God as Big Brother: An Analysis of Ingsoc and Comparative Similarities with Christianity
A popular line in George Orwell’s 1984 asserted, “if you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stomping on a human face—forever” (277). This grim outlook was not meant to be taken literal but in the conceptual context of humanity. O’Brien, the antagonist of the novel suggests humanity will be crushed under the foot of Ingsoc and the party forever. Humanity will ultimately become unrecognizable as it is broken and beaten by malicious forces. With slogans such as war is peace, freedom is slavery, and ignorance is strength, people are forced into nonsensical “doublethink.” Holding to conflicting beliefs for the benefit of the party is standard practice and mandated. The practices of Ingsoc have extended to the realm of modern Christianity. With the growing influence of Christianity across the world, the dark future Orwell predicted has come true not in the form of government but in religion.
The Ingsoc practice of doublethink has engrained itself in Christianity and has been executed with startling success. Recently, the Catholic Church dismantled the idea of limbo; the realm where unbaptized babies and other good people who did not know the salvation the church offered existed after earthly life. According to the new view, “Instead, it was a hypothesis -- a theory held out as a possible way to balance the Christian belief in the necessity of baptism with belief in God's mercy” (Wooden 1). Much like Oceania’s propaganda on their war with Eurasia and Eastasia, limbo was always a theory and never anything else. However, if we look into the documents of Catholicism’s past we see quite the opposite. Limbo was a truth very much like original sin, and it was never a theory. In Oceania the people were told they were always at war with one state and not the other, though the information was untrue. It would seem that the Catholic Church controls their present and in turn their past. During their renouncement of limbo the church discovered the truth of “original grace” which proved the young were protected by Christ’s sacrifice. This has now become truth and limbo untruth according to this contemporary Ingsoc establishment. Aside from the practice of doublethink, much like other religions, Christianity has its ideal of Big Brother.
Big Brother in relation to Christianity is God or Yahweh. According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary God is, “the supreme or ultimate reality as the [b]eing perfect in power, wisdom, and goodness who is worshipped as creator and ruler of the universe” (God). This definition of God is nearly identical to the definition of Big Brother. Big Brother is worshipped and is given credit for all things. O’Brien discusses the totality of the party by acknowledging that “There is no way in which the party can be overthrown. The rule of the party is forever” (Orwell 270). The party is forever and since Big Brother is the embodiment of the party, so is he. Yahweh is identical in his omnipotence. Instead of numerous posters telling us “Big Brother is watching you,” Religion has its members to propagate the message. The differences in Oceania and the Christian world are nearly nonexistent. God is Big Brother, “thoughtcrime” is sin and “thoughtcriminals” are sinners. The people of Oceania bow to the constant eye of Big Brother just as Christians to Yahweh. Both systems have also established similar methods of fear as control.
Fear as a method of dominance as seen in Oceania has been executed in Christianity. In Oceania, citizens of the nation are kept in a constant state of fear as a means of control by the party. History has told us that fear-driven tactics are successful in taking civil rights from groups of people. The same can be said for Christianity and their various fear tactics. In Mormonism, a subset of Christianity, members are guaranteed hell if they do not donate ten percent of their income to the church. This has established the church as one of the wealthiest churches in the world. Catholicism sold indulgences in antiquity for the same methods to get themselves out of debt. Threats of fire and brimstone in the life hereafter has been an excellent motivator and allowed the various Christian churches to bend members to their will. Fear is used to denounce opposing beliefs and views, and leaves only one way of believing to be healthy and correct which is the Christian view or the Ingsoc view. The final method of control the churches use in relation to 1984 is the vilification of sex.
The destructive effects of sex has long been preached in churches as well as Oceania. In 1984 it was proposed that "[t]he sex instinct will be eradicated. Procreation will be an annual formality like the renewal of a ration card. We shall abolish the orgasm"(220). The sex instinct is dangerous to the Party and makes a "direct, intimate connection between chastity and political orthodoxy"(111). The Christian Church has taken a similar view and often proclaims sex is to be performed for no other reason but for the procreation of children. Religious writer Janet Smith confirms by asserting, “let us focus on three fundamental truths about sexuality stressed throughout the Christian tradition: that marriage is the only proper arena for sexual activity” (1). She continues by stating the various evils of modern interpretations of appropriate sexual behavior and plots out the proper method of sexuality approved by the Catholic Church. Sex is regulated and marked as perverse if it does not match the church’s ideal of sex, and a similar view of sex was held by the party. Though the Christian view of sex is not as strict as Oceania’s, it is still vastly controlled. Ultimately, Orwell’s picture of the future has long been established under the mask of organized religion.
The principles of Ingsoc have found a healthy niche in the modern religions. Oppression of individuals, fear tactics, lack of privacy, and suppression of sexuality are all methods the party used to control its party members. The majority of Oceania’s citizens were ignorant to this abuse of power and manipulation and so are Christians. They are being controlled for the benefit of their churches and the progress of their goals. However, this indoctrination is not easily avoidable which was realized by Winston Smith and Julia. The lies stick with a person and they are eventually broken by their superiors. For the view that manage to escape the rule of this dystopian society, they experience a true life free from the intrusive nature of their all-knowing God. Orwell was certain a human could be broken and bent to the will of another with enough pressure applied. Perhaps there is some truth to his assumption, but there is still hope to escape before the party grabs complete control of the mind and you grow to love Big Brother.
“God.” Merriam-Webster Dictionary. New York: Hancourt, 2005. Print.
Orwell, George. Nineteen Eighty-Four. New York: Brancourt, 2003. Print.
Smith, Janet. “The Christian View of Sex: A Time for Apologetics, not Apologies.” Catholic Education Research Center. The Rockford Institute, 01 Jan. 1998. Web. 22 Feb. 2010.
Wooden, Cindy. “Closing the Doors of Limbo: Theologians Say it was a Hypothesis.” Catholic
News. Catholic News Service, 02 Dec. 2005. Web. 22 Feb. 2010.