How many of you have read William Golding’s classic novel, LORD OF THE FLIES? It’s about a bunch of pre-teen boys shipwrecked on an island. As you can imagine, things do not go well. Rather than creating an island paradise, the boys create an authoritarian dystopia, culminating in the murder of one of the boys. It is a shocking novel, one whose place in our canon of classics reveals a lot about our own assumptions.
What happens when humans are left in the wild, away from civilization? Well, according to Golding (and those who feel his book says something true), we become savages. The word savage comes to us from Old English by way of the French sauvage – which means “wild” or “woods”. Savages are people of the woods. Wild people. People without the benefit of civilization.
The book’s title comes from a sort of totem the boys create out of a pig they kill for food. They leave the head on a stick, and it begins to attract flies. One of the boys calls it the Lord of the Flies, and has an imagined dialog with it.
As you can imagine, there’s a good bit of symbolism going on here – pigs are unclean in Biblical cultures. And the name “Lord of the Flies” is a translation of the old god Beelzebub, which came to be another name for the devil.
So Golding is painting a clear picture here: without civilization – and by civilization, he means Christian culture – humans will always be wild. We’ll be people of the woods, under the influence of the devil.
If you’re thinking that sounds a little familiar, well, it’s not an idea Golding invented, or one unique to him. This “civil vs savage” dichotomy is one Christians have used for ages. And it’s deeply flawed. Today, I want to explore with you this move we make to name some as civil and some as savage. And I want to confront how God calls to people on both sides of that divide.
Because the reality is that God isn’t limited to the so-called ‘civilized’. God is in the wild, among the savages.