March 27, 2019
Blinded by the Light: How Narratives of the Future Animate our Hidden Fears
Fear is an incredible motivator. It starts wars, creates heroes, and causes children to wake their parents from a midnight slumber. But there is something about fears in written form that gives rise to the deep and profound questions of our psyches, those questions that linger just beneath the surface, awaiting form. These uncertainties can include the fear of consequences, hopelessness, irrelevance, and the unknown. Within this Literature of the Future class, therefore, essays by Clark Omo, Timothy Morrow, and Michael Bradshaw were analyzed to address just such fears, revealing the hidden motivations that are pervasive within texts such as The Bible’s Book of Revelation.
Within the various essays I read, it was interesting to note that other students also observed that there is a fear of the unknown at the center of many of these texts we have read this semester. These texts have caused me to consider more thoughtfully the just how impactful that fear can be when considering our futures, both individually and collectively as a whole. It was interesting to read Clark Omo’s article, because he seems to agree with this presumption that The Book of Revelation is a prime example of our collective and inherent preoccupation with consequences. In his essay, “Futuristic Anxieties: Examining the Exploration of Fear and Anxiety in Literature of the Future” for example, he states that such fears are predominantly expressed within The Bible’s apocalypse scenario. “This idea” he concludes, regarding the concept of consequence and divine judgement, “creates anxiety: will there be such an Apocalypse, are we in such as state of decline that would justify an event like this, and (perhaps most importantly) is there hope?” This question seemed to hit the nail on the head for me, speaking directly to this inner fear that motivates most Christian cultures.
This fear of the unknown is highlighted in Timothy Morrow’s essay as well, though from a slightly different viewpoint. In “A Phoenix Must First Burn: Analyzing Decline in Future Narratives” Timothy Morrow also looks at the Book of Revelation as a story of decline, showing a world of the future as one of hopelessness, another real and tangible fear of most people. “The world prophesied by the disciple John” he says, “is one in complete disorder and decay”, echoing a real fear of a future that is unstable and less than ideal. However, I disagree with his statement that “The book of Revelations speaks of the current spiritual state of the world under the Anti-Christ" as though the physical descriptions don’t play a big part. On many instances, actual physical examples are given, including the darkening of the sun, hailstorms, 1/3 of the earth’s trees, rivers, and fish being destroyed, as well as great earthquake that levels cities and mountains alike.
A lack of faith is often credited throughout scripture as a reason for fears and calamities, and it is within this vein that Michael Bradshaw makes his case. Though he does not cite The Bible, he draws from texts like The Parable of the Sower and the short story “Stone Lives” to raise a question that is paramount to understanding why we read these kinds of texts. Over and over, he hones in on the overwhelming hopelessness that permeates the texts, leading with a depressing statement: “Very few of the readings discussed in class have any faith that humanity's future will be anything but grim.” His overall impression of Parable of the Sower is one of a depressing state, a country “torn apart by famine, and natural disasters”, and in Stone Lives, his impression was not much better, describing a “cutthroat world of businesses left unchecked, and a disturbingly plausible glimpse of a future.” In this I have to agree, that the majority of the texts presented offer any real hope for the unknown, a hope for a future. He then poses several questions regarding the fear of the unknown within the various stories, but there was one that made me look harder at the texts we have studied so far. He asks, “can the human spirit withstand the hardships of the future to become something better than we are, better than what these novels believe we become?” This very question raises some important truths about the human psyche and the need for some kind of hope to counter the almost overwhelming fear and depression encountered in many of the texts we read.
These hopes, however, can be mitigated by simply reading the rest of the Book of Revelation, rather than just focusing on the calamity described in the earlier chapters. This complete reading of scripture is important when addressing the subject of fear, as it relates to the impending doom and gloom often expressed within the narratives of our class. Fear is not only about doom and gloom, but a motivator that gives way to change if we let it. But perhaps getting glimpses of those real and subconscious fears in literary form can motivate us to do something in the now. I hope so.