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Amusing Ourselves to Death… for SURE

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If you haven’t read D.A. Carson’s The Gagging of God yet, you really should; his cultural analysis and understanding of the confrontation between Christian faith and pluralism are outstanding.

At any rate, in the book, Carson quotes from another book which you simply must read, Neil Postman’s Amusing Ourselves to Death. I was listening to Dave Ramsey on the radio the other day, and he was talking about the amount of money Americans throw away on the lottery every year; it amounts to more money, for instance, than we spend on books. Crazy Teenager in the back seat was soaking this in, and to his immense credit, he purchased a book next chance he got, with the words, “I’m not ever going to play the lottery, Dad; books are much more important!” Consider Postman ‘s words, contrasting Orwell’s fears in 1984 with Huxley’s in Brave New World:

Orwell warns that we will be overcome by an externally imposed oppression. But in Huxley’s vision, no Big Brother is required to deprive people of their autonomy, maturity, and history. As he saw it, people will come to love their oppression, to adore the technologies that undo their capacities to think…What Orwell feared were those who would ban books. What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one [Emphasis mine.]

Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information. Huxley feared those who would give us so much information that we would be reduced to passivity and egoism. Orwell feared that the truth would be concealed from us. Huxley feared that the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance. Orwell feared that we would become a captive culture. Huxley feared that we would become a trivial culture, preoccupied with some equivalent of the feelies, the orgy porgy, and the centrifugal bumblepuppy.

In 1984, Orwell added, people are controlled by inflicting pain. In Brave New World, they are controlled by inflicting pleasure. In short, Orwell feared that what we hate will ruin us. Huxley feared that what we love will ruin us.

Postman writes his book on the premise that Huxley was right, and not Orwell. This should be as plain as the noses on our faces.

Oh, and for what it’s worth, “Centrifugal Bumblepuppy” would be a great name for a band…

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  • sydney

    Sounds like an important book.

    I’d like to see if he ties that “internaly” imposed oppression to the machinations of capitalism (unchecked). Thats certainly what I attribute it too.

    It has always baffled me how purveyors of American style capitalism make excuses for this afffect, or how they pretend that it isn’t happening.

    I met a woman the other day who thought native indians had come to north america at the same time as europeans. She was apologetic about her mistake, but it was freightening just the same. This woman was probably in her early thirties, very pretty, and affluent looking. She strikes me as a victim of internally imposed oppression. She was likely well versed in teh history of television dramas, but hadnt a clue about the world around her.


    Both books sound very interesting and thought provoking.

  • DrPat

    What a confluence of strange attractors we have here, with so many posts all at once, all about religion, religious philosophy, or themes of God and society!

    I gave a great sigh of relief to realize that The Gagging of God was just a book title…

  • Thad Anderson

    Interesting-sounding book.

    Over Christmas, there was a big scandal in Raleigh, NC over a church’s decision to boycott stores that had put “Happy Holidays” signs on their doors, rather than “Merry Christmas” signs.

    The argument for this was that there is some kind of secular conspiracy against Christians. In reality, most of the people who first put up “Happy Holidays” signs in the Raleigh area were probably not part of some vast conspiracy, but instead, just Christians who thought the nice thing to do would be to show some respect for the Jewish folks in town.

    The biggest challenge Protestant churches will face during the next 20 years will be figuring out why this kind of mean-spiritedness is on the rise in their congregations. In my opinion, a lot of it has to do with peoples’ perception that modern life is increasingly generic and soulless. Whereas the characters in “Fight Club” expressed their frustration with modern life through beating the hell out of each other, conservative evangelical Christians are finding an alternative in their clannish religious/cultural identity.

    I always try to explain to my Republican friends here in New York that they don’t realize what they’re getting into when they vote for someone like Bush. When Congress held a special vote to try to “save” Terri Schiavo, these friends were shocked . . . and I tried to refrain from saying “this is what you voted for.”

    I find it very hard to believe that the GOP can sustain a long-term coalition that includes moderate Republicans like my friends, and born-again Christians like Bush. Somehow I just can’t see people continually voting for politicians who believe that they’re going to burn in hell, just because they aren’t born-again Christians.

  • Bennett

    Postman’s book sounds worthy. I love the the comparison between Huxley and Orwell.

    Thad, anyone that refs Fight Club is a-okay in my book.

  • Byron

    Thad, sometimes we Christians can make monkeys of ourselves, that’s for sure…

  • gonzo marx

    “love thy neighbor”

    “turn the other cheek”

    “render unto Caesar”

    “let he who is without sin cast the first stone”

    why can’t some folks that proclaim that the Christ was the single most important Teacher in history ever seem to remember the Lessons he spoke about?

    on Orwell and Huxley…very nice comparison

    but the Wisdom i glean that is common to both, no matter that their methodology of implementation was juxtaposed is quite simply put

    Extremeism of philosophy is bad, no matter what “flavor” it comes in…

    nuff said?


  • Jolly Joe

    Read the Ragamuffin gospel :)