Book Review: “Live Not By Lies: A Manual for Christian Dissidents” by Rod Dreher

Rod Dreher, Live Not By Lies: A Manual for Christian Dissidents, (Sentinel: New York, 2020), 256 pages.

reviewed by Karl Dahlfred

Rod Dreher’s latest book has a compelling origin: people who lived under communist regimes in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe told Dreher that some trends in the West remind them of the practices of the totalitarian regimes under which they suffered. Dreher sees a type of “soft” totalitarianism emerging in the West and believes that Western Christians would do well to learn from those lived through the evils of Soviet-style communism.

Western countries claim to value freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and freedom of religion, but they are becoming increasingly unliberal as people who disagree with progressive ideologies of race, sexuality, etc. are finding themselves losing jobs, de-platformed, censored, and having to hide their religious and political views lest they be branded as bigots, racists, homophobes and so forth. Conservative objections that such actions represent a danger to democracy fall on deaf ears. However, those who actually lived under totalitarian regimes think differently and it is to them that Dreher turns the microphone in order to learn how Christians can prepare themselves to live in an increasingly hostile environment.

Dreher’s book is divided into two parts. In part one, Dreher emphasizes the importance of recognizing and preparing for increasing totalitarianism in the West. The first chapter illustrates this point through the story of a Jesuit priest name Kolakovic who studied in the Soviet Union and subsequentially dedicated himself to warning and preparing the Catholic community of post-World War II Czechoslovakia for the coming Soviet puppet regime that would take over the country. Kolakovic founded a lay movement among Catholics, establishing cells of believers for prayer, bible study, and fellowship.  His motto was “See, Judge, Act”, meaning one must observe the realities around you, judge those realities in light of what you know to be true, and then act in order to resist evil. Kolakovic’s warnings turned out to be prophetic when a harsh communist regime came to power, and many believers were enabled to endure persecution because of how Kolakovic had prepared them. With this story about the importance of preparation in mind, Dreher spends the remainder of part one in a brisk analysis of Western culture, especially American culture, with chapter titles like “Our Pre-Totalitarian Culture”, “Progressivism as Religion”, and “Capitalism, Woke and Watchful.” His analysis is insightful but not overly academic as he combines warnings about what’s happening in America with stories of what actually happened under Soviet regimes. Dreher wants to make sure his readers recognize that hard times are coming. The “soft totalitarianism” that is coming to the U.S. won’t look the same as the “hard totalitarianism” of Soviet Russia, but there will be a severe testing of our faith all the same. We must be ready. Dreher thinks that the emerging soft totalitarianism in the West will bear more resemblance to Huxley’s Brave New World, where people’s desire for truth was smothered by worldly pleasures, than Orwell’s 1984, where a Big Brother police state kept people from truth by the threat of force.

A New Challenge to the Christian Faith in Thailand?

In the early 20th century, not a few missionaries believed that Buddhism in Thailand was a religion in decline that would soon crumble under the superiority of Christianity and American culture.[1]  However, as the century wore on, it became evident that those predictions were entirely premature. Buddhism has shown incredible resilience in the face of the challenges of the modern world. Contrary to secularization theory which posits that as a society becomes more educated and developed, it also becomes more secular (as evidenced in Europe), religious beliefs and modern, scientific learning have long dwelt side by side in Thai society, with little evidence of the so-called “science vs. religion” divide that has wedged itself into the thinking of many Westerners. As recently as 1990, Thai researcher Suntaree Komin found no significant difference in religious attitudes among Thai people of varying educational levels.  Her research showed that “the highly educated sought out fortune-telling as often as the uneducated” and “even Western-educated Thai Ph.D. scientists refused to fathom the scientific and religious conflict, and would behaviorally never forget to wear their charms and amulets when traveling.”[2]

The Apostle Paul in Lockdown

Do you think the Apostle Paul ever felt “stuck”? Did he ever feel frustrated at not being able to obey God’s call on his life because of external circumstances? If I found myself in his shoes, I might have. 

This past year, a lot of people (including myself) have felt stuck and hindered by external circumstances, largely as a result of government restrictions in response to COVID-19.  Plans have been frustrated and new plans were also frustrated, and then the most gingerly held and tentative plans were also frustrated.  “Surely, by such-and-such a time, things should be getting back to normal” was in the thoughts and on the lips of many of us, but that confidence that it would only be a bit longer was continually upended.  

But what does the train wreck of 2020 (and 2021?) have to do with the Apostle Paul?

COVID-19 and Why the Incarnation of Christ Was Essential

This Christmas season, I’ve been thinking about the incarnation of Christ because of all the restrictions that we’ve lived under due to government responses to COVID-19.  The Son of God came to the world in-the-flesh, in-person, but for much of this year many of us have been unable to see each other in person. Everyone has been doing the best they can given the circumstances, and there is much to be thankful for, including the miracle of digital communication that enables us to be “present” to some degree for one another. In messaging from the government, we’ve heard a lot about “essential” and “non-essential” activities, but many times “church” has been relegated to the “non-essential” list.  For that reason, in this post I wanted to reflect briefly on why God thought it was essential to send His son in-person, in-the-flesh, for us and our salvation. Was the incarnation essential? How does the incarnation of Christ relate to the limited ability to gather with others in-person in the time of COVID-19?

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

Church Growth in Thailand - Why So Slow?

One of the perennial questions about Christianity in Thailand is why the church has traditionally grown so slowly compared to other countries where Protestant missionaries arrived around the same time. Ultimately, we don’t know for sure why the church grows more slowly or more quickly in a given place. The Holy Spirit blows where He wills and we don’t know where He will move or when (John 3:8). However, God does use people and methods in his work. So, from a human perspective, it is worth considering some of the factors why church growth has been slow in Thailand.

A primary reason for slow church growth has been a strong association of Buddhism with national identity. This has been true for hundreds of years but received a great boost in the early 20th century when Buddhism began to be strongly promoted as a mark of national pride. Thai leaders were eager to modernize their country in the areas of education, medicine, communication, transportation, etc. but becoming more modern did not mean becoming more secular. Buddhism has always been retained as a force for unifying the people of Thailand. As the Thai say, “To be Thai is to be Buddhist.”  In China and Korea, which have both seen strong church growth, no single religion has been tied to being a loyal citizen. The strongest church growth in Thailand has been in the North where minority tribal groups with their own cultural identity have been historically influenced more by local animistic beliefs than Buddhism.

How Two World Wars and Secularism Have Benefitted the Western Missionary Movement

World War I and II were greatly disruptive to missionary work worldwide but they were also a blessing in disguise to the missionary cause. For years, Western missionaries had claimed that the superiority of Western civilization was due to Christianity. They thought this was a great apologetic for why non-Christian people in other parts of the world should believe in Christianity.
 
See what fruit Christianity has borne in Christian nations?  
You too can have that if you believe in Christ!
 
Well, the rest of the world certainly did see as the countries of Europe, the supposed pinnacle of human civilization, tore each other apart.  So that apologetic was not very useful anymore if it ever was. 
 
When the rug was pulled out from under the feet of this missionary apologetic, missionaries were humbled and forced to ask themselves “What IS the fruit of the gospel?” and “What ARE the real benefits of believing in Christ that we can tell non-Christian people?”  The two world wars forced missionaries to draw a sharper dividing line between Christian faith and Western civilization; And that was a helpful thing because missionaries should be preaching the glories of Christ and not the glories of their home countries as supposed proof of the glories of Christ. 
 

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