Fahrenheit 451 is a book about burning words and ideas. Instead of putting out fires, the Firemen in Fahrenheit 451 start fires, and burn books.
This book sizzles. Its words crackle. Listen:
It was a pleasure to burn.
It was a special pleasure to see things eaten, to see things blackened and changed. With the brass nozzle in his fists, with this great python spitting its venomous kerosene upon the world, the blood pounded in his head, and his hands were the hands of some amazing conductor playing all the symphonies of blazing and burning to bring down the tatters and charcoal ruins of history. With his symbolic helmet numbered 451 on his stolid head, and his eyes all orange flame with the thought of what came next, he flicked the igniter and the house jumped up in a gorging fire that burned the evening sky red and yellow and black. He strode in a swarm of fireflies… While the books went up in sparkling whirls and blew away on a wind turned dark with burning.
Montag was a Fireman. In the beginning, his face was gripped with a fiery smile. But through interaction with someone who contemplated life, he realized his emptiness. In his search for meaning, he began to steal and hide the very books he was supposed to burn.
His wife told him to find distraction in something fun. That is what everyone does. Don’t think, just have fun. But Montag would not this time. He wanted to hold onto his emptiness, he wanted to find meaning.
He could hear Beatty’s voice. “Sit down, Montag. Watch. Delicately, like the petals of a flower. Light the first page, light the second page. Each becomes a black butterfly. Beautiful, eh? Light the third page, from the second and so on, chain-smoking, chapter by chapter, all the silly things the words mean, all the false promises, all the secondhand notions and time-worn philosophies.” There sat Beatty, perspiring gently, the floor littered with swarms of black moths that had died in a single storm.
They would burn the Bible, one page at a time they would destroy the words and ideas.
Montag brought the last physical copy of the Bible to Faber.
Faber’s hands itched on his knees. “May I?”
“Sorry.” Montag gave him the book.
“It’s been a long time. I’m not a religious man. But it’s been a long time.” Faber turned the pages, stopping here and there to read. “It’s as good as I remember. Lord, how they’ve changed it in our ‘parlors’ these days.¹ Christ is one of the ‘family’ now.² I often wonder if God recognizes His own son the way we’ve dressed him up, or is it dressed him down? He’s a regular peppermint stick now, all sugar-crystal and saccharine when he isn’t making veiled references to certain commercial products that every worshiper absolutely needs.” Faber sniffed the book. “Do you know that books smell like nutmeg or some spice from a foreign land? I loved to smell them when I was a boy. Lord, there were a lot of lovely books once, before we let them go.” Faber turned the pages. “Mr. Montag, you are looking at a coward. I saw the way things were going, a long time back. I said nothing. I’m one of the innocents who could have spoken up and out when no one would listen to the ‘guilty,’ but I did not speak and thus became guilty myself. And when finally they set the structure to burn the books, using the firemen, I grunted a few times and subsided, for there were no others grunting or yelling with me, by then. Now, it’s too late.” Faber closed the Bible. “Well—suppose you tell me why you came here?”
“Nobody listens any more. I can’t talk to the walls because they’re yelling at me.³ I can’t talk to my wife; she listens to the walls.³ I just want someone to hear what I have to say. And maybe if I talk long enough, it’ll make sense. And I want you to teach me to understand what I read.”
¹ Parlors are TV viewing rooms. ² The ‘family’ are the characters on the television programs. ³ When Montag says “walls” he means the giant interactive TVs that are the walls of the parlor.
Montag’s experience reminds me of the so-called Church Growth Movement. Within that movement, nobody listens, nobody pays attention. The glowing giant television transfixes. And nobody cares what it says, it just feels good. It makes them feel like they are doing their part to grow the Church with their attractive sugar-crystal “Jesus.”
The world is that way too. Everyone wants to feel good, and feel like they are important, and feel like they are making a difference. So we play video games, watch TV, take drugs, go to church, or whatever we need to get that high feeling. Meanwhile, we trample the truth. We trample the real Jesus, a Jesus not of sugar but of human flesh and blood.
But every once in awhile, someone wakes up. And they start to realize something is wrong, but because we live in an age where the truth has been almost completely obliterated, we cannot quite put our finger on it.
Fahrenheit 451 continued:
Faber examined Montag’s thin, blue-jowled face. “How did you get shaken up? What knocked the torch out of your hands?”
“I don’t know. We have everything we need to be happy, but we aren’t happy. Something’s missing. I looked around. The only thing I positively knew was gone was the books I’d burned in ten or twelve years. So I thought books might help.”
“You’re a hopeless romantic,” said Faber. “It would be funny if it were not serious. It’s not books you need, it’s some of the things that once were in books. The same things could be in the ‘parlor families’ today. The same infinite detail and awareness could be projected through the radios and televisors, but are not. No, no, it’s not books at all you’re looking for! … Books were only one type of receptacle where we stored a lot of things we were afraid we might forget. There is nothing magical in them, at all. The magic is only in what books say, how they stitched the patches of the universe together into one garment for us.
Faber continued by saying that books like the Bible are important because they tell the truth and the whole truth, showing even the pores and dirt.
“So now do you see why books are hated and feared? They show the pores in the face of life. The comfortable people want only wax moon faces, poreless, hairless, expressionless. We are living in a time when flowers are trying to live on flowers, instead of growing on good rain and black loam. Even fireworks, for all their prettiness, come from the chemistry of the earth. Yet somehow we think we can grow, feeding on flowers and fireworks, without completing the cycle back to reality.”
Finally, Faber said that not only is truth important, but just as important is the time to think and ponder. The television and the culture tell us what to think, and they do not give us time to process what they are saying.
“If you’re not driving a hundred miles an hour, at a clip where you can’t think of anything else but the danger, then you’re playing some game or sitting in some room where you can’t argue with the four-wall televisor. Why? The televisor is ‘real.’ It is immediate, it has dimension. It tells you what to think and blasts it in. It must be right. It seems so right. It rushes you on so quickly to its own conclusions your mind hasn’t time to protest, ‘What nonsense!'”
The truth has time. The truth is real. The truth is not afraid. The truth brings freedom. (John 8:32).
That is why I love the liturgy. Its words come from the Bible, and it gives us time to ponder, years even. For a lifetime, the words sink in, and they change us because they are always with us. Christ promised to be with us in his word, not the latest innovative creed, manipulative video, or man-centered motivational speech masquerading as a sermon. The truth comes to us through his clear, pure word.
Through word and sacrament alone is how he comes to us. Our fathers fought for this principle in the Reformation. But now those who are trading God’s word of truth for mere emotionalism and pragmatism will receive a bowl of pottage for their inheritance. (Genesis 25:29-34).
“Where do we go from here? Would books help us?”
“Only if the third necessary thing could be given us. Number one, as I said, quality of information. Number two: leisure to digest it. And number three: the right to carry out actions based on what we learn from the interaction of the first two.”
Fahrenheit 451 is about burning books and ideas. But they do not have to burn books no one reads. Faber admitted as much. The Firemen were just for show. The Firemen in Fahrenheit 451 were made possible because no one knew the truth anymore anyway.
Today, we do not burn books, instead we ignore them, or “translate” them into Ingsoc. (Coined by George Orwell, Ingsoc is English corrupted by socialism. An example of this corruption is the attempt to erase biological gender distinctions from the English language so that we start calling men women and women men or start saying that 2+2=5). Ingsoc makes telling the truth impossible, and hearing the truth incomprehensible. The purpose of deconstructing our words is not just to obscure truth, but to destroy the English language, and make it incapable of communicating the truth.
Regarding the Bible, they do not have to burn a book no one reads. And if someone does read the Bible, they try to give us gender-confused and other Ingsoc translations to obscure the truth. Consider for example Psalm 8:4. The NIV (2011 version) says:
what is mankind that you are mindful of them,
human beings that you care for them?
Why does God care for human beings? Why is God mindful of us? The true answer is Christ, the son of man. (Daniel 7:13-14). Here is the English Standard Version:
what is man that you are mindful of him,
and the son of man that you care for him?
Christ is the son of man. (Daniel 7:13-14). Christ alone is the man God cares for. He is the righteous one. Moses and the prophets wrote of Christ; but for him they had nothing to say. (Luke 24:44). But these “translators” have obscured Christ, so in the end, what they leave us with is a question without an answer: Why does God care for human beings?
The most important question is not, Who are human beings? Who are they? The question God wants us to ask is, why does God care for the son of man? Who is He?
George Orwell said, “But if thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought.” (Politics and the English Language).
The translators of the NIV (2011 version) did not burn the masculine and feminine gendered books, but they are burning the idea one verse and one version at a time. As Beatty would have had Montag burn the Bible one page at time, so also the ever-changing translations would surrender the English language, and obscure Christ one idea at a time, starting with certain gender-clear passages about Jesus in the Old Testament.
Christians must wake up, and stand against the intentional destruction of our language. Do not let them burn words, mistranslate, or obscure Christ in any part of the Bible.
On Pentecost, the Holy Spirit gave to the Church the gift of tongues and the understanding of languages. (Acts 2). The purpose of language is not to control minds and prop up totalitarianism, but rather to communicate the truth. The truth sets us free. (John 8:32). Let us hold fast to Jesus, the Word of God, and the Truth.