“There always is the fallacious belief: ‘It would not be the same here; here such things are impossible.’ Alas, all the evil of the twentieth century is possible everywhere on earth.” – Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
In light of recent reports from our neighbors to the north of jackbooted thugs with badges arresting clergy, interrupting church services, seizing church buildings and driving congregations underground, I felt that it was appropriate to begin this review in the same way that author, Rod Dreher chose to begin Live Not By Lies: A Manual For Christian Dissidents; with the above quote. Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative.
He has written for the New York Post, The Dallas Morning News, and National Review, and his commentary has been published in The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times. He is the bestselling author of The Benedict Option, The Little Way of Ruthie Leming, Crunchy Cons and How Dante Can Save Your Life.
Dreher takes us on a riveting and emotionally taxing journey as he meets and introduces us, the readers to people living under Communism in Czechoslovakia and Russia, how they got there, what it’s like, and how they endure it, how they resist it, and also explains how the grip of totalitarianism is already much closer to America than most of us even care to realize.
I have to admit that I had several moments when I was reading this book where I couldn’t believe all of the obvious ways that I had been inviting surveillance into my home without so much as a passing thought, smiled about it while I paid someone for the privilege of giving away some of my freedom and didn’t even consider how it might one day be used against me.
I’m going to say right now, if you’re a paranoid person, do not read this book because you will never sleep again. But for those of us who want to or must prepare for danger, this is a necessary read.
Learning that we set ourselves up for soft totalitarianism was terrifying. The only thing more terrifying than learning this was the prospect of going totally off grid; and then I realized just how deep we were in the game.
We’re not in the first quarter, down by a touchdown, it’s the beginning of the fourth, we have put in the cheerleaders and the water boy and we are thrilled to death about being trounced. Dreher writes on page 11, “It is hard to get worked up over Big Brother when you’ve already grown accustomed to Big Data closely monitoring your private life via apps, credit cards, and smart devices, which make life so much easier and more pleasurable.
In Orwell’s fictional dystopia, the state installed “telescreens” in private homes to keep track of individual’s lives. Today we install smart speakers into our homes to increase our sense of wellbeing.” Even watching the way that much of society responded to the COVID-19 pandemic proved that we are ripe for the picking for a totalitarian regime. So how did Communism sweep into Russia?
Dreher gives us a brief history lesson of how the teachings of Karl Marx influenced the Russian Revolution, as with every Marxist revolution it begins with class warfare, the proletariat vs. the bourgeois; those in the lowest rung of society rising up, not against the wealthiest but against the middle class, (the meaning of the term bourgeois).
Marxism, by its very nature is an ideology constructed on discontentment and envy where those at the top pit those at the bottom against one another for their own gain. This is what made revolution possible in Germany, in Russia, what has made the spread of Communism possible around the globe and what has brought it to America.
Compare the Marxist revolutions of the past to what we see today with the organization Black Lives Matter whose leaders openly claim to be trained Marxists. Review the Struggle Sessions that led to the birth of Communist China and compare them to the tactics of ANTIFA and BLM crowding people in outdoor café’s and restaurants demanding compliance and affirmation lest you be labeled a NAZI, a racist or a bigot.
The tactics being employed are the same that were employed by Hitler’s Stormtroopers, Mao’s Red Guard, Castro’s “Movement” and so many others also you will find that many of these paramilitary organizations were led by college students. So how do/did the Russians/Czechs manage to survive under these conditions?
Two chapters that stuck out to me were chapters 7 and 8; Families as Resistance Cells and Religion, the Bedrock of Resistance respectively. Before I mine any quotes from these chapters, this makes perfect sense and if anyone has read the BLM charter, they oppose the nuclear family and affirm both homosexuality and transgenderism which denies God’s created order as prescribed by God in Genesis 2 when He created human beings male and female in His own image and gave our first parents the mandate to be fruitful and multiply and subdue the earth.
So, its no surprise that when a government wants to instate a totalitarian regime, they will attack religion and the family. One tactic the government uses to dismantle the family, believe it or not, is public education. By removing the children from the home for 8 hours a day and placing them in a facility where they are essentially raised by the state and indoctrinated with their values, they may carry your name, but they are the property of the US Government. By eliminating school choice, the government can silence your voice in your children’s lives.
Some states are working hard to restrict homeschooling while also trying to squeeze alternative schools out of areas to make the public schools the only option for education. This is already the case in Germany where homeschooling has been outlawed. In the chapter about families, Dreher describes the Czech dissidents sending their children to school because there was no choice, but they could not live in fear of being weird in society’s eyes. If that meant wearing different clothes, acting differently, or living differently at home, so be it. They were going to be a Christian family whether the state liked it or not.
The next way area that totalitarians attack is religion. How has the US Government demonstrated their willingness to do this? Look no further than their handling of the COVID-19 pandemic for how they wish to restrict religious freedom. We were free to gather in crowds of all sizes to stand for countless hours to shop for everything from groceries to television sets at stores like Walmart and Costco while governors across the nation told churches not to meet, how many were allowed to meet if they did, whether or not they were allowed to sing, if they had to mask or not, and the worst part is that many churches, rather than obeying God rather than men and determining to meet and instructing the sick to refrain, they rolled over, offered their pinch of incense to Caesar, some of them moving all services to ZOOM while some ceased all operations entirely.
To those pastors who have told people for years how important that it is that people come to know Christ and come to worship on the Lord’s Day so that they can grow in the Lord and be amongst his people, yet they chose to chain their doors or move to a digital service, how will you ever move back to asking people to come back to church now that you have admitted that you don’t believe it’s essential for their spiritual growth? Totalitarians always attack religion because they can’t control it.
Dreher mentions a professor who said that the Catholic students in his classes provided an alternative worldview to what the greater culture offered. This is how we as Christians can remain a bedrock of resistance to totalitarianism. We are to be salt and light in this world to preserve what is good and righteous, to expose what is evil and direct people to the cross of Jesus Christ when the rest of the world is shrouded in darkness.
So what are my final thoughts on Live Not By Lies? The first portion of the book reads quickly and exciting while the back half was a bit heavier however, overall this is a solid read that I would highly recommend for anyone who wants to get a bead on what is coming down the pike and how we might need to respond to it.