Modern society has, in many ways, made truth a museum artifact. Mainstream and social media are increasingly full of half-truths and unsubstantiated claims that lead millions of readers to false conclusions. This flood of falsehood, anxiety, and confusion, and the social upheaval it leads to, reminds us to defend truth at any cost and refute lies.
As well as something of a museum artifact these days, the mantra ‘Live Not By Lies’ is also the title of Rod Dreher’s widely-anticipated follow-up to ‘The Benedict Option.’ While his last work was focused on the need for Christians to build communities of faith in order to sustain themselves within post-Christian societies, in ‘Live Not By Lies,’ Dreher develops this theme further by focusing on the widespread persecution which the author believes is looming, and how Christian dissidents can stand firm and resist. It is a book I highly recommend to understand the signs of the times.
The book’s title comes directly from the title of the essay which Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn addressed to the Russian people before he was deported by the Soviet regime in the 1970s. In it, Solzhenitsyn denounced the lies which underpinned the entire Communist system and called on his compatriots to resist the temptation to join in supporting them.
Here, in different circumstances and faced with very different opposing forces, Dreher makes a similar appeal to his fellow believers, while comparing Communism with the growing ‘soft totalitarianism’ of progressivism.
Both belief systems are deeply hostile to the past, and they each feed upon the suffering brought about by the atomisation of post-Christian societies. Both ideologies are determined to control all aspects of society and to politicise every part of life.
Most importantly of all, modern progressives and old-style Communists are united in sharing a particularly limited view of freedom of religion, and in seeing the Church as the last remaining opposition which they need to sweep away.
Where Dreher provides the reader with the most insightful analysis is in his description of how modern technology shrinks the zone of privacy which previous generations enjoyed. China still uses the gulag, but in most instances, the Chinese government now prefers to rely on data collection to operate a “social credit system” which rewards compliance and punishes those – like dissident Christians – who resist.
A similar technological approach could soon be employed elsewhere, meaning that people in what we still think of as the ‘free world’ could soon be compelled to behave in a certain way or to risk the consequences of taking the wrong side.
Dreher focuses on harrowing examples of anti-Christian persecution under Communism, and the heroic examples of those who withstood this. He also gives practical advice for how families and communities can preserve their faith and identity in spite of great obstacles being erected against them.
Dreher praises the role of classical Christian education, but recommends much more besides: “[W]e can celebrate festivals, make pilgrimages, observe holy-day practices, pray litanies, perform concerts, hold dances, learn and teach traditional cooking – any kind of collective deed that connects the community with its shared sacred and secular history in a living way is an act of resistance to an ethos that says the past doesn’t matter.”
This advice about preserving our identity by teaching our history has particular relevance in Ireland, where the idea of ‘progress’ is particularly strong and where the past is much-maligned, along with Christianity and social conservatism.
Dreher’s bold insights would be of value to any social or cultural observer, and for any Christian observing recent events and pondering what the future may hold in store.