My daughter is 16, and her mother and I try to keep up with everything she’s reading, which means we’re both reading a lot of youth/young adult literature lately. As I began to preview the titles on offer, I made a startling discovery: one of the most popular genres was “dystopian fiction”—stories that detail how the future will be horrendously worse than the present.
This trend doesn’t end with YA novels. Popular culture is dishing up scenario after scenario of oppression and genocide—toxic ecologies and toxic societies. Some days it feels like every time I turn around, there’s another movie, book, TV show, or website injecting this perspective into our cultural psyche. It’s making me freak out a little! Can you imagine how a consistent diet of this stuff affects us, let alone our kids?
This led me to ask myself three hard questions. First, is it beneficial or healthy for us as a culture to be focusing so deeply and so often on dystopian themes? Second, why do people enjoy this genre so much? And lastly, how do we find an alternate future that is not dystopian, but instead, full of hope, peace, power and purpose?
Garbage in, garbage out!
As a child, I would complain to my father because he would never allow me to watch TV shows or movies that were violent or scary; he would shake his finger at me and softly, but firmly, say, “Son, garbage in, garbage out.”
What we choose to focus on profoundly affects us. As a long-time mental health professional with more than 20 years in the business, I know the value and power of a positive perspective. There’s a ton of research proving the validity, benefit, and power of positive thinking. Furthermore, I have counseled many clients and can attest to the fact that if they choose to consciously focus on positive things, they have a healthier, happier overall life experience.
Interestingly enough, the apostle Paul actually gives us a wonderful checklist of what types of things we need to focus on: “ . . . keep your minds on whatever is true, pure, right, holy, friendly, and proper” (Philippians 4:8a, CEV). Furthermore, he tells us how often we need to be focusing on those things: “Don’t ever stop thinking about what is truly worthwhile and worthy of praise” (Philippians 4:8b, CEV).
Paul tells the Roman Christians:
Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you” (Romans 12:1,2, MSG).
Why are we so negative?
So what’s the draw? Why are so many people—not just teenagers and young adults—interested in negative, dystopian genre? The numbers don’t lie and consumers speak—no, they shout—their preferences with their money.
Writer Mindy Weisberger, in her essay exploring this fascinating phenomenon, titled: “End of the World As We Know It: What’s the Draw of Dystopian Sci-Fi?” basically posits that this is a way for people, in general, to work out their own anxieties and fears into something in a somewhat productive and healthy way. She also states that, really, many people feel that dystopia is the way the world is ultimately headed—they recognize the threats of global warming, artificial intelligence, cyber-crime and weapons of mass destruction. Writers use dystopian fiction as a way to introduce and explore these serious and crucial topics in a way that promotes healthy dialogue about what can be done now to avoid a dystopian future.
As a counselor, freelance writer, and published author, I believe in the power and transcendence of writing and journaling; you are, after all, reading something right now that I wrote! But the tragic truth is that many of us in this world have no real and lasting peace or hope; no personal connection with our Creator and no sense that He has a plan for our future. In the midst of all the bad news happening around the globe, it’s almost as we’re on a collision course with self-destruction. In fact, the Bible, despite its promises of a bright future, describes our present state like this: “We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time” (Romans 8:22).
Laughing at a funeral
Several years ago, I worked in a hospital emergency room assessing people in mental health and substance abuse crises. On one notable day, I was paged to interview a woman who was brought in to see us because she was laughing and making merry—during a funeral! (I would later find out she was a long-time sufferer of schizophrenia and a frequent visitor to the ER.)
Do you think the people at that funeral noticed that she wasn’t sad, grieving or crying? You bet they did. She didn’t have to say a word. Her total 180-degree-deviated emotional response to the present situation clearly gave her away.
It was a tragic situation—both for the funeral-goers whose grieving was interrupted, and for the woman and her family who had a long-term serious mental illness to cope with. But it was hard not to see a funny side to what happened as well. There’s comedy in the incongruous—when there’s such an obvious mismatch. And the situation reminded me that the Bible says people who are connected to God will have “the peace of God, which transcends all understanding” (Philippians 4:7). Translation: people who don’t know God intimately won’t be able to make sense of a Christians’ unnatural peaceful and hopeful response to the apparently dystopian events that surround us.
Paul clearly makes the point that Christians have hope, not only because of what Jesus did for them on the cross, but more importantly, because of what He did for them at the tomb. Paul tells a group of believers in 1 Corinthians 15:12–26 that if Jesus hasn’t been raised from the dead, then they have believed a lie, and not just the message they’re sharing with others but, by extension, their lives as well are useless and they are without hope . . . actually worse off than unbelievers!
But, if Jesus’ resurrection is true; if it’s real, then Christians have something to look forward to, as well as something to offer this hope-less world: a forever relationship with God, the Originator and Giver of hope.
Let me ask you another question: “Do you have hope?” Or to ask it another way: “If you died today, do you have a hope and a peace that you would have something to look forward to? Something better than this broken existence on this broken planet has to offer?” I certainly hope that you can answer Yes.
If you don’t have a Christian faith, don’t despair; you don’t have to be hopeless about today or tomorrow because God’s got it covered. You don’t have to read make-believe books or watch movies or TV shows about how much more depressing the future will be. No! You can begin to connect with and follow Jesus today—right now, in fact! He loves you so much that He came to this earth to live the perfect life, and died a horrible criminal’s death so that you could have the opportunity to live eternally with Him (John 3:16). How’s that for hope?!
If you want some real hope, read the real-life, nonfiction, last book of the Bible about God’s joy, peace, and, yes, hope. Revelation 22:3–5 says:
No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign for ever and ever.
Today, purposely choose to make a paradigm shift, and focus, not on dystopia, but on the coming utopia that having a forever relationship with God offers. He’s the only real hope that any of us have.
Omar Miranda is a healthcare professional, regular writer and proud parent. He lives with his family in Georgia, USA.
1. Bible quotes marked CEV are used with permission from the Contemporary English Version, © 1995, American Bible Society.
2. Bible quotes marked MSG are used with permission from The Message, © 2002, NavPress.