“It is dangerous to be right when the government is wrong.”
The assault on the Church by our government is nothing new. Here on the enlightened West Coast, the forerunners of today’s Cathlo-phobic thinkers tried to outlaw Catholic schools using the government-designed ballot-measure system back in the 1920s.
But, this being a Catholic Writer’s blog column, how can we use this as a teachable moment? How could we make certain that pour point is made, without sounding preachy?
Despite its flawed, secular philosophy, the Star Trek TV series of the 1960s set the pace and pattern for television to teach us about social issues. Catholics missed the boat culturally on this opportunity to shore up true values in culture, but even though we’re playing catch-up, it doesn’t mean we can’t and shouldn’t look at social issues in our fictions.
How to, though? Star Trek looked at 1960s American racism through this episode, using the Enterprise crew as impartial observers of an obviously flawed system of life and society, errors that no one raised in that culture could see.
“I am black on the right side!” said Frank Gorshin with total, bigoted conviction, the kind that today comes only after sixteen years of a good, public school and secular university education, and is only leveled against all authentically religious values.
The Twilight Zone made a similar episode that went against the grain of Star Trek’s wanna-be hippy-goofiness. Titled The Old Man in the Cave, it note why sometimes it’s smart to listen to authority figures, and that they might be there for a very good reason.
So, if we’re going to write about this, how do we do it? What kind of fiction could illustrate the wrongness of a government suppressing consciences in the name of someone else’s idea of ‘freedom,’ or ‘science’?
The most successful storytellers don’t look at the big picture; they instead look at one person, and how injustice affects them. Gene Rodenberry focused on two aliens as representative of an entire, unjust and doomed race. Spielberg focused on how one man named Oskar Schindler’s response to Nazism changed him from a sleazy opportunist into a humanitarian. Robert Bolt focused on one nobleman named St. Thomas More, and how a simple unwillingness to affirm the king’s re-definition of marriage cost St. Thomas his head. This approach helps the reader understand that history, truth and justice are not abstract concepts, but very real things that affect and are affected by individuals, just like them.
Some ideas that come to mind:
-For Historical Fiction: in the late 1930s Germany, as an obscure law whose purpose is only to identify Jewish businesses, and give people freedom of choice when it comes to shopping, is put in place.
-Fantasy/SF: humans exploring a planet or new kingdom find that inhabitants are being forced to violate their consciences, or lose their livelihoods. It could be something as serious and donating children for organ harvesting (which the ruling class doesn’t mind, so long as it’s done to that society’s version of ‘flyover territory’ folk), or telling their soul names, or whatever.
-….or, your own idea? Folks opposing the new law are called alarmists, struck off the invite lists of parties, or (once things go very bad) arrested and tortured or executed.
Ultimately, how you choose to illustrate injustice in your fiction is up to you. Pick a motif that resonates, turns your crank, or just plain excites you to write about, and go to it! God may use you to change only one heart, but folks like Telemachus the monk in ancient Rome proved that sometimes that’s all that is needed to change a centuries-old immoral practice is to speak up when God touches your heart to do so.