On Tuesday, we found ourselves with a set of peculiar headlines ahead of a speech by David Davis, the Brexit minister:
For those who found themselves confused, Mad Max is a series of films (1979-1985, and rebooted in 2015) portraying life in a future, desert wasteland where humanity has turned barbarian and where the protagonist becomes, in the words of the 2015 trailer, ‘a man reduced to a single instinct: survive’. Why was David Davis using this reference? His point was that fears the UK would renege on all environmental, human rights and workers standards on leaving the EU (and thereby, facilitate the collapse of civil society as we know it) were ungrounded. And the controversial pop culture reference definitely bumped up the media coverage.
Leaving aside whether Davis’ use of this extreme reference point was actually helpful in assuaging fears about standards of living post-Brexit, it’s worth taking a minute to consider the role of pessimistic, or dystopian thinking in our fear over the future, and how we can navigate social and political upheaval from a Christian worldview.
A dystopia is an imagined ‘bad’ place, a portrayal of the kind of society that many would find undesirable. There are some recurring themes in fictional dystopias, for example, environmental degradation, totalitarian states and the breakdown of meaningful human relationships. Uncertainty about the future naturally throws up intense fears, some more grounded than others; the two most tumultuous political events in the West recently, Brexit and the US election, have both thrown up claims that we’re heading towards a dystopian future. As Christians, should we agree with claims that society is heading towards a terrible outcome? Or, should we, like David Davis, challenge such pessimism as ungrounded?
A helpful context from which to manage our hopes and fears—our best and worst case scenarios for the world—is in light of Jesus’s Parable of the Wheat and Weeds.
The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field. But while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away. When the wheat sprouted and formed ears, then the weeds also appeared. ‘The owner’s servants came to him and said, “Sir, didn’t you sow good seed in your field? Where then did the weeds come from?” ‘“An enemy did this,” he replied. ‘The servants asked him, “Do you want us to go and pull them up?”
“No,” he answered, “because while you are pulling up the weeds, you may uproot the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest. At that time I will tell the harvesters: first collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn.” (Matthew 13:24-29)
Understanding the Parable
Although as Christians, our understanding of humanity’s final destiny (our teleology) is ‘a new heaven and a new earth’ where ‘there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain’ (Rev 21:1-4), this parable suggests that the state of the world is not moving progressively to either a perfect state, or complete disaster. Instead, both the good and bad will increase together in this life until God intervenes decisively at the end of this age. And these trends are on a bigger scale than any single political upheaval. As a result, we can have deep trust in the providence of God, whilst also acknowledging the conflicting nature of the current state of affairs.
However, it is also crucial to remind ourselves that from a Christian perspective this increasing ‘good’ and ‘evil’ cannot be solely defined in secular visions of utopia and dystopia. Our teleology is that things will be ‘good’ by being restored in their right relationship with Christ (Colossians 1:15-20). In this understanding, it is more accurate to say that in the present age some elements of society are drawing closer to, and others moving further away from God. Therefore, we are called not to become fixated on either dystopic visions, or on achieving a social utopia here on the earth. Instead we face the future from an attitude of trust, and with the full knowledge that we have an active part to play in bringing people closer to God and increasing his good, whatever the political situation.
 Most notably, the 2017 adaptation of Margaret Atwood's 'The Handmaid's Tale' was touted as a scarily plausible version of the US's future with Trump.