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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
Are you sure that’s what happened?
I will repeat the example I gave as support, gay “marriage” – it was lost by the culture, not politicians. No-fault divorce, the sexual revolution, and a youth culture contemptuous of all things traditional weakened the concept of marriage. The entertainment industry and the degradation of education contributed. The public was behind gay “marriage” because of these factors, not because politicians didn’t stand up for traditional marriage. The only ones who could have would have been those in very conservative areas where they were in agreement with the majority of their voters.
Benedict XVI stated that the Church would become smaller, but that it would be more faithful. I think he was correct and we’ve aready seen plenty of evidence of that. But I don’t believe that he ever recommended that we go for something like Dreher’s The Benedict Option. If I am wrong, I am happy to be corrected.
“Gender” originated as a linguistic term, but was then appropriated by sociologists (and later activists) to describe the social construction of “gender roles” e.g. boys wear blue pants and play with toy soldiers while girls wear pink dresses and play with Barbie dolls.
The important point is that even under the latter definition there’s no such things as “biological gender,” since the purpose of the term is to distinguish biological sex from socially-constructed gender.
Agree 1000%. Politicians did stand up for traditional marriage, Congress passed the Defense of Marriage Act in 1996 and Bill Clinton signed it. In 2004 George W. Bush endorsed the Federal Marriage Amendment to the Constitution. Even Obama claimed he supported traditional marriage during his first campaign.
I recently read The Benedict Option and I think people often misunderstand it as a call for Christians to abandon the public square entirely and retreat into monastic communities, when it’s really more about forming small communities and local institutions where the faith can be nourished. His basic premise is that we no longer live in a Christian culture, so we need to instead cultivate a Christian subculture, or perhaps counterculture.
I think his meaning would have been clearer if he’d called it The Dominican Option, but he’s Orthodox so it’s not surprising he chose a saint who predates the Great Schism.
Thank you for the clarification, Joseph. I haven’t read it (but I will!), and so I bow to your interpretation. I stand corrected.
After Benedict XVI died (Memory Eternal!), Rod published an article on his blog about him. Much of that entry is given over to an address given in Rome by Benedict’s personal secretary, Archbishop Georg Gänswein, at an event celebrating the release of the Italian translation of Rod’s The Benedict Option. One can be sure Benedict personally approved the Archbishop’s remarks.
There is this passage near the end (emphasis added):
Now, I could be wrong, but this seems to be Benedict XVI’s approval of what Dreher laid out in his book.
This is the definition from Oxford Languages:
Not to be pedantic, but when it says “especially when considered with reference to social blah blah blah” it is notably NOT saying “exclusively when considered with reference to social blah blah blah”.
Exactly, Joseph! Rod has repeatedly made this distinction since the book came out. And as a fellow Orthodox, I’m glad he chose Saint Benedict.
You know that I’m not arguing with your point about the effects of what is going on in the culture. My steadfast argument is that cultural changes should not be permitted to introduce unconstitutional laws into our federal governing processes. We had this with abortion with Roe vs Wade and that has now been set right. Our Congress and the Executive have made a habit of leaving considerations of constitutionality out of their deliberations. This is where I think conservative, actually all, federal politicians have failed under the oaths they have sworn. I’m saying nothing about legislation below the federal level with this position. Another option in these cases is constitutional amendment.
The fault lies with me, MWD – I had a mistaken view of what the book was recommending, based on what I had heard in reaction to it, but Joseph clarified it above (and he’s read it – I haven’t) and with that clarification I don’t doubt it presents an approach that Benedict XVI might have approved (How I miss that man….)
Agreed, but all I’m saying is that politicians are responding to where they perceive their voters are.
They changed the definition. Mine specifically says (from memory, almost word for word, if not exact) that: gender does not refer to sex except jokingly. You say you won’t go along with the wrong usage of words. “Gender” for “sex” is one of them. That’s all I’m saying.
I am against the tyranny of your morality and your Church’s morality Stina. It is not the rule of a just and benevolent G-d that I object to but the rule of man. And what are men but the descendants of princes and Pharaohs.
@CM The Constitution precludes the American federal government from adopting an official religion as part of federal government or discriminating by favoring or disfavoring a specific religion, right? I don’t know that this applies in the same way within all of our states. Certainly there were several different religious influences within the different colonies at the founding. Is there allowance for different results there that is not available at the federal level. Abortion as an issue seems to have a significant religious component as does traditional marriage. Justice Thomas has raised some eyebrows by pointing this out, at least has been my interpretation of some commentary on his positions.
Obama knew the Court would rule to advance an agenda that would not have passed the political process. All he had to do was wait.
Communities are STILL allowed to pass laws that represent THEM. This argument argues that a community that, in the majority, would like to keep strip clubs out has no right to do that.
But that isn’t what a democratic republic is. That is saying Christians are not allowed to participate in the democratic process.
And that was the lie. Christians have as much right to pass laws forbidding LGBTQ nonsense in schools as atheists had to lobby for laws forcing public prayer out of schools.
When the Constitution was ratified, half the states had an established religion. The practice slowly died out because of diversity, not the Constitution..
Speaking of diversity of religious belief in the United States. Currently the two leading candidates for Chairperson of the Republican National Committee are a Mormon, Ronna McDaniel, and a Sikh, Harmeet Dillon.
Really says something about having fifty states. That may be all that is needed to achieve diversity in anything.
Life is not like the movies. It isn’t like the documentaries, either.
Why wouldn’t they?
Why would they? Who cares about conservatives? Only conservatives, imho.
You ought to get yourself a Twitter account so you can find out.
Twitter is not reality and it bad toward the soul.
I don’t think those are bots who want the government to eradicate conservatives from private and political life.
No, those are nuts. But they don’t want to chemically castrate you, they want to convert you so that you straighten up and fly right!
(See what I did there?
Sometimes I frighten myself.It was coincidence.)
Who isn’t a nut these days? But these nuts use eliminationist rhetoric, not conversion rhetoric. I hear very little of the latter.