ROME – In the 2010’s, the term ‘woke’ became a popular word, implying political and social awareness, although critics say the term signals a sort of pretentiousness or elitism about one’s understanding of any given issue.
In his new book, Live Not by Lies: A Manual for Christian Dissidents, Rod Dreher – author of the New York Times bestselling hit The Benedict Option – warns that increasingly extreme leftwing ‘woke’ groups pose a serious threat to the freedoms enjoyed in Western society.
However, speaking to a small group of journalists and representatives from Catholic associations following the Rome presentation of the book, Dreher said he sees new threats also coming from the right.
The main concern, in Dreher’s view, is “wokeness, the soft totalitarianism of the left, but that’s not the only threat. We’ve seen emerge on the right fanatical illiberalism that has the same qualities, but from the right. I’m talking about QAnon, which is all about conspiracy theories.”
QAnon is an umbrella term referring to a widespread set of internet conspiracy theories which allege that the world is run by a cabal of Satan-worshiping pedophiles, most of whom are on the left.
Once a small fringe group no one paid much heed to, QAnon has now gone mainstream, with believers playing a key role in the Jan. 6 U.S. Capitol riots, and their activities have become increasingly violent.
“What I’m really afraid of,” Dreher said, “is that this radical left wing in power is going to inspire the radical right, especially the racist right, to rise up and make conflict.”
“As Christians, we have to reject all totalitarianism, all anti-Christian doctrines, whether it’s from the woke left or the racist right,” he said.
Dreher gained international fame for his 2017 work, The Benedict Option, in which he argues that Christians can “no longer live business-as-usual lives in America,” and must develop “creative, communal solutions to help us hold on to our faith and our values in a world growing ever more hostile to them.”
In his new book, Dreher goes further, arguing that a form of “soft totalitarianism” is overtaking the West, posing a threat to Christian culture through the subtle imposition of a leftist ideology, any opposition to which could potentially result in a hefty fine, a jail sentence, or the loss of one’s business.
He opens the book with an anecdote about a small-town pizzeria in Indiana forced to close for a while after facing mob and social media threats for telling reporters that they would not cater a same-sex wedding on religious grounds.
The whole episode happened in the context of a broader debate about gay rights and religious liberty in the state in which several large corporations, including Apple, were threatening repercussions unless Indiana walked back legislation providing some legal protections for people like the pizzeria owners who invoked their religious freedom to refuse certain business.
In Dreher’s account, an American physician contacted him whose elderly mother, a Czech immigrant to the U.S. who in her youth had spent six years as a political prisoner in her home country, said the episode with the pizzeria reminded her of when communism first came to Czechoslovakia.
“What if the old Czech woman sees something the rest of us do not? What if we really are witnessing a turn toward totalitarianism in the Western liberal democracies, and can’t see it because it takes a form different from the old kind?” Dreher asked in the book’s introduction.
The rest of his book outlines his description of the “soft totalitarianism” taking over today’s Western culture, how to identify it, what its potential consequences are, and several steps he believes Christians must take if they want to resist what’s coming based on conversations he’s had with survivors of Soviet communism.
“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,” he said.
This mentality, Dreher said, “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.”
“People are becoming instant pariahs for having expressed a politically incorrect opinion, or in some other way provoking a progressive mob, which amplifies its scapegoating through social and conventional media. Under the guise of ‘diversity,’ ‘inclusivity,’ ‘equity,’ and other egalitarian jargon, the Left creates powerful mechanisms for controlling thought and discourse and marginalizes dissenters as evil,” he said.
“A progressive – and profoundly anti-Christian militancy – is steadily overtaking society,” he said, noting that the communism survivors he’s spoken with insist that “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.”
According to Dreher, there are several signs of this soft totalitarianism already on display, including widespread loneliness and “Social Atomization,” namely through social media; a lack of civic trust; a loss of faith in hierarchies and institutions; a desire to “transgress and destroy” simply for the sake of it; the presence of propaganda and a willingness to believe so-called “useful” lies; a craze for ideology; the valuing of loyalty over expertise; a fatalistic view of the future; and seeing intellectuals as the “revolutionary class.”
In terms of what Christians can do to resist this culture and protect themselves from it, Dreher stresses the importance of valuing the truth – something increasingly hard to identify in today’s vast digital web of information, misinformation, and conspiracy theories – and to “never accept lies in exchange for comfort.”
He also urges Christians to cultivate a “cultural memory” attuned to the values of Christian culture and committed to conserving them, and stressed the role of families as “resistance cells,” with parents living according to the traditional Christian values of marriage and passing these on to their children.
If Christians want to survive the subtle totalitarianism that’s coming, he said, they must also lean on and strengthen their own faith and stand in solidarity with one another, forming groups and communities with shared values who can be a source of support.
Finally, Dreher said there must be an increased appreciation for the Christian understanding of “the gift of suffering,” and a willingness to suffer for one’s beliefs, as did many who resisted communism.
Dreher closes quoting a 1974 essay by Russian philosopher and political prisoner Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn titled “Live not by Lies,” which Dreher references in the title of his book, saying: “The more of us set out together, the thicker our ranks, the easier and shorter will this path be for us all! If we become thousands –they will not cope, they will be unable to touch us. If we will grow to tens of thousands – we will not recognize our country!”
However, he added, “If we shrink away, then let us cease complaining that someone does not let us draw breath – we do it to ourselves!”
Follow Elise Ann Allen on Twitter: @eliseannallen