Reading is one of my greatest joys in life, but my to-be-read list exceeds my lifespan. Therefore, I must be choosy. Making it a mission of mine to actually read the highly-praised literary classics, of course that had to include George Orwell’s 1984. I recently finished the dystopian novel a month ago with a pang in my chest—or rather, heartwrenching despair. I’ve since moved onto some Brontë and Austen, which has given me time to digest.
The protaganist, Winston Smith, lives in a dystopian world where “The Party”—the elitist authoritarian government in power—revokes any and every freedom to think and be an individual. The reader is dragged through this world through the eyes of Winston as he silently fights to keep his own sanity. Throughout the novel, I was continuously reminded to be thankful for my freedom of speech, my freedom of thought, and freedom to worship as I please. I will always be thankful for these freedoms, and treasure them greatly.
But what I thought was so interesting, was that even in a world where the common man had no control nor individuality, there was still a desire—a need—for worship. The Party exploited this need, forcing citizens to religiously worship The Party. Posters of Big Brother plastered the walls, citizens were required daily to gather together not out of love, but to hate those anti-party (a ceremony called the Two Minutes Hate). Citizens had no choice but to ingest the slogans “War is Peace”, “Freedom is Slavery” and “Ignorance is Strength”. The Party kept their power through fear and hatred, as opposed to God’s freedom and love.
As The Party forcibly also controlled and actively rewrote history, they were also able to control the future. There was no religion except The Party. No previous ruler before The Party. Life began with The Party; in the beginning, only The Party. The face of Big Brother was meant to serve as an idol, inciting a type of inexplicable warmth and allegiance, as one would have looking at the face of Jesus.
Orwell integrates this religious ideology almost seamlessly throughout this work. Was he a Christian himself? I’m not entirely sure. It shows me that, regardless of era or culture, our need for worship is integral to our very nature.
There is no doubt about it: 1984 is a depressing book. Hope and redemption are left wanting, forcing the reader to hang onto the quickly-snatched-away breadcrumbs of hope sprinkled across the pages. Many in current day pray against a time where the events in that novel come to fruition. But if we have it in us to worship, even if forced, then what does that say about us?
Since 1984 evokes such negative emotions, perhaps that’s because we don’t like who the citizens are forced to worship. So then this begs the question: who or what do we worship? You can argue for many things: romantic love; music; family; your job; music; even watches or cars—I’ve heard them all.
If you asked me, I would (and do) worship Jesus. He never leaves us in the dark with ignorance, and He builds with us informed trust. He set us free from our bonds, making us no longer slaves to sin. God gave us such beautiful emotions and language to express them with the freedom and the peace that He alone can give, without war. The only wars we need to fight are against the devil, and even in those God will prevail. 1984 made me grateful for many things, but what I was thankful for most was Jesus Christ.
So, in short? I’m glad I read 1984. It reinstilled in me what I already knew, and I can take solace in that. There is no strength in ignorance. There is no freedom in slavery. And there is no peace in war. I wouldn’t want to worship anyone but God Himself, who freely gives His unforced and unconditional love. How about you?