Currently the Nonbelieving Literati are writing posts about, or in response to, The Postman by David Brin.
The Postman takes place in a post-apocalyptic dystopia. After wars and famines and the breakdown of civilisation, people have -- yes, I'll say the word -- they have lost faith. They don't believe in their fellow human beings any more. People band into groups whose attitude to outsiders varies from apathetic to completely ruthless. The social contract has broken down. There's no point in showing compassion to a stranger who might never be able to repay -- who might, in fact, be much more likely to simply take advantage of your weakness to steal the things that you need to survive and leave you to die. So Gordon Krantz struggles across America as a sort of wandering minstrel, trading scraps of half-remembered Shakespeare for small things where he can and trying to survive off food found in the wilderness and valuables salvaged from the shattered cities, and finds himself, as the book begins, just about to enter Oregon.
Perhaps because of its distance from the major trouble spots in the war, or perhaps just because enough time has passed since the destruction, Oregon is the most civilised place that Gordon has seen. It's a borderland. Times are harsh, but the potential for civilisation bubbles around the edges. It only takes one thing to make a big bubble of civilisation.
All it takes is a lie.
Gordon's lie is initially inadvertant. He's found an old postman's uniform and he needs the clothing. Stopping at a little village he finds that the people there are nice to him because of it. He offers a nice reminder of the old world they miss. They give him food, a soft bed, even sex. They also give him letters.
Gordon Krantz, in his small way, has been trying to peddle hope for a while now. Maybe that's why he's chosen to try to survive through a little one-man show, through art. He doesn't like lying, but hey, the next village is rougher and the people are nastier and he starts to feel like maybe lying to people like that would be justified. So he blazes right in as an official of the Restored United States. It's a scam. But he has the letters to prove it, and by life-saving luck, one of the ones from the previous village is to an old relative, now living in this village.
Soon Gordon has convinced others to become postal officials of this 'Restored United States' (It's too far off to communicate with us, just take the existence on faith. After all, I'm here, aren't I?). There's a whole chain of post offices, restoring communications between people who thought they'd lost each other and bringing the hope of civilisation wherever they go.
Then Gordon discovers that his lie is not the only one. There's a whole other civilisation further along, based on the hope of technology -- and on a big lie supporting that hope.
Partway through the book, Gordon starts to wonder if America was a lie to begin with. "We hold these truths to be self-evident . . . " Really? Are you sure about that?
Is justice a lie? Are we lying to ourselves when we think that there exists a true notion of justice? Mercy, charity, morality -- are these lies? If so, then they are lies which make all our lives better and happier and more worthwhile, and my commitment to the truth must be hampered by my love and respect for such notions. But perhaps they are not lies. Perhaps we can say that morality and charity and justice exist because we believe in them. They are ideas, and ideas exist only in the human mind as a matter of course.
Perhaps the most remarkable thing is not that the Restored United States is a lie, but that the mere idea of such a thing can cause so many true and good things to spring up. It's a sort of stone soup. The real substance is given by the people themselves.
What will save us? We will. But do we need to be lied to in order for that to happen?