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Tuesday, April 15, 2014

We Don't Know We're Not Free.


My final Omnibus essay. Bittersweet. :)


“O wonder! How many goodly creatures are there here! How beauteous mankind is! O brave new world, that has such people in it!” (William Shakespeare)


Humanity denied nothing. “Never put off till tomorrow the fun you can have today.” (Huxley, Brave New World). This is a world of unrestrained pleasure. Whatever you feel like, whenever you feel like, however you feel like. No disease or old age. No trouble. Is this paradise? Not quite. In this strange, dystopian world of Huxley’s, it is happiness that matters. Always, only happiness. There is not truth, or goodness, or beauty. There is never loyalty, never love, because, you know, “everyone belongs to everyone else”. ‘Mother’ and ‘marriage’ and ‘family’ are all the dirtiest words anyone could think of, because here in this highly advanced society there is none of that primitive nonsense. Nobody ever has a mother because every child is conceived in a laboratory test tube. For fun, people go to the “feelies” or listen to the “sexaphones” or take “soma” drugs. And then they can all “have” whoever they want. This is a culture gorged on pleasure, saturated in it. And into this Brave New World steps John. He’s lived in another culture all his life, out in the wilderness where they still get married and have babies and become old and die. And then he is found. They take him to the new civilization. And in this happily depraved world, the Savage is horrified by what he finds. And he’s horrified even more by the power it has over him. He’s horrified that he’s falling into temptation and wanting to give up morality. The power of being given far too much of exactly what we want is much stronger than the power of having all that taken away; much stronger and much more dangerous. The wisest and best thing is to withdraw yourself from temptation, instead of trusting that you’re strong enough to resist it. 

It could be very cleverly argued that one can do the most good by living in the midst of perversion and being a quiet example. The wicked will see the truth and believe. That may sometimes be true, but there is a fine line between being an example and risking your soul. At the beginning, John does try to live quietly and morally within all the immorality. He keeps to himself and refuses to mingle with the people who are pushing him to ignore goodness. He’s doing well, he’s resisting the power. But stronger temptation comes and in the form of the girl he loves more than anything in the world. He wants to have her... for his wife. But Lenina doesn’t understand his desire to marry. Marriage disgusts her. She only wants pleasure and she wants it right away. She tempts him, tempts him terribly, using every bit of her power. John is at first bewitched, but in a sudden horrid realization, he becomes outraged. The one he had loved so purely was not so wonderful. She wasn’t wonderful at all. She only wanted to corrupt him and she had been dangerously close to succeeding. “Do not be deceived: Bad company ruins good morals.” (1 Corinthians 15:33)

Another argued method for fighting strong evil would be to live in the midst, but to speak out against it, instead of only keeping quiet. We are called to be witnesses, lights in dark places, right? And “whoever is not with me is against me” (Luke 11:23). That’s obviously true. But, like everything else, this involves an element of discernment. Some people in some places are just going to believe what they want to believe, no matter what you say. You can show and prove and argue until you’re blue in the face, but if they don’t want to listen, they won’t listen. Would we as Christians conscientiously decide to live in Las Vegas or on Bourbon Street and try to be an example there? There’s a difference between being a witness and knowingly placing ourselves in temptation. We are weak and easily led astray. “The spirit indeed is willing but the flesh is weak.” (Matthew 26:41). In his anger, John abandons the idea of keeping the truth to himself. Rashly, he takes their “soma” from them and throws it out a window into the street below. This sparks a deep, awful hatred for the savage man. They spring on him, try to kill him. It is the first strife in generations. He has taken what was most precious to them all and destroyed it, explaining as he did so, that it was evil. He has taken away the thing that allowed them to keep on ignoring the truth. They are swallowing lies along with the soma and the soma  is what made it all go down smoothly. When faced with the Truth, they respond with aversion. “What you need,” the Savage told them, “is something with tears for a change. Nothing costs enough here.” And nothing does. Nothing ever costs anything. Nobody ever gets a chance to do anything noble. Nobody ever loves anyone else too much. Nobody tells the truth, because happy, soma-coated lies are a whole lot more appetizing. Truth hurts, sometimes worse than anything else. But Truth also sets you free. And that day, John realizes why they will never hear him: They do not want to be free. 

“I don’t want comfort,” John cries in desperation, in contempt for the false and easy life they have set before him. “I want God, I want poetry, I want real danger, I want freedom, I want goodness. I want sin...I’m claiming the right to be unhappy.” Goodness, Truth Beauty; they are all true humanity. But so are unhappiness, denial, danger, sin. Trouble is the true fallen humanity. “True humanity isn’t realized when troubles are filtered through a soma sieve, but rather when man anguishes through his troubles, confronts them, and triumphs.” (Kathryn Walker, Omnibus Essay Brave New World). So John runs away, which is sometimes the bravest thing we could possibly do. He finds a place where he can be alone, and live simply and freely. Here there is truth, there is goodness, there is even beauty. Here, the temptations are memories. Here, society has no power over him. 
But even here, in this haven, there is no peace, because there is no God. He prays to many gods, but there is no faith in his prayers. There is no hope of forgiveness because he won’t let go. He is desperate and despairing and burdened, but he won’t let it go. He beats himself and cries and worries about his sin, about his life, worries about how he was tempted, worries about messing up and giving in. John wants to be clean, but instead he’s in agony. That’s man alone. That’s why the story ends with suicide instead of redemption. John resisted temptation, he fled from sin, he cowered from doing evil...But he tried all that on his own. And even when he had escaped from them, he couldn’t escape from himself. “I, even I,” says the Lord, “am He who blots out your transgressions, for my own sake, and remembers your sins no more.” (Isaiah 43:25). At the end, it was the ugliness inside himself, rather than on the outside, that made him despair. Being ruled by what we love. It’s a cruel paradox. We don’t even know we’re not free, because we’re in bondage to ourselves.