Rod Dreher: Totalitarianism in America?
Rod Dreher: I'm Rod Dreher and I choose truth over tribe.
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Speaker 3: I think a lot of what the left supports is satanic.
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Speaker 6: You could put half of Trump supporters into what I call the basket of deplorables.
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Speaker 3: Is it possible to be a good Christian and also be a member of the Republican Party? And the answer is absolutely no.
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Keith Simon : And I'm Keith Simon and we choose truth over tribe. Do you? Hey. Today on Truth Over Tribe, we get to talk to Rod Dreher. Some of you will instantly recognize Rod's name from his book, the Benedict Option, or where he currently writes The American Conservative magazine. I first encountered Rod's work several years ago. I picked up a book called The Little Way of Ruthie Leming. Ruthie Leming was Rod's sister. She died of cancer. But the book tells about how Rod moved his family back to their hometown, St. Francisville, Louisiana, following his sister's death. It's part memoir, part tribute to his sister, part tribute to a community that rallied around her. Rod's newest book is called Live Not by Lies. It's gotten a ton of attention from people you might not expect, people like Bari Weiss or Maud Maron, or a big article in The New Yorker. So let's find out what everyone's talking about. So Rod, welcome to Truth Over Tribe.
Rod Dreher: It's great to be here. Thanks so much for your interest in the book and for saying these nice things about Little Way. That book was, gosh, almost 10 years ago and it just... We're coming up this year on the 10- year anniversary of my sister's death at the age of 42. So it's a real moment for our family and I hope I was able to do her story proud in that book and to show why the story of someone living a quiet life faithfully in a small town can really mean much more than our culture says it does.
Keith Simon : Are you doing anything special to commemorate the anniversary or not necessarily?
Rod Dreher: No, not really. I mean, her kids are now spread out. One is in college elsewhere in Louisiana. The other is married and in Texas starting a career in nursing. And my mother recently broke her hip, so the oldest child of my sister's home taking care of her. Of course, we'll say a prayer for her and maybe raise a glass to her memory, but life goes on.
Keith Simon : Well, I love that book. It was one of those books that I didn't have a lot of expectations for. For some reason, it really hit me in a place that made me think about my own family and what kind of life I want to live. I just encourage people to pick it up. I don't think they will regret it. But we're here to talk about another book, a newer book that you have out, called Live Not by Lies. That title comes from an essay by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn who's the famous Soviet dissident. Now, I'm sure some of our listeners aren't familiar with him, or maybe we've heard his name, but don't know much about him. Can you explain who he was and what he meant by that phrase, Live Not by Lies?
Rod Dreher: Yeah. Solzhenitsyn was one of the most important figures of the 20th century and certainly the most famous dissident to come out of the communist era. He was a Russian who had been a loyal communist until he was sent from the army to the Gulag, the sprawling prison camp system in the Soviet Union, simply for being on the wrong side of politics. This woke him up to a lot of things and it also caused him to come to faith in Christ through his suffering there. But when he got out, he wrote a book called The Gulag Archipelago. It came out, I think in English, in the early'70s, which he exploded the whole myth that the Soviet Union was a good place. He talked about the prison camp system, what it was like there, ended up winning the Nobel Prize for this. But the Soviets naturally hated him and eventually sent him into exile in 1974 in the West to get him out of their hair. The reason I used his essay, Live Not by Lies, for the title of my book is it's something that he wrote just before the Soviet regime kicked him out in 1974. Solzhenitsyn sent a message to his followers in Russia saying essentially this. He said," We don't have the power to change this totalitarian regime. But the one thing we do have the power to do is to refuse to live by the lies they expect us to in order to uphold the regime." For example, he said that if you were asked to sign something that you know is false, don't do it. If you find yourself sitting in a lecture where you know lies are being told and people don't have the opportunity to speak the truth, get up and walk out if you can. That sort of everyday resistance to the lies proved Solzhenitsyn. And it proved that they may have the power, but they cannot conquer our souls and our integrity. And he said," Over time, if enough people refuse to live by the lies that uphold the system, the system will fall." Interestingly enough, three years later, Václav Havel, who was a playwright and a dissident in Czechoslovakia, wrote something similar called The Power of the Powerless. And he said basically the same thing that," We ordinary people who see these are lies, we can't overturn this totalitarian system, but we can withhold our consent from it."" And as long as we're willing to suffer," he said," suffer the cost of living in truth, then we can show other people that it is possible to dissent and not live by lies." So I brought all these ideas into this book because I want Americans today, especially Christians, to understand that we are living in a situation today that is like what they had under communism. It's not the hard totalitarianism. We can get into this later. I know we will. It's not the Gulags and the secret police and torture. It's not that at all. But it is a system of lies and all of us are going to be asked whether or not we stand for the truth. And if we do, we have to be willing to suffer.
Keith Simon : Your book recounts these stories of how people lived under communism in the Soviet system, whether it was in what we think of today as Russia or Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia, how they resisted. And the stories are really inspiring, how they resisted the oppression and the totalitarian state that they lived under. And I think your argument is that there's a kind of totalitarianism, not the same, and you're right, we can get into that in a bit, but a kind of totalitarianism that is happening in the West today in our own country. Now, my guess is that for some people, that sounds a little hyperbolic. Like, man, that's a stretch, maybe an overreaction. Can you say more about some of the similarities that you're seeing between the way the West and America is operating and the way that communism operated during the Cold War? What leads you to say that we have some sort of totalitarian movement starting today?
Rod Dreher: Well, I can go back to where the idea for the book came from. I got a call about six years ago from a prominent physician, a man who would later become the head of the Catholic Medical Association in the US. We had a mutual friend in common and he called me out of the blue and said," Look, I got your number from our friend, because I have to tell a journalist what I've just heard." I said," All right, what happened?" He said that his elderly mother, who lived with him and his wife, had early in her life been a Christian in Czechoslovakia, communist Czechoslovakia. After the communist took over, she refused to stop going to prayer meetings at her church. The communists threw her in prison for that, called her a Vatican spy, and she had to serve for four years, I think. It was four or six years in prison and was tortured for her faith. They let her out, she came to America, got married, and raised her family here. The doctor told me, he said," My mom has been saying that the things she's seeing happen in America today remind her of what it was like when communism first came to her country." What she was talking about specifically was the way this little pizza parlor in Indiana... Memories Pizza, you might recall that. Evangelical owned pizza parlor. A TV reporter went there and asked the owners if he would serve gay people. Yeah, of course they would. They said," Well, would you cater a gay wedding?" They said," No, we couldn't do that. That would be against our faith." That went viral on social media. The pizza parlor had to shut down because they were getting threats from all over the country to burn the place down. That's the thing that sparked this old Czech woman to say," This is what it was like when communism first came." Well, to be honest, I thought that I could see her point, but I thought that's really an exaggeration. But I made a point over the next few years, whenever I would meet somebody in America who had escaped from the Soviet Union or one of the communist countries of Eastern Europe, I would just sit down with them and ask them," Are the things you're seeing now, does that remind you of what you left behind?" Then every single one of them said yes. When I would talk to them more about it, the sort of things they would say would be like the fact that people have to be terrified of saying the" wrong thing", or they'll get fired, they'll get canceled, their friends and family will turn on them. They said that is the essence of what this totalitarianism was, the idea that if you don't conform or if you are seen in any way to object, dissent from what the official ideology of the ruling class is, that you could be made to suffer loss of job, loss of status, even loss of friends and family. That was the core of totalitarianism. The more I talk to these people, the more I realized, my gosh, they're seeing something that the rest of us just can't see because our idea of totalitarianism is based on the Cold War, is based on the Gulag, the secret police, torture, that sort of thing. That's where the idea for the book came. I talked to these people who had been through it about ways our system today differs from the hard totalitarianism, the Orwell- like totalitarianism of the Soviet system, and the similarities it has. What I came to discover was that we are much more like the totalitarianism in Aldous Huxley's novel, Brave New World, where it's a totalitarianism enforced not by torture and terror, as in Orwell's Nineteen Eighty- Four, but rather by manipulating people's access to things that bring them comfort and pleasure.
Keith Simon : Okay. So I think when I hear that story, I can imagine people saying," Yeah, but that's the state, that's oppression or totalitarianism by the state. They have state authority, state power. They do all that and make all those threats and enforce their will behind the barrel of a gun." I mean, with all the laws and courts and prison system, we don't have that today. I mean, what you're seeing is social pressure, peer pressure put on people because they are speaking in a way that our modern culture finds offensive or out of line. And isn't there something healthy about policing ourselves through peer pressure as opposed to governmental pressure? I hear that, and I think it's a reasonable response. But in the book, you distinguish a little bit between hard totalitarianism and soft totalitarianism. So maybe making that distinction and explaining it will help differentiate between the two.
Rod Dreher: Yeah. The soft totalitarianism, as I started to indicate in the last response, is more about manipulating people by gate- keeping their access to the professions, gate- keeping their access to holding onto their jobs, social status, and so forth. So again, it's not the same thing as being sent to the Gulag. And I wouldn't want to indicate that. These are not the same thing clearly. But when it becomes a situation where if you dissent from what the ruling class in all of our institutions, not just the government, but in big business, in universities, in the media, in some churches, in sports, and so forth, if you dissent from the ideology that they've proclaimed to be the ultimate truth, then you will have to worry about being marginalized, exiled. You are not going to get sent to prison, but it's a big deal when you lose your job or your ability to make a living. And people begin to self- censor here. I hear all the time from my blog at The American Conservative, people write to me from inside corporations, from inside universities, sometimes even inside seminaries, talking about how you cannot raise any objection to critical race theory or gender ideology without running the risk of destroying your entire career. This is really happening. Our media are not covering it. And a lot of people think it's not going to happen to them, that this is only happening to a few people. They're going to find out only too late that it can come for anybody. In fact, Solzhenitsyn said in the preface to a 1983 version of the Gulag Archipelago, he said that the problem today is people in other countries look at what happened to Russia and say," Oh, that could never happen here." Solzhenitsyn said," In fact, what happened in Russia could happen anywhere on Earth under the right conditions." We are seeing right now in our country and elsewhere in the West the rise of this intolerant ideology that is forcing people to shut their mouths and hide what they really believe, even hide their Christian faith at the risk of being canceled and being pushed to the economic margins. What I believe is going to happen eventually is that we are going to see a social credit system, like what is happening in China, imposed here where you will not be able to buy or sell if you dissent from the ruling ideology. It sounds like one of these farfetched, left behind situations, but it's actually happening in China now. We have the technology to do it right here. We don't have yet the political and social will.
Keith Simon : So the hard totalitarianism and the soft totalitarianism are both, as you describe, these intolerant systems that pressure people to stay silent or conform the behavior to... I guess you'd say an outside authority, whether intelligentsia or the government or... Help us understand more.
Rod Dreher: Yeah. And I see your point. Well, look, all societies have authorities. There's no such thing as a purely libertarian society where everybody can do whatever they want to do. We believe in authority and legitimate authority. The difference between an authoritarian system and a totalitarian system is important. In what we call an authoritarian system, all political power is monopolized by a single party or leader and there's no dissent allowed. But the rest of life, people are allowed to do whatever they want. This is how things were in, for example, Francisco Franco, Spain. Well in a totalitarian system, all political power is monopolized by one party or leader, but everything in life is made political, so politics gets to every aspect of society. In the book, I talk about an example from the early Soviet Union where a few years after the Bolshevik Revolution, the Soviet Chess Club was trying to protect the chess society from being forced to take a political stand. They put out a statement saying," We want to protect chess for chess's sake." Well, the government came back and said," No, no, no. Under the revolution, everything is for the sake of the revolution. There can be no such thing as anything for anything sake. It all has to serve the revolution." I think about this, Keith, when I think about what's happening, for example, with LGBT pride ideology. This summer when I was in Hungary doing a fellowship, I saw that Blue's Clues& You, the show that my kids grew up on, this is a second version of it, they did a Pride Month parade for children, an animated thing with an animated drag queen singing a song about transgender families, polyamorous families, and things like that. I showed this to some of my Hungarian friends and they were completely shocked by it. They could not believe that gender ideology was being pushed into earliest childhood by our media. I even showed them the side of a Kellogg cereal box for Pride Month, a cereal for children in which children were encouraged to come up with their own pronouns. This might seem like a very minor thing, but this is how the totalitarian nature of this happens, when even breakfast cereal or children's morning television is made to serve the revolution. You can look all around us and find all kinds of examples of this, where things are being" queered" that you wonder, wait, what does that have to do with LGBT? Well, it's being forced to, or critical race theory or whatever the ideology is of the ruling class.
Keith Simon : So the phrase, the personal is political, has become pretty widespread now, right? Where the All- Star Game for baseball has become political, vaccines and masks have become political. But the way I see it is that everybody has a part in that. I mean, each side of the cultural spectrum are making particular issues political. You're giving great examples of how children's television or cereal boxes are becoming political. But if I hear you right, you're not so much upset with these particular people voicing their opinions. What really concerns you is that they're shutting down other people from sharing their opinions. In other words, we don't have a free exchange of ideas happening in the marketplace of ideas. Instead, we have one side enforcing their code, and if you don't abide by it, you might lose your job or be driven out of polite society. Is that the thing you're arguing, that we need to be able to have a free exchange of ideas, or are you advocating that those who are pro- LGBTQ are the only authoritarians in the crowd?
Rod Dreher: Now, you've hit on something important. In the next edition of this book, whenever it goes to paperback, I'm going to add a chapter about how we conservatives have yielded to a lot of this too. I'm talking to you from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, my home city. And down here, the whole question of masking for COVID has broken up some churches. I have two pastors, two evangelical pastor friends, both of whom left the ministry entirely because they could not deal with the way people and their congregations had become totally politicized and angry and almost violent about it. So this is not just a thing from the left. But I think what we're seeing though is because we are... I call it the ruling class because I can't think of a better name for it. The people who run our government, run our major institutions, so many of them have gone over to what we call wokeness, and that has become the official ideology and you cannot dissent from that. I agree with you. I want there to be open dialogue. Those people, people on the left, pro- LGBT, pro- CRT, they should have a right to speak their mind. But being part of a democracy, of a liberal democracy, means that others should have the right to speak their mind too without fear that they're going to be ruined by it. That no longer exists, not in cancel culture. This is really troubling because you have things like... I write about it in Live Not by Lies. A doctor who had been born in the Soviet Union, immigrated to America, is a Christian. He works for a major American hospital and told me that the decision came down from the board of directors of the hospital that hence forth whenever somebody shows up and demands hormones or transgender treatment, the doctors are supposed to give them whatever they ask for even if it goes against their best medical judgment. This is when you know that an ideology has taken control, when even a doctor is not allowed to say," You know what? I don't think this is right for this particular patient," without fearing for his job. We're seeing this happen everywhere.
Keith Simon : You mentioned earlier Orwell and Huxley. George Orwell published his book, Nineteen Eighty- Four. He published that in 1949. Huxley wrote Brave New World before that in 1932. They're both dystopian visions of the future. Neil Postman in his book, Amusing Yourself to Death, he has this introduction, I think it's in the introduction, where he compares the two. And it's just a great couple of paragraphs. Let me read just a little bit of it. He says," Orwell warns that we'll be overcome by an externally imposed oppression. But in Huxley's vision, no Big Brother is required to deprive people of their autonomy. What Orwell feared were those who would ban books. What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book for there would be no one who wanted to read one. Orwell feared those who had deprive us of information. Huxley feared those who would give us so much that we would be reduced to passivity and egoism. Orwell feared that the truth would be concealed from us. Huxley feared that the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance." One more." Orwell feared that we would become a captive culture, Huxley feared we would become a trivial culture." In short, it seems that Orwell feared that hate will ruin us, that there will be some outside authority controlling us. Huxley feared that we would relinquish control willingly, that we would give up control of our lives. If Nineteen Eighty- Four became true in communism, are you suggesting that maybe Huxley's vision, dystopian vision, in Brave New World is coming true in America? Help us think about that.
Rod Dreher: Yeah. Well, I tell you what. Let me go back and give you a real life example. I mentioned this in the book, but I was just in Hungary and this is where it happened. It came to mind when I was over there. I was on a tram writing with my translator when I was doing interviews in Hungary for the book. My translator, a young Christian wife and mom of small boy, she was expecting her second when we were talking, she said to me," Rod, I really struggle, even talk to my Christian friends here because they won't hear me out. If I tell them my husband and I are arguing a lot lately, before I even say the second line, they'll say,'Oh, well, you should just get a divorce. You got to be happy.' Or if I say that I'm struggling raising my son, he's not sleeping well, it's really hard, they'll say,'Oh, put him in daycare, go back into the workplace. You've got to live your own truth.'" Something to that effect. And she goes," I can't make them understand that I'm happy being married, I'm happy being a mom, but life is struggle. That's a normal part of life and we need help with that." I looked at her and said," Anna, it sounds like you're fighting for your right to be unhappy." She said," That's exactly it. Where did you get that?" Well, I pulled my phone out, went to chapter 17, a Brave New World. In that chapter, there's the dissident. He's called John the Savage. He lives outside of this society where all your comforts are taken care of, all your needs for entertainment and pleasure are met. He confronts Mustapha Mond who's the world controller for Europe. Now, if you think back to Orwell's Nineteen Eighty- Four, this scene is when O'Brien the torturer tortures Winston Smith to make him accept Big Brother, make him love Big Brother. But in Huxley, you have Mustapha Mond bringing in this dissident saying," Why don't you want what we have to offer? You have everything taken care of. You're comfortable, you have all the sex you want, you have drugs, you have pleasure, you never have to suffer." he calls it, Mustapha Mond," Christianity without tears." John the Savage, who has been living out in the woods reading Shakespeare, he looks at him and says," I don't want that. I want beauty. I want God. I want sin. I want sex." He wants to be a real human being, have the drama of being a real human being. Mustapha Mond doesn't torture him, he says," You're welcome to it," and he sends him out because this is what this brave new world that we're living in, this is what it has. It is trying to speak to people to say," Look, we will deliver you from suffering. You won't have to suffer, just give us your freedom. Give us your political liberties in exchange for comfort. We'll make the whole world a safe space for you, but you won't be free anymore."
Keith Simon : Is that what you mean in the book by pink police state, that you're willing to give up your freedoms, your liberties, control in order to be happy and comfortable and experience pleasure? I love that phrase, pink police state. I think you said you borrowed it from somewhere, but I don't remember.
Rod Dreher: Yeah. A guy named James Polos out in California. Yeah, that's exactly what it is. By pink, he doesn't mean as some people think, homosexual. He's talking about compassion, the idea that we will accept a tyranny, a political tyranny, for the sake of making people's lives more comfortable and safe. I'll give you a real life example. This is not in my book, but I've been thinking about this a lot lately as we consider the fall of Afghanistan. A couple years ago, I was up in Boston. A friend of mine from a European country, he was just finishing graduate work at Harvard, and I called him and said, "Hey, I'm in town. Let's go to lunch. I want to find out what you learned in Harvard, the top university in America." Over lunch, he said the most important lesson he learned was that the American elites are totally fragile. I said, "Wait, what do you mean by that?" And he told these stories about how in class after class, at graduate work at Harvard, you would have students start out the class saying, "Professor, let's not talk about this thing or that thing because it would trigger me. I would feel unsafe." And the professors would give into it. This European guy said, "All of us foreigners in the class, we looked at each other like,'What's going on here?' But this is how it is at Harvard." The guy went on to say, "Look, my country is small. We depend on America being strong. But I saw the next generation of the ruling class being so fragile psychologically that they could not handle thoughts and opinions that made them anxious." He said that these people don't deny that they are meant to rule America, but they're not going to be capable of doing it. They will suppress and they will use the power that they've been given by their positions to suppress any thoughts that make them feel uncomfortable. These are the people who are going to be the guardians of the pink police state.
Keith Simon : If you're like me and you leave each episode with a lot to think about and wishing you'd could go just a little bit deeper, you should subscribe to the Truth Over Tribe newsletter. Not only do we explore the topic further, but we also interact with people who disagree with us and tell you about upcoming episodes. Just go to choosetruthovertribe. com and sign up for the newsletter there. I came across your book recently and it's what launched me to reach out to you, listening to Bari Weiss interview a woman named Maud Maron on her podcast. For those of you not familiar with Bari Weiss, she is a journalist who very publicly left the New York Times in 2020. She posted her resignation letter and it was all fire. Essentially, she was accusing the Times of reneging on its mission to print all the news that's fit to print, and instead printing all the news that fit their perspective. She said," Truth was no longer the objective. Now we were looking to tell the story, the narrative, not search for truth." So she's interviewing Maud Maron, who was a Bernie- supporting New York City public defender for decades. Maud Maron, who was run out of her position in the public defender's office because she was supporting a merit- based approach to education in New York City. So here are these two women who come from completely different religious and even political perspective than you do and they were clear to say that. But here they are ending the podcast by saying they've both read your book. And I think it was Maud Maron who said she's brought to tears by what she's reading because she's hearing the stories you're telling and saying," This is my experience." So are you hearing other things like that that people who don't necessarily align with you faith wise or align with you even politically who are saying," Hey, you're onto something here. You got your finger on this."?
Rod Dreher: Absolutely. And that has been one of the most surprising and indeed gratifying things about this project. Bari Weiss is, for those who don't know, she is on the left, the center left. She's also a secular, Jewish lesbian married to a woman. She told me when we first got in touch over this book, she said," If you had told me two years ago that I would be on the same side as Rod Dreher about anything, I wouldn't have believed it. But here we are."
Keith Simon : You're such a likable guy, why would she say that?
Rod Dreher: I don't know about that. But I will say this, and I told Bari, I'm proud to be with you here because one of the things I learned from talking to the Christian dissidents back in the communist countries was that the most important thing that we have to keep in front of us is that those people who have courage, courage to stand up for the truth, they have to be our allies no matter what. And the reason I first heard about this from interviewing a woman named Kamila Bendová, she and her late husband, Václav, were the only Christians in the inner circle around Vaclav Havel in Czechoslovakia. I asked her how difficult it was for them as observant, believing Christians to with basically a bunch of hippies who led really wild sex lives. This was Havel and his people. I said," Was that difficult for you?" She said," Actually, not really, because there were so few people in those times who were willing to stand up against the totalitarian government." She said," You mustn't imagine that Christians did, so most Christians just kept their head down and just wanted to be left alone." She said," Whenever we found somebody who would take that risk of going to prison to stand up for the truth, we knew those people were our friends and had to be our friends and we had to be their allies too." I believe the same thing is happening to us, Keith. I would much rather stand there in the public square with somebody like Bari Weiss, Maud Maron, or people like Bret Weinstein and his wife, Heather Heying, who are secular, left wing atheist, but who love the book and who have paid a big price for standing for the truth. I'd rather stand with them that if any number of conservative Christians like me who don't want to take the risk to stand up for the truth because they might lose their job, someone might look at them crossways at church on Sunday, and so on and so forth. This is a battle we're facing and most people will not have the courage to stand up, but we have to do it. Those of us who trust in the Lord and who fear the Lord more than we fear the judgements of men and women, we have got to take the stand. If it means standing with people on the other side of us politically, religiously, or morally, then that's something we have to do for the time being.
Keith Simon : Well, I guess I appreciate that because I think there's a way to read your stuff that says," Hey, Rod is advocating for maybe a Christian nation or he wants to align himself with other Christians, other conservative Christians, against the state or against the cultural hierarchy." I don't really think that's what you're saying. You're more than willing to embrace people who come from completely different world views if they're willing to speak the truth, if they willing to challenge the authorities, if they're willing to be heterodox in their thinking. So it's not as if you're looking for uniformity of opinion or thought, you're looking for the ability and you're fighting for the ability to keep sharing your thoughts when they are not popular, right? That you just want the ability to have this free exchange of ideas.
Rod Dreher: Yeah. Yeah. That's fair.
Keith Simon : Now, you have your own opinions, and you have strong opinions, and those are well documented in The American Conservative and other places. But your main fight here is, be careful because people are being shut up and shut down by the threat of losing their livelihood, losing their social circle. That's why I like the Bari Weiss and the Maud Maron and hearing about Bret Weinstein, is that these are people who come from completely different theological perspectives. They're not people of faith or people of different faiths, but they're saying," Hey, we can work with people like Rod," and you want to work with them.
Rod Dreher: Absolutely. Look, I have seen enough on our own side or my own side. I don't know what your politics are. The conservative side should know that the line between good and evil here doesn't go between left and right. There are too many people on the right who would like to shut up any dissent from Donald Trump, for example. I was never a Trump supporter, but I wasn't a never Trump guy either because I thought he arose for important reasons, reasons that the Republican Party didn't want to talk about. I don't want to go down that road here.
Keith Simon : Sure.
Rod Dreher: But I'm all for keeping open dialogue and I don't want it shut down from the left or the right. It just so happens right now in this society, people on the cultural left control most of the institutions and they are the ones who set the broader patterns of what we can and can't talk about, they're the ones who frame it. But we mustn't think that people on the right are immune from this sort of thing because it does happen in our circles too. Just try to go out in my own city and say," You know what? I think it's a good idea that we wear a mask." You'll get shut down big time and unfairly. I mean, maybe mask wearing is a bad idea, let's talk about it. But nobody's willing to talk. I mean, more people just want to shout you down, and it's a scary thing. I got to say, Keith, before we go on, that one of the things that really made me realize that the émigrés from the communist world to this country were seeing something is when I read Hannah Arendt's book, The Origins of Totalitarianism. For those who don't know, she was one of the great political theorists of the 20th century. Her first big book came out in 1951. She was a refugee from Nazi Germany. She was Jewish. After the war was over, she wanted to understand how it was that countries like Germany and Russia surrendered to totalitarianism, whether right wing in Germany or left wing in Russia. She found a number of things those societies in their pre- totalitarian state had in common. The most important one by far she said is that people were atomized and isolated and alone. When you have a society where people don't have friends, don't have connections to churches, to social groups and things like that, they become sitting ducks for totalitarian leaders. Other aspects are the refusal of people to believe that truth can be something that is against what they want to believe. In other words, it's a better way to say that, people on both the left and the right only came to believe things that were true were things that they already believed. Boy, we're there.
Keith Simon : We're there for sure.
Rod Dreher: Another aspect, no trust in institutions anymore. We're there right now. In fact, just last month, the Gallup organization did a poll of Americans' trust in institutions. Only two institutions got more than 50% of the vote. Small business with 70% of the trust and the military with 69%. You watch them take that poll a few months from now after what's happened in Afghanistan, trust in the military will have dropped. So I'm just saying that all of these things are warning signs. They're signs of the times, we are sitting ducks for this sort of thing.
Keith Simon : Let me push back just a little bit. I've been reading a lot on the rise of the religious right. I'm sure you're very familiar with the story, probably even more than me. But the religious right, you can trace its lineage back to the anti- communism of Billy Graham and that Christians were posing the American system with God against the communist system that was godless. Then you have in the early'60s, there's the decisions by the Supreme Court to take prayer and Bible reading out of school. Then you have the pill and the sexual revolution, and you have civil rights issues all during this time. The idea is that Christians have always found someone to be the boogieman, someone to fear, and that the Christian establishment has profited, maybe not financially, but getting power through telling their people," Hey, you need to be afraid of CRT. You need to be afraid of the LGBTQ movement. You need to be afraid of losing your religious liberty. You need to be afraid that you're not going to have the Supreme Court on your side anymore." So I'm wondering if the story that you're telling about the rise of a soft totalitarianism in our country could be construed as," Hey, this is one of those fears that the church has always told people in order to maintain their own leverage on people's lives." How would you respond to that?
Rod Dreher: Well, first of all, I would say that it's certainly true the religious right weaponized cultural fears for political power. And I say this as a religious conservative, that it has been a failure. The religious right project, most of my life, has been a failure because what so many of our leaders or religious conservatives leaders tried to do was thinking that the culture was basically okay, that if we just got political and legal power, everything would be fine. That was a lie. And they've lied to themselves about this too and we're living in the aftermath of the collapse of those lies. Secondly though, I would say that, well, we have to be aware of how people on the religious right, the religious left, anyone seeking power, can look for a scapegoat. That's certainly true. That's a perennial temptation. It's also the case that sometimes there really are witches.
Keith Simon : Sure.
Rod Dreher: We go on a witch hunt, there could really be witches. We're seeing right now, for example, with critical race theory, we're seeing dismantled a real advance, moral advance, that I've lived through in my lifetime that Dr. Martin Luther King gave his life for, for the idea that people should only be judged by the content of their character, not the color of their skin. Suddenly, we're being told, our children are being told especially, that that's all wrong. This is going to have consequences. I've been saying on my blog for a long time that all these people on the left who are raising the idea of racial consciousness and racial identity politics, what they don't know is they're calling up a very nasty demon on the right, on the white right. I was born 1967 in a small, southern town. I didn't realize this util much later when I got older and started looking into the history, but the Ku Klux Klan didn't disappear in my town until I was like two years old. And this history was all hidden from my generations. Our parents generation wanted to suppress it, but it actually happened. That kind of evil is still present. I mean, you don't see it when you go there now, but it wasn't that long ago. And if these critical race theorists keep talking about this and turning us against each other on the basis of race, then I fear that they're going to cause an equal and opposite reaction on the radical white racist right. So this is just one thing about why we really are looking at a danger. It's not just something made up. On the whole LGBT thing, look at the Equality Act, Keith. This is a bill that would raise homosexuality and transgenderism to the same level in federal law as race. The only reason this hasn't passed is because there aren't enough votes in the Senate to make it pass. It's past the House, Joe Biden said he would sign it. If this happens, then in federal law, every single institution in this country that follows traditional Biblical morality on LGBT will be treated as no better than the Klan. This is not a hysterical thing to say, this is actually happening. Our media don't talk about it, our Republican leaders don't talk about it because they're afraid of being called bigots. But this is something that is really going on. There really are going to be religious liberty consequences, tremendous ones, from this sort of thing.
Keith Simon : So I guess your point then is just because the boy cried wolf and there was no wolf doesn't mean that wolves don't eventually come around. So it sounds like you're agreeing that the church has weaponized fears in the past for their own personal power or political power. But that doesn't mean that there really aren't things happening in society that we need to be aware of and watch out for, that there really might be dangers out there.
Rod Dreher: Well, yeah. Let me give you an example of the church weaponizing fear of fear. A few years ago, out in California, the state legislature, the LGBT caucus leaders, tried to change the law in that state that would take away Cal Grants, which are direct grants to impoverished students. They can use at any accredited state university in California, public or private. It's something that a lot of poor kids use to go to college. Well, the LGBT caucus wanted to make it impossible to use Cal Grants at what they considered to be bigot colleges, that is, religious schools that did not have full LGBT equality. It would've meant that about 100 colleges, small Christian colleges, some not so small, would've either had to violate their conscience, their corporate conscience, or probably close down because they were so dependent on these poor kids with Cal Grants coming to them. So there was this campaign by the Christian colleges to fight this. I talked to an administrator of a well known Christian college in California who said that he went with the delegation down to conservative Orange County with its big evangelical megachurches and tried to tell them about what this legislation meant and why they needed to galvanize their congregations to fight for religious liberty and the right of these religious schools to set their own policy. He said not one of those megachurches in Orange County would take their side because they were all afraid to be called bigots and afraid to pay the social price. The man told me that the only reason this legislation got turned back was because the black Pentecostal leaders in Southern Los Angeles and the Hispanic Catholic Archbishop of Los Angeles took the side of religious liberty. So my point is simply this, you have religious leaders who will want to avert the eyes of their congregations from actual threats out there so they, the religious leaders, don't have to take a tough stand. I talked to a pastor just before I went to Hungary. I was talking to a pastor about how gender ideology is all over children's media, it's coming to the schools, their parents in your congregation. I said because I talk to some of those parents who are wondering, what does the church have to say about male and female? What should we do as Christians? How should we acknowledge this? The pastor said to me," Oh, no, no, no, no. I don't want to bring politics into my church." And I said," Pastor, this is not about politics. This is about a very serious moral issue that your congregation is facing. The church has got to take a tough stand and to stand there and to preach for these parents and help them understand how to respond in a Christian manner." But you see, conflict is something that so many of our pastors want to avoid, and so I think that they are allowing their congregants to go into a really dangerous situation unprepared.
Keith Simon : Well, I somewhat sympathetic in the sense that in 2019, I think it's right, fall of 2019, I preached a sermon on Genesis 1:26- 27 about male and female. There was nothing political about it, zero politics involved, and we paid a pretty heavy price. I mean, I personally paid some of that and then the larger congregation paid it. Now, turns out you survive and you come through it, but it's quite a storm when it hits. So I'm sympathetic that they're probably right, that they will pay a big price, but I also understand that people are looking for biblical, Christian guidance. And if you don't give it to them, they don't know where to turn, and so you can't be surprised when you lose people because they didn't have any instruction from their church. So let me jump here to this, is one of the things that I'm trying to figure out. You've written about this in the Benedict Option and other place, so I know you've thought about this topic, is what's the church's role in our society? What are we trying to do? Go back to the religious right, things I've been reading, they wanted to transform culture, and they thought that to transform culture, they should get political power and that we are going to enact laws and policies and have the right president, the right Congress people. It seems dangerous to think I'm going to transform culture. What do you think the role of the church is? I mean, just to be honest, a part of me thinks that it is the role of the church to bring transformation of the culture, but I'm just not sure it's through political power. Help us think through it.
Rod Dreher: Well, the first role of the church is to pass on the faith and to bring the members of the church to holiness. The church needs to make saints, make people who are faithful to Jesus Christ in everything they do and can pass the faith onto their children and to evangelize and spread it around the world. There's no doubt that because all Christians are called to evangelize, this is a great commission, and that is inevitably culture changing. But you can't take politic power and force people to believe. In fact, I think we're seeing now, and I know we're seeing because I'm hearing from these people, young people who saw their parents go all in on the religious right, and then abandon what the young people thought their parents believed so they could side with Donald Trump. And that is something that is a really important thing. If we have mistaken the work of the church for the work of politics, if we see the church as the Republican Party or the Democratic Party at prayer, then we have failed. I believe that the church is in the world, but not of the world. It must be in the world, but not of the world. I think whenever I talk about the Benedict Option to audiences, I bring up Jeremiah 29, which your listeners will all know, where God speaking to the prophet Jeremiah told the Hebrews and their Babylonian exile to settle in the city, pray for the peace of the city, set down roots here for the time being." One day, you'll be delivered from this, but right now, this is what I want you to do." But I also bring up the first chapters of the book of Daniel, which tell the story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, the three Hebrew youth who were completely embedded in Babylonian society. They were servants of the king, but when it came down to it, they remembered who they were as worshipers of the true God and they chose a prospect of a death by torture to apostasy. We have to live in that space between Jeremiah 29 and the book of Daniel. That means that as the church, we should be preparing all of us, all the members of the church, to bear witness in our lives. If not even by our words, then by what we do. And the willingness to suffer, Keith, is a big part of that. That's something that we've forgotten in America because we've been so blessed by wealth and religious liberty for so long. But I remember standing in Moscow on a straight corner talking to an elderly Baptist pastor, a man who had just gotten finished telling me stories about how all the men in his village were taken to the Gulag by Stalin. The women were the ones who kept the faith alive for the kids. This old pastor said," You go back to America and you tell the church that if you're not willing to suffer, that your faith is nothing but hypocrisy." Suffering, it has determined who we are. We can't necessarily change the church overnight or change culture overnight, but by showing that we believe in Jesus Christ and the gospel so much that we are willing to suffer loss of job, loss of status, maybe even loss of our freedom, and God forbid it could come, loss of life for the sake of that gospel. That is how we will change society.
Keith Simon : Okay. But this is where I get a little bit fused because earlier you were talking about the Equality Act and other legislation that might limit the freedom of the individual, especially the individual Christian. In order to prevent the Equality Act from happening, you've got to have a certain number of senators in there. I mean, you alluded to that's why it hasn't passed. It has passed the House, President Biden has said he'd be happy to sign it. So the only reason it's not passing is because the Republicans have a certain number of senators to prevent its passing. But then here you're talking about, you might need to suffer, you might need to willingly give up your rights, maybe even your life. So now I'm confused, because are we supposed to elect senators who will enact legislation or prevent bad legislation from being enacted? Or are we supposed to quietly live out our Christian faith in our families and in our churches and be willing to suffer because those seem to be at odds sometimes?
Rod Dreher: I see. Yeah, and thanks for the opportunity to clarify. The answer is yes to both. A lot of people say that my Benedict Option idea is about heading for the hills and keeping our heads down. That's not it at all. I say clearly in the book that we are called to be in the world. But if we are going to be in the world, a world of dispute, a world of persecution, and give faithful witness to Christ in that world, then we are going to have to step back somewhat from that world to strengthen our faith, strengthen our knowledge of the faith, strengthen our faith practices, and strengthen our community bonds so we can present a faithful icon of Christ to the world. But we have to also stay engaged in politics if only to protect religious liberty. This is so important. As you said, the Equality Act is only not law today because of a handful of Republican senators. We can't afford to abandon the field there. My point is simply this, and this is something a lot Christians I talk to, they believe that if we just elect more Republicans, all these problems will go away. They won't go away. The magazine, Politico, this week reported about how the Republican Party has become much more pro- LGBT to the consternation of evangelical leaders. Well, they're becoming pro- LGBT because this is where the culture is going. We have to recognize that political parties are not churches and they have to respond to movements in the culture. This should be a warning to us. We who are conservative Christians, we need to keep the pressure on our political leaders and vote for political leaders that will stand up for religious liberty. But we also can't count on that fully. Because so many of us cared more about political power than evangelizing, than discipleship and transforming the culture, that way, we find ourselves at a point where we're not even going to have political power. Then what do we do? We cannot surrender to the forces that would compel us to abandon Christ and abandon what we know to be true. That's where Live Not by Lies and the Benedict Option come in.
Keith Simon : The subtitle of the book is, A Manual for Christian Dissidents. And the way I take the book is that you want this to be practical. You want to give people some guidance about how do I respond to this growing totalitarianism that you're describing in the book. You talked to a lot of people who survived under communism. Were you able to gain from them what caused some people to be able to survive that totalitarian regime while others didn't? What made the difference? And maybe also while you're answering that, I get the sense you don't think that the American church right now is ready to survive that kind of authoritarianism. So help us to see where we fall short, at least in your perspective.
Rod Dreher: Well, the book is full of practical advice from these dissidents about what they did to hold it together. The most important thing is willingness to suffer for the gospel. That's it. If you don't have that, you're gone because the pressure will come at you very, very hard. We need to start paying a lot more attention to the stories of the martyrs and the confessors, those who have been in this place before in the long 2, 000- year history of the church and ask ourselves, what did they do? That is the most important thing. We in the American church, Protestant, Catholic, Orthodox, all of us, we're too soft. We have never been asked to suffer for our faith. I'm not even talking about suffering of real persecution, like life and death. I'm talking about suffering the" persecution" of being unpopular. This is a problem for us and we've got to start thinking outside the box, so to speak, and realizing that this is coming for us too, we got to get ready. The second thing is those who survived it were those who saw what was coming and made preparation while they could. I dedicate the book to a Catholic priest named Father Tomislav Kolakovic. Father Kolakovic was a Jesuit doing anti- Nazi work in Zagreb in Yugoslavia in 1943. He got a tip that the Gestapo was coming for him, he fled, went to his mother's homeland, Slovakia, and started teaching in a Catholic university there. Father Kolakovic told his students," I've got good news and bad news. The good news is the Germans are going to lose this war. No doubt about it. The bad news is that when it's over, the Soviets are going to be ruling this country and the first thing they're going to do is come after the church. So we got to be ready." What Father Kolakovic did was put together small groups of dedicated, young Christians who had come together for prayer, but not just prayer, for deliberation. They would talk about what was happening in their society and how they could prepare for the coming persecution. Within two years, Keith, these groups, these Kolakovic groups had spread all over Slovakia, and they were getting ready. The bishops, Catholic bishops of that country, chastised Father Kolakovic and said," Father, you're scaring people. You're being an alarmist. It will never get so bad here." But Father Kolakovic did not listen because he had studied the Soviet Union. He wanted to be a missionary there and he knew their mindset. Sure enough, when the iron curtain fell over Slovakia in 1948, the first thing they did was go after the churches. Father Kolakovic's underground network of priest and lay people who had prepared themselves, they became the backbone for the underground church there and the only meaningful resistance to communism for the next 40 years. They saw what was coming. They read the signs of the times as surely as Noah looked up and saw that the rain clouds coming meant that a big flood was coming to wipe everything out. We in the American church have got to read the signs of the times and not be deterred by our fear of suffering, but realize that the Lord could be sending us this for our own salvation. We've got to be ready for it.
Keith Simon : Thanks for spending time with us, Rod. Live Not by Lies: A Manual for Christian Dissidents. Where can people find you?
Rod Dreher: Well, I'm at theamericanconservative.com. I write a daily blog there. I write a Substack about spiritual and artistic issues, roddreher. substack. com. And I'm on Twitter @ roddreher, R- O- D D- R- E- H- E- R. You can find my books anywhere. I like to encourage people to order them from Eighth Day Books, a Christian bookstore in Wichita, Kansas. Good people there.
Keith Simon : Say that again. Eighth Day Christian books?
Rod Dreher: Eighthdaybooks. com. Frankly though, go to any independent, Christian books seller you can and buy this book. Deprive the machine, the Amazon machine, of revenue and go give it to a Christian family man.
Keith Simon : Thanks, Rod. Enjoyed talking with you.
Rod Dreher: Thank you so much. All right. Bye- bye.
Keith Simon : Thanks for listening. If you found this podcast helpful, make sure to subscribe and leave a review.
Patrick Miller: And make sure it's at least five stars.
Keith Simon : Stop. No, just be honest. Reviews help other people find us.
Patrick Miller: Okay. Okay. At the very least, you can share today's episode, maybe put it on your social, your favorite text chain.
Keith Simon : And if you didn't like this episode, awesome. Tell us why you disagree on Twitter @ truthovertribe_. We might even share your thoughts in an upcoming newsletter.
On this episode of Truth Over Tribe, Keith is joined by guest Rod Dreher to discuss his new book, Live Not by Lies. Rod is an American writer and senior editor at The American Conservative. Today, Rod explains the meaning behind the title of his book and shares stories of those that lived under tyranny in the Soviet Union. He discusses "soft" and "hard" totalitarianism and describes what we are facing today: Are we headed for "A Brave New World" in America? Listen now!
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