Brave New World: Not New, but an Impetus to be Brave

This post is a re-publication of a short write-up I did for the website of Our Lady Seat of Wisdom Academy. I wanted to include it here because I do want this blog to feature some thoughts about the books that have influenced -- or are influencing -- our culture. The thing about books is that they are much longer and more complex than song lyrics, or even movies. Although there is enough material in Frozen for me to probably rehash it once or twice more, there is so much in books like Brave New World that it would take ten or more (probably more) posts to really do justice to the complexity of plots and characters. Therefore, writing posts about books takes a lot more time and effort than lyrics and movies. In time, I hope to have some more up here. For now, I'm offering a short sneak peek into one of the books that has influenced -- and continues to influence -- me.


A book that has been a favorite of mine throughout my adult life is Aldous Huxley's dystopian novel Brave New World. I first encountered this book quite by accident: a fellow student in my second year of university was writing a philosophy paper based on it and wanted some help organizing his thoughts. Having never read the book, I was unsure of how I could be of any help, so I decided to skim through it and try to pick out some major themes. What began as "skimming" turned out to be completely engrossing, and I finished the entire novel from beginning to end within two hours. I have not been able to stop talking about it since. It pops up in conversations ranging from literature to media to politics to economics to philosophy and theology. It has also cropped up in the university lectures I have given as an example or reference more than once.

Although Brave New World is dark, unsettling, and ends on a decidedly depressing note, it has always struck me as a truly prophetic work of literature. Written in 1931, Huxley envisions a future culture of hedonists who worship mass production, consider the word "mother" degrading, live lives of sexual uninhibitedness, and use drugs to avoid ever feeling negative emotions like loneliness, sadness, or guilt. Huxley predicts with eerie accuracy the breakdown of the family through reproductive technologies, the obsession with consequence-free sex divorced from love, the cultural brainwashing of children through schools and media, the scientific manipulation of human life to create "designer" children, and more cultural phenomena that, rather than depicting a distant possibility, act more like a mirror to our current society's deepest spiritual depravities. In a similar way to Pope Paul VI's Humanae Vitae in 1968, Huxley's Brave New World foretells the inevitable cultural devastation that occurs when we choose to accept the maximization of material pleasure as the foundation for our existence in the world.

Writing as an agnostic, it is perhaps not surprising that there is no redemption in Huxley's book: the system is not improved or overthrown; the protagonists do not convince the culture of their need for change; the only quasi-religious character in the story does not persevere in hope. It is a dismal ending, but all endings are dismal that preclude Christ. Brave New World issues a challenge for Christians in the Western world to do what Huxley could not: preach the message of a Savior who offers true freedom and happiness through his Cross and resurrection. The "Savage" in Brave New World could only offer condemnations; we can offer affirmation of our joy and the hope that springs from our faith in a God who offers so much more than the mass-produced cheap thrills out culture offers. Brave New World, for me, is both a tool and an impetus to evangelization in its ability to reveal both the unacknowledged desperation of our culture and the urgent need to present to our world the "better part" that is the source of true happiness.


The point of this blog is not to tell anyone what they should or should not consider entertaining, nor what films, books, lyrics, or television shows are morally or artistically good or bad. The point is to engage with the stories that are creating our culture on an intellectual level, to meet the morals with our minds before they go to our hearts. Once you know what's in the entertainment you imbibe and you're aware of how it may be shaping your perceptions of the world around you, well then, imbibe away!

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