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Live Not By Lies by Rod Dreher

Live Not By Lies will not resonate with those who lack the ears to hear, or eyes to see. The subtitle, “A Manual for Christian Dissidents” might lead some to believe that this is a guide to fixing society’s problems through considered effort. It is not. Though at least half the book is composed of inspiring stories about people who went through hell, suffered imprisonment, torture and sometimes death, not every story has a happy ending. In some cases like NAZI Germany ,the USSR and China, millions suffered and died under the jack boot of totalitarianism. In the case of China, it’s still happening. The stories told by author Rod Dreher are designed to serve as a guide, designed to help people of faith prepare for what is coming. Avoiding it is probably not an option.

Live not by Lies is a practical answer to the question posed by Francis Schaefer: How should we then live? It is not a practical guide to avoid suffering. Instead, it is a guide for safeguarding your soul, your sanity before and during the reign of totalitarianism, and how to help others do the same.

Live not by Lies does not offer much in the way of advice for getting out of the predicament in which the United States finds itself. Dreher offers sobering advice about getting your house in order. Build relationships with people who share your values, strengthen family ties, and speak the truth. For the last of these, it is not just about speaking the truth, but steadfastly refusing to endorse falsity.

Dreher’s arguments are clear and concise. He knows about that which he speaks, and did his homework, interviewing survivors of totalitarian regimes and referencing respected authorities like Hannah Arendt and of course, Alexander Solzhenitzen, who wrote a speech from whom Dreher gets his title.

Dreher recounts the warnings of immigrants who lived under totalitarian regimes, about America’s slide to censorship, (self-imposed and otherwise), and poses the question: “What if we really are witnessing a turn toward totalitarianism in the Western liberal democracies, and can’t see it because it takes a form different from the old kind?”

This, so called soft-totalitarianism, may not resort to torture and imprisonment, but the technological advances employed today to surveil almost every aspect of private life ensure that there is virtually nowhere to hide. Cameras and facial recognition software are used in public venues, on streets, and businesses. People voluntarily install “smart speakers” with open microphones throughout their homes. These not only could be used to record and monitor conversations, but are also continually sampling your voice and speech patterns. Your location is tracked on your cell phone. What you purchase is tracked through your credit cards and purchase history anytime one shops online. All of this is accepted under the guise of convenience. Dreher refers to this as “The Therapeutic as the Postmodern Mode of Existence,” citing Philip Rieff’s The Triumph of the Therapeutic.

This unprecedented capability is being used to deny people employment, limit travel, and dictate under what terms they can run their businesses. Those who don’t follow the party line of the cognoscenti are to be demeaned, shunned, belittled and silenced. The first amendment’s guarantees are in the cross-hairs. The right to worship as one sees fit is now seen as not only backward and antiquated, but hateful and dangerous. When people no longer live according to belief in transcendent principles that order life around communal purposes, they are left to find their own way experimentally. Personal happiness is the ultimate goal. Those that subscribe to this philosophy are willing to trade almost anything for the sake of comfort and convenience.

What we are trading is our privacy and ultimately our freedom.

You might be asking yourself, how is this related? What if your employer decides to promote diversity and inclusion and decides that your religious views make you incompatible with the culture they are trying to instill? You’ve kept your mouth shut at work, not posted anything on Facebook, but have been tagged by a well-meaning friend attending a church function. Sometime later – a week, a month, a year … that pastor is recorded giving a sermon on traditional marriage.

Do you think this is far-fetched? How many people have been “cancelled” because of holding a viewpoint different from that of the extreme left. Brendan Eich, former CEO of Mozilla, had the audacity to contribute $1K in support of an anti-gay marriage proposition. Years later he lost his job because of his views.

How many college professors are being required to give what amounts to loyalty oaths expressing their ideological purity prior to being granted tenure?

While examples abound throughout the book, they really aren’t the crux of the narrative. Plenty of books, articles and conservative talk shows regularly document the continuous relinquishing of our freedoms. Some conservatives wonder how people can deny the evidence of their own eyes.

Having rejected all the traditional answers, which acknowledge man’s place, frailty, and limitations, the left and the victims of their undermining of the culture, cannot come to terms with their mortality, and become willing to turn their backs on the truth for the sake of an ideological cause. This is a course that is not easy to reverse. Dreher quotes a disillusioned former Czech communist whose husband was executed in a 1952 show trial.

It is not hard for a totalitarian regime to keep people ignorant. Once you relinquish your freedom for the sake of “understood necessity,” for Party discipline, for conformity with the regime, for the greatness and glory of the Fatherland, or for any of the substitutes that are so convincingly offered, you ceded your claim to the truth. Slowly, drop by drop, your life begins to ooze away just as surely as if you had slashed your wrist; you have voluntarily condemned yourself to helplessness.

Dreher adds, “You can surrender your moral responsibility to be honest out of misplaced idealism. You can also surrender it by hating others more than you love truth.” This last is a caution to conservatives as a well as those on the left. The separation between action and feeling is that Christians are enjoined to love they neighbor, even when it comes at great cost.
Remove the necessity of obeying this command, and we are free to give reign to our anger and hatred. Hatred can quickly devolve into irrationality. The “enemy” should be silenced, of course they should, because they are the “enemy.” The left’s cancel culture is based on a desire for ideological purity and control.

Hanna Arendt wrote of the pre-totalitarian masses:

They do not believe in anything visible, in the reality of their own experience; they do not trust their eyes and ears but only their imaginations, which may be caught by anything that is at once universal and consistent with itself. What convinces masses are not facts, and not even invented facts, but only the consistency of a system of which they are presumably a part.

The Origins of Totalitarianism

Live Not By Lies will not resonate with those who lack the ears to hear, or eyes to see. For those that do, it is an exhortation to action. The action Dreher outlines is one of the hardest sort. It is not a call to arms, but a call to speak truth, and refuse to lie or misrepresent reality for the sake of convenience. Ultimately, this is is not a political battle, though it manifests as one. This is a spiritual battle, and as such, one that has to be addressed internally and personally. We must lead by example, speak the truth, and accept the consequences.


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