Live Not by Lies, a Manual for Christian Dissidents by Rod Dreher

Rod Dreher, author of the popular The Benedict Option (see my review here: has written Live Not By Lies as a warning about the soft totalitarianism he sees rapidly overtaking America.  The means of resisting the propaganda is, according to the author, to challenge its philosophy with truth.  Or, as the title suggests, to “live not by lies,” a line taken from Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s final message to the Russian people (p. xiv).  What it means today to not live by lies is the issue this book explores “through interviews with and testaments left by Christians (and others) from throughout the Soviet Bloc who lived through totalitarianism” (p. xiv).  The author is convinced that “we cannot become the kind of Christians we need to be in preparation for persecution if we don’t know stories like this, and take them into our hearts” (p. 204).

Dreher sees much overlap between the social justice warriors of today, the Bolshevik Revolution, and the community leaders in Russia (pp. 24-30, 42-43).  Nevertheless, the soft totalitarianism of today is unlike the hard variety found in communism, and he does not believe the West is destined for the hard version (p. xii).  Soft totalitarianism embraces the ideology of “social justice” but does not lead to the gulags, strict censorship, or material deprivation.  Soft totalitarianism means abandoning old-fashioned liberalism, and replacing it with “a progressive creed that regards justice in terms of groups…to think Good and Evil as a matter of power dynamics among the groups.  A utopian vision drives these progressives, one that compels them to seek to rewrite history and reinvent language to reflect their ideals of social justice” (p. xi).

The antidote to totalitarianism is to stand for truth: “The task of the Christian dissident today is to personally commit herself to live not by lies…she needs to draw close to authentic spiritual leadership…form small cells of fellow believers with whom she can pray, sing, study Scripture, and read other books important to their mission” (p. 18).  Dreher sees small support groups as essential to surviving soft totalitarianism, which views Christians as the enemy (pp. 64-65).  In addition, with “big brother” increasingly   knowledgeable of our every move, we need to create a zone of privacy, although that is nearly impossible in today’s world (pp. 69-94).  The only way forward is “by accepting a life outside the mainstream, courageously defending the truth, and being willing to endure the consequences” (p. 100).

In seeking examples on this kind of living, Dreher turns to the Russian dissidents, mostly Roman Catholic or Russian Orthodox who lived through Russian communism, and tells their stories (part two of the book is devoted to such stories).  He believes these tales will encourage and guide us through the softer form of totalitarianism we face today (see pp. 100-101, 120, 127-134, 138).  While these accounts are of value, two things should be noted.  First, the author draws almost exclusively from a branch of Christianity which denies sola fide.  This is to be expected since the author is a former catholic turned Eastern Orthodox.  Therefore, while we admire their tenacity and the stands taken for their convictions, and appreciate their advice, the models are taken from those outside biblical Christianity.  Secondly, not once in the entire book does Dreher turn to Scripture as his guide.  There are no direct quotes or references to what God’s Word has to say on the subject.  While it is true we can glean much insight from those who have suffered similar experiences, the wisdom of God is much more valuable—and that is not offered in Live Not by Lies.  For that reason, while the author offers some helpful lessons from history and philosophy, gives many beneficial examples, and analyzes the present social justice worldview well, the book lacks the contributions of God as found in Scripture.  For that reason the volume must be read with discernment.

Live Not by Lies, a Manual for Christian Dissidents by Rod Dreher (New York City: Sentinel, 2020), 240 pp. + xviii, Hard $17.99

Reviewed by Gary E. Gilley, Pastor/teacher at Southern View Chapel

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