An old professor of mine used to say that the Lord’s mercy is justice and His justice is His mercy. This means that as punishment for our crimes, the Lord allows us to experience the consequences of our sins. Inversely, the Lord’s mercy is that He reprimands us before we get too ahead of ourselves and burn ourselves on the pyre.
It seems as though dystopia fits quite appropriately in this context. It surveys reality, looking for actions with natural consequences and following the line till its conclusion. Assuming nothing steps in to save the day, if we keep killing children then we won’t have adults. If we continue to build suburbs then we’ll have a megacity stretching from coast to coast. If we keep removing God from the discourse then, eventually, we won’t know to look for God when the sky turns to black.
Dystopia doesn’t judge as much as it observes and predicts. If we do A, then B will happen. Hence, dystopia has come to be a means of critiquing society in a way that gets past our ideological barriers and allows us to reflect on our faults from an objective angle. Consider Orwell’s 1984 and his critique of totalitarianism, or Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 and his critique of thought policing, or Lowry’s The Giver and her critique of a traditionless society. None of these great authors had to come out and directly condemn totalitarianism, thought policing, or traditionless society; they merely had to reveal to the reader what the world would be like if those things were the norm.
Orthodox. Faithful. Free.
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The terrifying thing about this is that the only way a critique is accepted is if the thing critiqued is real. 1984 is profound precisely because totalitarianism is real and possible. Fahrenheit 451 still pierces souls because we know that thought policing can be (is) a reality. The Giver will continue to move young hearts because we know how fragile the chain of tradition is and how much it can be despised.
Given the apocalyptic (from the Latin apocalypsis, to reveal in fullness) nature of the dystopian genre, there should be no surprise that Catholic authors with a penchant for the prophetic have claimed the genre for the good of the kingdom. Authors like Fr. Robert Hugh Benson, Michael O’Brien, and now Peco Gaskovski have rooted themselves and their work so fully in the Faith as to reveal the consequences of the sins that we are currently committing.
Exogenesis, by the aforementioned Peco Gaskovski, is a potent example of the dystopian genre used as a mirror to reveal a pagan world. Set in the megalopolis of Lantua, an urban society stretching from modern-day Boston to Chicago, the faithful have been relegated to an Amish-like existence outside the bonds of the city. The citizens of Lantua, in fear of the tendency toward large families in this community, have enacted a sterilization policy upon the faithful and their culture. “Control the seed of their bodies, control the seed of their land, control the seed of their minds.” The novel follows a Lantuan counselor, Maelin Kivela, who is tasked with enacting this sterilization policy and the realities that she must come to terms with in the process. Exogenesis, by Peco Gaskovski,is a potent example of the dystopian genre used as a mirror to reveal a pagan world. Tweet This
In Lantua, babies are not born naturally: they are fertilized in petri dishes, grown in artificial wombs, and are subject to intense genetic screening to eliminate any “imperfections.” All the unchosen fetuses are flushed down a chemical drain. In Lantua, surveillance is a matter of fact. Everyone is watched at all times and subject to official scrutiny for any reason. In Lantua, citizens are subject to the echelon system, a sort of social credit score, which determines where they can go, what they can do, and how they can live. In Lantua, there is no official religion, but everyone visits the E-dome, where they can receive a cocktail of chemicals which place one in a pseudo-mystical state. In Lantua, in Lantua, in Lantua…
The terror of this book is not that Lantua is a possibility but that Lantua is a reality that has not taken absolute hold. An individual can choose the type of child that they want through IVF, while the spare children are killed in a chemical soup. Abortion mills are placed in neighborhoods with historically large ethnic families to facilitate their eradication. The reality of constant surveillance is already accepted as a matter of life.
The social credit score is already in effect in places like China and North Korea, and there are talks of implementing a version of it in Canada and the UK. We already have IV drip bars where you can insert vitamins and chemicals into your body to improve your health and mental well-being. This is not to mention the over prescription of painkillers to avoid any semblance of discomfort. Lantua is not a possibility, Lantua is a reality that is being implemented.
Peco Gaskovski’s work is one of true dystopia, even if it lacks subtlety. Exogenesis will never be the next great American novel, but the author does manage to see clearly and to write in accord with the truth. Its claim is more as a warning than as a work of art, and what a warning it is.
The silver lining to Gaskovski’s work is his depiction of the Benedites, a rather crude name for the faithful who have enacted the Benedict option. Peco writes of them as a people who have rebelled against a tyrannical regime by digging deep roots into reality. This is the genius of faith—that all one has to do in order to oppose a regime of lies is to engage with the Truth. “Consult your senses!” as Aquinas would say; “Truth is the mind conforming to reality.” All that needs to be done is to look up from our screens and let the curse be broken—because in reality we are free.
This point cannot be understated: in reality we are free. The chains that bind us are often self-inflicted. The sins we commit enslave us to the tyrants that rule us. We are not powerless yet; we can still turn back to God and to reality. Lantua does not have to be our world. There is still time, and we are still free.