I just saw the science fiction movie ‘Divergent’, based on the best selling novel(s). Divergent is set in a post war, post apocalyptic America, where a major war has decimated the world, and the survivors have banded together to form a new society. This new society is broken up into different ‘factions’, consisting of groups of people who have particular functions within the society.
Overall, it’s not a bad movie (I’d give it about 3/5), but it’s not so much the movie itself that I’m interested in, but rather the political and philosophical ideas that the movie deals with. It raises some very pertinent issues to do with the relationship of the State to its people: a question that has very much shaped the world that we live in. And so here are my brief reflections on some of these ideas.
(Warning: Spoiler Alert).
1) In ‘Divergent’, the State controls families and individuals.
Whilst there is peace and harmony within this new society, with (nearly) everyone having a place and a role, this comes at the great cost of freedom and liberty. The State controls you, and your ‘faction’ is more important than your family: as the saying in the movie goes, ‘faction before blood’.
From a Christian worldview perspective, this type of political setup is deeply troubling. According to the Bible, marriage and family are pre-political institutions, not inventions of the State. This means, among other things, that the basic building block of a society is the family, and not the State. Thus the State must recognise and respect the natural family, rather than place itself above families.
This also means that a society will flourish the most if it doesn’t mess with nature, as seen in families: society must not redefine the natural family, according to the political tastes and whims of the day, but rather help families grow, and stay together.
This is a very relevant considering the current debates about so-called ‘marriage equality’, where ‘family’ and ‘marriage’ are are seen to be a man-made political inventions, rather than a part of nature. (Divergent doesn’t deal with this issue of marriage redefinition: but it does show the damage of putting the State above the family).
2) When a State gets to redefine Society as it pleases, individuals will suffer.
The movie plot involves one of the factions making a grab for the power, by staging a military coup. In so doing, they weren’t just getting rid of the leadership of the other faction: they were trying to get rid of the other undesirable faction entirely. This was all in the name of ‘peace’ and ‘stability’, and the survival of the society.
Sadly, the author of the book had much recent history to draw on for this part of the storyline. The 20th century saw the rise of many a totalitarian secular state, whose vision was to create a utopian heaven on earth, where equality, freedom, and progress were found.
Of course, to create such a new and perfect society, they needed to tear the old one down…but since a ‘society’ is made up of people, it meant having to marginalise, and even eliminate people who were considered ‘undesirable’, and were perceived to hold society back.
Thus we need to be very wary of people who would use State power to reshape society, even (or especially) in the name of such high ideals such as ‘equality’ and ‘progress’. Interestingly enough, the whole push to redefine marriage involves the marginalization and vilification of people who would disagree with such a move: we’re ‘bigot’s and ‘homophobes’ who are ‘on the wrong side of history’. As I wrote in an earlier post, for an increasing number of traditional marriage advocates, what were once traditionally recognised human rights are now being minimised, and even trampled on, at least when such rights clash with perceived gay rights.
3) Limited government is the ideal for human flourishing.
In light of the above concerns, the best way forward from a Christian worldview perspective is to limit the power of the State. The State must give the maximum amount of freedom it can to it’s citizens, and only compel behaviour where it’s necessary for law and order. Otherwise it treads the path to oppression.
However, this isn’t just a Christian observation, it’s a historical one. Governments that have grabbed an inordinate amount of power have always ended up abusing that power, and oppressing their own people. Nazism, and Communism are the obvious examples. Thus we must always be wary of any politician or political movement that wants to advance it’s agenda through a demand to give up more and more of our own freedoms.
A relevant western example of this is with the issue of freedom of speech. In the name of ‘tolerance’ and ‘harmony’, many western governments are slowly eroding the things we can and can’t say in public. Somehow, a new right has emerged: the right not to be offended. And it is this right that is driving many a western government to increase it’s power, by decreasing the amount of things its citizens can say in public without penalty.
One key message to take away from all this is to beware the power of the state: a government must always be limited in its power, else oppression soon follow. Or as a wise man once put it: ‘The Price of Liberty is Eternal Vigilance’. As citizens, we must keep close tabs on any increase in State power.
Who would have thought that popular culture could raise such important issues?
Well done, Divergent!