evident as Chesterton points out. We don't have to look far to see it, we don't even have to look in the streets. We need only look in a mirror.

This fact is all around us, and in us. And I'd say that it's in dystopian fiction (and utopian, too), whether or not that's the intent of the authors of those books.

We know that technological progress has not equated into progress as people. The fictional cave man with a club may have been able to only knock a few people over the head with his club, but the far too real modern terrorist can do so much more damage with a machine gun or vest bomb, and we can only imagine with dread what such a person might do with nuclear or biological weapons. We develop technologies for spreading moving images, and we use them to show off and celebrate our debaucheries and perversions.

What do I think is the truth behind these dystopian stories? Simply that we know that, left to ourselves, we cannot create utopia. Our attempts at utopia will not pan out, but will turn on us, and become something closer to a nightmare than anything we might dream of. We will be no less xenophobic in the 40,000s than we were in the 1940s. Our rulers will be just as despotic in the far future, as they have been in our far and near past. The best laid plans of mice and men will turn into well laid traps for mice and men.

Because, in the end, we know we are hopeless. We cannot change our own selves, let alone anyone else. We cannot make our own selves better, let alone anyone else. We are not improving as a race.

We know the truth of original sin. We cannot help ourselves, save ourselves, make ourselves clean.

If that was where the story ended, then let us rush blindly into the night, or rage against the coming of the night, both would be equally hopeless gestures.

But the truth is, that's not where the story ends. There is truth in that story, but if we stop with just that story, we will be left with hopelessness.

“But while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” Mankind is not the hero of mankind's story, and when we try to be, we can't find anything but dystopia. But where our works of righteous are no better than the vilest of rags, Christ's sacrificial death for our sins has made us clean. Where our sins are like a mountain, Christ's death has won forgiveness for us. Where our technology and intelligence and creativity have made our futures only more precarious, Christ's death has given those who believe in Him a real future.

There is truth in dystopia, but there is a greater truth beyond dystopia. Where we by our own efforts would only create hell on earth, Christ has promised us new heavens and a new earth.

No comments: