Throughout our class, we have been discussing many aspects of dystopia and its context in society, but one topic we keep returning to is the definition of dystopia. In the article “Christianity in Dystopia,” Peter Halabu dedicates a significant section to defining dystopia, and his conclusions are well-thought out and pertinent. He reflects many ideas we have discussed in class when defining a dystopia while also introducing some new interpretations. Similarly to my presentation, he identifies a five-point system towards defining a dystopia: “1) It is intended by the author to be a critique of his era’s sociopolitical climate; 2) It is set in a world recognizably our own, though in the future; 3) It follows a single individual protagonist or small group of individual protagonists, each of whom is a realistic, normal human being; 4) It is set in an ostensibly utopian (but actually dehumanizing) society, which has serious deficiencies caused by human drives and characteristics; 5) And it contains direct sociopolitical commentary inserted into the plotline,” all five of which he expands upon in greater detail in his paper (Halabu 9). Anyone aiming to supplement their definition of dystopia or find inspiration for other avenues to explore when defining it should absolutely check out this section in the paper.
While his section on defining a dystopia would be most useful for everyone in the course, Halabu’s main topic centers around the role of religion, Christianity specifically, in dystopian society. Halabu concludes that while most dystopias do not portray Christianity specifically, most “present dystopian societies in a deeply and consciously religious paradigm,” even if there is no outright god to worship (Halabu 2). Many contain a godlike figure around which the society revolves, priest-like figures that expound on the “morals” and divinity of this god and enforce its teachings, and the proliferation of sins and punishments. Therefore, some dystopias have Christian influence even if Christianity is not present outright. Although I am the only one that I know of specifically focusing on how religion is portrayed and used in dystopia, anyone who is researching what goes into creating a dystopian society would be remiss without including the role of religion since it is so important in our society now, and as Halabu asserts, “the message of a dystopian novel, however, is not so much to warn “that we must brace ourselves for a certain disaster” (18), but that if preventive measures are not taken in the present, today’s society is likely to turn into the novel’s future dystopia” (Halabu 3).
In order to support his thesis, Halabu explores the role of religion in seven dystopian books, 1984, Brave New World, Anthem, Player Piano, Farenheit 451, We, and The Handmaid’s Tale. This further validates his thesis that dystopian societies are, for the most part, inherently religious, by showing how each novel portrays a religiously oppressive society. His definition of dystopia is therefore relevant because by outlining the skeleton of a dystopian society, he can demonstrate how religion can go towards maintaining that control and oppression. One of the most pertinent points he displays this way is his assertion that “the god of any given dystopian society is (by my analysis) an embodiment of that society’s first principle, the goal or value which animates the society” because in his definition of dystopia, he posits that a dystopian society is a representation of a wrong the author sees in society now (Halabu 36).