Stop me if you’ve heard this one: A story about a society like ours in every way except for one crucial detail. In control of society is an inhumane authoritarian regime that takes “Ends justifies the means” to the extreme end. The main character is plucked from obscurity (or just an average joe/jane), and along with a diverse group of allies that take on this oppressive structure, try to course-correct their society and overthrow the regular order of things.
Sound familiar? Dystopia is a popular place to be in fiction. One of the most recent additions is The Man In the High Castle, an Amazon Original. Adapted from Phillip K Dick’s novel, this series (premiering its final season November 15th) asks the question, “What if the Axis Powers won World War II instead of the Allies?” Viewers are introduced to an America occupied by both the Nazi Germans and Japan. More than alternate history, the show soon introduced the concept of a multiverse that allowed its characters to travel between realities and see film reels depicting each one’s histories. It’s a show I’ve really come to enjoy. The acting performances never feel out of place and you have no trouble believing these characters fully reside in this world. It’s easy to empathize with them. The world-building is second to none which allows viewers to come along the ride of this show and dwell within it.Our own “real world” has been and is full of dystopias of our own
I kept coming back around to this thought: In the world of the show, what has become of the Church? That is, while the occupying forces limit or forbid Christianity, there would undoubtedly be some who press on. It is difficult to imagine a scenario in which those Christians wouldn’t be demonstrating an amazingly genuine example of faith. In many dystopias we see Christianity co-opted to empower the regimes in place (think Handmaid’s Tale or V for Vendetta), but even in those, there would be some true believers struggling. Man in the High Castle primarily focuses on the Jewish faith community bounding together to continue their faith practice whether it be in secret among the occupied cities or in the show’s “Neutral Zone”—where neither the Japanese or Nazi’s have control—as a disguised Catholic Mission.
But how would Christians resist the brutality, unjust and antichrist-like nature of these regimes? When I examine the motives for resistance figures in the show, I definitely feel like they could be people of faith. “This only ends when people like us refuse to obey, no matter the cost.” Spoken in the pilot episode by a minor character who puts much of the plot into motion, this sentiment feels like it could’ve been uttered by Bonhoeffer himself. I was compelled to see whether these words of the Church would spur the characters to act in faith and oppose the unopposable.
It’s easy to be cynical about Christianity in America. The prosperity gospel, those who seem to care more about proximity to political power than to God, the list could go on and on. “The church has never done well with blessing”—I heard this from a pastor once and it has resonated with me. Perhaps these genre works appeal to so many because they allow us to see a world in which “the people” live in a much more genuine and authentic way.
This appeal is also a profoundly confusing thing. Why yearn for or appreciate a world in such distress? Perhaps deep down we know there is something wrong with the privilege and comfort we enjoy in the midst of what we do with it. Thinking about it more, I also wonder if some of this isn’t God working in us to show us something else:
One person’s dystopia is another’s utopia. The rulers in these worlds are often fairly happy while the people being held down are miserable. They certainly see their worlds differently. Once you understand this, it opens another concept. Our own “real world” has been and is full of dystopias of our own and I struggle to see how the description of life in America wouldn’t begin to sound like a dystopia if you got the basic outline from any number of minority groups. Outside of the bubble of the United States, this same principle would apply across various centuries and even modern decades.
Perhaps our biggest takeaway from the genre shouldn’t be the fantasy, sci-fi, or the world-building, but how God might be urging us towards solidarity with those in the world living their very own dystopia right now. “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,” and for me, this genre I love so much has now become a sobering call to stand even closer to the oppressed, broken-hearted and the meek just as Christ has and always will.