In the late 1940’s, George Orwell wrote a book called 1984. Orwell was very concerned about the rise of totalitarianism based on his observations of the rise of Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin. Although Hitler’s empire had been smashed at the time of his book, Orwell built his premise on practices used by the Soviet Union to control its citizens. The use of the first nuclear bomb to end the war in Japan also caused many to wonder about the negative affects technology would have on our future. In the book, and later the movie 1984, a totalitarian government used technology to spy on the people, and used this tool to suppress human aspirations for the good of the government. No longer would an individual desire interfere with the power of the state. This book, and its accompanying thought, has guided most of the fear of the future movement, both inside the church and in society as a whole.
To the dismay of many, one of the lessons we have learned about recent history is that technology has often been the ruin of totalitarian societies. Whether we are discussing the fall of the Soviet Union, or recent rebellions throughout the nations of the world, technology has actually equipped individuals, and is often the enemy of the state. I traveled to Cuba on a missionary endeavor and found that in regulated societies, access to the Internet and modern forms of communication are essential in holding the people in bondage. Technology has actually become the enemy of totalitarianism! Rather than our world being ruled by monolithic empires, we have seen the breakdown of empires.
Individuality vs. Nationalism
The concept of individual freedom and personal expression are very important guiding principles in our society. Yet, the rise of terrorism has brought the debate to the courts, as we have questioned how much freedom and personal liberty should be allowed when society is threatened by terrorism. The terrorists have used technology and social media for the purposes of terrorizing the world. Should governments be allowed to use technological advances to spy on a society in order to protect it from terrorists, or should individual freedoms reign? This will be an interesting conflict in the days ahead. I am convinced that the level of fear will be the determining factor. Fear is a strong motivator in human behavior. We are even witnessing breakdowns in the United States, as we have become polarized along ethnic, economic, and religious lines. The rise of third and fourth parties in the political process is a growing sign of our polarization. Even geographical divides are very observable in the political and moral debates of our country. Is a breakdown of our country possible? History says yes, indeed it is possible. It is wild to think that 50 years ago, very few would have thought that Scotland would be working towards leaving the British Commonwealth.
What is Really Ruining Nations?
Interestingly, the greatest challenge we face today does not appear to be totalitarianism, but individualism. You would be hard-pressed to find a book written invoking the fear of individualism, but it is easy to see signs of its negative impact. Although nationalism can be invoked to produce unity in a nation, as Hitler did in Germany, his rise to power did not come because of the people’s desire for a dictator. They were looking for someone who would give them what they wanted as individuals. Hitler appealed to the individual concerns for economic prosperity and self-esteem.
In the Bible, the tower of Babel warns us of the error of totalitarianism, but the tower was preceded with the story of the original sin of man. This first story, built upon the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, was the first failure that made way for the second. John Kennedy inspired a generation with the words, “Ask not what your country can do for you, but ask what you can do for your country.” This only inspired us for a little while because the cry of the Baby Boomers in the late 60’s was not about other people, but the right of the individual for self-expression. As Christians, comprising the church of Jesus Christ, we must turn our fear into the one place it will help us—“The fear of the Lord is beginning of wisdom.”
The only true way to navigate through the extremes of human behavior is to follow God, and the example of leadership exemplified by Jesus Christ. He said, if you want to “find life, you need to lose your life.” We would be hard-pressed to come up with a leader who isn’t serving themselves, or encouraging us to only think of ourselves. Let’s follow Christ’s example and see the endless possibilities available to us as we surrender our will for His!