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Blind Faith by Ben Elton

Reviewed by Sean the Blogonaut

I have had Blind Faith on my bookshelf for about 2 years – a gift from an acquaintance after I had bored them with my love of all things atheist and skeptical. “I think you’ll like this”, she’d said.

She was right.

Why did it take me so long to read? Well, while I am a fan of Elton’s work for television, i.e. Black Adder and the Young Ones. I had attempted to read Stark a number of years earlier and it had put me off his novels – not perhaps the fault of the writer.

I think, there can be a “right time” for books and their readers to meet. I can’t help but think that if I had come across Blind Faith earlier that it might not have resonated with me in quite the way it has.

Blind Faith is every Skeptics/Humanists nightmare come true – a dark comedic comment on a possible future. Elton has taken elements of modern society, stretched them for comedic value but left enough truth in them to ensure that any laugh the reader makes is tinged with nervousness.

The world of Blind Faith is set in a future that has suffered the effects of catastrophic climate change. Law is legislated by the church (a curious mix of evangelical Christianity and celebrity worship) through appeals to the masses, at faith mega concerts. Children die in their thousands as society has abandoned the science of immunisation (curiously the church allows science that promotes, or maintains the status quo – not too far I think from the historical position of the catholic church). Privacy has become a dirty word, promiscuity and exhibitionism the norm – every aspect of a person’s life is filmed and broadcasted to the world.

We follow the life of Trafford Sewell, a man who likes to have secrets, a man who likes to think, a man who hopes and finds that there is more to life than 24 hour reality television and constant blogging and promotion of the self.

I think it’s impossible for readers not to compare Blind Faith with Orwell’s 1984. They are similar tales, with similar characters. Indeed I think Elton was deliberate in this, he wanted the reader to make the connection.

Unlike Orwell’s 1984 it’s your peers that monitor your every move. It’s the community that censures and rebukes the individual. This state of affairs made possible by the internet and the pervasive growth of social media. Good science fiction is almost always a comment on what is happening now and with Blind Faith Elton takes aim at a number of things that obviously concern him. He should then, give most readers, pause for thought. I found myself cringing as I noticed elements of my life falling in the firing line, particularly his hat tip towards social media and blogging.

There’s criticism of the way in which the internet and multimedia has and still is transforming our lives, how instead of a it being an age of knowledge we are fast becoming a society fed on copious irrelevant, short attention span information.

He takes aim at religion and in particular creationists and those that deny evolution, though there’s a fair dig at American style mega churches as well. Perhaps the strongest barb was that reserved for anti-vaccinationists. The vaccination of Sewell’s only child (a criminal act) forms a central part of the narrative. In Sewell’s future England, children die in their thousands due to vaccine preventable diseases, the statistics of the past distorted to promote the position of the church – that vaccination is a sin.

I think its worth considering this work as both an introduction to skeptical issues, and an enjoyable read for skeptics. Elton’s dark comedy is a nice buffer to the serious issues contained within. I would hope that the reader could not help but see the origins of the distorted themes Elton has presented in current affairs.

 

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