Praxis Circle has chosen Rod Dreher’s Live Not by Lies: A Manual for Christian Dissidents (2020) for our January Book of the Month. Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative and is the author of multiple New York Times bestsellers. As we begin a new year, his book offers a timely warning and encouragement to those who wish to live in truth during the days ahead.
Near the end of last year, Praxis Circle focused squarely on the critical importance of truth, and in 2023 we will be addressing the question of how the American Christian majority should respond to the many radical minorities bent on destroying the Christian foundations of our Western civilization. Dreher is on the front lines of this worldview war. We can and must win this war, and many are sensing today that the normal middle-of-the Bell-curve statistical majority are finally awakened and turning the tide.
In Live Not by Lies, Dreher uses his decades of journalism experience to gather stories of Soviet totalitarian survivors. He does a cross comparison of these stories with the challenges of American society today, sounding the alarm for what appears to be “soft” totalitarianism creeping into every aspect of our lives. Instead of sending people straight to the gulags, this softer form of control has come in the way of cancel culture, leftist ideology, identity politics, woke capitalism, technological and data surveillance—and most importantly, a rejection of objective truth. Dreher writes,
“As part of its quest to define reality, a totalitarian state seeks not just to control your actions by also your thoughts and emotions … Today’s totalitarianism demands allegiance to a set of progressive beliefs, many of which are incompatible with logic—and certainly with Christianity. Compliance is forced less by the state than by elites who form public opinion, and by private corporations that, thanks to technology, control our lives far more than we would like to admit.” (pg. 8).
In other words, the West is facing a new kind of totalitarianism—one that glistens attractively at the surface but reflects a much darker and insidious past. Dreher warns us of the history the West seems bent on repeating and asks us to learn from the survivors of “hard” totalitarianism and put their examples into practice. In the second half of his book, Dreher examines the keys to standing firm during totalitarian rule—this includes valuing truth above anything else, cultivating a cultural memory, seeing our families as resistance cells, having a strong foundation of religious meaning and belief, standing in solidarity with like-minded individuals, and not being afraid of suffering. These are the things that have kept Christians and other religious dissidents strong for centuries, and Dreher argues that it is what the American church must plan to do in order to combat the resistance that is coming its way.
The title of the book comes from a 1974 essay written by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn—a Russian author and outspoken critic of communism and the Soviet Union—and released the day he was arrested and exiled to the West. Below are a few selections of the essay that Dreher includes in the book.
“Our way must be: Never knowingly support lies! Having understood where the lies begin (and many see this line differently)—step back from that gangrenous edge! Let us not glue back the flaking scales of the Ideology, not gather back its crumbling bones, nor patch together its decomposing garb, and we will be amazed how swiftly and helplessly the lies will fall away, and that which is destined to be naked will be exposed as such to the world.”
“It will not be an easy path, perhaps, but it is the easiest among those that lie before us. Not an easy choice for the body, but the only one for the soul. No, not an easy path, but then we already have among us people, dozens even, who have for years abided by all these rules, who live by the truth.
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 will 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 also we shrink away, then we are worthless, hopeless, and it is of us that Pushkin asks with scorn:
Why offer herds their liberation?
Their heritage each generation
The yoke with jingles, and the whip.”
With a new year comes joys and challenges yet unknown to us. The best encouragement we can give to start 2023 is to strive to understand the times and boldly live in the truth. Let us never knowingly support the lies of our culture! Where there is courage to do so there is freedom and hope—Dreher’s Live Not by Lies is our reminder of that today.