Our Dystopian Hope

Dr. James Emery White | Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary | Monday, November 30, 2015

Our Dystopian Hope

Like many, many others, I spent time over the Thanksgiving holidays watching the final installment to The Hunger Games. I had read the books, always enjoyed Jennifer Lawrence as an actress, seen the other installments, so….

But a not-so-original thought came to me as I watched the previews. Namely, how dystopian visions of the future dominate our culture – and particularly the young adult culture.

There is, of course, the “Hunger Games” industry. But as I settled in to watch that film, a preview was shown for the next installment in the Divergent series, along with the first installment of The Fifth Wave series. (And did I neglect to mention The Maze Runner?)

And the number one show on almost any small-screen platform? 

The Walking Dead.

All dystopian views of the future, almost all featuring young adults at the center of the story.

Why such a bleak view of the future?

It would seem to be the result of being worried about the present. 

The Public Religion Research Institute’s annual American Values Survey, released this month, “documents discontent among all major religious groups, races and political views.”

“I am struck by the high level of anxiety and worry on all fronts,” said PRRI CEO Robert Jones.

For the first time in six years of the survey, Americans are split — 49 percent to 49 percent — on whether “America’s best days are ahead of us or behind us.”

And this was before the attacks in Paris.

Of course, the headlines before the terrorist strikes in France didn’t help things:  

“Americans of all faiths and viewpoints are gloomy about the economy, anxious about Islam, bothered by immigrants and mistrustful across racial lines…[the] January attack on Charlie Hebdo magazine; months of videotaped beheadings of Christians in Libya; waves of Syrian immigrants, chiefly Muslim, fleeing escalating violence at home; the 2016 presidential election campaign; and the #blacklivesmatter movement that has emerged after police shootings of black Americans.”

Adding to the joy: more than 7 in 10 (72 percent) believe that the country is still in a recession.

So maybe we need a Mockingjay figure to remind us that one person – or more importantly, one life lived with conviction and passion – can make a difference for us all in the midst of dark times.

And that we can be that person.

If that happens, maybe a few dystopian films are just what we need.

James Emery White


Cathy Lynn Grossman, “Americans fret about Islam, immigrants, the future – and each other,” Religion News Service, November 17, 2015, read online.

About the Author

James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and the ranked adjunctive professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, which he also served as their fourth president. His latest book, The Rise of the Nones: Understanding and Reaching the Religiously Unaffiliated, is available on Amazon. To enjoy a free subscription to the Church and Culture blog, visit ChurchAndCulture.org, where you can view past blogs in our archive and read the latest church and culture news from around the world. Follow Dr. White on twitter @JamesEmeryWhite.