Live Not By Lies: A Manual for Christian Dissidents, by Rod Dreher
Book review and summary

"Live Not By Lies" by Rod Dreher is the follow up (and in a way a prequel) to his best seller, "The Benedict Option". Dreher interviewed US immigrants from the soviet block and travelled to countries that were under communism where he interviewed former dissidents. The goal was to understand the conditions that set off totalitarianism, and to document their stories of suffering, imprisonment and torture. He learned strategies for resisting totalitarianism and how to live under its iron fist without losing your soul. The book is ecumenical and has broad appeal to all Christians who think we are on the brink of persecution (or even the Apocalypse which is described in the Book of Revelation).

In a way "Live Not By Lies" is the polar opposite of "Rules for Radicals" by Saul Alinsky which is the classic play book for the radical left which is dedicated to "Lucifer ...the original radical who gained his own kingdom." Live not by Lies gives us the antidote.

Summary of "Live Not By Lies: A Manual for Christian Dissidents"

The conditions that set the stage for totalitarianism include:

  • Loss of faith in institutions (political, religious, etc.)
  • Polarization of extremes where politicians in the middle can't get elected and nothing can get done in Governments
  • Intolerance of opposing views to the cultural rules
  • Ending of free speech
  • Cancel culture
  • Starts with academics in educational institutions
  • The acceptance of plain falsehoods upon falsehoods  (lies) which the population accept one after the other until truth is obscured beyond recognition
  • Erasing of history, monuments, and where the country came from, especially heroes of the faith are repainted as oppressive, violent, intolerant, backwards, and/or bigoted.
  • Prosecution of those speaking the morality or truths of Christianity
  • Widespread apostasy of the faithful
  • The break down of social taboos and norms

What is the new Progressivism?

  • There is a clear distinction between modern radical Social Justice Warriors and classic liberals. The key difference is that classic liberals valued free speech, opposing opinions, peaceful resolution of conflicts, and true dialog, whereas the modern social justice movement will not tolerate any opposing views and will attempt to forcibly crush any opposition.
  • The Social Justice Movement (WOKE-ness) is not an authentic representation of true social justice as taught by the Church, but it has become a competing religion with identifiable doctrines.
  • The Social Justice Movement has been enabled by the "myth of progress" which assumes the world and humanity is on an upward trajectory, enabled by science, towards an earthly utopia which is either without God or contains a watery spirituality that accommodates all human desires, which are ever changing. The idea is that anything "traditional" is not as good as something new. The new idea must be better, because it is... well... new. This was true of communism in 1917. It promised a promising future of technical bliss.
  • The difference between dictatorship and totalitarianism is that while dictators are bad and they limit movement and freedom, totalitarianism wants to govern our thoughts, wants to kill our souls. It will not leave us alone, they will chase us down and try to change our minds in every manipulative, even violent, way possible.
  • The first round of communism in Russia caused incredible poverty. China solved that and the new totalitarianism will be very materialistic with all kinds of capitalistic characteristics that make life attractive under the regime. 
  • Historical communism leveraged the discontentment of the poor. The new socialism has a new set of victim groups to manipulate and harness to achieve its ends. Poverty is actually quite low in the hierarchy of their priorities. A white straight man on disability living in a trailer park is considered an oppressor while a black woman professor at Princeton is considered a victim.
  • Today's totalitarianism once again appeals to an internal hunger, specifically the hunger for a just society, vindicates and liberates the historical victims of oppression. It masquerades as kindness, demonizing dissenters and disfavored demographic groups to protect the feelings of the "victims" in order to bring about "social justice".
  • Soft totalitarianism exploits decadent modern man's preference for personal pleasure over principles.
  • This was a revolution even more radical than the 1917 Bolshevik event… for the first time humankind was seeking to create a civilization based on the negation of any binding transcendent order.
  • Churches have been infected by the culture. Therapeutic Christianity says to us "God exists, and wants nothing more from us than to be nice and to be happy."
  • Utopian progressives are constantly changing the standards of thought, speech and behavior. An action that is perfectly legal and moral and socially accepted today can be the basis of persecution in the future. One sentence from the distant past can lose you your job, livelihood, and reputation.
  • Under the guise of inclusivity, equity and egalitarian jargon the elites create powerful mechanisms for controlling thought and discourse and marginalize dissenters as evil.
  • The old, hard totalitarianism had a vision for the world that required the eradication of Christianity. The new, soft totalitarianism does too, and we are not equipped to resist its sneakier attack.
  • Snitching was a major source of identification of dissidents by the KGB, and is common in China. The new soft totalitarianism will also include snitch networks (neighbours, co-workers, clients, etc.) that will be combined with technology tracking that is infinitely more effective than the KGB tracking and bugging under communism. A dissident priest under Eastern Block Communism ended up in long term prison and torture because another seminarian reported him. Lots of betrayal of trust in families, Church, and relationships.
  • Today in our societies, those who dissent from the WOKE party line find their businesses, careers and reputations destroyed. They are pushed out of the public square, stigmatized, canceled, and demonized. And they are afraid to resist because they are confident that no one will join them or defend them.
  • Orwell articulates
    It was as though some huge force were pressing down upon you--- something that penetrated inside your skill, battering against your brain, frightening you out of your beliefs, persuading you, almost, to deny the evidence of your senses. In the end the Party would announce that two and two made five, and you would have to believe it. It was inevitable that they should make that claim sooner or later: the logic of their position demanded it. Not merely the validity of experience but the very existence of the external reality was tacitly denied by their philosophy. The heresy of heresies was common sense.
  • Rewording Orwell might give us something like this
    The office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion told you to deny the evidence of your eyes and ears. It was their final, most essential command
  • Today's totalitarianism demands allegiance to a set of progressive beliefs, many of which are incompatible with logic - 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.
  • Read Aldous Huxley Brave new world.

How to live under Totalitarianism

  • Relatively few contemporary Christians are prepared to suffer for the faith, because the therapeutic society that has formed them denies the purpose of suffering in the first place, and the idea of bearing pain for the sake of truth seems ridiculous. Most Christians underestimate the threat.
  • Get your spiritual life in order now because if its superficial now it might not withstand the coming totalitarianism. Be meek, austere, humble, and determined.
  • Build strong families and communities, NOW.
  • Reconsider your use of smart phones and smart speakers (Google Home, Alexa, Siri etc...) that listen to you.
  • The laity will need to build the underground as the visible Church is suppressed/assumed by the state
  • Don't be completely closed to the outside world once totalitarianism hits. Build bridges with those who are resisting totalitarianism from other perspectives. This includes other denominations, other religions, and even atheists. Sometimes it's an opportunity to evangelize by example when they have questions. It can be risky to network with other dissidents whose beliefs don't match yours but it's better than isolation
  • Be ready to suffer, it's a refining fire and suffering can be very valuable if we do not become bitter.
  • If you are not ready to be tortured or executed for the faith you may not keep your faith. It has to be the most important thing. The persecution might be white or red, but it will be very dangerous for your soul to yield to it.
  • Lots of dissidents broke under the KGB. The leaders of the resistance were tolerant of them, because they knew how hard it was. They said, "you'll do better next time"... and that's why information about the underground church is given on a "need to know" basis
  • Silence will not save us. Ketman is a middle east expression for someone who acts Muslim but inwardly dissents.  Ketman corrupts your character
    • Professional Ketman, where we work and keep our mouths shut
    • Metaphysical ketman, convincing yourself to live this way, convincing that you can be a loyal opponent while working within the system.
    • Christians who are most deeply deceived are those who convince themselves that they can live honestly within woke systems by outwardly conforming and learning how to adapt their convictions to the new order.
  • Be prudent and be fearless, or find people who are fearless and follow them
  • Rules for living in Truth under totalitarianism. Dreher quotes Solzhenitsyn and writes:
  • We are not called upon to step out onto the square and shout out the truth, to say out loud what we think—this is scary, we are not ready,” Solzhenitsyn writes. “But let us at least refuse to say what we do not think!” For example, says Solzhenitsyn, a man who refuses to live by lies: 
    • Will not say, write, affirm, or distribute anything that distorts the truth 
    • Will not go to a demonstration or participate in a collective action unless he truly believes in the cause 
    • Will not take part in a meeting in which the discussion is forced and no one can speak the truth 
    • Will not vote for a candidate or proposal he considers to be “dubious or unworthy” 
    • Will walk out of an event “as soon as he hears the speaker utter a lie, ideological drivel, or shameless propaganda” 
    • Will not support journalism that “distorts or hides the underlying facts”

    This is by no means an exhaustive list of the possible and necessary ways of evading lies,” Solzhenitsyn writes. “But he who begins to cleanse himself will, with a cleansed eye, easily discern yet other opportunities.” 

Weaknesses of "Live Not By Lies: A Manual for Christian Dissidents"

There are not many weaknesses in the book. Just a couple of things:

  • Rob Dreher was a protestant who turned Catholic for about 10 years, but then left after abuse scandals. He joined the American Orthodox, and he's a bit casual about Catholicism. Doesn't seem to understand that the Church is THE Church.
  • Mr. Dreher is a bit too nostalgic about the past which is the Orthodox position in general, particularly in his description of the "myth of progress". There is an inadequate articulation of true progress, which we see in the Bible as we move from the Fall to the time of Jesus and which progresses as we approach the Second Coming. Dreher appears to think civilization hit its apex during the age of chivalry.

But for its few minor weaknesses, this book is a must read for any faithful Christian preparing for the turbulent and dangerous times ahead.

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