University of Nebraska political science prof Carson Holloway (pictured) asks, “Does discrediting the existence of God promote enlightened thinking or a lack of objective reality?” Unpacking the social structure in George Orwell’s classic totalitarian dystopia, 1984 (1949), he observes that not only does the Party have the power of life and death but the atheistic Party faithful fear death as utter annihilation:
Atheism is the moral basis of the Party’s unlimited hold on its own members because it makes them terrified of death as absolute nonexistence. Like any government, the Party in 1984 has the power to kill disobedient subjects. Party members, however, view death not just as the end of bodily life, but as a complete erasure of their being—their thoughts, their words, their affections, their deeds. Winston Smith muses that the “terrible” thing about the Party is its ability to make you vanish, such that “neither you nor your actions were ever heard of again. You were lifted clean out of the stream of history.”Carson Holloway, “Orwell, atheism, and totalitarianism” at MercatorNet
By contrast, the Party allows the proles, who are utterly without power, to have traditional religious beliefs:
As the Party teaches, “proles and animals are free.” Being free from dogmatic atheism, the proles are also free to believe in the intrinsic value of their own intentions and actions, even in the face of death. For the proles, as for the people who had lived before the revolution that ushered in Oceania’s totalitarian state, “a completely helpless gesture, an embrace, a tear, a word spoken to a dying man, could have value in itself.” Thus the proles, Winston observes, had “stayed human.”Carson Holloway, “Orwell, atheism, and totalitarianism” at MercatorNet
The story’s central character Winston is not a prole. He is one of the Outer Party minions charged with rewriting history to conform to Party needs. Julia, his lover, superintends a machine that churns out politically correct potboilers for the masses to read. The couple’s arrest and torment, depicted later in the book, stem from the fact that, given their positions, their beliefs matter. Absolute obedience, body and soul, is required — it is ultimately enforced by breaking both of them.
The Party’s seemingly contradictory slogan, “freedom is slavery,” makes sense in this context, Carson writes. Only the Party itself is immortal. Unthinking and unconditioned subservience enables Winston and his fellows to participate, however faintly and briefly, in that immortality.
Submission is made easier by the dogma that there is no objective reality. Winston learns to accept, under torture,
Because there is no external, objective reality to which all human beings must conform, the Party gets to decide what is “real.” “Sanity,” Winston comes to believe, is “statistical.” That is, sanity means not seeing what is actually there but seeing what everybody else sees, which is what the Party is able to make them see. “Whatever the Party holds to be truth is truth. It is impossible to see reality except by looking through the eyes of the Party.”Carson Holloway, “Orwell, atheism, and totalitarianism” at MercatorNet
In 1984, people can believe things that go against the evidence of their senses — that the chocolate ration has not been reduced when it clearly has, for example. History can be rewritten to excise the evidence (that’s Winston’s job) because there is no objective reality called chocolate anyway, apart from the Party’s view.
In that case, atheism is not only fundamental to the Party’s power but is also its central weakness: If there is evidence for any higher power in the universe, the Party cannot be what it claims. Objective reality, apart from the Party’s version, then certainly exists. There would be a record of what really happened in, say, the Mind of God. Then, the basis of the Party’s authority (total control of reality) collapses:
1984 thus confronts us with a radical and very significant suggestion: without God as the eternal, omnipotent observer, there is no objective reality. Many have argued that without God there can be no fixed moral principles. Orwell’s great work goes further, raising the possibility that without God there cannot even be “facts” in any meaningful, reliable sense.Carson Holloway, “Orwell, atheism, and totalitarianism” at MercatorNet
Perhaps all totalitarian regimes would end up in 1984 territory if they went on long enough. But something in nature — call it objective reality, if you like — seems to work against them. That may not be an accident…
All this talk of 1984 would just be a dystopian fantasy except for the current, disturbing war on math and war on science in the school systems. Subjects that were once seen as liberation from ignorance are now treated as slavery to objective reality. Big Brother, for one, would rejoice.
You may also wish to read:
Yes, there really is a war on math in our schools. Pundits differ as to the causes but here are some facts parents should know. (Denyse O’Leary)
Here’s why an argument for God’s existence is scientific. The form of reasoning and the type of evidence accepted is the same as with Newton’s theories or Darwin’s. (Michael Egnor)