Blind Faith, by Ben Elton. Bantam Press. Reviewed by David Riddell.

The world of Ben Elton’s latest novel is a skeptic’s worst nightmare. In this future London, government has been captured by the Temple, a bizarre fusion of fundamentalist Christianity and the New Age. The sea level rise that has flooded half the city is viewed as God’s punishment on the people of Before The Flood, for their ungodly practices such as vaccination and contraception, and their God-denying belief that they were descended from apes.

Childhood mortality is at 50 percent, and the streets are choked with kerbside memorials to lost innocents, safe in the arms of Jesus or Diana. It is a world in which everyone must loudly express their love and respect for their fellow human beings, and most especially for themselves. All must be proud of the bodies God gave them, and flaunt them in revealing clothes even though most are considerably overweight due to the chocolate-coated, sugar-enriched diet that only the suspiciously weird would reject.

Above all, it’s a world where nothing is private, though unlike Orwell’s 1984, the population are active participants in their own surveillance. Every aspect of their lives is ‘Tubed’, including births of children and losses of virginity. The pressure to conform by celebrating individuality is intense and all-pervasive.

Trafford Sewell is a man who feels himself out of step with the world around him. He would like to keep some part of himself private, and he wants to call his newborn child just plain Caitlin. But that isn’t celebratory enough, so Caitlin Happymeal she becomes. He will do anything to protect his daughter, and when he is contacted by one of the shadowy cult of the Vaccinators, he is persuaded to have her immunised against the city’s innumerable plagues. Gradually, he is drawn into a resistance movement of sorts.

Ben Elton has never been the most subtle of writers, and Blind Faith is frequently heavy-handed, even if its general thrust is entirely commendable. In its basic plot it is also uncomfortably close to 1984, and after about a hundred pages, you have a fair idea where this one is going to go.

But Elton has some strong points to make, and none stronger than the relative merits of faith and reason. Trafford argues that he believes in vaccination, in evolution, and an understanding of the physical universe based on empirical evidence and deduction. This, he says, is his faith. Since, in the law of the Temple, a person’s faith is inalienable, and to deny a person’s faith is incitement to religious hatred, Trafford believes he’s within his rights to hold such views. But, as he discovers, if something can be proved to be fact then it requires no faith, and so it has no protection under the law. Ideas that are demonstrably false are given precedence over those that are demonstrably true.

Blind Faith is not so much a vision of the future (I hope!) as a satire on existing social fads and trends. Fundamentalist religion, New Age hokum, the anti-vaccination movement, reality TV, YouTube and the cult of the individual all get skewered. Despite its shortcomings, this is a book that will resonate with many skeptics.

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