Live Not by Lies: A Manual for Christian Dissidents, by Rod Dreher. Published in 2020. Hardcover, 304 pages.
I’ve been a reader of Rod Dreher’s blog at The American Conservative for the past five years. During that time, my reaction to his Internet commentary has run the gamut. Some of his columns I connect with in hearty agreement, hastily share with friends, and use as springboards for engaging and edifying conversations. Others of his columns confound me, while others annoy me so much that I click away, refusing to read further.
I’ve concluded that this is the nature of writing and publishing one’s thoughts about the day’s happenings in real time to a “live audience”. Internet commentary, whether of the instant variety such as Twitter, or long form such as blogging, is inherently more emotionally charged than a book. Books require more from all involved. Both author and reader have to exert more of themselves to the writing experience; more thought, more analysis, more contemplation of the ideas presented and received.
I’ve also concluded that this distinction is the reason why I enjoy Rod Dreher’s books so much more than his columns. Whether it’s Crunchy Cons, The Benedict Option, or in this case, Live Not By Lies, he does a much better job connecting with this reader through his books than on the Internet.
Live Not by Lies is exactly what its subtitle suggests; a manual for Christian dissidents. It feels, in many ways, like a follow up to The Benedict Option, which strongly exhorts believers to embrace a return to intimate, local faith communities operating outside of a dominant culture that is increasingly hostile to Christian faith and morality. He doesn’t suggest that we necessarily run off and build communes, as he has been accused of doing. Rather, that we construct places of refuge from the daily vexation of our souls.
But once we form these communities, what do we do within them? More importantly, how do we continue to live and work in the truth when and if the ability to do that comes at a price we’ve never had to pay here in America? We do that, first and foremost, by refusing to live by lies. The books titular exhortation was originally penned by Soviet dissident Alexander Solzhenitsyn in a 1974 essay of the same title. He was arrested by Soviet secret police on the day of its writing. In it, Solzhenitsyn lists a relatively simply outline for refusing to live by lies, even though he knew it wouldn’t produce life lived on flowery beds of ease:
Some, at first, will lose their jobs. For young people who want to live with truth, this will, in the beginning, complicate their young lives very much, because the required recitations are stuffed with lies, and it is necessary to make a choice.
But there are no loopholes for anybody who wants to be honest. On any given day any one of us will be confronted with at least one of the above-mentioned choices even in the most secure of the technical sciences. Either truth or falsehood: Toward spiritual independence or toward spiritual servitude.
And he who is not sufficiently courageous even to defend his soul—don’t let him be proud of his “progressive” views, don’t let him boast that he is an academician or a people’s artist, a merited figure, or a general—let him say to himself: I am in the herd, and a coward. It’s all the same to me as long as I’m fed and warm.
It is with Solzhenitsyn in mind that Rod Dreher sets out a roadmap for the terrain we must navigate in 2021 as we resolve not to live by lies. Our current cultural trajectory is one that diverges from the one in which Soviet dissidents lived, and Dreher takes an excellent turn at describing the glaring signs pointing to a kind of totalitarianism that believers need to brace and prepare for:
The Western world has become post-Christian, with large numbers of those born after 1980 rejecting religious faith. This means that they will not only oppose Christians when we stand up for our principles—in particular, in defense of the traditional family, of male and female gender roles, and of the sanctity of human life—but also they will not even understand why they should tolerate dissent based in religious belief.
He later warns:
The foundation of totalitarianism is an ideology made of lies. The system depends for its existence on a people’s fear of challenging the lies. Said the writer, “Our way must be: Never knowingly support lies!” You may not have the strength to stand up in public and say what you really believe, but you can at least refuse to affirm what you do not believe. You may not be able to overthrow totalitarianism, but you can find within yourself and your community the means to live in the dignity of truth. If we must live under the dictatorship of lies, the writer said, then our response must be: “Let their rule hold not through me!”
Dreher encourages his readers to keep the faith, and not lose hope, but to also be wise and observant of the times in which we live. Portions of his book bring to mind Christ’s admonition to his followers to be “wise and serpents, yet harmful as doves.”
There is a lot of well-tilled ground here for those who have been attentive to the increasing influence and encroaching power of big tech companies, the academic ideological cathedral, and woke corporations wielding their power to influence debate in the public square. Nevertheless, there was information here that I was not aware of and was grateful to be more fully informed.
The compilation of all of these things, combined with concrete strategies and encouragement to stand strong make this a good read.
4 out of 5 stars.