Neil Postman, in his prophetic book Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse In The Age of Show Business (1985) compares two views of a dystopian future: Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World (1932) and George Orwell’s 1984 (1949) Though we lump these two works into a single category along with other such books, there are profound differences between Huxley’s and Orwell’s visions.
Orwell wrote about a society ruled by fear and repression; Huxley wrote about one benumbed by entertainment and trivia. In one, books are banned; in the other, banning is not needed because nobody bothers to read anyway.
Both societies lead, in their own way, to the death of the soul. And though there are plenty of instances of repression and intimidation in contemporary western society, especially in the form of politically correct expectations, it is through the media’s trivialization of our daily lives that our civilization is most imperriled. In our choices of popular music, TV, movies, and cultural obsessions, we are becoming, nearly literally, the very zombies that are currently so fascinating to our young, and not-so-young.
I am often appalled by the uncritical manner in which even Christian people today support and patronize the movies, music and intellectual fashions of the time. Popular preaching is filled with allusions to pop culture. I have sometimes been guilty of this myself. One rarely hears the admonition of the New Testament writers to separate ourselves from this perverse generation, to renounce its forms of entertainment and instead assume the now-nearly-lost disciplines of the spiritual life.
We are a generation of gnostic Christians, believing that what we do through our somatic and mental habits has little to do with our “real” Christianity. Faith is, for multitudes of believers of every variety, an out-of-body experience. It’s all a matter of relationship now, rather than with old “religious” practices. It’s all about liberty these days; we’re beyond the sterile legalism of our forefathers.
You’ve heard all the variations on the cliché: “I love Jesus. Christianity I’m not so sure about.”
But until we get back to an understanding of biblical faith that unites mind and body, inner development and outer practices, personal piety and social savvy, we will remain a spent force, a sociological blip with little historical significance.
What would happen if our young turned off their electronic devices for a few hours every day and read old, classic books instead? What would happen if they decided that prayer is more important than “hanging out” with people just like themselves, people who only reinforce their prejudices and apathies? What would happen if they took the time and money they spend on their Netflix subscriptions and used these irreplaceable resources to support their local churches and mission societies?
Just a few thoughts. But then I’m old school. I still believe in solid things, like Christianity, civilization, routine Bible reading, solitude, sacrifice, and pure and undefiled religion. And I still believe that laziness and the urge to be titillated are far more dangerous to the soul than an army of atheists and skeptics.
Huxley had it right, after all: We’re amusing ourselves to death.