Study Guide

Brave New World Spirituality

By Aldous Huxley

Spirituality

Chapter 3

"There was a thing, as I've said before, called Christianity." 

[…]

"The ethics and philosophy of under-consumption…"

[…]

"So essential when there was under-production; but in an age of machines and the fixation of nitrogen—positively a crime against society." (3.200-4)

This statement is basically a less explicit form of Mustapha's later claim that "God isn't compatible with machinery."

"All crosses had their tops cut and became T's. There was also a thing called God."

[…]

"We have the World State now. And Ford's Day celebrations, and Community Sings, and Solidarity Services." (3.206-8)

Mustapha and the other World Controllers have tried to isolate what they consider the purpose of religion (comfort, community, rites) from the process of religion (suffering, questioning, striving, betterment).

Chapter 5: Part 2

The President stood up, made the sign of the T and, switching on the synthetic music, let loose the soft indefatigable beating of drums and a choir of instruments—near-wind and super-string—that plangently repeated and repeated the brief and unescapably haunting melody of the first Solidarity Hymn. Again, again—and it was not the ear that heard the pulsing rhythm, it was the midriff; the wail and clang of those recurring harmonies haunted, not the mind, but the yearning bowels of compassion.

The President made another sign of the T and sat down. The service had begun. The dedicated soma tablets were placed in the centre of the table. The loving cup of strawberry ice-cream soma was passed from hand to hand and, with the formula, "I drink to my annihilation," twelve times quaffed. Then to the accompaniment of the synthetic orchestra the First Solidarity Hymn was sung. (5.2.12-3)

Is it possible that Brave New World is a critique of Christianity? In other words, does Huxley's parody highlight the possible mindlessness of certain religious practices?

"Orgy-porgy," the dancers caught up the liturgical refrain, "Orgy-porgy, Ford and fun, kiss the girls…" And as they sang, the lights began slowly to fade—to fade and at the same time to grow warmer, richer, redder, until at last they were dancing in the crimson twilight of an Embryo Store. "Orgy-porgy…" In their blood-coloured and foetal darkness the dancers continued for a while to circulate, to beat and beat out the indefatigable rhythm. "Orgy-porgy…" Then the circle wavered, broke, fell in partial disintegration on the ring of couches which surrounded—circle enclosing circle—the table and its planetary chairs. "Orgy-porgy…" Tenderly the deep Voice crooned and cooed; in the red twilight it was as though some enormous n**** dove were hovering benevolently over the now prone or supine dancers. (5.2.31)

The red light is significant here—it reminds us of the red light in the embryo room, which means these "Solidarity Services" render participants infantile.

Alternate Thursdays were Bernard's Solidarity Service days. After an early dinner at the Aphroditzeum (to which Helrnholtz had recently been elected under Rule Two) he took leave of his friend and, hailing a taxi on the roof told the man to fly to the Fordson Community Singery. The machine rose a couple of hundred metres, then headed eastwards, and as it turned, there before Bernard's eyes, gigantically beautiful, was the Singery. Flood-lighted, its three hundred and twenty metres of white Carrara-surrogate gleamed with a snowy incandescence over Ludgate Hill; at each of the four corners of its helicopter platform an immense T shone crimson against the night, and from the mouths of twenty-four vast golden trumpets rumbled a solemn synthetic music. (5.2.1)

The religious implications here are clear; this is the World State's replacement for religious service. The fact that it ends up being a narcotic-filled orgy is clear evidence that spirituality has been utterly perverted in this new world.

Chapter 7

Lenina liked the drums. Shutting her eyes she abandoned herself to their soft repeated thunder, allowed it to invade her consciousness more and more completely, till at last there was nothing left in the world but that one deep pulse of sound. It reminded her reassuringly of the synthetic noises made at Solidarity Services and Ford's Day celebrations. "Orgy-porgy," she whispered to herself. These drums beat out just the same rhythms. (7.31)

Lenina is trying to comfort herself here by recalling what's familiar to her, but she actually makes a rather important connection between the spiritual activities of the Savages and her own Solidarity Service back home.

Chapter 8

He opened the book at random.

Nay, but to live
In the rank sweat of an enseamed bed,
Stew'd in corruption, honeying and making love
Over the nasty sty…

The strange words rolled through his mind; rumbled, like talking thunder; like the drums at the summer dances, if the drums could have spoken; like the men singing the Corn Song, beautiful, beautiful, so that you cried; like old Mitsima saying magic over his feathers and his carved sticks and his bits of bone and stone—kiathla tsilu silokwe silokwe silokwe. Kiai silu silu, tsithl—but better than Mitsima's magic, because it meant more, because it talked to him, talked wonderfully and only half-understandably, a terrible beautiful magic, about Linda; about Linda lying there snoring, with the empty cup on the floor beside the bed; about Linda and Popé, Linda and Popé. (8.40)

And now we add Shakespeare into that mix—nothing like a little bit of impassioned fiction to complicate reality further.

And sometimes, when he and the other children were tired with too much playing, one of the old men of the pueblo would talk to them, in those other words, of the great Transformer of the World, and of the long fight between Right Hand and Left Hand, between Wet and Dry; of Awonawilona, who made a great fog by thinking in the night, and then made the whole world out of the fog; of Earth Mother and Sky Father; of Ahaiyuta and Marsailema, the twins of War and Chance; of Jesus and Pookong; of Mary and Etsanatlehi, the woman who makes herself young again; of the Black Stone at Laguna and the Great Eagle and Our Lady of Acoma. Strange stories, all the more wonderful to him for being told in the other words and so not fully understood. Lying in bed, he would think of Heaven and London and Our Lady of Acoma and the rows and rows of babies in clean bottles and Jesus flying up and Linda flying up and the great Director of World Hatcheries and Awonawilona. (8.26)

This is an essential paragraph in Brave New World because it really lets us into John's psyche. In his mind, there are vague or nonexistent barriers between the stories Linda tells about the civilized world, Christian dogma, and the native religion of the Indians at Malpais.

John the Savage

"Once," he went on, "I did something that none of the others did: I stood against a rock in the middle of the day, in summer, with my arms out, like Jesus on the Cross."

"What on earth for?"

"I wanted to know what it was like being crucified. Hanging there in the sun…"

"But why?"

"Why? Well…" He hesitated. "Because I felt I ought to. If Jesus could stand it." (8.69-73)

Much of John's self-inflicted suffering is the product of his spiritual upbringing.

Chapter 11

"Partly on his interest being focused on what he calls 'the soul,' which he persists in regarding as an entity independent of the physical environment, whereas, as I tried to point out to him…" (11.34)

While John's various spiritual sources differ in dogma or finer points, they can all agree on this: the existence of some immortal aspect of man. This is why John never wavers in his belief that self-denial is necessary; his concern is for the soul instead of the body.

John the Savage

A click; the room was darkened; and suddenly, on the screen above the Master's head, there were the Penitentes of Acoma prostrating themselves before Our Lady, and wailing as John had heard them wail, confessing their sins before Jesus on the Cross, before the eagle image of Pookong. The young Etonians fairly shouted with laughter. Still wailing, the Penitentes rose to their feet, stripped off their upper garments and, with knotted whips, began to beat themselves, blow after blow. Redoubled, the laughter drowned even the amplified record of their groans.

"But why do they laugh?" asked the Savage in a pained bewilderment.

"Why?" The Provost turned towards him a still broadly grinning face. "Why? But because it's so extraordinarily funny." (11.54-6)

We argue in John's "Character Analysis" that he's basically like a spiritual sponge. This is a great example; he sees the Penitentes abusing themselves in the name of God, so he does the same thing to himself at the end of the novel.

Chapter 12

"My young friend," said the Arch-Community-Songster in a tone of loud and solemn severity; there was a general silence. "Let me give you a word of advice." He wagged his finger at Bernard. "Before it's too late. A word of good advice." (His voice became sepulchral.) "Mend your ways, my young friend, mend your ways." He made the sign of the T over him and turned away. "Lenina, my dear," he called in another tone. "Come with me." (12.34)

We were excited to point out that the Arch-Community-Songster is like a religious figurehead—like a Cardinal, perhaps… until Huxley pointed it out himself in Chapter 17. Still, now you know.

Chapter 13
Lenina Crowne

"Then why on earth didn't you say so?" she cried, and so intense was her exasperation that she drove her sharp nails into the skin of his wrist. "Instead of drivelling away about knots and vacuum cleaners and lions, and making me miserable for weeks and weeks." (13.66)

Not only is this quote a reflection of the increasing tie between sex and violence in the novel, but it's a clear hint that John is a big-time Christ-figure. The quote also suggests that Lenina drives this aspect of his character.

Chapter 14
John the Savage

"Oh, God, God, God…" the Savage kept repeating to himself. In the chaos of grief and remorse that filled his mind it was the one articulate word. "God!" he whispered it aloud. "God…" (14.55)

John turns to God not only because of Linda's death, but also because of the reaction to her death by others around him. It is this reaction that makes him realize how inhumane this community is, how "such people" live in this "brave new world."

Chapter 15

"Don't take that horrible stuff. It's poison, it's poison."

[…]

"Poison to soul as well as body." (15.20-2)

Soma poisons the body by dulling the senses, but how does it damage the soul? One possible explanation is to look at the way the drug alters a person's identity by stripping him of choice. Most importantly, at least to John, it removes all possibility of suffering. Suffering, he believes, is the key to spiritual advancement and to being a human. In this way, soma is "poison to [the] soul."

Chapter 17
Mustapha Mond

"The gods are just. No doubt. But their code of law is dictated, in the last resort, by the people who organize society; Providence takes its cue from men." (17.35)

Again, Mustapha represents religion as a purely invented social construction used to keep people in line. Since the Controllers have hypnopaedia and soma to maintain order, religion just isn't needed.

"One of the numerous things in heaven and earth that these philosophers didn't dream about was this" (he waved his hand), "us, the modern world. 'You can only be independent of God while you've got youth and prosperity; independence won't take you safely to the end.' Well, we've now got youth and prosperity right up to the end. What follows? Evidently, that we can be independent of God. 'The religious sentiment will compensate us for all our losses.' But there aren't any losses for us to compensate; religious sentiment is superfluous. And why should we go hunting for a substitute for youthful desires, when youthful desires never fail? A substitute for distractions, when we go on enjoying all the old fooleries to the very last? What need have we of repose when our minds and bodies continue to delight in activity? of consolation, when we have soma? of something immovable, when there is the social order?" (17.20)

Mustapha's argument is incredibly relativistic—if God isn't needed by society, then God isn't there. He doesn't really address the terrifying possibility that God is there—and really, really angry.

"No, I think there quite probably is [a God] […] "But he manifests himself in different ways to different men. In premodern times he manifested himself as the being that's described in these books. Now…" […] "Well, he manifests himself as an absence; as though he weren't there at all." (17.22-6)

Ditto. (See thought above.)

"…you know all about God, I suppose."

"Well…" The Savage hesitated. He would have liked to say something about solitude, about night, about the mesa lying pale under the moon, about the precipice, the plunge into shadowy darkness, about death. He would have liked to speak; but there were no words. Not even in Shakespeare. (17.2-3)

This is really the first time John is unable to wield Shakespeare as a weapon. Why? Could it be that God is the one thing he doesn't have a handle on? Maybe, but consider this: John very much ties his spirituality to his solitude. An outcast since he was young, John found God in the times he was alone. For him, spirituality is intensely personal and solitary. If he can't talk about it, it may be because it is simply not something that can be shared in words.

"Christianity without tears—that's what soma is." (17.47)

This is a pretty explicit summation of what was previously subtle and nuanced. Mustapha said essentially the same thing—but with less obvious didacticism—in Chapter 3.

"We are not our own any more than what we possess is our own. We did not make ourselves, we cannot be supreme over ourselves. We are not our own masters. We are God's property. Is it not our happiness thus to view the matter?" (17.20)

Mustapha holds this passage up as an interesting view into pre-Ford religious thought. In the context of the World State, however, it's rather clear that the World Controllers have taken this sort of authoritative role upon themselves.

John the Savage

The Savage interrupted him. "But isn't it natural to feel there's a God?"

"You might as well ask if it's natural to do up one's trousers with zippers," said the Controller sarcastically. […] One believes things because one has been conditioned to believe them. Finding bad reasons for what one believes for other bad reasons—that's philosophy. People believe in God because they've been conditioned to." (17.29-30)

This is a great point—and it's passages like these that make some scholars believe Brave New World is a critique of any sort of religion. As readers, we rebel against the notion of hypnopaedia because it seems to us like brainwashing; but from this point of view, religious doctrine isn't too different.

"Do you remember that bit in King Lear?" said the Savage at last. "'The gods are just and of our pleasant vices make instruments to plague us; the dark and vicious place where thee he got cost him his eyes,' and Edmund answers—you remember, he's wounded, he's dying—'Thou hast spoken right; 'tis true. The wheel has come full circle; I am here.' What about that now? Doesn't there seem to be a God managing things, punishing, rewarding?"

"Well, does there?" questioned the Controller in his turn. "You can indulge in any number of pleasant vices […] and run no risks of having your eyes put out." (17.34-5)

Mustapha refuses to take into account any conception of divine justice or the afterlife. If there are no punishments during life, in Mustapha's mind there must be no punishments at all.

"They say that it is the fear of death and of what comes after death that makes men turn to religion as they advance in years. But my own experience has given me the conviction that, quite apart from any such terrors or imaginings, the religious sentiment tends to develop as we grow older; to develop because, as the passions grow calm, as the fancy and sensibilities are less excited and less excitable, our reason becomes less troubled in its working, less obscured by the images, desires and distractions, in which it used to be absorbed; whereupon God emerges as from behind a cloud; our soul feels, sees, turns towards the source of all light; turns naturally and inevitably; […] Yes, we inevitably turn to God; for this religious sentiment is of its nature so pure, so delightful to the soul that experiences it, that it makes up to us for all our other losses." (17.20)

This would seem to be the way that John experiences religion; there are certain, key moments in the text where he obtains sudden resolve, where he claims sudden clarity or instantaneous revelation.

Chapter 18

When morning came, he felt he had earned the right to inhabit the lighthouse; yet, even though there still was glass in most of the windows, even though the view from the platform was so fine. For the very reason why he had chosen the lighthouse had become almost instantly a reason for going somewhere else. He had decided to live there because the view was so beautiful, because, from his vantage point, he seemed to be looking out on to the incarnation of a divine being. But who was he to be pampered with the daily and hourly sight of loveliness? Who was he to be living in the visible presence of God? All he deserved to live in was some filthy sty, some blind hole in the ground. Stiff and still aching after his long night of pain, but for that very reason inwardly reassured, he climbed up to the platform of his tower, he looked out over the bright sunrise world which he had regained the right to inhabit. (18.32)

John sees God in nature more than in any other place. His religion is a very personal and solitary internalization of the institutional beliefs to which he's been exposed.