Not 1984 Again!

LOS ANGELES, CA – JANUARY 25: A copy of George Orwell’s novel ‘1984’ is displayed at The Last Bookstore on January 25, 2017 in Los Angeles, California. George Orwell’s 68 year-old dystopian novel ‘1984’ has surged to the top of’s best seller list and its publisher Penguin has put in an order for 75,000 reprints. (Photo Illustration by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

One of the characteristics of the tryannical dictatorship that provided the setting for George Orwell’s book, Nineteen Eighty-Four, was the official transformation of language so that, through “Newspeak,” common words came to mean the opposite of their traditional meaning (Oldspeak).  This abuse of language by the government served to mask the truth and mislead the public.

Orwell demonstrates how language can be used politically to deceive and manipulate people, leading to a society in which the people unquestioningly obey their government and mindlessly accept all propaganda as reality. Used in this way, language becomes a mind-control tool, with the ultimate goal being the destruction of will and imagination. As John Wain says in his essay, “Orwell’s vision of 1984 does not include extinction weapons . . . He is not interested in extinction weapons because, fundamentally, they do not frighten him as much as spiritual ones.” 

If you would like to read more on this topic, click on this link to read a fascinating essay by Jem Berkes. 

We have seen ‘Newspeak’ at work in recent years in Australia. You will note the government never speaks of “refugees” in the context of their incarceration on Manus Island and Nauru.  They are always “asylum seekers” (as though asylum seekers and refugees are not the same) or “boat people,” a term that has been intentionally and repeatedly associated with the terms “queue jumper”, “illegal”, “terrorist” and even “baby killer” (Remember the Tampa?). Why?  Because the good people of Australia would not accept such harsh treatment of “refugees.”  Furthermore, such draconian treatment of innocent people, including children, was declared necessary to “protect” them from the predations of “people smugglers.”  Lest anyone get the idea that such extreme measures were inhumane, Australian’s were told this was all a necessary part of “border protection,” but without any indication of a threat to our borders from which they need protection. And it worked!

Having discovered the effectiveness of ‘newspeak’ with regard to refugees, the government has begun to redefine “religious freedom,” a ‘motherhood’ term, enshrined in the Australian constitution. In ‘Oldspeak’, religious freedom is designed to protect religious belief from the government, i.e. the government cannot pass any legislation that prevents you or me from following any recognised religious belief. In ‘newspeak’?  This letter to the editor in the June 1st edition of The Age describes it well:

Religious freedom in Australia is more about making it easier for people to be as bigoted and hateful as they want. It makes a mockery of what religious freedom means for people who are genuinely persecuted for their faith and are imprisoned, or worse. (Sophie Treloar )

In The Sunday Age (June 2nd) we read:

It’s a “new dawn” for religious freedom, proclaimed Liberal senator Concetta Fierravanti-Wells this week. She wants the Morrison government to enshrine freedom of religion as a positive right rather than leave it sheltering under the legislative umbrella of freedom from discrimination. 

Barnaby Joyce wants laws exempting religious beliefs from employment contracts to stop future Israel Folaus being martyred for condemning gay people and fornicators like himself to hell. 

We are to infer from the government’s ‘newspeak’ definition of religious freedom that, not only are we free to believe anything we want, but we are free to insist that others believe it, too, even to the extent of taking away their legal protection against discrimination and/or defamation. In the ‘newspeak’ of the government, religious freedom becomes the term for religious domination; in particular, domination and oppression by the extreme Christian right.  If you want to see how this evolves in practice, have a look at the oppression by the Islamic fundamentalists of the Islamic State in Syria or the Taliban in Afghanistan. 

Any notion of religious freedom that results in any kind of bigotry or discrimination is anathema to the way of Jesus. Let’s be clear about out this: there is nothing in the gospel that allows for judgmental attitudes, acts of unkindness or inhospitality.  We are taught unconditionally to love our neighbours as we love God and ourselves.  “Who is my neighbour?” the lawyer asked Jesus, trying to avoid loving those he didn’t like or approve of (Lk.10:29).  Jesus’ response was uncomplicated and unambiguous: everyone is your neighbour.  Everyone is a child of God and, therefore, is to be loved as brother or sister. Israel Folau take note: while walking with Jesus, there is no excuse for anything but love for everyone. If only everything could be so simple!

Bob Thomas, June 2019

P.S. – Of course, the Australian version of ‘Newspeak’ pales into insignificance when one looks at the United States, where Donald Trump regularly foregoes truth to say whatever strange and unfathomable ideas pop into his mind.  Whilst it soon became obvious his was a pathological condition, the real worry is that his supporters believe his inane ramblings, and just as in 1984, untruth becomes truth and the meaning of words flips to their opposites.

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