‘Totality’: A sci-fi thriller grounded in the theology of the body

By Cecilia Cicone | OSV News

In the 21st century, a sense of spiritualism has taken over. This is the sense that people are really made up only of their souls — their bodies do not matter. This is an attractive philosophy because it says that all that really matters is that someone is a good person “on the inside,” that what they do with their body, or their sexuality, does not matter in the end.

“Totality” by Brendan Lyons.

This is not what the Catholic Church teaches, however. No, humans are embodied souls, a union of soul and body, and if they are to be saved, they will be saved body and soul. On the last day, according to Catholic teaching, humans will be reunited with their resurrected bodies to live forever.

In his newest book, “Totality,” Brendan Lyons imagines a dystopian future where people are given the opportunity to receive a brand new, genetically modified, “perfect” body. This process, called a “switchover” takes place by implanting the person’s brain into the new body. While this opens a plethora of questions that philosophers and theologians would discuss late into the night, in the book, the average person goes through the process without a second thought.

“Totality” follows several characters, but one of the standouts is Hannah, an actress who is being pressured to undergo a switchover in order to receive the role of a lifetime. She has three children and is pregnant with twins when she approaches a non-Catholic cleric for advice. After questioning whether or not having five children is a wise decision, the cleric advises her that what is most important is that she takes care of her soul, so taking on a new body would be of no consequence.

Meanwhile, there is a new phenomenon that arises where people who have undergone the switchover are able to travel back in time and prevent their previous selves from entering the new bodies. The reasons why these characters understand the switchover to be so horrific that they need to kill their past selves are unclear, but the ominous question remains: What are the real effects of taking someone’s brain and putting it into a perfected body?

Elsewhere, religious figures who have chosen to stand up against the practice of the switchover have been shunned by society and had their access to electricity and running water shut off because they are enemies of progress. Father Mason lives in the basement of a former Catholic church, running a book club with a small group of followers. His followers come to discover that they encounter each other, and a real sense of communion, most deeply by experiencing each other’s imperfections. This is the antithesis of what is practiced through the switchover process, that society’s sense of perfection is possible, attainable and desirable.

In September 1979, St. John Paul II began a series of teachings that addressed the issues surrounding spiritualism, which are the same issues that plague the dystopian world in “Totality.” The holy pope wrote about many remedies — understanding the body and soul as dependent on each other, looking at other people as ends in themselves rather than objects to be used and looking at how God created us before the Fall — to serve as safeguards against tempting lies.

Unlike many Catholic novels that attempt to project what the world will look like in the future if humanity continues down the slippery slope of playing God, Lyons respects the reader’s ability to draw his or her own conclusions. This makes “Totality” an enjoyable, but relatively easy read, especially for those who are familiar with St. John Paul II’s theology of the body.

Cecilia Cicone is an author and communicator who works in diocesan ministry in Northwest Indiana.

Author: OSV News

OSV News is a national and international wire service reporting on Catholic issues and issues that affect Catholics.

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