Babylon's Furnace

Truth, Suffering & the Hard Road Ahead

When I try to explain the Benedict Option concept to people, I tell them that we Christians today are called to live between Jeremiah chapter 29 and Daniel chapter 3. In the former, God speaks to his captive people Israel, telling them that he has delivered them to Babylon for a time, and that they are to settle down in Babylon, take wives, plant gardens, and "seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile." I believe that holds true for Christians living in this latter-day, post-Christian Babylon.

But consider also the story from the Book of Daniel, of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. Those three Hebrew captives held high positions in the government of King Nebuchadnezzar. But when they refused to bow down to worship a false idol constructed by the king, he threw them into a fiery furnace. As we know, the fire did not consume them. This miracle changed the cruel king's heart.

What was it about the way that Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego lived in Babylon that gave them the presence of mind and the courage to resist, even at the potential cost of their lives? Think about it: you can't get much more embedded in the life of Babylon than to serve the king, but these three Hebrew men always knew who their ultimate Lord was—and were prepared to die for him.

So my message to Christians today is that we urgently need to figure out a way to live embedded in our latter-day Babylon so that we always know who our true Lord is. We need to live so that we are able to see clearly when we are asked to betray him—and so that we have the courage to refuse, no matter what it costs us.

I am 54 years old. For all of my life, talk of anti-Christian persecution in America has been reserved primarily for speculative fiction of the "Left Behind" variety. Those days are over. Christians today have to prepare themselves to face real persecution. America is not the country it once was. In this paper, I am going to speak of the forms anti-Christian persecution is likely to take, and how we can prepare ourselves for the worst—even to go into Babylon's furnace, if that's what the Lord asks of us.

This is not going to be a cheerful, optimistic presentation. But it is going to be a hopeful one. I'll explain that at the end.

An Alarm Sounded

Five years ago, I received a phone call from an American physician, who was rather alarmed. He told me that his mother had emigrated to America from Czechoslovakia. When she was young, she served six years as a political prisoner because she was part of the underground Catholic resistance to communism. Now, as an old lady living with her son and his wife, she said to her son, "The things I am seeing in this country today remind me of when communism came to my homeland."

She was talking about the growing intolerance, even hysteria, from the Left against anything that conflicts with their ideology. I knew that political correctness was a big problem, but this sounded exaggerated to me. Maybe she is just a frightened old woman, I thought.

But over the next few years, I began talking to immigrants from the Soviet bloc—men and women who once lived with communism but later escaped to the West. I would ask them, "What are you seeing today? Is this old Czech woman correct?"

Rod Dreher is a contributing editor to Touchstone. He is a senior editor and blogger at the American Conservative and author of How Dante Can Save Your Life: The Life-Changing Wisdom of History’s Greatest Poem, The Benedict Option: A Strategy for Christians in a Post-Christian Nation, and Live Not by Lies: A Survival Manual for Christian Dissidents. He is Eastern Orthodox and lives with his wife, Julie, in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. They have three children.

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