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Not Ready for Martyrdom?
I bought Dreher’s book Live Not by Lies: A Manual for Christian Dissidents to look for suggestions and ammo for fighting the culture wars but instead, I got a survivor manual for a war already lost. The first half of the book is about how bad it is out there and why it will likely get worse in large part because the west is rapidly adopting the Chinese social credit system. The right to have a bank account, to make purchases, or even to be employed are becoming contingent on a continued demonstration of right thinking and behavior. Being denied a social media presence is a slap on the wrist compared to being banned from commerce by all large corporations for being explicit enemies of the state (gun manufacturers and sellers, right-to-life groups, the fossil fuel industry, orthodox religious groups, etc.). Or just living under the constant threat of being called out, detected, and fired in some woke purge. In China, your ‘credit rating’ drops if your family and friends are not compliant. The scope and detail of the state leverage are frightening.
When reading the book, I recalled the outstanding German movie Lives of Others (2006) about the personal moral struggles of a Stasi secret policeman. In one scene, he and his team have just planted listening bugs in the apartment of the targeted figure. A neighbor peeks out at them as they departed the scene and the lead agent calmly warns her that if she says anything, her daughter (he knows and recites her name!) will not be admitted to university. It was less about the specifics of the threat than the terrifying realization that they know all about you. The Stasi relied on paper files and boxes of index cards. It is unimaginable how thorough they could have been with control over Alexa, Siri, and smart appliances, all run by a constantly learning AI on supercomputing platforms. Is that in our future?
Dreher quotes people who had lived under communist rule who are appalled at how passively Americans accept woke tyranny, social media manipulation, and “soft” social sanctions to compel silence and conformity in the face of obvious lies about human nature or history.
I was thus primed and ready for the second part of the book. How do we fend off this monstrous attack on freedom? The answer? Strengthen faith, learn from the example of Christian martyrs, prepare to endure suffering, strengthen the family and small groups, and expect the ultimate victory of the truth purchased, as ever, by the blood of martyrs.
Not really the answer I was hoping for, Rod.
I am more in tune with the character Thomas More wished to be in A Man for All Seasons “Whatever may be done by smiling, you may rely on me to do…. This is not the stuff of which martyrs are made.” I would rather remain in a comfortable mild cynicism (with ready access to second breakfast) without the demands of some great struggle, thank you. If really necessary, I would prefer the role of the reluctant hero, like Rick Blaine, Oskar Schindler, or Bilbo Baggins, and definitely not that of the martyrs and spiritual heroes of the death camps and gulags.
What is especially tiresome about the new totalitarians is that (a) they lack the radiant optimism of the suckers who first foisted communism on the world–the woke are not the type to die for the cause and (b) they are too ignorant of even very recent history to see that the inevitable end of a war against objective truth, morality and human nature is some form of Götterdämmerung preceded by the execution of numerous Nikolai Rubashovs as the ‘revolution’ necessarily devours its own. Yes, cupcake, no matter how woke you are, there is a wall and some bullets waiting for you too. People who waved red flags or wore swastika armbands in 1939 could perhaps delude themselves about where it would lead. Nobody in 2023 has that excuse.
The core of the resistance to the rule of Soviet puppet regimes may have been spiritual but the appetite for a materially better life also helped drive many young people in the communist world to resent and rebel. But what if the new totalitarians start with a wealthy society (which they will cause to decline) and threaten to take away access to that (shrinking) supply of wealth? A scary thought is that consumer capitalism and the concomitant false notion that freedom is solely an entitlement to self-indulgence have gutted our capacity to fight and endure a moral struggle for actual freedom. Meditate on that and welcome to Mr. Dreher’s world.
I recently had a chat with some young, conventionally lefty acquaintances. One opined that when the Second Amendment was adopted, gun hobbyists/collectors did not have access to automatic weapons (I no longer waste time explaining the definition of “semi-automatic). I explained that the Bill of Rights was mostly about the right to fulfill obligations of conscience to speak and live the truth as one’s conscience sees fit and to respect and protect the rights of others trying to do the same. Owning a gun was about the right to discharge an obligation to protect family, property, and community. If we don’t see the Bill of Rights in terms of requiring government respect for a conscience-driven life, then we don’t understand it. That drew blank stares. I don’t think my young friends are ready for a life in The Resistance. We have such a warped idea of freedom that it will be hard to want to fight for it.
I fervently hope that this cup shall pass and that we don’t need widespread martyrdom to get us past this era’s flirtation with the forces of evil and stupid. Maybe less dramatic, but more widespread moral heroism could be enough. As More observed from his prison in A Man for All Seasons:
If we lived in a state where virtue was profitable, common sense would make us saintly. But since we see that avarice, anger, pride, and stupidity commonly profit far beyond charity, modesty, justice, and thought, perhaps we must stand fast a little – even at the risk of being heroes.
Is it possible for us all to ‘stand fast a little’ more often to oppose the silly but deeply pernicious lies that some are trying to impose by fiat? Would that be enough?Published in General
The entire Christian world has not gone woke. You may be surprised how many Muslims living in the West are woke, especially if there is a financial or professional reward for being so.
When one looks at nations/societies rather than individuals it does seem as if the historically Christian world has gone woke and the Islamic world has not.
I’m hoping the arc of history turns out to be a sine wave, and that we hit the nadir before long.
The enlightenment ideals that only exist in christian nations made it possible for people to question orthodoxy and even reject it without fear. It made it possible to mock religion without being concerned about being stoned for blasphemy. It made being an irreverent pagan absolutely risk free.
Thats why Christian nations are struggling with woke, because it’s the only place in the world it is safe to be so. Yet they cry out that the Christians are going to beat them up in their sleep. They tremble in fear over Christian nationalists. They whimper over safe spaces to protect them from the violence of Christians saying “God says homosexuality is an abomination.”
I’m a fan of this but think more tightening spiral and less slinky.
My Google search was not supposed to be related to this topic but to try and introduce my kid to cosine/sine, but I found this way too fast for it to be coincidence:
Perhaps because our side is even more pathetic.
I agree – I think Rod Dreher is too pessimistic. I think that might just be an aspect of his particular personality, as I have read him for years and pessimism has often come through in his writing. And I also agree that when the Left goes too far (as is their wont) it can sometimes backfire, and that gives me hope. But the idea that, for example, the public accepts gay “marriage” because politicians on the Right didn’t fight back appears to me to ignore the huge role of the overall culture. The road to gay “marriage” was paved with the breakdown in marriage through no-fault divorce, the sexual revolution, and a rise in a youth culture that had contempt for traditional institutions.
David, I think that this is right on.
OB, you may not have intended this, but I interpret part of your OP as exemplifying this part of the problem. It’s also possible that you were presenting Dreher’s argument, not your own. You wrote:
I don’t think that the problem, from a Christian perspective, is an attack on freedom. The problem, I think, is an attack on virtue. Our laws our evil. Those who are targeted for Wokeist enforcement are those who stand for what is right, against the perversion, anti-white racism, and anti-male sexism of the Woke.
What we should want, I think, is strong, legitimate authority enforcing Biblical morality. Paul writes about such good authorities in Romans 13:3-4:
I think that we have made a big mistake, since the so-called Enlightenment and particularly since WWII, in identifying the problem as a lack of “freedom” and the existence of “tyranny” which, in practice, seems to mean any law enforcement at all. I think that the real problem is between good laws and wicked laws.
It’s also a mistake to expect perfection from government. There is always going to be some corruption and abuse. This needs to be addressed, but not by doing away with government altogether.
With the media on his side, even Mickey Mouse could be a supervillain.
Thanks in a great deal to Mitch.
Your distinction between freedom and virtue is extraordinarily useful.
Jerry, I believe you’re wrong. Dreher’s argument is that the culture war is lost and soft-ending in hard totalitarianism is coming. He wrote this book and The Benedict Option to help prepare orthodox Christians for what he believes are the coming times of overt persecution. He is not presenting any political solution, nor is he advocating “…doing away with government altogether.”
My son worries a little bit that Dreher might be the Moishe the Beadle of our current moment. Moishe the Beadle, from Eli Wiesel’s Night, was someone who escaped, wounded, from near execution and found his way back to warn the community about what the Germans were up to. But he was quirky and weird in appearance, and he always seemed a little crazy so no one listened to him — in time. But he was actually a seer who knew things. I admit it gives me pause.
I laughed at the following comment because it is exactly the way I felt too:
I’ve decided that I’m going with Sozhenitsyn’s recommendation and sticking to it:
“The simplest, the most accessible key to our liberation: a personal non-participation in lies!
Even if all is covered by lies, even if all is under their rule, let us resist in the smallest way: Let their rule hold not through me! “- Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
I will refuse to speak words that don’t correspond to reality. Regarding gender. Regarding marriage. Whatever.
I recall that Whittaker Chambers, in his magnificent book ‘Witness’, says that when he left the Communist Party he felt he had joined the losing side. This was his political opinion regarding the US. His personal experience of becoming a Christian gave him the confidence that he was on the final winning side- not political. And thus we come to ’Live Not By Lies’ and a very timely manual.
A machiavellian politician might take a practical, pragmatic compromise on many of these issues.
For example, this machiavellian politician might publicly announce support for same sex marriage (even if he privately opposes it) while at the same time arguing that no person acting in his private capacity, no non-governmental business, no religious institution, should be compelled to participate in any marriage ceremony, whether that marriage ceremony is heterosexual or homosexual.
I say that this would be a practical, pragmatic compromise because recent polls have shown that about 70 percent of Americans and about 55 percent of Republicans support same sex marriage.
So, the machiavellian politician would be trying to salvage as much individual freedom for people as possible, given the limits of political reality.
I don’t know if this will happen. But it could.
You really need a better class of criminal.
I think the reason why Republicans are losing to Democrat bozos is because the Republicans, in some situations, have decided to play to the roar of the most conservative parts of the political electorate and are not necessarily paying much attention to where the median voter is situated.
This is great if you want to stand on principle. But if you want to win elections, sometimes you have to figure out where the people are on various issues and then convince them that you are one of them. You aren’t lecturing the people on what they should believe but rather are volunteering to be their representative.
That’s right, there’s no such thing as a Christian country or a white country. No Germany for Germans or France for French. A homeland for everyone except the global minority group.
Muslims are a global minority group too. But somehow they seem to have a pretty good hold on some territory.
Because they have maintained an identity? You do realize your own politics are why things are the way they are, right? It’s wrong to have a white identity, it’s wrong to limit immigration, it’s wrong to have laws that promote a Christian moral ethic…
But wasn’t there a time when Christians were the large majority? If so, why did they allow things to change?
Migrants move for economic opportunity. That hasn’t been found in most Muslim countries for many years – though there is transitory labour that goes to the Gulf, and people from Georgia and Armenia used to go to Turkey for work. Back when Iran was more prosperous a community of Sikhs grew up there – and remains (I was surprised to hear).
so, in some sense, North America and Europe have been too prosperous for their own good.
Japan has been prosperous, but they have maintained their racial identity and have not allowed much immigration.
I’m sorry if I was unclear. I was arguing against conceptualizing the problem as an attack on liberty, rather than as an attack on virtue. I didn’t know whether this was Dreher’s position or not, as expressed in the portion of the OP that I quoted.
Moderator Note:Personal attacks are a violation of the CoC.
Christianity has a bit of a built in libertarian streak: do not judge those in the world for they walk in darkness and have not seen the light. When you were a child of darkness, you were a slave to sin, but now you are a child of the light (paraphrase of Eph 4-5). This sentiment is repeated in other places.
So what you have is a natural inclination for Christians to adopt enlightenment ideals on Christian principle. And that is what happened. The Enlightenment is why Christians are now minorities in the countries where once they were majorities.
But on top of that, WWII reconstruction was co-opted and nationalism was declared dirty and filthy and unChristian. And that is how you also have white people becoming minorities in their own countries.
To again answer HW on “what happened”, the answer is THE ENLIGHTENMENT.