#161 What I learnt from Orwell’s essays (3)

Following straight on from last week’s post:

Despite the awful experience in his school years from those who believed they were teaching gospel truths, Orwell was still able to see some of the liberties within Christianity. In his essay, Politics versus Literature Orwell explores Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels and if you haven’t read that novel, then some of this post won’t make sense.

Orwell considers Swift more of an anarchist than a political left-winger. Regardless, Orwell still has some commentary of value in our political climate, whether it be that of left versus right, or in relation to whatever is considered politically popular at the time. Here’s a lengthy quote from Orwell:

“But public opinion, because of the tremendous urge to conformity in gregarious animals, is less tolerant than any system of law. When human beings are governed by ‘thou shalt not’, the individual can practise a certain amount of eccentricity: when they are supposedly governed by ‘love’ or ‘reason’, he is under continuous pressure to make him behave and think in exactly the same way as everyone else. The Houyhnhnms, we are told, were unanimous on almost all subjects. The only question they ever discussed was how to deal with the Yahoos. Otherwise there was no room for disagreement among them, because the truth is always either self-evident, or else it is undiscoverable and unimportant. They had apparently no word for ‘opinion’ in their language, and in their conversations there was no ‘difference of sentiments’. They had reached, in fact, the highest stage of totalitarian organisation…” (p.379)

In our current society, Christianity is presented as restrictive and what is popular (often the left) is presented as freedom. Christianity is represented as slavery and entrapment; anything else is liberty – apparently.

Despite disagreeing with Christianity, Orwell could still acknowledge that within the Ten Commandments – which are so frequently portrayed as restrictive – there is actually a distinct degree of real liberty.

And as for popular opinion being totalitarian, anyone who has been at an online conference when the ‘popular voice’ is speaking knows exactly what he means. Any question raised which differs from the popular agenda is absolutely demolished in the chat (it is vicious!), regardless of how politely the question was asked or how tentatively it was expressed.

As a teacher, I recall some years back now, working with a class who were watching a movie with a Christian character. The portrayal of the Christian character was a tad stereotypical, a bit annoying and probably had been constructed by someone who had very little understanding of Christianity.

However, I was interested that as soon as the Christian character spoke a line there was this instant knowing among the students that they should groan, purely because the character was a Christian. It was akin to an almost instantaneous ‘“Boo! Hiss!” and throw tomatoes’ response.

It was clear. They’d been indoctrinated into an orthodoxy with clear ‘laws’:

“The Christian is ‘not on our side’ therefore no matter what they say it must be wrong.”

“Christianity is not popular right now and this is because it is far more restrictive than the popular ‘law systems’ of love and reason.”

Orwell disagrees on both accounts.

In last week’s post I also quoted a Bible verse that Orwell experienced misapplied in his schooling. Here it is again:

If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea. Matthew 18:6

What are we doing to “these little ones” of our generation?

Even Orwell, who was not affiliated with Christianity would be alarmed by how ‘discussions’ on religion or politics (and religion and politics) are approached by many in our current society.

If picking up The Bible is a step too far for you currently, perhaps find something that Orwell wrote on religion and let him guide you into being a bit more balanced.

There is too much indoctrination in our society that people are just expected to swallow whole. Again, take it from Orwell that this is dangerous: “To accept an orthodoxy is always to inherit unresolved contradictions.” (p.456)*

Real Christianity is unorthodox. Jesus was a revolutionary.

And blind orthodoxy doesn’t just happen within the walls of a church.

Yours in a revolting church, 😉


* The quote on orthodoxy is from the essay, Writers and Leviathan

Page numbers taken from this Penguin edition

Photo by Caio on Pexels.com

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