Many of the works on this list have been overshadowed by cinematic adaptations, but arguably none more so than The Children of Men. After the cyberpunk movement made its mark on science fiction in the s, Stephenson came along and took a crack at the genre with this novel of a futuristic world in which virtual spaces coexist with the physical, and dangers can arise within each. Its tone is brisk and occasionally over-the-top: this is, after all, a novel in which the main character is literally named Hiro Protagonist. As in his subsequent works — including The Diamond Age and the Baroque Cycle series — the nature and dangers of language play a significant role here.
Depicting a Southern California beset by fires, drought, mass unemployment, and the slow collapse of social services, Parable of the Sower brought the ways race, gender, and community could alter survival strategies into the sci-fi imagination. Lauren Olamina, a young black girl afflicted with a painful psychosomatic empathy condition, is forced to flee the gated community in which her family eked out a precarious stability.
A full Earthseed saga is one of the great lost works of science fiction. The Giver is the prototypical example of a utopia with a dark side — perhaps the prime example in young-adult literature of a seemingly perfect society that had to sacrifice something to become that way.
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Jonas lives in a structured community in which marriages, careers, and families are all chosen for citizens by a preternaturally wise group of capital-E Elders. Perhaps the sparsest dystopia is the bleakest one of all. For all that Infinite Jest is hailed as a towering work of American fiction, and for its numerous literary innovations and digressions Footnotes!
Circular structures! Infinite Jest is a loud, ambitious, perniciously unsettling book. There are plenty of advantages to having the lead character in a story of a strange future be a journalist. For starters, you can show a bunch of different aspects of the world and have a character with a vested interest in exploring them.
While there are clear parallels intended to, say, the rise of Tony Blair in the s, Transmetropolitan remains deeply and uncomfortably relevant to contemporary politics as well. The drama plays out in a Toronto in which infrastructure has collapsed; the affluent have fled to the suburbs, and danger remains for those who have persevered. At times, the setup for the novel reads like a half-dozen urbanist trends accelerated at a frenzied rate. Some dystopian fiction focuses on the terror that can emerge; Hopkinson leaves room for everyday joys and hope. In The Elementary Particles , the apocalypse has already hit in the form of the cultural revolutions of the s.
Raised by a psychotically vain and feckless hippie mother, the two main characters — half-brothers Michel and Bruno — wander through life utterly lonely and unhappy, in complementary ways. Michel is isolated in his mind and his work as a geneticist; Bruno is saturnine and compulsively seeks out sex. We follow the brothers and those around them across various humiliations, betrayals, and occasional horror, a forced march through the highlights of lateth century European ennui.
The characters conclude that the misery of the human condition is so all-encompassing, only a root-and-branch genetic reconstruction of humanity — one that reproduces asexually and has neurologically disassociated sexual pleasure and reproduction — could possibly improve things. The Elementary Particles is a late classic of the European reactionary literary tradition, both in terms of its unflinching evocation of the failures of modernity and in its cheap and seethingly horny provocations.
Trying to describe the work of the French writer who writes under the name of Antoine Volodine among several others is nearly impossible. His fiction often features futuristic settings and ventures down metaphysical pathways: Post Exoticism in Ten Lessons, Lesson Eleven is set in a future where artists and writers run afoul of an oppressive government. Volodine focuses on a number of fictional writers and imagined literary movements; even as he chronicles the grim clashes between state power and artistic freedom, he also creates a sense of delight at how different creative communities affect one another, and how artistic movements transform themselves and those who participate in them.
Lord of the Flies contrasted polite British society with the Hobbesian state of nature and asked whether the two might not be so different; Battle Royale insists that the war of all against all was always already there — the scenario just formalizes the rules. But Takami makes clear that the everyday violence of family and school primed the kids for taking on roles as victims or victimizers.
Prepare to be equal parts disgusted and enthralled. Plenty of dystopian fiction makes memorable use of cities. Feed might have been the darkest dystopia I read as a child because the villain is amorphous and unbeatable — there is no single sinister overlord or town to escape. Anderson makes consumerism and vanity look unbearable and shallow, but also unavoidable. Here, though, one man survives, and so do all of the women.
How exactly does the world fall apart? What nations become powerful? What skills become rare? What resources become valuable? Like most dystopias, the series is also a product of its particular moment — some of its political gestures already feel a touch out of place. But it is still remarkable for how thoroughly it imagines its new world, and how well it executes its epic survival quest.
In it, a group of youngsters befriend one another and their idealistic ambitions get the better of them, leading to extremely well-intentioned destruction that makes this both a dystopia and a great postapocalyptic tale. Why this collection of short stories flew so low under the radar is a mystery. Derby is one of the masters of surrealist dystopia, weaving together big ideas and raw emotions to create a tapestry of depression and alienation that spans decades.
Despite the fact that the stories are framed as being the tales of humans long lost to time, retold by a monkish order in the distant future, each tale stands on its own as a document of fallen-world—building. Women are forced to harvest so many eggs that their hips crack, food crises lead to everyone eating just meat, children start mysteriously floating, warriors fight with sound guns … the level of imagination is staggering, but the book remains grounded in the dismal fact of human adaptation or is it resignation?
Reading The City of Ember is an experience tinged with a constant, low-grade anxiety, like the moment before a jump scare in a horror movie. Lina Mayfleet lives in a world of scarcity, with food supplies depleting and no means of getting more. Even more terrifying, she lives in a world of encroaching darkness — the sky and world beyond her underground city are black and, like the food supply, the light bulbs are running out.
When the book begins, flickers and power shortages are commonplace, and Lina never knows when an outage might be permanent. Of course, we get the standard dystopian tropes: career assigned to you in this case by picking out of a bag , no strong parental figures, a younger sibling to care for.
But what makes it unique among the bevy of early aughts young-adult books is how visceral her fear is. There is a clock running out, and we have no idea how much time is left. With the self-centeredness of just about any high-school-aged kid, narrator Kathy details the drama of a love triangle and the sexual awkwardness that comes with being young and curious. But as she grows older, it becomes apparent that Kathy and her schoolmates are meant for a different life: to be cogs in the wheel of a larger system that is so dominant, so all-consuming, that mere thoughts of rebellion never even emerge.
Here, she finds state-of-the-art fitness equipment, art and cultural materials, and a friendly staff. It all seems decidedly pleasant — except for the mandatory nature of it, and the fate of all of the residents there. The result is a powerful meditation on questions of societal obligations, families or the lack thereof , and how one best leaves a mark on the world.
Instead, he zeroes in on essential questions: What does it mean to be part of a family as the world reverts to a state of nature? Is it more important to uphold some remnant of morality and idealism in this broken world, or does survival take precedence over everything else? This is not the kind of dystopian narrative that extrapolates contemporary events far into the future, or uses fantastical or uncanny elements to heighten a mood. The novel follows the title character as she escapes from a totalitarian nation and finds herself in a series of nightmarish scenarios, from grotesque industries to urban violence.
As she ventures north, she joins up with a group of like-minded women living on a farm called Carhullan. In the U. There are a few stylish flourishes that make this novel veer in unexpected ways. Hall offers plenty for sociopolitically minded readers to ponder in this haunting narrative. Can poetry also bring the reader into a dystopian landscape? Most definitely — there are several writers whose experiments with literary forms and narratives take them into futuristic spaces and transformative narratives. The writings of Bhanu Kapil come to mind.
In these poems, Hong also hearkens back to a horrific real-world incident of political oppression: the Gwangju uprising, in which South Korean citizens protested military rule and encountered a violent response. Sometimes the dystopian narrative extrapolates contemporary trends and fears; sometimes it summons up memories of a grim moment from history. Beukes is fantastic at capturing metropolises where things have gone ever-so-slightly off. Her first novel, Moxyland , uses the lives of four characters to zero in on questions of class, commercialization, and the overlap of media and technology — urgent ones to this moment in time.
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The South African author writes about pop culture better than most, both in terms of forecasting the plausible artists and trends of tomorrow and how media consumption in the future might look. The series that launched a million think pieces. Say what you will about the craze that followed, but this novel brought a new era of young readers into bookstores, had them questioning authority, and turned the braid into an act of rebellion.
Everyone, too, is eager for the benefits of social progress. Sociologists, however, suggest that Costa Ricans are very conservative people, suspicious of experimentation that is not consistent with a loosely held sense of " tican tradition. Ticos share the fatalistic streak common to Latin America: one that accepts things as they are and promotes resignation to the imagined will of God. Many old virtues and values have faltered under the onslaught of foreign influence, modernity, and social change. Drunkenness, drug abuse, and a general idleness previously unknown in Costa Rica have reared their ugly heads.
And theft and burglary are seriously on the rise see "Safety," p. But most Costa Ricans remain strongly oriented around traditional values based on respect for oneself and for others. The cornerstone of society is still the family and the village community. Social life still centers on the home and family bonds are so strong that foreigners often find making intimate friendships a challenge.
Nepotism--using family ties and connections for gain--is the way things get done in business and government. You can count on a Tico's loyalty, but not on his punctuality. Private companies, including most travel businesses, are efficient and to a greater or lesser degree operate hora americana: punctually. But don't expect it. Many Ticos, particularly in government institutions, still tick along on turtle-paced hora tica. So too "[[exclamdown]]Tal vez! Religion Costa Ricans are said to be "lukewarm" when it comes to religion. Sure, Holy Week the week before Easter is a national holiday, but it's simply an excuse for a secular binge.
The passing of the parish priest inspires no reverential gestures. And most Costa Ricans respond to the bell, the public voice of the church, only on special occasions, generally when the bell peals for birth, marriage, and maybe for Easter Morning, when the mass of men mill by the door, unpiously half in and half out. The country has always been remarkably secular, the link between Christianity and the state--between God and Caesar--always weak.
The Costa Ricans' dislike for dictators has made them intolerant of priests. The feudal peasants of other Central American nations, miserably toiling on large estates latifundias or their own tiny plots, may have been poor and ignorant, but the Church offered them one great consolation. Theirs would be the kingdom of heaven. And in more recent times, when Catholic organizations attempted to address pressing social problems, they strengthened the Church's bond with the people.
In Costa Rica, by contrast, the Church, from the earliest colonial times, had little success at controlling the morals and minds of the masses. While poor peasants can be convinced they'll become bourgeois in heaven, a rising class wants its comforts on earth. Costa Rica's modernity and "middle-class" achievements have made the Church superfluous. Still, every village no matter how small has a church and its own saint's day, albeit celebrated with secular fervor.
Every taxi, bus, government office, and home has its token religious icons. The Catholic marriage ceremony is the only church marriage granted state recognition.
And Catholicism is the official state religion. The Constitution even provided for state contributions to the maintenance of the Church; and the salaries of bishops are paid by the state. Catholicism, nonetheless, has only a tenuous hold; mass in some rural communities may be a once-a-year affair, and resignation to God's will is tinged with pagan fatalism. In a crisis Ticos will turn to a favorite saint, one who they believe has special powers or "pull" with God, to demand a miracle.
Protestantism has proved even less spellbinding. The Catholic clergy has fiercely protected its turf against Protestant missionaries even Billy Graham's tour in was blackballed by the local media , and the Protestant evangelism so prevalent in other parts of Central America has yet to make a dent in Costa Rica.
The nation's black population constitutes about half of Costa Rica's 40, or so Protestants, though the archbishop of Canterbury would be horrified at the extent to which "his" religion has been married with African-inspired, voodoo-like obeah and pocomoia cult worship. In , the country became one of the first in the world to make education both obligatory and free, funded by the state's share of the great coffee wealth as early as , an unenforced law had made school attendance mandatory.
Then, only one in 10 Costa Ricans could read and write. The study also revealed some worrying factors. Over half of all Costa Ricans aged 15 or over,had dropped out of school by the sixth grade, for example. Almost 1, schools had only one teacher, often a partially trained aspirante candidate teacher lacking certification. And the literacy figures included many "functional illiterates" counted by their simple ability to sign their own name.
The myth of "more teachers than soldiers" and the boast of the highest literacy rate in Central America had blinded Costa Ricans to their system's many defects. The last 20 years have seen a significant boost to educational standards. A nuclearization program has worked to amalgamate one-teacher schools. And schooling through the ninth year age 14 is now compulsory.
Nonetheless, there remains a severe shortage of teachers with a sound knowledge of the full panoply of academic subjects, discredited rote-learning methods are still common, remote rural schools are often difficult to reach in the best of weather, and the Ministry of Education is riven with political appointees who change hats with each administration. As elsewhere in the world, well-to-do families usually send their children to private schools. Village libraries are about the only means for adults in rural areas to continue education beyond sixth grade.
The country, with approximately libraries, has a desperate need for books and for funds to support the hundreds of additional libraries which the country needs. Universities Although the country lacked a university until , Costa Rica now boasts four state-funded schools of higher learning, and opportunities abound for adults to earn the primary or secondary diplomas they failed to gain as children. The University of Costa Rica UCR , the largest and oldest university, enrolls some 35, students, mostly on scholarships. The National University in Heredia there are regional centers in Liberia and Perez Zeledon offers a variety of liberal arts, sciences, and professional studies to 13, students.
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Cartago's Technical Institute of Costa Rica ITCR specializes in science and technology and seeks to train people for agriculture, industry, and mining. And the State Correspondence University, founded in , is modeled after the United Kingdom's Open University and has 32 regional centers offering 15 degree courses in health, education, business administration, and the liberal arts. In addition, there are many private institutions, including the Autonomous University of Central America and the University for Peace, sponsored by the United Nations and offering a master's degree in Communications for Peace.
Health Perhaps the most impressive impact of Costa Rica's modern welfare state has been the truly dramatic improvements in national health. Infant mortality has plummeted from The annual death rate dropped from 41 per thousand in to 18 in and just 3. And the average Costa Rican today can expect to live to be a ripe All this thanks to the Social Security system which provides universal insurance benefits covering medical services, disability, maternity, old-age pensions, and death.
The result? A physician for every people and a hospital bed for every In fact, in some areas the health-care system isn't far behind that of the U. Many Americans fly in for surgery, including dental work, here. And the Beverly Hills crowd helps keep Costa Rica's cosmetic surgeons busy. One key to the nation's success was the creation of the Program for Rural Health in to ensure that basic health care would reach the furthest backwaters.
The clinics are visited regularly by doctors and nurses, and strengthened by education programs stressing good nutrition, hygiene, and safe food preparation. In April , the Social Security service initiated a new plan aimed at lowering infant mortality to one percent. It's a constant battle, however. Health standards slipped slightly in due to budget cutbacks: the tuberculosis rate doubled in , for example, and that year the nation witnessed its first measles epidemic in many years.
But then again, so did the United States. Arts and Culture Interest--and excellence--in the arts have been slow to develop. Costa Rica, with its relatively small and heterogeneous pre-Columbian population, had no unique culture with powerful and unusual artforms that could spark a creative synthesis where the modern and the traditional might merge.
Costa Rica's postcolonial development, too, was benign and the social tensions which are often catalysts to artistic expression felt elsewhere in the isthmus were lacking. And more recently, creativity has been stifled by the Ticos' desire to quedar bien leave a good impression , praise the conventional lavishly, and criticize rarely. Hence, Costa Rica is relatively impoverished in native arts and crafts. And much of the modern art that exists has been patronized by the tourist dollar, so that art and craft shops now overflow with whimsical Woolworth's art: cheap canvas scenes of rural landscapes, roughhewn macaws gaudily painted, and the inevitable cheap bracelets and earrings sold in market squares the world over.
In recent years, however, artists across the spectrum have found a new confidence and are dismissing rigid social norms to experiment with new paintings and sculptures and movements that metaphorically express the shape of their thoughts. The country's artistic milieu doesn't have the same vibrancy as Argentina's, say, but beneath the patina exciting things are happening for a country long dismissed as a cultural backwater.
The performing arts are flourishing. A young breed of woodcarvers and carpenters is transcending the relegation of native-style crafts to mere airport art. Artists are tearing free from a straitjacket of conformity. And the National Symphony Orchestra sets a high standard for other musical troupes to follow.
Ticos now speak proudly of their latter-day "cultural revolution. Here, in the late s, Teodorico Quiros and a group of contemporaries provided the nation with its own identifiable art style--the Costa Rican "Landscape" movement--which expressed in stylized version the flavor and personality of the drowsy little mountain towns with their cobblestone streets and adobe houses backed by volcanoes.
The artists, who called themselves the Group of New Sensibility, began to portray Costa Rica in fresh, vibrant colors. Quiros had been influenced by the French impressionists. The group also included Luisa Gonzales de Saenz, whose paintings evoke the style of Magritte; the expressionist Manuel de la Cruz, the "Costa Rican Picasso;" as well as Enrique Echandi, who brought a Teutonic sensibility following studies in Germany. By the late s many local artists looked down on the work of the prior generation as the art of casitas little houses and were indulging in more abstract styles.
The current batch of young artists have broadened their expressive visions and are now gaining increasing international recognition for their "eclectic speculations into modernist and contemporary art. Isidro Con Wong, from Puntarenas, is known for a style of "magic realism," with works in permanent collections in several US and French museums. Once a poor farmer of Mongolian descent, he started painting with his fingers and achiote, a red paste made from a seed.
Imagine the Nicoya landscape seen on LSD! The most irreverent of contemporary artists is perhaps Roberto Lizano, who collides Delacroix with Picasso and likes to train his eye on the pomposity of ecclesiastics. The government-subsidized House of Arts helps sponsor art by offering free lessons in painting and sculpture.
The Ministry of Culture sponsors art lessons and exhibits on Sundays in city parks. Crafts Costa Rica doesn't overflow with native crafts. Apart from a few notable exceptions--the gaily colored wooden carretas oxcarts which have become Costa Rica's tourist symbol, for example--you must dig deep to uncover crafts of substance. There are few villages dedicated to a single craft or crafts, as in Mexico or Guatemala.
Do you think there is resentment toward all the latte sippers who shop at Nieman Marcus? Do you see a gulf between high-income people in the big cities and middle-income people here? I got only polite, fumbling answers as people tried to figure out what the hell I was talking about. When I rephrased the question in more-general terms, as Do you believe the country is divided between the haves and the have-nots? But as the conversation continued, it became clear that the people saying yes did not consider themselves to be among the have-nots.
Even people with incomes well below the median thought of themselves as haves. What I found was entirely consistent with the election returns from November of last year. Gore's pitch failed miserably among the voters it was intended to target: nationally he lost among non-college-educated white voters by 17 points and among non-college-educated white men by 29 points. But it worked beautifully on the affluent, educated class: for example, Gore won among women with graduate degrees by 22 points. The lesson seems to be that if you run a campaign under the slogan "The People Versus the Powerful," you will not do well in the places where "the people" live, but you will do fantastically well in the places where "the powerful" live.
This phenomenon mirrors, on a larger scale, one I noted a couple of years ago, when I traveled the country for a year talking about Bobos in Paradise , a book I had written on upscale America. The richer the community, the more likely I was to be asked about wage inequality. In middle-class communities the subject almost never came up. Hanging around Franklin County, one begins to understand some of the reasons that people there don't spend much time worrying about economic class lines. The first and most obvious one is that although the incomes in Franklin County are lower than those in Montgomery County, living expenses are also lower—very much so.
Driving from Montgomery County to Franklin County is like driving through an invisible deflation machine. Gas is thirty, forty, or even fifty cents a gallon cheaper in Franklin County. I parked at meters that accepted only pennies and nickels. The biggest difference is in real-estate prices.
Some of the people I met in Franklin County were just getting by. Some were in debt and couldn't afford to buy their kids the Christmas presents they wanted to. But I didn't find many who assessed their own place in society according to their income. Rather, the people I met commonly told me that although those in affluent places like Manhattan and Bethesda might make more money and have more-exciting jobs, they are the unlucky ones, because they don't get to live in Franklin County.
They don't get to enjoy the beautiful green hillsides, the friendly people, the wonderful church groups and volunteer organizations. They may be nice people and all, but they are certainly not as happy as we are. Another thing I found is that most people don't think sociologically.
They don't compare themselves with faraway millionaires who appear on their TV screens. They compare themselves with their neighbors. Many of the people in Franklin County view the lifestyles of the upper class in California or Seattle much the way we in Blue America might view the lifestyle of someone in Eritrea or Mongolia—or, for that matter, Butte, Montana.
Such ways of life are distant and basically irrelevant, except as a source of academic interest or titillation. One man in Mercersburg, Pennsylvania, told me about a friend who had recently bought a car. Franklin County is a world in which there is little obvious inequality, and the standard of living is reasonably comfortable.
Youth-soccer teams are able to raise money for a summer trip to England; the Lowe's hardware superstore carries Laura Ashley carpets; many people have pools, although they are almost always above ground; the planning commission has to cope with an increasing number of cars in the county every year, even though the population is growing only gradually. But the sort of high-end experiences that are everywhere in Montgomery County are entirely missing here. But although I ordered the most expensive thing on the menu—steak au jus, "slippery beef pot pie," or whatever—I always failed.
I began asking people to direct me to the most-expensive places in town. They would send me to Red Lobster or Applebee's. I'd go into a restaurant that looked from the outside as if it had some pretensions—maybe a "Les Desserts" glass cooler for the key-lime pie and the tapioca pudding. I'd scan the menu and realize that I'd been beaten once again. I went through great vats of chipped beef and "seafood delight" trying to drop twenty dollars.
I waded through enough surf-and-turfs and enough creamed corn to last a lifetime. I could not do it.
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No wonder people in Franklin County have no class resentment or class consciousness; where they live, they can afford just about anything that is for sale. In Montgomery County, however—and this is one of the most striking contrasts between the two counties—almost nobody can say that. In Blue America, unless you are very, very rich, there is always, all around you, stuff for sale that you cannot afford. And if they sought to improve their situation, they would look only to themselves.
If a person wants to make more money, the feeling goes, he or she had better work hard and think like an entrepreneur. I could barely get fifteen minutes into an interview before the local work ethic came up. Karen Jewell, who helps to oversee the continuing-education program for the local Penn State branch campus, told me, "People are very vested in what they do.
There's an awareness of where they fit in the organization. They feel empowered to be agents of change. You can see it in little things, such as drugstore shelves. The drugstores in Bethesda look the way Rome must have looked after a visit from the Visigoths. But in Franklin County the boxes are in perfect little rows. Shelves are fully stocked, and cans are evenly spaced. The floors are less dusty than those in a microchip-processing plant. The nail clippers on a rack by the cash register are arranged with a precision that would put the Swiss to shame. There are few unions in Franklin County.
People abhor the thought of depending on welfare; they consider themselves masters of their own economic fate. In sum, I found absolutely no evidence that a Stanley Greenberg-prompted Democratic Party or a Pat Buchanan-led Republican Party could mobilize white middle-class Americans on the basis of class consciousness.
I found no evidence that economic differences explain much of anything about the divide between Red and Blue America. Ted Hale, a Presbyterian minister in the western part of the county, spoke of the matter this way: "There's nowhere near as much resentment as you would expect. People have come to understand that they will struggle financially. It's part of their identity.
But the economy is not their god. That's the thing some others don't understand. People value a sense of community far more than they do their portfolio.
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Hale's observations are supported by nationwide polling data. Pew has conducted a broad survey of the differences between Red and Blue states. The survey found that views on economic issues do not explain the different voting habits in the two regions. There simply isn't much of the sort of economic dissatisfaction that could drive a class-based political movement. Nearly 70 percent are satisfied with the kind of car they can afford. Roughly two thirds are satisfied with their furniture and their ability to afford a night out.
These levels of satisfaction are not very different from those found in upper-middle-class America. The Pew researchers found this sort of trend in question after question. Part of the draft of their report is titled "Economic Divide Dissolves. This leaves us with the second major hypothesis about the nature of the divide between Red and Blue America, which comes mainly from conservatives: America is divided between two moral systems.
Red America is traditional, religious, self-disciplined, and patriotic. Blue America is modern, secular, self-expressive, and discomfited by blatant displays of patriotism. Proponents of this hypothesis in its most radical form contend that America is in the midst of a culture war, with two opposing armies fighting on behalf of their views. The historian Gertrude Himmelfarb offered a more moderate picture in One Nation, Two Cultures , in which she argued that although America is not fatally split, it is deeply divided, between a heartland conservative population that adheres to a strict morality and a liberal population that lives by a loose one.
The political journalist Michael Barone put it this way in a recent essay in National Journal : "The two Americas apparent in the 48 percent to 48 percent election are two nations of different faiths. One is observant, tradition-minded, moralistic. The other is unobservant, liberation-minded, relativistic. Whereas income is a poor predictor of voting patterns, church attendance—as Barone points out—is a pretty good one. Of those who attend religious services weekly 42 percent of the electorate , 59 percent voted for Bush, 39 percent for Gore.
Of those who seldom or never attend religious services another 42 percent , 56 percent voted for Gore, 39 percent for Bush. The Pew data reveal significant divides on at least a few values issues. Take, for example, the statement "We will all be called before God on Judgment Day to answer for our sins.
In Blue states only 50 percent do. One can feel the religiosity in Franklin County after a single day's visit. It's on the radio. The airwaves are filled not with the usual mixture of hit tunes but with evangelicals preaching the gospel. Chambersburg and its vicinity have eighty-five churches and one synagogue.
The Bethesda-Chevy Chase area, which has a vastly greater population, has forty-five churches and five synagogues. Professors at the local college in Chambersburg have learned not to schedule public lectures on Wednesday nights, because everybody is at prayer meetings. Events that are part of daily life in Franklin County are unheard of in most of Blue America. One United Brethren minister told me that he is asked to talk about morals in the public school as part of the health and sex-education curriculum, and nobody raises a fuss. A number of schools have a "Bible release program," whereby elementary school students are allowed to leave school for an hour a week to attend Bible-study meetings.
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At an elementary school in Waynesboro the Gideons used to distribute Bibles to any students who wanted them. That ended after the village agnostic threatened to simultaneously distribute a booklet called God Is Just Pretend. There are healing ministries all throughout Franklin County, and even mainstream denominations have healing teams on hand after Sunday services.
As in most places where evangelism is strong, the locals are fervently pro-Israel. Almost every minister I visited has mementos in his study from visits to Jerusalem. A few had lived in Israel for extended periods and spoke Hebrew. One delivered a tirade against CNN for its bias against the Jewish state. One or two pointed out without quite bragging that whereas some Jewish groups had canceled trips to Israel since the upsurge in intifada violence, evangelical groups were still going.
David Rawley, a United Brethren minister in Green castle, spoke for many of the social conservatives I met when he said that looking at the mainstream Hollywood culture made him feel that he was "walking against the current. I tell people there is a rock we can hang on—the word of God. That rock will never give way. That rock's never going to move. I see a world that doesn't want to take responsibility for itself. They have the babies but they decide they're not going to be the daddies. I'd really have to cling to the rock if I lived there. Levy's mother was quoted in The Washington Times as calling herself a "Heinz 57 mutt" when it came to religion.
I'm Jewish. I think we have a wonderful religion. I'm also Christian. I do believe in Jesus, too. Life is complicated, however. Yes, there are a lot of churches in Franklin County; there are also a lot of tattoo parlors. And despite all the churches and bumper stickers, Franklin County doesn't seem much different from anywhere else. People go to a few local bars to hang out after softball games.
Teenagers drive recklessly along fast-food strips. Young women in halter tops sometimes prowl in the pool halls. The local college has a gay-and-lesbian group. One conservative clergyman I spoke with estimated that 10 percent of his congregants are gay. He believes that church is the place where one should be able to leave the controversy surrounding this sort of issue behind. Another described how his congregation united behind a young man who was dying of AIDS. Sex seems to be on people's minds almost as much as it is anywhere else.
Conservative evangelical circles have their own sex manuals Tim LaHaye wrote one of them before he moved on to the "Left Behind" series , which appear to have had some effect: according to a study conducted by researchers at the University of Chicago, conservative Protestant women have more orgasms than any other group.
Franklin County is probably a bit more wholesome than most suburbs in Blue America. The notion that deviance and corruption lie underneath the seeming conformism of suburban middle-class life, popular in Hollywood and in creative-writing workshops, is largely nonsense. But it has most of the problems that afflict other parts of the country: heroin addiction, teen pregnancy, and so on.
Nobody I spoke to felt part of a pristine culture that is exempt from the problems of the big cities. There are even enough spectacular crimes in Franklin County to make a devoted New York Post reader happy. During one of my visits the front pages of the local papers were ablaze with the tale of a young woman arrested for assault and homicide after shooting her way through a Veterans of the Vietnam War post. It was reported that she had intended to rob the post for money to run away with her lesbian girlfriend. If the problems are the same as in the rest of America, so are many of the solutions.
Franklin County residents who find themselves in trouble go to their clergy first, but they are often referred to psychologists and therapists as part of their recovery process. Prozac is a part of life. Almost nobody I spoke with understood, let alone embraced, the concept of a culture war.
Few could see themselves as fighting such a war, in part because few have any idea where the boundary between the two sides lies. People in Franklin County may have a clear sense of what constitutes good or evil many people in Blue America have trouble with the very concept of evil , but they will say that good and evil are in all neighborhoods, as they are in all of us.
People take the Scriptures seriously but have no interest in imposing them on others. One finds little crusader zeal in Franklin County. For one thing, people in small towns don't want to offend people whom they'll be encountering on the street for the next fifty years. Potentially controversial subjects are often played down. Whenever I asked what the local view of abortion was, I got the same response: "We don't talk about it much," or "We try to avoid that subject. Harter was raised on a farm near Buffalo. He went to the prestigious Deerfield Academy, in Massachusetts, before getting a bachelor's degree in history from Williams College, a master's in education from Harvard, and, after serving for a while in the military, a Ph.
He has lived in Chambersburg for the past twenty-four years, and he says that the range of opinion in Franklin County is much wider than it was in Cambridge or New York. I found Harter and the other preachers in Franklin County especially interesting to talk with. That was in part because the ones I met were fiercely intelligent and extremely well read, but also because I could see them wrestling with the problem of how to live according to the Scriptures while being inclusive and respectful of others' freedoms. For example, many of them struggle over whether it is right to marry a couple who are already living together.
This would not be a consideration in most of Blue America. But that's not the real world.