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.