on 1 October 2012
`The Lord made Heaven and Earth. The Lord made us. The Lord does this, the Lord wants that. We don't know how or why, we don't need to know, it just happens. There's never any explanation, it's all a miracle. Children are born, some die, it's God's will, we can't change it. Don't you think that, in a way, that's sort of ... sort of ...?' Thus Trafford, the hero of Elton's Blind Faith, puts the question to his wife Chantorria, a terrified conformist in the insane world of London several centuries after a global warming disaster has driven humanity back into an age of faith. Yes, this is a cautionary tale, a savage exposure of man's need to believe and conform.
The novel harks back to Orwell's 1984, but with a lighter touch and emphasis on religion rather than politics. In place of Big Brother and The Party we have The Temple, the authority that never fails, one that through the power of The Love controls cyberspace and individual thinking. Reason is subordinated to faith, science merely a manifestation of the Lord's power; democracy is the will of the people, but a people brainwashed, threatened and in terror of non-conformity. Huge wallscreens in every apartment and public space monitor behaviour, with leaders demanding displays of faith in The Love, in which personal revelations of one's indulgence in, say, feasting or oral sex, are mandatory. Pleasures must be shared, as must pain and grief caused by the perpetual child mortality rate - the water is polluted, London a reeking sewer, commuting replaced by Fizzy Coff - a physical appearance at the office, a necessarily rare occurrence in the overheated congested city.
Despite the parallels with Orwell - incipient paranoia when indulging in Own Life for example - Blind Faith's totalitarianism encourages, nay, demands, self exposure. There is no Puritanism here: nakedness and sexual activity at all times, especially in public, are de rigueur. In fact, abstinence or reticence in these matters suggests a dearth of respect for The Love and is a serious concern of the local Confessor or the apartment censor Barbieheart, `the principle eyes and ears of the building, an enormous, globular, housebound sentinel who, although too big to leave her apartment, occupied every room.' Like Winston Smith, Trafford falls secretly in love with a dissident, but ultimately with wider consequences when his viral email causes millions to receive their first Humanist mail shot.
Blind Faith is an exuberant and gripping novel that pillories evangelism and political correctness, delighting in exposing People Power and the cant and hypocrisy at the heart of belief. From obligatory local Hug-ins to massive pop-style congregations at the New Wembley Stadium, where The Love rules and you'd better not only believe it, but say it loud, shout it Big Time, and never betray a scruple of doubt. For heretics the torture chamber and the stake await! Books are out and wallscreens are in. Birthing videos must be posted, as must one's private sex life. After all, what's to be ashamed of? The Lord gave us genitals that we may celebrate Him, Big Time! Darwin is the Devil's agent and science is merely the Lord's way of reminding us of His power. Vaccination and those who support or practise it are defying the Lord's will and must be hunted out, tied to the stake and burned over a pile of seditious books, any that may yet be found floating in the upper stories of deserted houses.
Of course this is all over the top, but very funny and not so far-fetched that it doesn't chime with certain tendencies in our insidious world of what Elton calls `infotainment', where cheerful idiocy rules the airwaves and cyberspace, and privacy and modesty are heretical.
At the end of the book, when Trafford's daughter, Caitlin Happymeal, is the sole infant survivor in the latest smallpox epidemic (because of her covert vaccination) he is `ordered to stand on that stage at Wembley and credit divine intervention ... to give thanks to a stupid, vicious, capricious, illogical, immoral, maniacal deity who clearly exists only in the imaginations of idiots and bullies.' Will he conform or be a recusant and face the consequences? Elton's nail-biting plot has several more twists and turns before we know whether Trafford, like Orwell's Winston Smith, will become yet another victim of orthodoxy.