This week in Wednesday’s literature piece we continue our exploration of one the 20th Century’s great Dystopian novels Brave New World (BNW). This week’s excerpt comes from the same philosophical argument John and Mustapha Mond were having the last time we visited this book, but this time the topic is the role of God in the ‘controlled’ society. The previous extract examined a worldview I argued was congruous with what the new ethics movement seemingly has in store for us.
Huxley’s comments on religion in his numerous works have drawn much criticism basically because his attempts to reconcile religion with philosophy, aesthetics, ethics, and government were difficult to grasp. It could be said he was an agnostic, but it may be more accurate to describe him as a sceptic. He saw the potential value of the arts, education, government, love, nature, and science as ways to a better life, but he criticized those who regarded these means as ends in themselves. But like John (the Savage) in his ensuing argument with Mustapha Mond in BNW, he too is left despondent about how to argue God’s place in the society:
Mustapha Mond – “…you know all about God, I suppose.”
John: “Well …” The Savage hesitated. He would have liked to say something about solitude, about night, about the mesa lying pale under the moon, about the precipice, the plunge into shadowy darkness, about death. He would have liked to speak; but there were no words. Not even in Shakespeare.
What is evident from their argument below is the danger of ceasing with the notion and knowledge of God in society and developing ‘pure secularism’. The German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche (God is Dead) and his student Swiss Psychologist Carl Jung also forewarned that societies striving for ‘Utopian’ secularism based on political ideology or rational-materialist values and morals could lead to unrivalled destruction and mayhem. And that’s precisely what occurred in the 20th century under Stalin in the Soviet Union and Maoist China, not to mention the other numerous countries where this experiment was introduced with horrendous consequences most notably in Latin America.
Once again this excerpt like most of the book’s contents (including the previous excerpt on this blog) seems to be Huxley’s forewarning about the consequences of a controlled ‘Utopian’ society having its way including doing away with archetypes, history, religious faith, art and independent science. Personally it is disturbing to see how much content in this book seems analogous to what is happening right now in the Western World as the postmodern – ethics movement driven by the Press, Hollywood, Major Corporations, Government and Education institutions is reformulating society as we know it under the guise of the COVID-19 pandemic and this thing called ‘The Great Reset‘ driven by the globalists. I wish it were just a crazy conspiracy theory, but its not.
So below is today’s excerpt from Brave New World which I titled here ‘God’s Place in Our future‘ because the discussion seems to align with how our secular societies are headed and how they dismiss the role of God and religious faith in their narratives and future aspirations. Interestingly you can see Huxley wrestling with his own understanding of God throughout – comparative to Dostoevsky in Crime and Punishment. Huxley makes his antagonists as powerful and convincing as his protagonists and that couldn’t be better demonstrated than it is here. This excerpt is long and goes to places rarely encroached. So I would recommend you brew the coffee and set yourself nicely up for a wild philosophical ride.
ART, SCIENCE–you seem to have paid a fairly high price for your happiness,” said the Savage, when they were alone.“Anything else?”
“Well, religion, of course,” replied the Controller. “There used to be something called God–before the Nine Years’ War. But I was forgetting; you know all about God, I suppose.”
“Well …” The Savage hesitated. He would have liked to say something about solitude, about night, about the mesa lying pale under the moon, about the precipice, the plunge into shadowy darkness, about death. He would have liked to speak; but there were no words. Not even in Shakespeare…..
Mustapha Mond – “God in the safe and Ford on the shelves.” He pointed with a laugh to his avowed library–to the shelves of books, the rack full of reading-machine bobbins and sound-trackrolls.
“But if you know about God, why don’t you tell them?” asked the Savage indignantly. “Why don’t you give them these books about God?”
“For the same reason as we don’t give them Othello: they’re old; they’re about God hundreds of years ago. Not about God now.”
“But God doesn’t change.”“Men do, though.”“What difference does that make?”
“All the difference in the world,” said Mustapha Mond…..
Mustapha Mond – “There was a man called Cardinal Newman,” he said. “A cardinal,” he exclaimed parenthetically, “was a kind of Arch-Community-Songster.”
“‘I Pandulph, of fair Milan, cardinal.’ I’ve read about them in Shakespeare.”
“Of course you have. Well, as I was saying, there was a man called Cardinal Newman. Ah, here’s the book.” He pulled it out. “And while I’m about it I’ll take this one too. It’s by a man called Maine de Biran. He was a philosopher, if you know what that was.”
“A man who dreams of fewer things than there are in heaven and earth,” said the Savage promptly.
“Quite so. I’ll read you one of the things he did dream of in a moment. Meanwhile, listen to what this old Arch-Com-munity-Songster said.” He opened the book at the placemarked by a slip of paper and began to read. “‘We are not our own any more than what we possess is our own. We did not make ourselves, we cannot be supreme over ourselves. We are not our own masters. We are God’s property. Is it not our happiness thus to view the matter? Is it any happiness or any comfort, to consider that we are our own? It may be thought so by the young and prosperous. These may think it a great thing to have everything, as they suppose, their own way–to depend on no one–to have to think of nothing out of sight, to be without the irksomeness of continual acknowledgment,continual prayer, continual reference of what they do to the will of another. But as time goes on, they, as all men, will find that independence was not made for man–that it is an un-natural state–will do for a while, but will not carry us on safely to the end …’” Mustapha Mond paused…..
Mustapha Mond – “‘A man grows old; he feels in himself that radical sense of weakness, of listlessness, of discomfort,which accompanies the advance of age; and, feeling thus,imagines himself merely sick, lulling his fears with the notion that this distressing condition is due to some particular cause,from which, as from an illness, he hopes to recover. Vain imaginings! That sickness is old age; and a horrible disease itis. They say that it is the fear of death and of what comes afterdeath that makes men turn to religion as they advance in years.But my own experience has given me the conviction that,quite apart from any such terrors or imaginings, the religious sentiment tends to develop as we grow older; to develop be-cause, as the passions grow calm, as the fancy and sensibilities are less excited and less excitable, our reason becomes less troubled in its working, less obscured by the images, desires and distractions, in which it used to be absorbed; where upon God emerges as from behind a cloud; our soul feels, sees,turns towards the source of all light; turns naturally and inevitably; for now that all that gave to the world of sensations its life and charms has begun to leak away from us…
“But all the same,” insisted the Savage, “it is natural to believe in God when you’re alone–quite alone, in the night, thinking about death …”
“But people never are alone now,” said Mustapha Mond. “We make them hate solitude; and we arrange their lives so that it’s almost impossible for them ever to have it.”
The Savage nodded gloomily. At Malpais he had suffered because they had shut him out from the communal activities of the pueblo, in civilized London he was suffering because he could never escape from those communal activities, never be quietly alone.
“Do you remember that bit in King Lear?” said the Savage at last. “‘The gods are just and of our pleasant vices make instruments to plague us; the dark and vicious place where thee he got cost him his eyes,’ and Edmund answers–you re-member, he’s wounded, he’s dying–’Thou hast spoken right;’ tis true. The wheel has come full circle; I am here.’ What about that now? Doesn’t there seem to be a God managing things, punishing, rewarding?”
“Well, does there?” questioned the Controller in his turn. “You can indulge in any number of pleasant vices with afree martin and run no risks of having your eyes put out by your son’s mistress. ‘The wheel has come full circle; I am here.’ But where would Edmund be nowadays? Sitting in a pneumatic chair, with his arm round a girl’s waist, sucking away at his sex-hormone chewing-gum and looking at the feelies. The gods are just. No doubt. But their code of law is dictated, in the last resort, by the people who organize society; Providence takes its cue from men.”
“Are you sure?” asked the Savage. “Are you quite sure that the Edmund in that pneumatic chair hasn’t been just as heavily punished as the Edmund who’s wounded and bleeding to death? The gods are just. Haven’t they used his pleasant vices as an instrument to degrade him?”
“Degrade him from what position? As a happy, hard-working, goods-consuming citizen he’s perfect. Of course, if you choose some other standard than ours, then perhaps you might say he was degraded. But you’ve got to stick to one set of postulates. You can’t play Electro-magnetic Golf according to the rules of Centrifugal Bumble-puppy.”
“But value dwells not in particular will,” said the Savage. “It holds his estimate and dignity as well wherein ’tis precious of itself as in the prizer.”
“Come, come,” protested Mustapha Mond, “that’s going rather far, isn’t it?”“If you allowed yourselves to think of God, you wouldn’t allow yourselves to be degraded by pleasant vices. You’d have a reason for bearing things patiently, for doing things with courage. I’ve seen it with the Indians.”
“l’m sure you have,” said Mustapha Mond. “But then we aren’t Indians. There isn’t any need for a civilized man to bear anything that’s seriously unpleasant.
And as for doing things – Ford forbid that he should get the idea into his head. It would upset the whole social order if men started doing things on their own.”
“What about self-denial, then? If you had a God, you’d have a reason for self-denial.”
“But industrial civilization is only possible when there’s no self-denial. Self-indulgence up to the very limits imposed by hygiene and economics. Otherwise the wheels stop turning.”
“You’d have a reason for chastity!” said the Savage, blushing a little as he spoke the words.“But chastity means passion, chastity means neurasthenia. And passion and neurasthenia mean instability. And instability means the end of civilization. You can’t have a lasting civilization without plenty of pleasant vices.”
“But God’s the reason for everything noble and fine and heroic. If you had a God …”
“My dear young friend,” said Mustapha Mond, “civilization has absolutely no need of nobility or heroism. These things are symptoms of political inefficiency. In a properly organized society like ours, nobody has any opportunities for being noble or heroic. Conditions have got to be thoroughly unstable before the occasion can arise. Where there are wars,where there are divided allegiances, where there are temptations to be resisted, objects of love to be fought for or de-fended–there, obviously, nobility and heroism have some sense.