“Live not by Lies”: a summary in twelve quotes

By Andrew Symes, Anglican Mainstream:

I have just finished reading Rod Dreher’s ‘Live not by Lies’, which has been reviewed a number of times on this site over the past couple of months (eg here, here and here). Dreher’s main thesis, taken from a 1974 essay by Alexander Solzhenitsyn, is that just as some aspects of enforced secularism in the West today mirror the 20th century Marxist totalitarianism of the East, so the models for preservation of our Christian culture can be found in the stories of anti-communist resistance in Russia and eastern Europe before 1990.

In his book Dreher explains the origins and power of the ‘woke’ ideology; its intolerance of dissent, its hatred of Christian truth and creation of its own myths, its demands for total conformity. It is likely that Living in Love and Faith, published today, will show further capitulation by the Church of England to this same spirit of the age in its failure to clearly defend the authority of Scripture and biblical teaching on marriage and family. Reviews of LLF will be featured on this site soon.

This also comes in the wake of the US elections. In his previous book, The Benedict Option, and in his blogs on The American Conservative, Dreher shows his alignment with most conservatives in the US in expressing concern about the Democratic Party’s move away from moderate liberalism to a more aggressive ideological approach. Unlike many Christians advocating support for the Republican party, however, Dreher has always been sceptical of using political power to oppose this neo-Marxist movement. There is a threat to Christian integrity in seeing a manifestly flawed human leader as saviour, and in uncritically embracing capitalist consumerism. Now that the Democrats appear to have won, his book seems even more relevant.

Here is a summary of Live not by Lies, using (in italics) Dreher’s own words and those he quotes from his interviewees in the former Eastern Bloc:

(from the Introduction): “I was born and raised in the Soviet Union, and I’m frankly stunned by how similar some of these developments are to the way Soviet propaganda operated”, says one professor…What is happening here? A progressive – and profoundly anti-Christian militancy – is steadily overtaking society; one described by Pope Benedict as a “worldwide dictatorship of seemingly humanistic ideologies”.

Part One: Understanding soft totalitarianism [Dreher outlines the nature of the problem].

Kolakovic the Prophet [Lessons learned from a dissident who opposed Nazism then communism in Czechoslovakia]: Father Kolakovic knew that the clericalism and passivity of traditional Slovak Catholicism would be no match for communism…today’s survivors of Soviet communism are, in their way, our own Kolakovices, warning us of a coming totalitarianism – a form of government that combines political authoritarianism with an ideology that seeks to control all aspects of life.

Our pre-totalitarian culture [Understanding the nature of ‘soft totalitarianism’]: Alienated individuals who share little sense of community and purpose are prime targets for totalitarian ideologies who promise solidarity and meaning…the ideology of social justice – as defined not by the church but by critical theorists in the academy, functions as a pseudoreligion.

Progressivism as religion [Unmasking the gods of the new totalitarianism]: Consider that the civil rights movement of the 1960’s was led by black preachers who articulated the plight of their people in biblical language and stories. Those days are over, and we will not be able to take the measure of the long struggle ahead if we don’t understand the essential nature of the opposition. It regards Christians as the most significant remaining obstacle, bearers of the cruel and outdated beliefs that keep the people from being free and happy.

Capitalism, woke and watchful [How powerful corporations have embraced wokeness, and now control our lives]: The embrace of social progressivism by Big Business is one of the most under appreciated stories of the last two decades. Critics call it “woke capitalism”…now the most transformative agent within the religion of social justice, because it unites progressive ideology with the most potent force in American life: consumerism and making money.

Part Two: The call to resist – How to live in truth.

Value nothing more than truth [Refusing to believe lies even if our lives are surrounded by them]: To be a Baptist in Soviet Russia was to know you were a permanent outsider. They endured it because they knew that truth was embodied in Jesus Christ, and that to live apart from him would mean living a lie. For the Baptists, to compromise with lies for the sake of a peaceful life is to bend at the knee to death.

Cultivate cultural memory [The importance of history, art and symbols which tell the truth]: The essence of modernity is to deny that there are any transcendent stories, structures, habits or beliefs to which individuals must submit and that should bind our conduct. To be modern is to be free to choose…To those who want to keep cultural memory alive…the truths carried by tradition must be lived out subjectively. That is, they must not only be studied but also embodied in shared social practices – words, certainly, but more important, deeds.

Families are resistance cells [where the truth is first preserved, articulated and passed on in love]: Under communism, the family came under direct and sustained assault by the government, which saw its sovereignty as a threat to state control of all individuals…it continues today in the form of attacks from the woke left, including law professors advocating legal structures that dismantle the traditional family as an oppressive institution…But is doesn’t only come from the left…we have built a social ecosystem in which the function of the family has been reduced to producing autonomous consumers, with no sense of connection or obligation to anything greater than fulfilling their own desires.

Religion, the bedrock of resistance [Dreher gives examples from Orthodox, Roman Catholic and Baptist pastors in the Soviet system]: A time of painful testing, even persecution, is coming. Lukewarm or shallow Christians will not come through with their faith intact. Christians today must dig deep into the bible and church tradition, and teach themselves how and why today’s post-Christian world, with its self-centredness, its quest for happiness and rejection of sacred order and transcendent values, is a rival religion to authentic Christianity.

Standing in solidarity [The importance of small groups for mutual training in discipleship in the face of oppression]: “Sixty years of terror, they were unable to get rid of the faith”, the pastor muses. “It was saved specifically in small groups. There was no literature, no organisations for teaching, and even movement was forbidden. Believers rewrote biblical texts by hand…”

The gift of suffering [Examples of holding firm in the faith and loving enemies in the face of extreme persecution]: The old totalitarianism conquered societies through fear of pain; the new one will conquer primarily through manipulating people’s love of pleasure and fear of discomfort…admirers love being associated with Jesus, but when trouble comes, they either turn on him or in some way try to put distance between themselves and their Lord…The follower recognises the cost of discipleship and is willing to pay it.

Conclusion: Live not by lies: The secular liberal ideal of freedom so popular in the West…is a lie. That is, the concept that real freedom is found by liberating the self from all binding commitments (to God, to marriage, to family), and by increasing worldly comforts – that is the road that leads to hell…now our mission is to build the underground resistance to the occupation…

 

One criticism of Dreher has been that he advocates pietistic, monastic withdrawal from godless society. Nothing could be further from the truth. Christian families and communities are to be ‘resistance’ in occupied territory, keeping alive the memory of the rightful King who will one day return. But the resistance is not political, against people or groups – rather it is spiritual; always against evil which comes through false ideologies which enslave.