Science in Christian Perspective
The Future Becomes the Present
1984.- A Scenario
From: JASA 33 (March 1981): 12.
In a critical scene in George Orwell's 1984, the hero, Winston, is being tortured for his unwillingness to accept the state's definition of reality. His persecutor, aptly named O'Brien, argues that "reality is not external. Reality exists in the human mind, and nowhere else. Not in the individual mind, which can make mistakes, and in any case soon perishes; only in the mind of the Party, which is collective and immortal. Whatever the Party holds to be truth is truth. It is impossible to see truth except by looking through the eyes of the Party. "1
For the Christian, and especially the Christian scientist, this is the pivotal question: What is the nature of reality? Winston takes the part of the individualist and the scientist. Although O'Brien rejects such ideas, he doesn't insist that Winston accept the Party's view. Under torture, Winston finally states his inability to discern reality. O'Brien is satisfied and confident that Winston will subsequently accept the Party's definition of both reality and truth.
Parallelling this theme of the nature of reality is the question of man's humanity. Referring to 1984, Erich Fromm phrases the question in this way: "can human nature be changed in such a way that man will forget his longing forfreedom, for dignity, for integrity, for love that is to say, can man forget that he is human?2I According to Fromm, Orwell does believe the destruction of humanity within man, while not easy, is possible.
In 1984, man has no freedom nor should he desire any. The party replaces the individual simply because it assumes the human capacity to discern reality. And if there is no understanding of reality, there is also no reason for responsibility, except as it may be given to the Party. Both freedom and responsibility are absorbed by the state and its capacity to control human will.
The scenario, of course, is of a totalitarian state. Commenting on totalitarianism in our century, Richard Lowenthal attributes it to "an unprecedented pace of social change."3 He claims that "the functioning of any society depends on a set of common beliefs and institutions which together characterize a civilization. As social change occurs, the institutions have to be adapted and the beliefs reformulated, but there must be continuity in the fundamental values underlying all the changing formulations and institutional forms if the civilization is to survive."4
But this controlled change has not occurred in the West. Because it has sought a 'free society," Western Civilization has produced a pluralistic society in which political, economic, and spiritual powers are scattered, leaving it open to random and accelerated social change. With these conditions, "the survival of a free society is always precarious. For where the necessary adjustments fail to be made, the official institutions and beliefs cease to correspond to the evident facts of social life and thus lose their binding force-their hold over the minds of men. "5
If we have not reached this mindless condition in 1980, we are rapidly approaching it. With Winston many are unable to discern reality and are open to any definition offered them. In Orwell's world, the Ministry of Peace wages war and the Ministry of Love maintains law and order. In ours, we speak of happiness in marriage as divorce rates soar and treat limited resources as though they were inexhaustible. Knowing these problems, we are not always able to solve or even understand them.
Much of the truth provided by Christianity and science in western civilization has been eroded by social change. The one is giving way to secularization and the other to scientism. And much of what we have known as freedom and responsibility in our culture is undergoing radical change. We may never have to experience the totalitarianism of Orwell's world. But the shadow is there and we will continue to live in it.
1Howe, Irving (ed.), Orwell's Nineteen Eight)-Four, Text, Sources, Criticism, New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, Inc., 1963, p. 110.