Why is a Catholic novelist especially suited to writing dystopian fiction?

Here’s a piece from member and  GUEST POSTER Theresa Linden about a topic that many Catholic writers are not familiar with: Dystopia, no it’s not a place!   KC



Before I wrote my dystopian fiction, Chasing Liberty, I wrote Catholic teen fiction and YA with supernatural elements. I enjoyed reading Mary Higgins Clark’s mysteries, Louis L’Amour’s Westerns, Louis De Wohl’s novels about saints, and Dean Koontz’ supernatural fiction. I didn’t read or write dystopian. In fact, the word was not even familiar to me.

A dystopia is an imaginary community or society that is undesirable or frightening. It is literally translated as “not-good place” . . . (Definition from Wikipedia)

Disturbing events occurring in our world got me thinking and concerned about our future. A little, endangered fish is being protected at the expense of drought-stricken farmers in California. The government tracks us through our phones and cars. They data-mine our online activity, searching for key phrases. Scientists push past ethical boundaries to experiment with cloning and stem cell research. Worse than the loss of privacy, the freedom of the individual is challenged. People are fined for living according to their faith. And the dignity of the human person seems all but lost.

What does tomorrow hold? Are we heading for a “not-good place”?

Writers of dystopia often show a totalitarian government, as in 1984, Hunger Games and Divergent. People are robbed of their freedom to choose the direction of their lives, and they are often forced into dehumanizing situations. Some stories include man-made environmental disasters or overpopulation, like in Soylent Green. Some concern the danger of advances in science and technology. Perhaps all are written to warn people about current ideologies or trends that could lead to a frightening future.

A Catholic perspective can bring to the story the wisdom of the Church, the solitary institution that has lasted 2000 years while empires have risen and fallen around her: Roman Empire, Ottoman Empire, Persian Empire, Han Dynasty, Mongol Empire, Russian Empire…etc. The Church has witnessed the cyclical nature of history. After a fall, a new society rises up.

The Church alone has remained constant through it all. Her truths are eternal. And Her wisdom can shed light on the true ills of society, identify their roots, and provide the medicine for healing.

Our culture today has its own values and makes its own judgements on good and evil. These values may seem great on the surface. And the majority may agree or at least go along with these things, but it doesn’t make them right. The judgements of the world, when not conformed to the eternal truth, do not stand up to the test of time. And the ideologies of the world do not bring true healing to the ills of society.

The world governments in Chasing Liberty have united together over their concern for the earth. They are called the Regimen Custodia Terra, the guardians of the earth. They grieve over species that have gone extinct, over the waste of natural resources, and over pollution. Many of their concerns are worthy. And Christians agree that we should take care of the earth because God has made us its stewards.

But the Christian perspective recognizes a distinct difference. All natural things do not have equal value. Humans have a unique dignity. They alone have been made in the image and likeness of God.

Pope Francis, in his encyclical letter Laudato Si, writes, “At times we see an obsession with denying any pre-eminence to the human person; more zeal is shown in protecting other species than in defending the dignity which all human beings share in equal measure.” (sec. 90)

Remove the respect for the natural hierarchy of created things, and humans become a parasite and the earth is elevated above them. This cannot create a stable society.

All writers of dystopian fiction remove one or more elements that lead to a stable society. Remove the freedom of the individual and you have an oppressive government. Remove the family and you have individuals selfishly pursuing their own interests. Remove the respect for human life and you have a society where the imperfect and inconvenient are have no value and are disposable.

Dystopian writers often proposes solutions to the problems or provide a hero with special powers that takes dramatic steps to bring freedom. But the real solutions go deeper.

A novelist with a Catholic perspective has the vision of a true utopian society. What makes a perfect society? Is it the freedom to do as one pleases without interference from government or law? Is it sex without natural consequences or scientific developments unhindered by moral consideration? Is it freedom from responsibility or from judgement?

The answer is written in our hearts and in our bodies, and given fully through the Church. True freedom cooperates with nature and with divinely-revealed truth. True freedom is the ability to do what is right and to live according to conscience. No government or society should oppose this because it is crucial to sustaining civilization. People living in accord with truth and goodness—in accord with human dignity— can create a culture that builds up rather than destroys. It begins in the family, the building block of a stable society, and spreads from there. A strong civilization respects life and recognizes a natural order or hierarchy of created things.

The founders of our country had a sense of this as they struggled to separate themselves from a controlling government. They believed that all men were created equal and endowed with God-given rights, including life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

A society that veers away from truth begins to destroy itself. It becomes hostile to sound doctrine and prefers relativism. People grow selfish and prefer to rely on someone else, often the government, to provide the answers to today’s ills, reducing the direct responsibility of the individual and eliminating the need for faith. As happened to the Roman Empire, immorality, laziness, and false ideologies lead to their downfall.

So the writer of dystopian sends a warning. The evil that is tolerated in our culture, if not confronted, will eventually lead to a collapse of our society. The Catholic writer also sees past this. Even if our society is destroyed, there is always hope as long as there are people in the world who seek what is right and good and true.


Theresa Linden is the author of Chasing Liberty, a dystopian fiction about a future she hopes never becomes a reality. Love for faith, family and freedom inspired her to write it and the sequel Testing Liberty which comes out this November. Theresa began writing in grade school as her military family moved from place to place. As an adult, her passion for writing grew. A member of the Catholic Writers Guild and a local writing group, Theresa balances her time between family, homeschooling, and writing. She lives in northeast Ohio with her husband, their three adopted boys, and a sweet old dog named Rudy.

Website:  http://theresalinden.webs.com/

FB author page:  https://www.facebook.com/theresalindenauthor
Twitter: @LindenTheresa
Chasing Liberty book trailer: http://www.dailymotion.com/video/x2lr3ra
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2 Responses to Why is a Catholic novelist especially suited to writing dystopian fiction?

  1. Janet Baker says:

    What an interesting analysis! I think I may have followed the formula for the dystopian novel in my recent phi sci fi Run, by Malapert Press.

    Phi sci fi, philosophical science fiction (I made that up, I think), and malapert = saucy speech, and all the examples you can find are of girls, of course, except for one exception, G.A. Henty’s The Boy Knight, with his young hero on the way to the crusades. His ‘pert’ speech consists of clever argument. I hope my publishing company lives up to it!

    You will probably HAVE to have your own publishing company if you write a dystopian novel. Also be prepared to promote stealthily! Run has a blond Barack Obama as the One World’s first, not black but transgendered president, and he’s right there on the cover. I have to make sure the book’s securely in the packaging before mailing at the post office. One of my sons mentioned he was rather uncomfortable reading it on the train. I could have chosen a different cover, of course. But even if I had, it is well to understand that the Catholic view of things is now illegal. Our defense of real love makes us targets of demons and also those brand new laws against hate speech. “Bigots” have been added to the Terrorist List, and that means your property can be seized and you can be held in jail without charge– forever. Don’t ignore it like I did if you’re young, with a family. I’m pretty sure I’m at least going to get audited. You might consider a pseudonym at least.

    But here’s the flip side. The Catholic view makes the very best characters. The elite! We care, our characters care, because we have a theologically developed and deliriously romantic reason to care, that loving man on the cross, and it makes us vital and interesting and brave. All the Star Wars characters were Catholic, for example, although critical analysis hasn’t noticed yet. The Force is just the power of virtue.

    Run’s dystopian plot puts me on just about everybody’s hit list. Everybody’s! And some of them are armed! There’s Muslim characters who help Catholics escape from the first space colony after the promulgation of the new law, the mandated One World Religion, and then go with them on their journey. These Muslim characters have flaws which are going to make me the object of fatwa, the major one being they prefer life under a Catholic state, in a Catholic culture, a true Catholic culture, than life under secularism. That happens to be the truth, but I may catch hell for portraying it. There’s a Muslim mother who is the picture of a co-opted liberal Muslim, or Catholic, either one, although I think it is so subtly done I may well be dead before anyone catches on. And that’s not even to mention what I risk from the brisk hatred among many Catholics for Islam even though Muslims too are pro-life, even though they too understand the natural danger of sodomy and of pornography and of predatory lending. I noted with satisfaction yesterday that one working group of bishops at the Synod, aware that an orthodox position on the issues puts us in opposition to the new laws of many lands, called for our strong cooperation with other religions in fighting the political fight that is necessary. And by other religions they must count Islam, since virtually all other protestant sects and non-Christian sects have caved in on the issues already. (Islam’s own error regarding divorce is treated in the plot, may I add.)

    And Run has may other politically incorrect twists and turns. There are three black characters in Run who take surprising social positions that could get me a lot of severe attention, and I’m glad I prepared for it early by going to jail several times with Dr. King back in the sixties and continuing the struggle for full civil rights for African-Americans the rest of my life. (Because I was Catholic, of course.) And potentially upsetting to my own parish of traditional Catholics, the girls in Run wear pants and shoot straight, when called upon to do so. I have managed, in my novel, to offend just about everybody.

    All I’m sayin’ is just be prepared when you write your dystopian novel. Just be prepared. You are entering the realm of real struggle with the devil. I mean in the real world, where fiction drives reality as surely as politicians and pundits. The stakes are incredibly high, those precious souls. To write as a Catholic now is dangerous.

    Run has been out for two months. I get a fair number of hits from my quiet promotion, mostly on twitter and comments on blogs, but not a single sale. I think I need one review, just one good review. If any reader here would like a complimentary copy for the purpose of review, please contact me, malapertpress@gmail.com .

  2. Can’t wait to see Testing Liberty in print! I didn’t know I liked dystopian novels until I read Chasing Liberty and Corinna Turner’s I Am Margaret series. Perfect fit for Catholic authors AND readers!