Brave New World

By Aldous Huxley

God, Religion, and the Right to be Unhappy

Mond seems particularly pre-occupied with happiness, the nature of which, as envisaged by Huxley, will be examined shortly. But a concern of John's remains: what about God? Despite the religious aspects of Fordism, the World State has essentially abandoned the divine at the heart of the ritual, and replaced it with their communal and production line mentality. The concept of God has been conditioned out of the population of the World State, or rather as Mond says, "One believes things because one has been conditioned to believe in them. Finding bad reasons for what one believe for other bad reasons - that's philosophy. People believe in God because they've been conditioned to believe in God." Not that Mond thinks that God does not exist, rather that, "He manifests himself in different ways to different men. In pre-modern times he manifested himself as the being that's described in these books [The Bible, Newman, etc.]. Now... he manifests himself as an absence; as though he wasn't there at all... God isn't compatible with machinery and scientific medicine and universal happiness."

Religious imagery permeates much of the novel (see Sample Questions), and indeed a contemporary review of the novel was of the opinion that "Brave New World is one of the most urgent appeals for a reconciliation of science with religion that our age has known." It is, in fact, much more than this. However, for John, God is the reason for all the things that the State is suppressing: self-denial, chastity, nobility, and heroism. But Mond has an answer for all of these: "Industrial civilization is only possible when there's no self-denial... Chastity means passion [and] neurasthenia. And passion and neurasthenia means instability. And instability means the end of civilization... Civilization has absolutely no need of nobility or heroism. These things are symptoms of political inefficiency. In a properly organized society like ours, nobody has any opportunity for being noble or heroic. Conditions have got to be thoroughly unstable before the occasion can arise." And, says Mond, if anything does go wrong, there's always soma - "Christianity without tears."

John is not impressed, however: "You are getting rid of everything unpleasant instead of learning to put up with it. Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, or to take arms against a sea of troubles and by opposing end them... But you don't do either. Neither suffer nor oppose. You just abolish the slings and arrows. It's too easy." With this reflection on Hamlet's most famous soliloquy, Huxley is again getting at the central flaw of all utopias: i.e. that if they are to exist, they must come at a cost. Thus we are offered anti-utopia rather than dystopia. Mond says to John after he has attempted to liberate the Bokanovsky group from its soma ration, "People are happy; they get what they want, and they never want what they can't get. They're well off; they're safe; they're never ill; they're not afraid of death; they're blissfully ignorant of passion and old age; they're plagued with no mothers or fathers; they've got no wives, or children, or lovers to feel strongly about; they're so conditioned that they practically can't help behaving as they ought to behave. And if anything should go wrong, there's soma. Which you go and chuck out of the window in the name of liberty, Mr Savage. Liberty!" But, of course, Mond's idea of happiness is not the same as John's: "Actual happiness always looks pretty squalid in comparison with the over- compensation for misery. And, of course, stability isn't nearly so spectacular as instability. And being contented has none of the glamour of a good fight against misfortune, none of the picturesqueness of a struggle with temptation, or a fatal overthrow by passion or doubt. Happiness is never grand."

In Do What You Will (1929), Huxley wrote the following: "Too much consistency is as bad for the mind as it is for the body. Consistency is contrary to nature, contrary to life. The only completely consistent people are the dead." And in Brave New World Huxley is saying that the inhabitants of the World State, despite all their Feelies, scent-organs, soma, promiscuity, orgies, technology, stability and 'happiness' are still only - at best - half-alive. The central message of Brave New World - that freedom really means the right to all the dangerous negatives as well as the mundane positives in life - is summed up in this exchange between John and Mond:

" 'But I don't want comfort. I want God, I want poetry, I want real danger, I want freedom, I want goodness. I want sin.' 'In fact,' said Mustapha Mond 'you're claiming the right to be unhappy.' 'All right, then,' said the Savage defiantly. 'I'm claiming the right to be unhappy.' 'Not to mention the right to grow old and ugly and impotent; the right to have syphilis and cancer; the right to have too little to eat; the right to be lousy; the right to live in constant apprehension of what may happen tomorrow; the right to catch typhoid; the right to be tortured by unspeakable pains of every kind.' There was a long silence. 'I claim them all,' said the Savage at last. Mustapha Mond shrugged his shoulders. 'You're welcome,' he said."

But in the end John is denied even that: his attempt at solitary penitence disrupted to the point that he has no choice other than suicide. After his captivation by this Brave New World, his disillusionment with it, and the conflict between these two experiences, he is finally consistent: he is dead.