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.
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?