Two Prophets

In 1932, Aldous Huxley wrote Brave New World. His masterpiece was a reaction against the utopian ideals of his day, and reflected his cynicism about humanity’s capacity to create something wonderful. The title itself dripped with irony. Huxley doubted the light side of humanity.

In 1948, George Orwell wrote Nineteen Eighty-Four—the title derived by reversing the last digits of the year of its completion. Surviving World War II, Orwell integrated into his writing his fears of totalitarianism, and gave us terms such as “Big Brother.” Orwell feared the dark side of humanity.

Brave New World         1984

Both authors painted a picture of the future—Huxley unnerved by the dangers of hedonism; Orwell driven by the dangers of violence and control.

Neil Postman, in the preface to Amusing Ourselves to Death, made the following insightful comments:

What Orwell feared were those who would ban books. What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one. Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information. Huxley feared those who would give us so much that we would be reduced to passivity and egoism. Orwell feared that the truth would be concealed from us. Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance. Orwell feared we would become a captive culture. Huxley feared we would become a trivial culture, preoccupied with some equivalent of the feelies, the orgy porgy, and the centrifugal bumblepuppy. In 1984 … people are controlled by inflicting pain. In Brave New World, they are controlled by inflicting pleasure. In short, Orwell feared that what we hate will ruin us. Huxley feared that what we love will ruin us.

Huxley and Orwell applied their insights to culture in general. But we might equally apply them to the Church and to our faith.

Is the greatest threat to our faith found in political opposition and oppression? Or might it be that our faith wallows most in materialism, prosperity, comfort, and hedonism?

Perhaps disinterest, self-absorption, passivism, and triviality is far more detrimental and destructive than we ever imagined. Perhaps it’s not religious extremism or secular court-rulings that pose our greatest threat, but spiritual indifference.

Who was correct? Huxley or Orwell? And how shall we respond?

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10 Responses to Two Prophets

  1. Tim Riter says:

    David, I teach both of these dystopic novels in my AP English Language course, and I suspect they both contain truth. Which is the worst threat may depend on the times. In Turkey today, the infliction of pain, or its threat, seems to have decimated the church. In America today, the infliction of pleasure seems to have decimated us. Similarly, in our 11th American lit course, we read both The Great Gatsby and Death of a Salesman. Both critique the American obsession with materialism–one from the perspective of those who achieve it and fail, one from those who cannot achieve it and fail. A good post, my friend.

  2. Ed Skidmore says:

    Sounds like Orwell and Huxley were like book ends, both warning about the end of America as we have known and loved it. Either way, I am sad about what my grandchildren are about to inherit from a nation in decline. But this makes the return of Christ even more glorious in comparison. Maranatha! Come, Lord Jesus!

  3. Janet Sigsworth says:

    Thank you Ed for your comments that bring us back to a position of faith and hope – especially for our younger generations. As the western world in general (I live in Australia) gets rapidly darker, our hope in our wonderful Saviour grows ever brighter.

  4. Richard Cameron says:

    Interesting post David. I’ve just read 1984 and am about to read Brave New World! You’ve got me thinking about the world we live in – and about our church today. Thank you!

    • David Timms says:

      Richard, share some of your reflections with me when you finish your reading. I’d love to hear your thoughts, especially as they pertain to the church and our faith!

  5. Velma Hall says:

    At 82 years of age, I have read neither of these brave little books. Reading all of this compels me to drag them down off the shelf and begin reading. Thank you.

  6. Tim Ross says:

    The more I see the government move toward control of information, the more I see society move toward materialism, the I move toward God. He is our anchor in the seas of chaos. He is the only one who can save. He is the only one who makes sense in a world that tips to either side of the spectrum. We hope for our Risen Savior Jesus to come. And until He does, we live with Him in our hearts so that we may shine His light to the world…shining hope in chaos, shining love in a world of unabated control, and shining truth in a world of untethered hedonism.

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