Isaiah and I were out walking; he turned to me and said:
“Mom, we’re reading the book The Giver, in class. Have you ever read it?”
“Yeah, I have,” I replied. “I read it when Lily was about your age and was also reading it in school. I remember it being a pretty intense book in many ways. What do you think?”
“Oh, I like it. We haven’t read very much yet. But I think it’s kinda neat how they live in a utopia. You know… how everything is perfectly figured out there… how everything is supposed to go.”
“Hm… well, since you haven’t read much yet… well I don’t want to ruin it… but it isn’t the utopia it appears to be. Do you know the term dystopia?”
It is a genre that has grown pretty popular as of late. My children gobble up dystopian books with hundreds of pages and most often in trilogy form. Those same books are being cranked out into movies almost as fast, if not faster than authors can write and then publish! Why? Well, they are earning top spots at the box-office!
Utopia: A place, state, or condition that is ideally perfect in respect of politics, laws, customs, and conditions.
Dystopia: A futuristic, imagined universe in which oppressive societal control and the illusion of a perfect society are maintained through corporate, bureaucratic, technological, moral, or totalitarian control.
Dystopia resonates deeply with humanity. The ever-present feeling, even when things look good, that something else is at work, the hunch we’re being lied to, a suspicion that society could fall apart at any moment. We desire to see through the mirage and find truth.
What are some common factors in dystopia?
- desire to set things right
- imposition of structure to ensure peace, ideal functioning, order… utopia
- all isn’t as it seems
- a lie hides behind the facade
Scrolling through Facebook this post caught my eye. “Why do we love (and need) dystopian literature? (As you can probably tell) I had already been pondering the popularity of dystopian books and movies so I watched this video. An interesting history of the development of this genre, to be sure. But I was also concerned as this short video came to an end, concerned about the conclusions drawn as to, “why we love (and need) dystopian literature…”
“Why bother with all this pessimism? Because at their heart dystopias are cautionary tales, not about some particular government or technology but the very idea that humanity can be molded into an ideal shape.”
Upon a cursory glance I “get” that and yet… my spirit cried out, “Wait! There’s so much more!” And I think it goes back to another line the narrator speaks near the beginning of the video, “Many religions promise bliss in the afterlife.” I don’t know about you, but my walk with Christ offers much more!
Walt Mueller of the Center for Parent/Youth Understanding says of media that it is a map and a mirror, both directive and reflective. It reflects our attitudes and current values while directing our how to live in this world. This Ted-Ed video comes up short in directing us on why dystopian literature is valuable. There is so much more than the take away it gives.
Why do I say this? Well, our faith in Christ offers much more than a utopian promise for the afterlife and our fight against dystopia has been going on much longer than the last 150 years.
We’ve been searching for utopia for a long time… since we left the garden. We don’t usually talk about it this way, but the more I think about it, the more I understood the deep connection.
Looking back at the common characteristics of dystopias the last one jumps out: The lie. We’ve been lied to since the snake spoke to Eve in the garden, tempting her with a lie. Whispering those feelings of doubt about what God had said… a lie started it and lies keep coming.
- Sin was the crisis.
- Our hearts yearn to make things right.
- We have laws, rules, structure to hold it together.
- But no matter the inspirational sayings, motivational speeches, and best intentions… we can’t fix it. Sin continues to bear consequence.
- And we can feel the lie hiding below the surface… so we search because there must be something more.
Dystopian novels/movies resonate for a reason that goes deeper than our personal experience, corporate policies or political motivations. Spiritually, we know this isn’t the garden, no matter how hard we try. We’re still searching for utopia and we know dystopia when we are living it.
It is right here that the message of the gospel meets reality head on. The Bible shows that sin has broken our relationship with God, with one another and affected our world. Sin is the crisis that changed everything. The lie Satan told Eve is still whispering in our ears… it may come in a different form but it is the lie just the same. So, facing a broken world, we try really hard to set things right… if we can just try hard enough, be good enough then things will be okay. Ephesians 2 shows us the truth we desperately seek from amongst the lies.
As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, 2 in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. 3 All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh[a] and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath. 4 But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, 5 made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. 6 And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, 7 in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus.8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9 not by works, so that no one can boast. 10 For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
When I watch dystopian movies or read the books with my kids, I’ve always been struck by the endings. While “truth” is found from behind the lies, the future of the characters and humanity in general is almost always still uncertain, struggle remains and hope is not a guarantee. That is the difference of the hope we have in Christ: our future is certain, our present is secure and hope is the foundation when Christ is the cornerstone.
A world finding familiarity in dystopia is a world seeking their deepest need: the mercy, grace and love of God given through Christ! How can you speak truth into our world?