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Opinion: We Are Living in 1984

By Randy Sly
June 30th, 2011
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

I'm not going to belabor all the parallels we could find in current society regarding "Big Brother," the thought police, the various government agencies, revisionist history and language (which Orwell called "Newspeak"), not to mention sexuality gone out-of-control. Dwelling on all this could put some of us in the same place as the protagonist in the novel, Winston Smith, who at the end of the novel awaits what he expects will be his execution but remains at peace because he realizes he "had won a victory over himself. He loved Big Brother."

WASHINGTON, DC (Catholic Online) - As a high school student I remember my first encounter with George Orwell's classic novel "Nineteen Eighty Four." Since this was quite a few years earlier than that date, the story of life in fictional Oceania under the strict rule of The Party seemed far-fetched at the very least.

I remember thinking, when the year 1984 actually arrived, how inaccurate this dark novel really was. Life was good.

In 1947-1948, when Orwell - who was a strong proponent of democratic socialism - wrote the book, he obviously felt that society was in a staggering trajectory toward all privacy being lost to the state. Orwell, however, was not writing a prophetic novel of what the world would look like in 1984, but where he saw society heading.

The novel portrayed a world where the meaning of words was easily changed, brainwashing was normative for any initiative deemed right by the government and contradiction was not allowed.

The majority of people in Oceania, called "proles," were seen as property and not persons. They were controlled by the government giving license to their lust and other vices. They were fed a steady diet of yellow journalism, sensuality-filled films and pornography.

In Orwell's new world, the battlefield was the mind and their weapons were media. Big Brother was watching and communicating through "telescreens" and the most serious offenses were "thoughtcrimes." He powerfully transported the reader into a world of revisionist history, mind manipulation and alternate reality. In the realm of "1984," propaganda was king.

I'm not going to belabor all the parallels we could find in current society regarding "Big Brother," the thought police, the various government agencies, revisionist history and language (which Orwell called "Newspeak"), not to mention sexuality gone out-of-control.

However, one particular aspect of our current Orwellian culture involves what I would call "Hatespeak." It would seem, for example, that Catholics and other Christians are no longer allowed to express personal conviction or Catholic teaching about moral issues such as same-sex marriage or abortion. To do so is considered a personal attack on individuals and relegated as a hate crime when we are addressing a principle even though no people are targeted.

At the same time proponents of these practices have no problem or restraint in vicious verbal assaults using the vilest language against those who are offering a contradictory opinion.  I find it interesting that hating Christians and Christianity is not a hate crime but something noble and progressive. Truly this shows how well propaganda can work.

Dwelling on all this could put some of us in the same place as the protagonist in the novel, Winston Smith, who at the end of the novel awaits what he expects will be his execution but remains at peace because he realizes he "had won a victory over himself. He loved Big Brother."

As Catholic Christians we cannot buy into Orwell's fatalism concerning the times and circumstances in which we live. The key rests in one fatal flaw (pun intended) in his assumption.

Coles Notes (which is similar to the more familiar Cliffs Notes) describes it this way in commenting on the perception of religion in Orwell's novel. "Religion is not so dangerous because it tends to be ideological and can be undermined by propaganda."

And there's the key. Religion - albeit Christianity - is not ideology but theology and more!  God has revealed Himself to mankind incarnationally through Jesus Christ at a point in time.

St. John wrote, "What was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we looked upon and touched with our hands concerns the Word of life - for the life was made visible; we have seen it and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life that was with the Father and was made visible to us." (I John 1:1-2)

In 1953, Pope Pius XII stated, "We belong to the Church militant; and She is militant because on earth the powers of darkness are ever restless to encompass Her destruction."

We are the Church militant. We are called to war against the culture of darkness and death. As Christians, however, we don't go into the battle with weapons that the world offers but those provided through the grace of Christ.

St. Paul gives us an interesting description of the soldier for Christ after reminding us that the real enemy is unseen. "For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood," he states, "but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places." (Eph. 6:11,12)

We must never forget that here lies the root of rebellion in the world, an invisible world that wields real and actual power and influence regarding what goes on around us.

Humanity has received a lot of help in becoming morally blind and bankrupt. Sadly, they don't even know that it has happened. As in Oceania, when you are told that 2 + 2 = 5 enough times, you just begin accepting it.

The apostle goes on, "Stand therefore, having girded your waist with truth, having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace; above all, taking the shield of faith with which you will be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one."

"And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God; praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, being watchful to this end with all perseverance and supplication for all the saints...." (Eph. 6:13-18)

That exhortation from St. Paul begins with the reminder of where our real strength is found, "Be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might." (Eph. 6:10]

So what orders does this soldier all dressed for battle receive? Pray. Pray at every opportunity. Pray, calling upon the Holy Spirit who took up residence in you at your baptism to guide and anoint your prayers.

And the enemy would love nothing more than to convince us that prayer and the grace poured out are of no use.

Of course, we need to continue to herald the truth of the faith at all times, in all places everywhere. The Church is not just the conscience of the world, but the true home of the whole human race. We are simply sharing messages from that home.

We also need to continue to actively lobby and work for those causes that are right and true and honoring to our Lord and His Church.

Yet we must also pray - or should I say foremost, we must pray. Here are some practical ways you can become more involved in the Church militant.
1.    Set aside a prayer time each day - The church has many prayer resources including the Liturgy of the Hours, Christian Prayer and others.
2.    When you have a free moment, simply offer a prayer from your heart for our nation, our leaders, the unborn, or other needs.
3.     Spend time before the Blessed Sacrament, especially during periods of adoration.
4.    Pray the Rosary and the Chaplet of Divine Mercy regularly.

In the months to come, Catholic Online will begin launching renewed initiatives and new venues that will help bring together a virtual network of prayer. But the time to start is now.

One blogger I read today shared a quote that I will modify to encompass our entire readership. I leave this as our challenge.

"Be the kind of Catholic men and women who, when your feet hit the floor each morning, the devil says, "Oh, no, they're up!!" (With thanks to justacatholicgirl.wordpress.com)

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Randy Sly is the Associate Editor of Catholic Online and the CEO/Associate Publisher for the Northern Virginia Local Edition of Catholic Online (http://virginia.catholic.org). He is a former Archbishop of the Charismatic Episcopal Church who laid aside that ministry to enter into the full communion of the Catholic Church.

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