Jeremiah Revisited by Hans Boersma

Jeremiah Revisited

Rod Dreher's Live Not by Lies: A Manual for Christian Dissidents

One of the great obstacles Jeremiah faced was his contemporaries' refusal to accept that Babylonian pagans would soon overrun Judah and that its temple worship would end in exile. Jeremiah was a prophet of doom—mocked, scorned, and ignored until it was too late. Rod Dreher is a contemporary Jeremiah.

To be sure, to my knowledge, no American politician has taken upon himself the role of King Jehoiakim by cutting up Dreher's The Benedict Option and tossing it into the fire (cf. Jer. 36). Nor have the book's warning cries landed Dreher in a slimy pit (cf. Jer. 38). Some might even argue that the book's remarkable sales invalidate its thesis: Christians continue to play a key role in American culture. If Christians were to adopt a monastic approach, therefore, they would wilfully blind themselves to their continuing influence on every aspect of life in the United States.

I am not entirely unsympathetic to this criticism, which has been made not only of The Benedict Option but also of its recent sequel, Live Not by Lies: A Manual for Christian Dissidents. Here, Dreher again depicts the dominance of Christian culture as a thing of the past: "The culture war is largely over—and we lost." This is true for Europe and Canada, but I'm not convinced it is fully accurate for the United States. Here, the Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, is a committed Evangelical; the Attorney General, William Barr, is a staunch Catholic, who presented an impassioned defense of religious liberty at the University of Notre Dame; and the recently appointed Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett is a devoted charismatic Catholic.

Notwithstanding such counterevidence, when I read Dreher's latest missive, I cannot shake the conviction that he is a true prophet and that the all-too-common pooh-poohing of his warnings and the ridiculing of the advice contained in his latest "manual" are grounded in a serious miscalculation. In fact, the cold shoulder that Dreher regularly experiences, including from top-notch Evangelical and Catholic scholars, may be among the most telling signals that he is correct in observing that Western culture (including many Christians) no longer has the inner resilience or fortitude to resist the barbarians who—as Alasdair MacIntyre has rightly insisted—have made their way inside the gates and are ready to impose their totalitarian regime upon us all.

Rising Tide of Totalitarianism

Dreher's latest book takes the form of a lengthy comparison between the current cultural moment in America and the communist takeover and domination of the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. Like a present-day Alexis de Tocqueville, Dreher has crossed the Atlantic (though in the opposite direction) to see what lessons there are to learn from Eastern Europe's extended fling with communism and from the oppression suffered under its totalitarian regimes. Live Not by Lies is the outcome of numerous interviews, careful observation, and Dreher's own background philosophical reading.

Dreher does not make the mistake of simply superimposing the former Soviet Union's situation directly upon today's America, as if the two were identical. Though warning Americans of the rising tide of totalitarianism, he makes clear that

it won't look like the USSR's. It's not establishing itself through "hard" means like armed revolution, or enforcing itself with gulags. Rather, it exercises control, at least initially, in soft forms. This totalitarianism is therapeutic. It masks its hatred of dissenters from its utopian ideology in the guise of helping and healing.

While both are totalitarian in their aspirations, Dreher is convinced that the totalitarianism threatening America is "soft," as opposed to the "hard" totalitarianism of the Soviet Empire.

A book review cannot do justice to the main strength of Dreher's account, namely his interaction with those who resisted—people such as Fr. Tomislav Kolaković, Václav and Kamila Benda, Alexander Ogorodnikov, and others. Their horrific first-hand tales make it impossible to ignore what they have to say about the fatigue of the West in the face of its current challenges. Ever the investigative journalist, Dreher's sympathetic engagement with his overseas interlocutors draws from them incredulous observations about the dangers of "surveillance capitalism":


Hans Boersma is the Saint Benedict Servants of Christ Chair in Ascetical Theology at Nashotah House, Wisconsin.


more on culture from the online archives

34.1—January/February 2021

Fighting for Love

What the World Needs Now It Hardly Knows by Anthony Esolen

6.1—Winter 1993

Civilization Without Religion?

by Russell Kirk

32.4—July/August 2019

Malaise in Malaysia

Will Islamicization Become Its New Future by Peter Riddell

calling all readers

Please Donate

"There are magazines worth reading but few worth saving . . . Touchstone is just such a magazine."
—Alice von Hildebrand

"Here we do not concede one square millimeter of territory to falsehood, folly, contemporary sentimentality, or fashion. We speak the truth, and let God be our judge. . . . Touchstone is the one committedly Christian conservative journal."
—Anthony Esolen, Touchstone senior editor

Support Touchstone

• Not a subscriber or wish to renew your subscription? Subscribe to Touchstone today for full online access. Over 30 years of publishing!


personal subscriptions

Purchase
Online Subscription

Get a one-year full-access subscription to the Touchstone online archives including pdf downloads for only $19.95. That's only $1.66 per month!


RENEW your online subscription

Purchase Print &
Online Subscription

Get six issues (one year) of Touchstone PLUS full online access including pdf downloads for only $39.95. That's only $3.34 per month!


RENEW your print/online
subscription

gift subscriptions

GIVE Print &
Online Subscription

Give six issues (one year) of Touchstone PLUS full online access including pdf downloads for the reduced rate of $29.95. That's only $2.50 per month!


RENEW your gift subscription

Transactions will be processed on a secure server.

bulk subscriptions

Order Touchstone subscriptions in bulk and save $10 per sub! Each subscription includes 6 issues of Touchstone plus full online access to touchstonemag.com—including archives, videos, and pdf downloads of recent issues for only $29.95 each! Great for churches or study groups.

kindle subscription

OR get a subscription to Touchstone to read on your Kindle for only $1.99 per month! (This option is KINDLE ONLY and does not include either print or online.)

Your subscription goes a long way to ensure that Touchstone is able to continue its mission of publishing quality Christian articles and commentary.


more from the online archives

33.3—May/June 2020

See That You Are Not Alarmed?

On Flight & Fight in the Present Tribulation by Douglas Farrow

32.2—March/April 2019

The Mimetic Bachelor

Reality Shows, Even in a Popular TV Series by C. E. Smith

30.1—Jan/Feb 2017

Family Matters

Domestic Altars & Godly Offspring by Allan C. Carlson

00