Political Season 2016 ~ Post 3: Living Dystopia, and the Final Fragmentation of Two-Party Politics and of “Evangelicalism”

So, a friend from Australia posted the link to a Los Angeles Times article by John Scalzi, titled, “Dystopias are fantastic in fiction. But do you really want to live in one?”

I’ve been studying dystopian fiction the last eight years while writing extensively about spiritual abuse and recovery. And I’ve run across some provocative books that analyze this genre. So, on my friend’s Facebook post, I put a link to a book from 15 years ago: Dystopian Fiction East and West: Universe of Terror and Trial, by Erika Gottlieb. A thread that runs through her analysis is this: Dystopias produced by writers in the West (Europe, North America, etc.) are the worst they can imagine. Dystopias from writers in the East (Eastern and Central Europe) are riffs on what they are already living in or have lived through.

When I was researching for books to recommend on understanding dystopian fiction, I was captivated by her opening sentence:

Dystopian fiction is a post-Christian genre.

This captured my attention because many in my circles have been talking for the past 20 years about the global paradigm shift from modern to postmodern, and Christendom to post-Christendom — and what it means in terms of the fragmentation of beliefs and values of the era before, and the reformulation of different sets of beliefs and values and cultures going forward.

And this election season certainly seems to demonstrate the last gasps of hanging on to the final shards of modernity, evidenced by the contentious break-ups in both our two-party political systems and also in the religious systems of what used to be known as “evangelicalism.” The fact that so many feel angst about associating with Republican or Democrat, or with what used to be evangelicalism, is an evidence of that paradigm shift. Where could this lead? Where should a reformulation lead? I believe those questions will become more prominent discussions in the next few years. Hopefully we can be conciliatory and respectful as we engage in those dialogues.

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Meanwhile, here is an extended quote from the opening of Erika Gottlieb’s book:

Dystopian fiction is a post-Christian genre.

If the central drama of the age of faith was the conflict between salvation and damnation by deity, in our secular modern age this drama has been transposed to a conflict between humanity’s salvation or damnation by society in the historical arena. In the modern scenario salvation is represented as a just society governed by worthy representatives chosen by an enlightened people; damnation, by an unjust society, a degraded mob ruled by a power-crazed elite. Works dealing with the former describe the heaven or earthly paradise of utopia; those dealing with the latter portray the dictatorship of a hell on earth, the “worst of all possible worlds” of dystopia.

Even a casual reading of such classics of dystopian fiction as Zamiatin’s We, Huxley’s Brave New World, or Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-four will make it obvious that underlying this secular genre the concepts of heaven and hell are still clearly discernible. […]

The strategies of Zamiatin, Huxley, and Orwell are also significantly the strategies of warning. As readers we are made to contemplate Zamiatin’s One State, Huxley’s World State, and Orwell’s Oceania, each a hellscape from which the inhabitants can no longer return, so that we realize what the flaws of our own society may lead to for the next generations unless we try to eradicate these flaws today.

~ Erika Gottlieb, Dystopian Fiction East and West: Universe of Terror and Trial, pages 3, 4.