In Order to Understand Evangelical Culture One Should Cease Reading their Bible and Read George Orwell Instead

In order to understand evangelical Christian culture one should read, study and pay attention to the themes from George Orwell in his classic novels. The themes of corruption, totalitarianism, censorship, blind loyalty, and more are used to paint warning to society. Because remember comrade, while all animals are equal some like your pastor are more equal than others. 

“All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.” 

George Orwell

“I trust that every animal here appreciates the sacrifice that Comrade Napoleon has made in taking this extra labour upon himself. Do not imagine, comrades, that leadership is a pleasure! On the contrary, it is a deep and heavy responsibility. No one believes more firmly than Comrade Napoleon that all animals are equal. He would be only too happy to let you make your decisions for yourselves. But sometimes you might make the wrong decisions, comrades, and then where should we be?” 

George Orwell 

“Power is in tearing human minds to pieces and putting them together again in new shapes of your own choosing.”

George Orwell

“Don’t you see that the whole aim of Newspeak is to narrow the range of thought? In the end we shall make thoughtcrime literally impossible, because there will be no words in which to express it.”

George Orwell 

Teach the older men to be temperate, worthy of respect, self-controlled, and sound in faith, in love and in endurance.

Titus 2:2

Cover of George Orwell’s classic 1984.

When one gets involved in an evangelical Christian church the organization often wants to get you more involved.  Some, talk about being “Gospel Centered” or “Gospel Saturated” or looking at things “Through the lens of scripture.” Many churches want you to get involved in small groups as they stress reading the Bible. They claim that reading the Bible will help draw you near to Jesus. It will help you understand faith, the local church and much more. I heard this message often over the years and when I got involved in a number of places. Looking back when I think of some of the places I was involved I realize I was had and manipulated. If a church tells you that you need to read the Bible to grow in your faith, and your understanding of church I am going to tell you to reject that line of thinking. Its amazing how many read the Bible and yet look at how toxic some of these places are? The bottom line is that if you want to understand evangelical Christian culture you should cease reading the Bible and read famed British author George Orwell instead. Before we get into the themes and lessons from George Orwell let’s look at two legendary books that exist 1984 and Animal Farm. 

 

An Overview of 1984 

George Orwell published a book in 1949 that would later be regarded as one of the finest novels of the Twentieth Century. In the classic known as 1984 you have a story about learning to love “Big Brother.” In the classic work a new set of terms was invented that have gone done in the pages of literary history. New phrases such as big brother, double-think, 2 + 2 = 5, thought-crime, Newspeak, and memory-hole. You may not be familiar with the book and may ask, what is it about? I am going to give you a condensed version of 1984. 

It is 1984, and civilization has been damaged by war, civil conflict, and revolution. Great Britain has become Airstrip One – a province of Oceania. Oceania is one of the totalitarian super-states that rules the world. Oceania is ruled by the “Party” under the ideology of “Ingsoc” and the mysterious leader known as “Big Brother.” Big Brother is a cult of personality. The Party works to kill all dissent and uses the Thought Police to deal with those who do not conform. Constant surveillance through devices such as two-way televisions, “Telescreens” are used. 

Winston Smith is a member of the middle class Outer Party. He is employed at the Ministry of Truth where he spends his time rewriting historical records to conform with the state’s ever changing version of history. Those who fall out of favor with the Party become “unpersons.” They then disappear, its like they never existed. All traces of them are erased. While the Party destroys all original evidence and documents in a fire, Winston realizes that he opposes the Party. He disagrees with their rule and longs for rebellion. Winston knows that he is a thought criminal and will most likely be caught one day. 

While in a neighborhood Winston meets Mr. Charrington  who owns an antique shop. He buys a diary and writes about crossing the Party and Big Brother. He also reveals his sexual frustration over Julia a young women maintaining the novel-writing machines in the ministry. Winston suspects that Julia is an informant. He also suspects that his supervisor O’Brien is a secret agent for an underground resistance movement known as the Brotherhood. The Brotherhood is formed by Emmanuel Goldstein. He hides this journal in his home. The next day Julia secretly hands a note confessing that she loves Winston. Winston and Julie begin a torrid affair. Its an act of rebellion as the Party says that sex is for reproduction only. Winston realizes that Julia loathes the Party as well. They meet in different locations before meeting in a rented room above Mr. Charrington’s Antique store. During the affair Winston interacts with a colleague Syme who is working on a new dictionary of the English language called Newspeak. When Syma admits that Newspeak is about reducing the human capability for thought shortly afterward she disappears and no trace of her is found. 

Weeks later Winston is approached by O’Brien who offers Winston a chance to join the Brotherhood. Julia and Winston swear allegiance to the Brotherhood in O’ Brien’s flat. O’ Brien shares Emmanuel Goldstein’s “The Theory and Practice of Oligarchical Collectivism.” Julia and Winston learn about how the party maintains power, the true meanings of the slogans they hear and the concept of perpetual war. Then Mr Charrington is revealed to be an agent of the Thought Police. They are captured and taken and imprisoned in the Ministry of Love. Then O’Brien reveals that he is loyal to the Party and is involved in sting operations to capture “thought criminals.” Over many months Winston is tortured and taught to cure himself to change his thoughts on “The Party.” This must be done even if it requires him to think that 2 + 2 = 5. When Winston is brainwashed to be loyal then he will be released into the population. This will be brief as he will be shot. Then O’Brien wants to get Winston to betray his love for Julia. 

O’Brien then takes Winston to Room 101 for the final stage of re-education. The room contains each other’s prisoner worst fear. A wire cage holding hungry rats is tied to his face and he screams , “Do it to Julia!” Julia is then betrayed. After being released Julia meets Winston in a park. They both betrayed each other. Winston realizes that he no longer has feelings for Julia. The Party successfully took away their love. The book ends with Winston sitting alone in a cafe. Oceania  celebrates a supposed victory over Eurasian armies in Africa. Winston has been brainwashed and he realizes that he loves “Big Brother.” 

 

A Summary of Animal Farm 

Animal Farm is another hallmark work of George Orwell. Near Willingdon, Englad there exists a Manor Farm that is poorly run. The farmer who runs it, Mr Jones is an alcoholic. Due to the neglect of the animals the situation is ripe for rebellion. One evening an exalted boar, Old Major organizes a meeting where he calls for the overthrow of the humans. He teaches a revolutionary song called “Beasts of England.” Old Major then dies and two pigs Snowball and Napoleon assume command and stage a revolt. The animals drive Mr. Jones from his farm and the property is renamed “Animal Farm.” The Seven Commandments of Animalism is adopted. The most important one is, “All animals are equal.” This decree is posted on the barn and Snowball teaches other animals to read and write. Napoleon meanwhile educates the young puppies on the principles of Animalism.

Life is good on the farm and food is plentiful and the farm runs smoothly.  The pigs declare themselves to be the leaders. The pigs set aside special food items which is for their health. Then Mr. Jones, the alcoholic farmer attempts to take back his farm in what becomes known as the Battle of the Cowshed.Snowball decides to modernize the farm by building a windmill. Napoleon then has his dogs chase of Snowball from the property and he declares himself the leader. Napoleon then enacts changes to the farm and how it is governed. Meetings are replaced with a committee of pigs who will run the farm. The animals work harder for Napoleon believing that life will improve. When a storm destroys the windmill Napoleon convinces the other animals that Snowball is trying to sabotage their project. A purge of the animals begins with Napoleon declaring who is conspiring with Snowball. Some animals begin to realize that Napoleon was absent during the Battle of the Cowshed. Yet Napoleon is presenting himself as the hero of the battle. The anthem, “The Beasts of England” was replaced with another anthem glorifying Napoleon. Napoleon is adopting the lifestyles of a human and the animals on the farm remain convinced that their life has improved, and is better than it was under Mr. Jones. 

Mr. Frederick a neighboring farmer attacks the farm using blasting powder to blow up the windmill. The animals win the battle but at a great cost. Boxer the workhorse is wounded and he collapses. Boxers is taken away in a knackers van. Squealer assures the animals that the the van has been purchased from the knacker by an animal hospital.  Squealer reports Boxers death and makes him a martyr with a festival the following day. The truth is much darker…Napoleon arranged the sale of Boxer to the knacker allowing Napoleon and his inner circle to acquire money to buy whiskey for themselves.  Years pass and the windmill is rebuilt, generating a good amount of income for the farm. However the ideals that Snowball discussed are forgotten with Napoleon advocating that animals deserve simple lives. Many animals are older and have died as well. Also Mr. Jones is who tried to reclaim the farm is also dead. The pigs start to resemble humans. After all they walk upright, wear clothes, dress like humans and carry whips. Napoleon changes the Seven Commandments are shortened to two phrases. “All animals are equal but some are more equal than others” and “Four legs good, two legs better.” Napoleon holds a dinner party for the pigs and the local farmers, with whom he celebrates a new alliance. He restores the original name, “The Manor Farm” and he abolishes a lot of traditions. The men and the pigs start playing cards where they praise each other. Both Napoleon and Mr. Pilkington one of the farmers fight over who cheated first. The animals on the outside look at the pigs and they can no longer distinguish between man and the pig. 

 

The Themes of 1984 and Animal Farm 

1984 as a novel is quite complex. It has multiple themes but the biggest is the warning about totalitarianism. Additional issues that come from the book include concerns about technology, propaganda, subversion of reality, the loss of independence and identity. Others are a warning about loyalty, the re-writing of history and controlling the narrative. 1984 was published in 1949 and was George Orwell’s final novel before his death in January of 1950.  Animal Farm is ultimately about the Soviet Union. The main theme of the book is about the inevitable move from cooperative socialism to military dictatorship. Orwell’s work was published in 1945 during World War II and the British writer was worried about how the Soviet Union, which once invaded Poland in 1939 was being described in more glowing terms as an Ally against Nazi, Germany. There are many other themes as well that are also important. Those are corruption by leadership and control of naive people, false allegiance, tyranny, lies and deception and hopes. And also how systems are traded and peoples lives are not improved. 

 

How 1984 and Animal Farm Can Help you Understand Evangelical Christian Culture 

This is the second time I have used George Orwell in writing about evangelicalism, When I heard of a development in covering the Harvest Bible Chapel scandal in Chicago I wrote about Orwell in, “The Dystopian George Orwell Classic 1984. What is the Business Relationship Between Harvest Bible Chapel and Covenant Eyes? Did Harvest Use Covenant Eyes to Control and Abuse the Staff?” Evangelical Christianity deals with authoritarianism and control. Its an issue from the Neo-Calvinist churches, to those who subscribe to Christian Nationalism and more. While Animal Farm was written with the Soviet Union in mind, in reality it could also be used to describe Mark Dever’s Capitol Hill Baptist Church and 9 Marks. Mark Dever could very well be Napoleon. The one deeply corrupt who is putting people in their place while elevating himself. 1984 can deal with so many churches that I have written about who re-write their history and deny it. From Redeemer Arlington in the D.C. area to many Acts 29, Sovereign Grace, Sojourn, and more.  Animal Farm can be used to understand Robert Jeffress First Baptist in Dallas when you see the blind allergenic that comes about in the issue of Christian Nationalism. Evangelicalism is not about God for many pastors its about power and control. How many churches are thrown into chaos by shifting theological systems and people just accept it? How many juts defend the pastor and label someone as Snowball? Consider how gossip and slander is twisted in some of these places..The Village Church, Harvest Bible Chapel in Chicago, Capitol Hill Baptist Church, Sovereign Grace Louisville, Sojourn Community Church in Louisville and more. Also consider the following, how many of these places get you to confess your sins and then use that information against you? You past with alcohol, porn, past drug issues, that affair you had years ago. How many of these places use that information against its attenders? Can there be anything more Orwellian than that? Think of the thought reform and brainwashing that happens in many of these places? Erasing your identity to become a yes man to support the pastor blindly. 

This post is designed to get you to think for yourself. I would challenge you to read 1984 or Animal Farm. Contemplate it in the concept of your local church. Is James MacDonald your Napoleon? Is Matt Chandler your Napoleon? When Orwell wrote to warn about totalitarianism he also could have written a warning about evangelical Christianity. Heed his warnings and consider it. I know for some of you this post will be a stretch especially when you think of someone like Rod Stafford at Fairfax Community Church. You may have a hard time connecting the dots. But what connects much of evangelicalism is totalitarianism. Because you must remember, that while all animals are equal, some like your pastor are more equal than others.  

 

18 thoughts on “In Order to Understand Evangelical Culture One Should Cease Reading their Bible and Read George Orwell Instead

  1. So I should drop the Bible for George Orwell books if I want to better understand my faith? I mean, I love Orwell’s uncanny predictions about how socialism leads to complete misery, and would definitely suggest *you* read these two books to better understand the political ramifications of your voting desires. But as far as better understanding my faith (or the point I think you’re trying to make here: better understand the social structure of my church leadership in reflection of my faith) I’d suggest CS Lewis or Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Much more relevant and you’re not trying to fit a square peg in a round hole.

    Heck, even though I don’t ascribe to her views on many things, I feel obligated to throw a woman into the mix too, simply because Orwell was such a misogynistic a-hole. Jane Addams provided much better material for calling out the non-Christian approaches to church leadership and bringing Christianity back to its roots. I bet you and Jane Addams would get along swimmingly.

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    • So I should drop the Bible for George Orwell books if I want to better understand my faith?

      No, if you want to better understand what Christianese Culture has become. Especially the Megachurch and Culture War movements.

      I love Orwell’s uncanny predictions about how socialism leads to complete misery, and would definitely suggest *you* read these two books to better understand the political ramifications of your voting desires.

      As in the Bircher points fingers and screams “COMMUNIST!”

      Liked by 1 person

      • You’re right, clearly Orwell was warning about Evangelical Christianity, not being disillusioned by a political philosophy he bought into and was completely burned by during the Spanish civil war. My bad.

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    • Actually an insightful video, don’t disagree with much there except the insuation that only one party is the problem. Both (or all) political parties get corrupted by power. I have no faith in either, all I can do is set aside emotion when it comes to voting and vote for the party that benefits me most financially, in the hope that I can use my own finances as a medium for change.

      Or I can just give lip service to how awesome I am because I care about minorities and therefore continue to vote for the party that is clearly invested in keeping minorities im poverty, angry at other races, and feeling like they have no role in their country because of (insert bad guy here). Yeah, maybe I’ll do that so I can pat myself on the back more often.

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  2. The point being made (more provocatively than I would make it myself, although I understand it) is not that one shouldn’t read the Bible. The point being made is that when evangelical culture goes awry, you may get more insight into the problem issues by reading Orwell than by reading the Bible.

    For myself, since the Bible is where we go for instruction and guidance, I think it is indeed helpful (necessary, even) to read it to understand how things should/could be, and to see how they currently fall short. I’m certainly not going to read Orwell *in place of* the Bible. Although, I do agree that Orwell’s works give a lot of insight into dysfunction which may arise in systems and societies and governments and organizations, the church and religion included, and can offer some needed perspective.

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      • Romery yes Orwell is helpful to understand evangelical culture. In writing about these scandals over and over his warnings about corruption, totalitarianism, re-writing history is very applicable.

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      • But not in terms of how he meant it? These books are clearly written in a narrative against Russia, or more broadly, socialism/communism. Yet you ignore the main crux of Orwell’s points in lieu of applying it to Evangelical church structure. So how can one take that seriously when someone ignores the point of those books when voting in political parties? These are political books, do you denounce the party most closely aligned to what the author was attacking? If so, I may take the advice seriously and look at signs of 1984 in my church leadership. But I’ve already applied the warnings of these books to my worldview where they were meant to be applied…everyone else should too before looking at where else to apply them.

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      • Ronery when I took literature in high school we read books like this and addressed themes in different contexts. Don’t poison the well please. Many high school students can read and find the themes in these books and apply them in life. They stand as a warning

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      • I certainly agree there. But how does one reconcile ignoring the main points the author is articulating (Orwell – politics) and applying it to something the author couldn’t care less about (Orwell – religion)? I wouldn’t poison the well if you used Orwell as a bastion of how to vote, but from all I’ve read, you dont.

        That is all.

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      • Politics and religion can have similar themes. They both can have saviors and messiahs and a “Gospel”message. Its like Nazism and Communism. They are very far apart and yet they are similar.

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  3. Not sure if this question was posed back to me? No, I don’t go around quoting Orwell’s works to people. I was acknowledging that I understood Eagle’s reference to them. Literature can provide common references and word pictures, like modern parables to express thoughts. Like if I wanted to make a point about judgmentalism and exclusion and shaming I might reference Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter, or if I wanted to make a point about scapegoating and rush to judgment I might reference Miller’s The Crucible. I was simply acknowledging that I understood the references to dysfunctional or dystopian social systems contained within Orwell’s works.

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    • Yes Dave, my browser formats things for who is replying to whom so assumed you’d see that too. Regardless, I think it disingenuous to take a book that has an undeniable narrative about something, dismiss that, but apply the points to something else entirely. Like, clearly Eagle doesn’t heed the authors advice when it comes to the subject the author is writing about, yet applied to something Eagle cares about, then its suddenly relevant. Orwell was a secular humanist, no care at all about the church. Why his writings about politics somehow should be applied to church governance when there are COUNTLESS believers and theologians that provide much more meaningful and Biblical criticism is beyond me.

      It’s certainly hypocritical, but I’m pretty sure this was just an attempt at shock value…….meh.

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      • Well, it’s up to people to judge whether a particular reference does or doesn’t have application or bearing on a particular subject. I do observe, however, that a literary reference can have weight or meaning beyond its immediate subject and context. We use them so all the time. “Lord of the Flies” makes statements and observations about human behavior that is not solely limited to its immediate context of British boarding-school boys of a particular era. “The Iliad” and “The Odyssey” contain themes that are not solely limited to warring or wandering soldiers and heroes in ancient Greece.

        All I was saying was that I understood the references. For example, Orwell coined the term “groupthink” in “1984” and the term has been used by people to describe known psychological phenomena. Same with the word “doublespeak.” Referencing these terms when describing troublesome dynamics in an group (be it a government, a business, a school, a church, a society, a family) isn’t giving undue weight to Orwell’s beliefs or views, which are themselves kind of beyond the point. Using these terms is just describing concepts in relatively familiar terms which are fairly readily understood by a large number of people.

        Jesus provided us with a whole host of such references through His parables: the Good Samaritan, the Rich Fool, the Treasure Hidden in a Field, the Prodigal Son, the Wheat and the Tares, the Mustard Seed, etc., etc. He regularly used stories and literary devices to express truth in ways that we could more readily understand it.

        (I hate to have to expressly clarify something that should be so obvious, but I have gotten rather accustomed to having my words unintentionally misunderstood or intentionally twisted . . . I am absolutely NOT placing Orwell or Homer or Golding or anyone else on the same level as Jesus, and I am absolutely NOT placing their books on the same level as the Bible. I am simply discussing the use of literary devices and references to convey ideas and concepts.)

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    • Dave, I completely get all that and fully agree.

      Trying to think of a way to make my point more succinct. Perhaps to use your Scarlet Letter example. If I tell people to read that book to better understand how bullying on social platforms is a bad thing, then that makes sense. The book addresses the ills of this in the context of the 17th century that could be applied today to social media platforms of today. However, if I say that to someone, yet still espouse a hard core belief in my church that legalism and archaic humiliation for those that commit adultery is the Godly way, then that makes me a hypocrite. Because on one hand I’m taking a subject that the author doesn’t care about (Hawthorne and online bullying) and using his works to cite evidence that online bullying is bad (that fits the premise fine). Yet on the other hand, I’m fully dismissing the main point the author is making by upholding the main beliefs he is attacking, which completely contradicts the main points he’s making by writing the book in the first place.

      With Eagle espousing an affinity for voting for a political party that directly contradicts the point Orwell is making in his books, I personally feel that should exclude him from using said books to make other points…even if it fits. That’s the hypocrisy I’m pointing out.

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      • That does help me to understand your point a bit better.

        On your last statement, however, let me say as one who considers myself a staunch political independent as a direct result of my Christian faith (I do happen to be registered under one party, but only because I wanted to be able to have a meaningful vote in my state’s primaries) . . . If you think that only one of the political parties stands indicted by Orwell’s points and criticisms, then you are seeing things very differently than I am seeing them. In today’s highly tribal political climate, there are an awful lot of planks in people’s eyes to go around.

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      • I can buy into that regarding 1984, it can apply to both sides pretty easily. But that’s today.
        Back when he wrote it, it really only applied to one side which he had a falling out with and drove him to criticize in his later years. Today, the right may be guilty of several things from 1984, but also today, the left openly identifies as the group Orwell was attacking in that book.

        It’d be nearly impossible to convince me Animal Farm can be applied to any philosophy other than leftist ideals, or in American political relevance, Democrats.

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