I read Orwell’s “Nineteen Eighty-Four” many years ago when I was in high school. Needless to say, I didn’t really see its application in how I lived my life when I was sixteen. This week, I’ve been listening to an audiobook version of it in my car as I drive here and there.
Today I got to the part where Winston is trying to piece together memories of his past and the world’s past, but because the past has been so thoroughly revised (and indeed is still being revised), he has only vague images and impressions, and only a couple of items of the official history that he knows are not true. As I waited at a light on State Street, I heard this:
The frightening thing was that it might all be true. If the Party could thrust its hand into the past and say of this or that event, IT NEVER HAPPENED–that, surely, was more terrifying than mere torture and death?
The Party said that Oceania had never been in alliance with Eurasia. He, Winston Smith, knew that Oceania had been in alliance with Eurasia as short a time as four years ago. But where did that knowledge exist? Only in his own consciousness, which in any case must soon be annihilated. And if all others accepted the lie which the Party imposed–if all records told the same tale–then the lie passed into history and became truth. ‘Who controls the past,’ ran the Party slogan, ‘controls the future: who controls the present controls the past.’ And yet the past, though of its nature alterable, never had been altered. Whatever was true now was true from everlasting to everlasting. It was quite simple. All that was needed was an unending series of victories over your own memory. ‘Reality control’, they called it: in Newspeak, ‘doublethink’.
I sat there in my car, horrified–no, that’s not it–it was a mixture of horror and sadness and a little bit of rage. I realized how that’s exactly what had been done to me. The history of the LDS church is literally rewritten as it happens. There are no real episodes, no unvarnished, unspun truths. The church’s past has been so thoroughly rewritten that even pro-LDS attemps at a fuller picture, such as Richard Bushman’s “Rough Stone Rolling” are seen as threatening and “anti-Mormon.” The authors of “Mormon Enigma: Emma Hale Smith,” were banned from speaking in church after they published a factual account of Emma’s (and Joseph’s) life. Even a BYU religion professor, Randy Bott, was thrown under the bus for restating what apostles and prophets had taught for almost 200 years about the church’s restriction of priesthood according to race.
Truth is not wanted. Rather, everything must be packaged and presented in a homogenized, sanitized–dare I say Disneyfied?–way that reinforces the message and the image the church wants to present. Anything that contradicts the party line vanishes into the memory hole.
The saving grace here is that the church does not enjoy complete control over its past or present anymore, and this has been true especially since the advent of the Internet. But knowing that isn’t all that reassuring. I have tried to adopt a “live and let live” attitude toward the church, but at moments like this I remember just what is so destructive about Mormonism as embodied in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It is not my job to get anyone out of the church, but I will do my part to make sure the truth finds expression, whether the LDS church likes it or not.