Live Not By Lies

Live Not By Lies, by Danusha Goska, who grew up in communist Poland.

What to call this new religion? In the past, we used terms like “Political Correctness,” “cultural Marxism,” “social justice warrior,” “woke,” “liberal,” “progressive,” and “leftist.” I use the term “Team Anti-Western-Civilization,” but this is clearly too awkward. We need a handy new term for a new, powerful religion that is now affecting all of us.

Marxism purports to champion the poor. In this new religion’s rigid caste system, a rich black man has higher status than a poor white woman. Rationality provides no workable strategy to map out the new wasteland we all traverse. It is not “hateful” to call someone with double x chromosomes “she,” but Twitter will ban you for doing so. …

Tom Holland’s 2019 book “Dominion: How the Christian Revolution Remade the World” proclaims the obvious truth: the West is inescapably Christian. Atheists can mock and rebel but they cling to Christian concepts of morality. As Douglas Murray put it, atheists “Dream Christian dreams. They still have Christian thoughts and impulses.”

But Christianity as a religious practice is losing adherents. … What morality will arise once Christian-influenced morality finally disappears? Holland’s musings on this question call to mind Dostoyevsky’s famous quote. “Without God, everything is permitted.” Once Christianity’s influence disappears humanity will, as Nietzsche predicted, live by power as the only good.

On Rod Dreher’s new book “Live Not By Lies: A Manual for Christian Dissidents“:

Virtue is no longer about individual rights, but about rights assigned to privileged groups. A utopian vision demands the denunciation and punishment of transgressors, like the Indiana pizza parlor forced to close down by violent threats. A reporter broadcast a ridiculous story about the pizza parlor not hosting gay weddings; the restaurant owners paid the price.

In this new religion, what was acceptable yesterday is heresy today. “It masquerades as kindness.” Dogma is expressed in constantly evolving jargon like “diversity” and “inclusivity” and has no real meaning: if you are Catholic and you are pro-life, you are excluded from “diversity,” “tolerance,” and “inclusion.” Pope Benedict called this new religion “a worldwide dictatorship of seemingly humanistic ideologies.” Dreher calls it “soft totalitarianism” …

Its dogma consists of lies; its power lies in terrorizing the population with show trials, often conducted on social media. …

Western dissidents to the new religion:

Live Not by Lies” offers examples of Christian dissidents who resisted Soviet domination. Dreher writes about famous figures like Alexander Solzhenitsyn, Vaclav Havel, Karol Wojtyla, and Milan Kundera, but also figures lesser known …

From their lives and examples, Dreher draws the following lessons. Those who would refuse to bow to our as-yet-unnamed new religion, and those who choose to remain faithful to Christianity or even just the Constitution, should consider doing some or all of the following. Accept a life outside the mainstream. Form small, supportive communities of fellow believers. Maintain memories of the best in Western civilization. Host and attend lectures in private homes. Send children to Catholic school. Accept suffering as part of life.

The true awfulness of communism is spreading in the West:

The wretchedness of communism was about so much more than massacres and gulags. By the time I spent a year in Poland, I had lived and worked in the Central African Republic, one of the poorest and most dangerous countries on earth, and also in very poor Nepal. …

But in people’s day-to-day lives, Africans had hope. The Africans I knew, though living in absolute poverty, expressed the conviction that tomorrow would be better than today, and that their effort would make it so. …

Yes, in Poland and Slovakia material conditions were magnitudes better than in Africa. It’s hard, then, to communicate this simple fact: daily life in communist Poland felt worse to me than daily life in C.A.R. Communism isn’t just a bad model for economics. It is a straightjacket and a gag that asphyxiates the human spirit and inevitably results in mass, petty pathology.

How to say this without sounding absurd — one of my worst days involved an attempt to get bedsheets for my dorm room. The woman in control of the sheets conspired to make my day miserable, for no discernable reason, except that she could. It was the twisted, sadistic pettiness of it all that confounded me. Franz Kafka, who died before communism arrived in his native Prague, knew how to describe the ugly absurdity of arbitrary power. Read Kafka’s “The Trial,” to get a sense of what I mean.

Daily life under Soviet communism was not romantic resistance. It was going for a walk in a park, struggling for air through steel mill exhaust, and a man in a pathetically shabby suit jumping out of the shrubbery and masturbating in front of you. It was days when you went to the shops to confront empty shelves. On one day, you could buy cabbages, on another, blueberries. One day bread, another day yogurt. Food, but never all you wanted, never all at once. …

The suffering Dreher’s American disciples will undergo will not necessarily be cinematic, accompanied by a poignant, rousing soundtrack. Once the street demonstrations in 1989 Poland reached fever pitch, once I was running for my life, stampeding, with thousands of others, from the ZOMO, paramilitary thugs who landed many of us in the hospital, life was thrilling. But outside of those demonstrations, life felt infinitely petty and pointless. The devil who will attempt to seduce Dreher’s dissidents may not be a clear-cut demand to sign a document or lose a job. The demonic siren call may be boredom, friendlessness, loss of respect or income, and a sense of meaninglessness.

And, yes, this anonymous, isolating, devil of boring meaninglessness operates in lives of American dissidents, too …

I never wanted to be a dissident in American academia. I wanted to get a PhD and tell my people’s story through my work and help my students. I was told I was the “wrong ethnicity” and “too right-wing.” I was told, to my face, that my being Catholic was a problem. In spite of publications and some excellent reviews from peers and students, I never got that tenure-track job. As a semester-by-semester hire, an adjunct, I was given to impolitic statements, for example, “I love my country;” immediately after that, I lost my job.

My life lacks the thrill I felt when I was running from the ZOMO. I live in a garbage-strewn, high crime, low-rent neighborhood, and wonder about paying for groceries. Again, no swelling anthem on my soundtrack, no martyr’s flameout. Just day to day drear. Surviving that, alone and silently, is my discipline. I know I’m not alone.

Dreher’s followers need to know this. The price one pays for dissidence will not always look, to the outside world, like heroism. …

The microcosm is like the macrocosm. Express a pro-life position on Facebook and be called a “misogynist.” Express support for traditional marriage and be called a “homophobe.” Express support for children being able to live out their childhoods without life-altering, sterility-inducing drugs and surgeries, and be called a “transphobe.” Link to accurate statistics on police shootings and be called a “racist.” Mention the centrality of freedom of speech to Western Civilization and be called an “Islamophobe.” Talk about a tortured priest you met behind the Iron Curtain and be called a “paranoid McCarthyite cold warrior.” Acknowledge that “free college” actually does cost a great deal, and be called a “capitalist tool who votes against her own best interests.” A Facebook friend who is a child of Holocaust survivors, and relative of Holocaust victims, is regularly called a “Nazi” because she supports Israel’s right to exist.

Sometimes, to observers, heroes will look like the scum of the earth, before they are disappeared forever, without ever having had the chance to tell their story. …

For many of us, being a dissident means, simply, wondering how you will pay rent. …

Dreher and his disciples need to know this. By dissenting, they may be inviting the kind of exhilaration that we enjoyed when taunting the ZOMO, and then running for our lives. They may even win Nobel prizes. Or they may disappoint their loved ones by becoming “losers,” and their kids may have to go a week eating not much more than potatoes. The temptation the devil sends them may not be anything as exotic as the fleshpots of Egypt; it may be something as simple as adjusting one’s speech to gain access to a Twitter account.

What I want to shout to Dreher’s readers is this: please don’t think that you doing Christianity wrong if you practice all the courage of the Eastern European dissidents Dreher describes and you do not attain a halo, your loved ones express contempt for you, and your prayer life feels like a monologue to no one, spoken in the desert. …

Dreher is wrong to focus only on Christians:

During one Krakow dusk thirty-one years ago, hundreds of us were gathered in the Rynek, the thirteenth-century square. I couldn’t make out the words of the speeches. I was, like a nostril-quivering gazelle on the Serengeti, balanced on the balls of my feet, ready to spring. The ZOMO could start a baton charge at any moment, from any direction. My body bore technicolor bruises from previous encounters.

A young Punk stood in front of me. He was about 17 years old. Skinny, small, tattooed, with spiked hair, ripped clothes, and safety pins in his multiply-pierced earlobes. He was carrying a khaki green backpack.

Somewhere in the dusk, it began with one voice. “Jeszcze Polska nie zginela.” “Poland is not yet lost while we remain alive.” The national anthem. Others picked it up. I began to sing.

The anonymous young Punk standing in front of me let his backpack slide down off of his shoulders onto the ancient cobblestones. His shoulders pressed back. He stood straight as an uhlan, those legendary Polish cavalrymen. His whole affect changed; suddenly, he was no longer a slack-spined, ironic-lipped, lounging Punk, disciple of Johnny Rotten. He was a Polish patriot, ready to give his all for his homeland. He belted out the national anthem with earnest conviction. That kid, that moment, was one of the lightning bolts illuminating the no-exit drear that was Soviet-era Poland.

I mention these atheists, communists, Jews, Pagans, Punks, surrealist pranksters and the New York Times for this reason. Dreher’s approach strikes me as a tad smug. “We’re the Christians; we’ve got it right; the rest of you are doing it wrong; we will retreat from you and will associate only with the right people. We’ll emerge periodically to broadcast our correctness via bullhorns.”

It didn’t work that way in Eastern Europe. Non-Christians were essential participants in bringing down Communism. “Divide and conquer” was a tried-and-true tactic of Poland’s totalitarian invaders. Nazis and communists worked hard to sow animosity between Christians and Jews, workers and intellectuals, urbanites and farmers. “Solidarity” referred to the miraculous union of religious workers, embodied by Walesa, and secular, even leftist, intelligentsia

There are many articulate, empowered atheists tilting at the exact same dragons that Dreher is taking on. I’ve listed many of them here: Pinker, Lindsay, Pluckrose, Holland, Murray, Saad. Not a few of the folks taking on the new religion are gay: Dave Rubin, Douglas Murray, Bruce Bawer, Andrew Sullivan. Christians should be forging strategic alliances with these courageous figures. …

We need Christians who emulate Jesus in such groups. Jesus made people feel that they could go on through anything. How? Jesus made people feel that their most private, pressing sleepless nights mattered to the God of the universe.

Read it all.