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Live Not by Lies: A Manual for Christian…
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Live Not by Lies: A Manual for Christian Dissidents (edição: 2020)

de Rod Dreher (Autor)

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Título:Live Not by Lies: A Manual for Christian Dissidents
Autores:Rod Dreher (Autor)
Informação:Sentinel (2020), 256 pages
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Live Not by Lies: A Manual for Christian Dissidents de Rod Dreher

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Summary: Drawing on interviews with Christians in the former Soviet Union and Czechoslovakia, Dreher warns of a rise of a similar, though “soft” totalitarianism in the U.S., and outlines what Christians must do to live in the truth.

In The Benedict Option (review), Rod Dreher outlines how he believes Christians, having lost the culture war, must live. Live Not By Lies offers an even grimmer future, the rise of a “soft” progressive totalitarianism functioning by rhetorical and social control, utilizing the capacities already in existence for digital surveillance.

He draws on interactions with survivors of Communism in the Czech Republic and the former Soviet Union. His title comes from a statement by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, in what would be his final message to the Soviet Union. Dreher writes:

What did it mean to live by lies? It meant, Solzhenitsyn writes, accepting without protest all the falsehoods and propaganda that the state compelled its citizens to affirm–or at least not to oppose–to get along peaceably under totalitarianism. Everybody says that they have no choice but to conform, says Solzhenitsyn, and to accept powerlessness. But that is the lie that gives all other lies their malign force. The ordinary man may not be able to overturn the kingdom of lies, but he can at least say that he is not going to be its loyal subject.

Dreher and his eastern bloc interlocutors recognize the same troubling trends around the suppression of truth, the attractions of progressiveness to the discontented, the loss of faith in institutions, and a combination of destructiveness and transgressiveness. He points to the safety and cancel cultures of universities that foreclose open discussion of ideas.

The second part of his work addresses how Christians ought prepare for the rise of progressive totalitarianism. He argues for the importance of cultural memory, particularly the memory of totalitarian regimes. He believes that the family and networks of small groups are critical to resistance. He believes that the church is the critical bedrock of resistance, although it is also important to stand in solidarity with others who resist. It was heartening to not see him reprise the strategic withdrawal into monastic-type communities of The Benedict Option but rather listen and draw upon the testimony of those who resisted in the urban centers of Czechoslovakia and the former Soviet Union

Perhaps his greatest challenge to Christians is to accept the possibility of suffering as testimony to the truth–not sought, but not avoided. Talking with those who suffered, he stresses both the challenge to suffer without bitterness, and the gift of suffering.

I think the two most important lessons of this book are that “it can happen here” and that Christians are woefully unprepared as yet. What troubled me in reading this was that Dreher’s apprehension of threats from the far left seems to have blinded him to threats from the far right. In warning exclusively of a progressive, Communist leaning totalitarianism, I found him more or less silent about the danger of a fascist totalitarianism. In the “survival of the extremes” character of our parties, it seems increasingly that they are moving toward one of these two polarities. The culture war no longer is Christians versus the secular culture but rather these two polarities against each other, each using parts of the Christian community to gain political leverage.

Where Dreher gets it right is that both of these extremes are built on the lie of ultimate allegiance that no Christian can accept, with a whole host of other lies paving the way to believing this big lie. I believe he is right in recognizing how we may be seduced by lies from one extreme or the other. What I wish he had addressed is how we might be people who turn neither to the Left nor the Right but who are shaped by the narrative of the Gospel of the Kingdom. But in a culture where lying is endemic, the call to not capitulate to the lies and the community that sustains a people of truth is no insignificant thing. A Czech emigre friend told the author that writing this book was a waste of time because, “People will have to live through it first to understand….Any time I try to explain current events and their meaning to my friends or acquaintances, I am met with blank stares or downright nonsense.” I hope he is wrong.

________________________________

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss. The opinions I have expressed are my own. ( )
  BobonBooks | Nov 3, 2020 |
Historians are going to have a wealth of events to study from 2020. Perhaps more than the year 1968. No doubt one thing they will analyze will be the unabashed rise of totalitarianism in the West, which is the topic of Rod Dreher’s new book Live Not By Lies. Dreher analyzes the rise of what he calls “soft totalitarianism” in the US by talking to people who lived through totalitarianism in the Soviet Bloc. As he did in his book The Benedict Option, Dreher focuses on how Christians can preserve their faith during these troubling times.

If you’re wondering what totalitarianism is—

According to Hannah Arendt, the foremost scholar of totalitarianism, a totalitarian society is one in which an ideology seeks to displace all prior traditions and institutions, with the goal of bringing all aspects of society under control of that ideology. A totalitarian state is one that aspires to nothing less than defining and controlling reality. Truth is whatever the rulers decide it is. As Arendt has written, wherever totalitarianism has ruled, “[I]t has begun to destroy the essence of man.”

I grew up in the 1980s during the Cold War. It seems bizarre to me to even need a discussion on the dangers of totalitarianism; yet, here we are. From cancel culture having people fired for differing opinions on Twitter to mobs screaming at passive diners to raise their fists in solidarity at restaurants, totalitarianism is being accepted. Let’s be honest. It’s even being celebrated by some. I realize that not everyone will agree with that statement. Many will not agree with Dreher’s conclusions in Live Not By Lies, but it’s very difficult to ignore the facts.

Dreher interviews Christians who lived through brutal totalitarianism in the Soviet Bloc, and here’s what he found:

What makes the emerging situation in the West similar to what they fled? After all, every society has rules and taboos and mechanisms to enforce them. What unnerves those who lived under Soviet communism is this similarity: Elites and elite institutions are abandoning old-fashioned liberalism, based in defending the rights of the individual, and replacing it with a progressive creed that regards justice in terms of groups. It encourages people to identify with groups—ethnic, sexual, and otherwise—and to think of 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.

These Christians survived absolutely brutal persecution. Dreher describes horrific torture methods used by the Soviets. Many of the people he interviews or their family members spent decades in prisons or gulags. As Dreher examines how they maintained their faith, it’s obvious that there are differences in the totalitarianism we face. In some ways, what we face is even scarier. Dreher writes:

To be sure, whatever this is, it is not a carbon copy of life in the Soviet Bloc nations, with their secret police, their gulags, their strict censorship, and their material deprivation. That is precisely the problem, these people warn. The fact that relative to Soviet Bloc conditions, life in the West remains so free and so prosperous is what blinds Americans to the mounting threat to our liberty. That, and the way those who take away freedom couch it in the language of liberating victims from oppression.

Live Not By Lies starts with a brief history of the rise of totalitarianism in Russia. He looks at the sources and the parallels with what is happening in the US today. Dreher analyzes what he considers the two factors driving “soft totalitarianism” today: the social justice movement and surveillance technology, which has become a huge part of our consumerist culture.

The second part of the book examines forms, methods, and sources of resistance. Dreher attempts to answer the following questions by examining exactly what the Christians in the Soviet Bloc did in order to survive:

Why is religion and the hope it gives at the core of effective resistance? What does the willingness to suffer have to do with living in truth? Why is the family the most important cell of opposition?... How did they get through it?... Why are they so anxious about the West’s future?

Obviously, this is a contentious topic. Live Not By Lies discusses some difficult topics. Dreher has already been attacked and criticized. He doesn’t seem to accept the media-driven narrative of the death of George Floyd and the social justice movement. How exactly does he describe the soft totalitarianism affecting the US? Dreher writes:

Today’s totalitarianism demands allegiance to a set of progressive beliefs, many of which are incompatible with logic—and certainly with Christianity. Compliance is forced less by the state than by elites who form public opinion, and by private corporations that, thanks to technology, control our lives far more than we would like to admit...

Today’s left-wing totalitarianism once again appeals to an internal hunger, specifically the hunger for a just society, one that vindicates and liberates the historical victims of oppression. It masquerades as kindness, demonizing dissenters and disfavored demographic groups to protect the feelings of “victims” to bring about “social justice...”

This is what the survivors of communism are saying to us: liberalism’s admirable care for the weak and marginalized is fast turning into a monstrous ideology that, if it is not stopped, will transform liberal democracy into a softer, therapeutic form of totalitarianism.

For Christians, therein lies the rub—“liberalism’s admirable care for the weak and marginalized.” Aren’t Christians supposed to care for the weak and marginalized? The answer is yes. Christians should and do care for the weak and marginalized. The problem is ideology in these movements is king, and the ideology is ultimately atheistic and therapeutic. Christianity is allowed as long as it bends to the ideology, not the other way around.

These movements are trying to use totalitarianism to create a utopia based on their ideology. As Mark Sayers says in one of my favorite quotes, “They want to create the kingdom of heaven, but without the King.” That is their end goal. Ask yourself, what is the end goal of Christianity? What happens when the goals of the ideology clash with Christianity?

Dreher writes:

In therapeutic culture, which has everywhere triumphed, the great sin is to stand in the way of the freedom of others to find happiness as they wish. This goes hand in hand with the sexual revolution, which, along with ethnic and gender identity politics, replaced the failed economic class struggle as the utopian focus of the post-1960s radical left.

It all goes back to the original sin: the individual wants to be a god. The individual wants to create his or her own brand of heaven where the only sin is anything causing unhappiness. In that kind of culture, even using the pronouns “his or her” is controversial because it could offend someone. Dreher writes:

Christian resistance on a large scale to the anti-culture has been fruitless, and is likely to be for the foreseeable future. Why? Because the spirit of the therapeutic has conquered the churches as well—even those populated by Christians who identify as conservative. Relatively few contemporary Christians are prepared to suffer for the faith, because the therapeutic society that has formed them denies the purpose of suffering in the first place, and the idea of bearing pain for the sake of truth seems ridiculous.

Honestly, the scariest part of all this is we unsuspectingly welcome totalitarianism. We live in a far more technologically advanced society than the 1980s Soviet Bloc. The opportunities and ability to surveil private life are unbelievable. As Dreher says, “There’s nowhere left to hide.” It’s almost cliche to point out anymore. We are far more similar to the society in Huxley’s Brave New World, than we are Orwell’s 1984. Why? Because we happily invite our oppressors into every aspect of our lives, as long as we’re kept happy with endless entertainment and shiny consumer goods. We don’t want to offend anyone, and we don’t want to suffer. Dreher even recounts how one Soviet Bloc survivor he talked to is horrified at the use of smartphones and Amazon Echo in US homes. They lived the nightmare described in 1984.

The subtitle to Live Not By Lies is “A Manual For Christian Dissidents.” The second part of the book specifically gives the strategies the Christians in the Soviet Bloc used to maintain their faith and survive. If you haven’t guessed it, the title of the book has a lot to do with it. The title comes from a quote by Solzhenitsyn, a Christian who survived the gulags. And yes, their Christian faith was crucial to their survival. In fact, much of what our society wants Christians to let go of turns out to be crucial for surviving totalitarianism. Let’s not fool ourselves. There will be suffering, but we must persevere.

This is a difficult topic. It’s hard to hear these comparisons and read these stories. It’s difficult to step outside the ideologies and narratives that seem to want to help people and really see what the end goal is. I think the strategies presented in the second part of the book will be essential in the coming years. Live Not By Lies is not a happy book, but it’s a necessary book. I recommend you read it and ask yourself the hard questions. ( )
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