Tuesday, September 07, 2021

Book Review: Live Not By Lies

 "What does it mean to live by lies?  It meant, Solzhenitsyn writes, accepting without protest all the falsehoods and propaganda the state compelled its citizens to affirm - or at least not to oppose - to get along peaceably under totalitarianism.  Everybody says that they have no choice but to conform, says Solzhenitsyn, and to accept powerlessness.  But that is the lie that gives all other lies their malign force.  The ordinary man may not be able to overturn the kingdom of lies, but at least he can say that he is not going to be their loyal subject." - Rod Dreher, Live Not By Lives

Western Christianity, suggest Rod Dreher, has blind spot.  Having never been subjected to a totalitarian system, it has no ability to recognize the signs of one occurring.  To those that lived under the rule of the European Communist Party and the Warsaw Bloc (1917-1989), the signs are quite clear that such a thing is coming.

This recognition, by an old Czech woman living in the United States, prompted Rod Dreher to write Live Not By Lies:  A Manual for Christian Dissidents.  Surely, posits Dreher, if this has in fact happened before, there are both ways to prepare for it and survive it, because people of the Eastern Bloc did exactly this.

The title is take from a 1974 article by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, one that triggered his final arrest and eventual exile from the Soviet Union. In it, Solzhenitsyn presents that if we cannot fight lies, we cannot at least act as if we believe them and enable them.

Dreher starts by reviewing where we are at the writing of the book (published in 2020, this is effectively hot off the presses in terms of what I read) by identifying three areas that are converging to create a culture of lies:  Our Culture, which it pre-totalitarian; the state of Progressivism, which is now treated as a religion; and the current economic model of Capitalism, which Dreher refers to as "Woke and Watchful".  In reading this, Dreher lines out what he sees as pre-cursors to totalitarianism:  loneliness and social atomization; loss of faith in hierarchies and institutions; the desire to transgress and destroy; propaganda and the willingness to believe useful lies; a mania for ideology; a society that values loyalty more than expertise.  

Add to this then Progressivism, defined by Milan Kundera as "A Grand March":  "The Grand March is the splendid march on the road to brotherhood, equality, justice, happiness; it goes on and on, obstacles not withstanding, for obstacles there must be if the march is to be the Grand March". Based on the inevitability of progress, anything that stands in the way of progress or is perceived to stand in its way is:

"...to stand against the future - indeed, against reality itself.  Those who oppose the Party oppose progress and freedom and align themselves with greed, backwardness, bigotry, and all manner of injustice.  How necessary - indeed how noble- it is of the Party to bulldoze these stumbling blocks on the Grand March and make straight and smooth the road tomorrow."

If you are reading this blog - or many of the blogs over to the right - you can likely guess which side you will be considered to be on.

Add to this then an Economic System that - free of government bidding - has adapted all of the features of a totalitarian system.  It is not enough to be skilled to enough to add value or earn income for the employer, nor to have money to purchase items: one must believe in what the Corporation believes and to not believe is to be cut out or shut out of opportunities, advancement - or even goods and a job itself.  And, Dreher notes, we helpfully guide Corporations in this by opening our homes (through listening devices and cameras) and our lives (by giving away our information for free and letting them follow us everywhere; at least one survivor of the Communist system Dreher interviews is aghast at such careless treatment of personal space and information.

So what to do?  Dreher suggests that instead of wondering if it will happen or pretending it will not happen, we begin to prepare as if it will happen.

Dreher's suggestions - perhaps not surprisingly - come across in some cases the same as what he has proposed in The Benedict Option:  Value nothing more than the truth; Cultivate cultural memory; Strengthen the family; Religion as the bedrock of resistance; Standing in solidarity with other believers (and those who, while not believers, share a commitment to truth and individual liberty); and Embracing the gift of suffering. The conquest is coming, says Dreher, so we are wise to build the underground resistance now to "keep alive the memory of who we were, and who we are, and to stoke the fires of desire for the one true God.  Where there is memory and desire, there is hope."

God and Christ are shot throughout this book.  A great many of the people interviewed and the stories told are of Christian believers - priests and lay people - that suffered for their faith.  Especially in the chapters on religion and suffering, Dreher interviews and quotes those that were imprisoned and in some cases suffered torture for their faith.  Reading these stories, and how their belief in God and Christ  and how there were present in their circumstances, is awe inspiring and humbling at the same time.

But this sobriety spoken by survivors is laced throughout the entire text,  stories of actual survivors of living under these conditions in the Communist Bloc.  For most of these memories, they are not memories of long ago but of recent times - within living memory, even my own.  To the end, the concept of "It cannot happen here" is foolish, as Central Europe mid-20th Century was as liberal and democratic and civilized as the rest of the Western World - and yet it became a prison camp (including torture) for thousands of its citizens.

To be clear, Western Christianity - specifically North American Christianity (sorry, Alta Canada) is not ready for this level of  overbearing totalitarianism.  So many churches which are today thriving and growing under the veneer of Christian Seeker Sensitivism or Feel Good/Self Empowering Christianity or Societally Hip And Socially Aware Churchness will simply melt away or become something which, though retaining the name "Christian", will not be the Church.

This was a sobering book for me as I am old enough to remember the Eastern Bloc/Warsaw Pact before it fell.  I remember Solidarity and Brezhnev and Andropov and the Hail Mary of Mikhail Gorbachev.  I remember the Velvet Revolution in (the old) Czechoslovakia and the hail of bullets that ended in the Ceausescu's what was begun in Timisoara.  I have spoken with an unrepentant Stalinist ("Stalin was misunderstood, not evil) and seen the bullet holes in buildings from the 1956 Uprising in Hungary.  Once upon a time, I studied Communist Governments as a living, breathing system, not just as a historical oddity.

These things were real.  These things happened.

I said it yesterday, and I will say it again today.  You need to read this book.  Even if you are not Christian, you need to read this book if you have concerns about what might be coming and how to resist it.

Dreher ends with another quote from Solzhenitsyn's article "Live Not By Lies" as if to offer hope even as Solzhenitsyn did to his fellow Russians to a day they did not think they would see - and warn them if they refused to act:

"And so:  We need not be the first to set out on this path.  Ours is but to join!  The more of us set out together, the thicker our ranks, the easier and shorter will this path be for us all.  If we become thousands - they will not cope, they will be unable to touch us.  If we grow to tens of thousands - we will not recognize our country!

But if we shrink away, then let us cease complaining that someone does not let us draw breath - we do it to ourselves!  Let us then cower and hunker down, while our comrades the biologists bring closer the day when our thoughts can be read and our genes altered.

And if from this we also shrink away, then we are worthless, hopeless, and it is of us that Pushkin asks with scorn:  'Why should the cattle have gifts of freedom?  Their heritage from generation to generation is the belled yoke and the lash.'" 


  1. I find it interesting that on my phone, whenever I try to share your post, my screen goes black.

    I have shared other blogs.


    Need to remember to share when I get home.

    Be safe and God bless you all, TB.

    1. Linda - How very odd. Perhaps I am on someone's list after all. But I do appreciate the thought. Thanks!

  2. Replies
    1. Thank you Reverend!

      It really is a very good (well written, not necessarily "good" news") and sobering book.


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