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Thoughts on Modernian despair on a sunny 5th Sunday of Easter

So, I once read Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, and it was depressing. I mean, it was REALLY depressing. Maybe not quite on the level of “The Road,” but really, really, really depressing. It made me hate people, and not want to be one.

I saw the movie, of course, when it came into theatres, and at that time just kind of accepted that it was not much more than a description of how life is now. I think I saw it as simply a description of our current reality. This is what we are in.

There’s this nihilistic mindset in Modernia that makes you accept that the Blade Runner world is the world, and there’s no escape from it, and no hope… and all that.

You know the ending of the theatre-release version of BR? Where Harrison Ford does that voiceover about hope, while they’re flying out to the beautiful countryside in his flying car, and it’s all left open whether there was a happy ending? And that was as close to a happy ending as anyone could expect? I’ve read that they actually changed the ending of Blade Runner to make it less bleak, like they did with Brazil, because they didn’t want people to think there is no hope and no escape from Modernian Awful. Maybe there was a negative reaction from the test audience or something. But I think on the whole it was clear that we believe it is mostly the world of Brazil and Blade Runner that we are all living in now. This is our world. We are all trapped in it. And no, there isn’t any hope. If you think there is, you’re indulging in a fantasy.

So, it’s there, isn’t it, that bleak no-hope ending. It’s there and really I think it’s the driving assumption of our Modernian reality. We all think that this particular kind of horror – the kind that makes you want to give up hope, that makes you believe giving up hope is the most sensible and sane option – is what’s real, or at least we suspect it might be. Or, maybe simply that it’s the safe bet.

It took a long time and a lot of effort to shake that off, a lot of mental discipline to retrain my brain – that I wasn’t really trained to have… and so I’m still not very adept at it. Modernian Despair is always there on the outside of my mental perimeter fence, stalking patiently back and forth, waiting for an opening, a moment of weakness, to get back in. There’s my internal war in a nutshell.

I think this kind of movie – this kind of proposal for our future – this nihilistic, Philip K. Dick, Gibsonian, Modernian Despair – should really be classified as a new kind of horror. Make films about it and call the genre something like “nietzschean despair horror” or “existential despair-horror,” because it is a kind of horror. Fewer jump-scares, I guess, but more overall fear.

It’s the kind of future people of my generation and demographic were raised to expect – no good choices. And this is our internal war, the one always going on between the ribs and between the ears of many modern people raised in the secular environment. We were taught as children that we were all either going to be blown up – incinerated or vaporized by distant and uncaring governments – or our lives were going to be reduced to a struggle for bare existence a la Blade Runner, Soylent Green, etc. After an upbringing like that, you learn to shut off your instinct for hope. Hope for the future becomes your worst enemy.

So, Christian hope is something new to us, and we have come to instinctively regard it as something rather dangerous. It’s such an implausible and outlandish proposition, one that all our training all our lives  has been to reject, because to believe in such an astoundingly improbably happy outcome seems like a trap to us. One only a fool would walk into.

Pastorally speaking, I think this is what many in the priesthood – and the “helping professions” in general – don’t understand about this generation. We are the ones who were taught that hope for the future, belief in a happy ending, is a mugg’s game.

Declare it with the voice of joy, and
make it known, alleluia:

declare it even to the ends of the earth:
The Lord hath delivered His people,
alleluia, alleluia.

(Ps. 65: 1,2) Shout with joy to God, all
the earth, sing ye a psalm to His name:
give glory to His praise.

v. Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and
to the Holy Spirit, as it was in the
beginning, is now, and ever shall be,
world without end. Amen.

Declare it with the voice of joy, and make it
known, alleluia: declare it even to the
ends of the earth:
The Lord hath
delivered His people,

alleluia, alleluia



15 thoughts on “Thoughts on Modernian despair on a sunny 5th Sunday of Easter”

  1. David says:

    Gail, That is what I have on the pocket shrine my daughter made for me. ” I believe, Lord. Help me in my unbelief.”

  2. Michael Dowd says:

    Being 82 years old and not having seen or heard much about the movies mentioned it is hard for me to relate to “modernian despair”. My wife and I’s particular “modernian despair” is related to trying to raise 11 kids in the extreme liberal variant of Vatican II in the Archdiocese of Detroit where we felt the devil himself had assumed control.

  3. Sue Sims says:

    Gerard: Unless you were writing this on 7th May, it was definitely the 5th Sunday of Easter!

  4. Hilary White says:


    This is certainly the way it was supposed to be for everyone. This stoic Christian culture and character died out in certain parts of the world in the 60s, for reasons that I think have to do with more than just sociological factors. I also had something like this in my life in my grandparents, who were very much like what you describe, though they were not believers.

  5. Gail H. says:

    Meaning no slight to you or your readers, I have to say that thankfully, I seem to have had a more hope-infused upbringing. My parents were older than many of my friends’ parents. I count myself fortunate for their great influence, inspiration, and hopefulness, despite their dealing with the great depression and WWII, etc., etc., etc. I’ve noticed that they pondered a lot of things in their hearts and heads and didn’t always speak of their troubles. They helped others with their burdens and often took their own burdens to prayer and rolled up their sleeves and did their best. It seemed to be the natural way of things. They dealt with a lot, (I could name all sorts of sufferings), yet seemed to be joyful and did not seem to suffer from a lot of depression. I’m not being pollyannish or saying that everything was always blissful, but it seems that they were very strong as they leaned on the Lord to help them through it all. Most of the people from their own generation seemed pretty much the same.
    Maybe the difference between them and their hopefulness and some generations who came later and their lack of great hopefulness is the fact that there are fewer people going to church and less prayers, including less prayers for increases in faith, HOPE, and love/charity.
    Former satanist Betty Brennan, (who was prayed for and delivered through priests prayers to become a solid Catholic), said that the loss of regular church attendance has affected our world. She said that if (more) people would start going to Church every Sunday, it would make a huge difference and cut down on the evil in the world.
    Since she was a former satanist, she explains that the Sacraments are very powerful against satan. Therefore, she calls the 7 Sacraments…the 7 Deadly Weapons against satan/evil. She said that the Sacraments are extremely important and people need to get back to them and frequent them.
    People overall need to get back to God and it will help us and our world. Hopefully, those who have some hope can pray an extra Holy hour or pray an extra Rosary or make extra sacrifices or have Masses offered for conversions and for more people to get close to God and frequent the Sacraments, especially Confession and participation in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.

    One more thing… Lately, I’ve noticed a lot of discouragement and some lack of hopefulness. It seems that my friends and I have been praying for our loved ones for years, yet many of them seem to be going further away from God. Therefore, we were thinking that we still have some hope, but it might be a really good idea to pray for MORE HOPE! Like the quote, ” I believe, Lord, help my unbelief.” Pray for an increase in faith, HOPE, and charity/love.
    “Pray, hope, and don’t worry”, Saint Padre Pio said.
    God bless you all.

  6. Hilary White says:


    just goes to show I don’t even know what day it is. Why does anyone listen to me? it’s a mystery.

  7. David Nordmark says:

    Raised in SD, Iowa and Mn. Didn’t have time for this nonsense. Mucking the barn puts reality vs sentimentality in perspective. Some things just don’t much care about how you feel today.

  8. E George says:

    Funny. I’ve never felt Bladerunner to be particularly hopeless. I can’t speak to the novel as it is one of the few Dick novels I haven’t read. Dick was obsessed with the transcendental, and fueled this obsession pharmaceutically. As a result, his novels can be overly psychedelic and difficult to penetrate rationally.
    To me BR was a meditation on the nature of the soul and morality in a profoundly fallen world. Roy Batty’s parting soliloquy (composed by Rutger Hauer at the 11th hour), is a deeply moving evocation of transcendent beauty, the appreciation of which is posited by the film as a hallmark of the ensouled being.
    The whole setting of the film is grim and depersonalized, but I’ve always seen it as a metaphor for the state of us mortals alienated from God. Sir Ridley may be a bit of a cynical atheist, but he tends to imbue his protagonists (cf Maximus the gladiator) with a nobility of spirit which is eminently human, in a sense that it is a reflection of the divine. He would probably deny it, but sometimes he can’t help himself, as when he depicts Maximus praying before his household gods, or having the nailed hand of Roy lifting Deckard from oblivion in a baptismal rain – with white dove… Perhaps he is just being Pelagian – a wonderful British trait – by assigning divine roles to human, or robotic beings, but he always leaves a kernel of grace and transcendence, even if the studios force him to make it explicit as in the theatrical release of 1982.

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  11. Billy Bishop says:

    What I’ve seen recently is what one might call the California Attitude. Nothing is taken as given. Anything that you don’t like should be changed to something that you do.

    All that amazing stuff in Blade Runner (and by the way in Ghost In The Shell too): arcologies, clones, off world colonies, flying cars. Wasn’t all of that intended to change life for the better? Despite that, despair increases. And despite that, the California Attitude persists. The cycle continues.

    Is that not hope? One would hope to be able to make a wry, ironic observation a la William Gibson here, and at least say that this is the triumph of hope over experience.

    I very much enjoy those stories, those authors. But I wasn’t born on either of America’s coasts.

    Planning to miss the Blade Runner sequel. As with Highlander, a double feature would be watching the original twice and rhen burning a copy of the sequel.

  12. Gerard Brady says:

    Sunny 4th Sunday round these parts!

  13. johnhenry says:

    South Dakota, eh? Not including“>Oglala Lakota County, which has the lowest life expectancy rate (66 years) in all of the USA. Mind you, it’s an Indian reservation.

  14. Gibbons Burke says:

    E. Michael Jones writes in /Monsters from the Id/ about how horror films reflect the unspoken fears of a culture, and argues for “a Grand Unified Theory of horror: All horror monsters (including aliens, vampires, plagues, and slashers) are the personification of the guilty conscience that punishes unrepentant sinners (especially those who’ve transgressed God’s sexual code). The Monster is Remorse, … regret without repentance.” (communist Vampires review)

  15. Hilary White says:

    Yes. It’s not only the age, but the “location” in terms of the culture. Parents were hippies on the Left coast? You’re a Gen-X existential despair kid. I’ve been learning that kids my age raised in sane places like South Dakota and Minnesota don’t have it.

  16. KM says:

    You’ve captured my own inner world very well. But then, we are roughly the same age…

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