Cover Image: Live Not by Lies

Live Not by Lies

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Amazing yet frightening book. So relevant and timely for our generation. Let's learn from history in order to not repeat it.
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Live Not by Lies is the best book of this year.  You need to run and get a copy of this book.  It is an important work for the church and every Christian who is living in the West, but American specifically.

The first half of the book builds the case for a soft, therapeutic totalitarianism infiltrating America.  By the end of the first section, if not before, you will be completely convinced and your eyes will be opened to things that you hadn't previously noticed in our society.  I felt like scales were falling from my eyes as the author shared warnings from Christians who come from post-Soviet Union, communist countries.

The second half of the book shares personal accounts of pillars of the faith who survived and kept the Church going through the Soviet Union and communism in Europe.  I found these stories highly inspiring and encouraging.  Interwoven within the stories is practical ideas for Christians in America today.  The author shares his ideas for how we can prepare now for coming harder totalitarianism in our country.

This book helped me to see in my own life that I have been very accepting of messages that "experts" have given me without stopping to consider the truth.  Because of recommendations in this book, I have already made changes to our family life.  I've recommended this book to several people in my life, sharing quotes and summaries of what I have been reading.  I want every serious Christian to read this book and prepare for coming soft persecution at the hands of the government.  This book was published in 2020, but already we can see changes have happened toward a more totalitarian government in "free' countries like Canada and Australia.

This book will change your perspective on the news you consume, the voices who are loudest in the culture and prepare you in your heart for deciding where your true allegiance is and how far you will go to hold to the truth.

My one criticism is that I did not find this book to be a "handbook" as the subtitle says.  It isn't a handbook but an inspiring account that will move you to action.

I HIGHLY recommend this book.  I will be re-reading this book.

Thank you to NetGalley and PENGUIN GROUP Sentinel for the complimentary copy of this book in exchange for my unbiased opinion.
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Thank you to NetGalley for providing me with an advance copy in exchange for an honest review.

First off, let me start with what I truly enjoyed about this book; I appreciated hearing the stories of believers who lived in the soviet bloc who lived through and understood the effects of totalitarianism in a way that most never will. The term “soft totalitarianism” is a powerful one that perfectly captures what many conservative and moderate-learning individuals feel has crept into culture; being ‘cancelled’ at the slightest hint that you differ from the culturally approved narrative or  big-tech’s control on communication for example. The softness of these trends should serve as a warning when we look at the hard totalitarianism of the USSR and the repercussions of such a society. 

Unfortunately, there were several things I did not enjoy about this unbalanced book; firstly, it is structured around anecdotes and what comes off as fear-mongering. Secondly, the weaponization of terms like ‘progressive’ or ‘leftist’ will fall on deaf ears for anyone that Dreher is trying to win over. For an audience that already ideologically agrees with the premise of this book, it verges on becoming an echo-chamber of tribalism rather than unifying, hopeful message centered on the gospel. As a believer, left or right leaning politics should not be my lens for viewing society — it should be the gospel. The utter bleakness of Live Not by Lies left me feeling depressed. The transforming hope of the gospel message is far from being mentioned within these pages, which I find odd for a book that is subtitled as a “Manual for Christian Dissidents”.  Instead, it comes off as an alarmist call to further divide the culture war. 

In the end, I enjoyed the historic accounts found in the first half of  Live Not by Lies, but was disappointed by the political motivation of the second half of the book.  The first half would serve as a suitable resource for history, but the tribalism perpetuated by the alarmist nature of this book left me disappointed. 

If you enjoyed the historical aspects of Live Not by Lies, I would recommend reading Opening the Red Door by John A. Bernbaum, which tells the story of Russia’s first Christian liberal arts university.
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LIve Not by Lies was an eye-opening book for me! So relevant to what we are experiencing in our world today. Definitely a call to wake up and be aware of what is going on around us.  His use of the term "soft totalitarianism" has stuck with me and I am more aware of it than I was before I read this book.  I have recommended this book to everyone I know and will definitely be reading more from Rod Dreher!
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I first heard about Rod Dreher's Live Not by Lies: A Manual for Christian Dissidents while listening to Heidi St. John's Get off the Bench Podcast (episodes 929-930). I felt compelled to purchase the audiobook that day as the interview was a stark reminder of all we--as a free country--have to lose. I am not an auditory learner, however, and I found it very difficult to follow along. Rather than stumble my way through, I put it aside for a time. I was pleasantly surprised to find it available on NetGalley and took the chance to pick it up again. A big thank you to NetGalley and Sentinel for making this book available to me. My review is my own and was not altered by this.

We all know the adage, "History repeats itself," which ironically has been attributed to Karl Marx among other famous philosophers and writers. We also know that there is some truth to this statement. Mr. Dreher's book captures the essence of America's slow loss of freedom and subtle flirting--and not so subtle flirting--with Communism and Socialism and sees it as a replica of Soviet oppression and persecution. 

Mr. Dreher breaks through barriers created by the MSM and others seeking to control the narrative. He writes with bold intent, calling out those who seek to destroy Christian ideology, including that of the family, that of masculinity, that of the church's role and that of our role as citizens. the Rather than present his personal thoughts alone, Mr. Dreher uses accounts of people who lived under this Communist regime. These survivors shake their heads at what they see happening to America. They know where all the subtleties lead. And they wish to warn us.

Mr. Dreher's presents this warning charges all believers to stand firm and to hold fast to the faith, even in the face of significant persecution. One of the most profound concepts I read was that we should be creating tight-knit communities of like-minded Christians who want to teach truth to future generations. By teaching truth, there is hope and we are able to hold fast.

One of the provocative reads to come out of 2020, Live Not by Lies: A Manual for Christian Dissidents is a must read for all Christians. I also think this would be a great supplementary book for high school students and college-aged students, especially when it comes to world history and post-modern American history.
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The premise of this book is rooted in the conflated logic of the persecuted Christian, who in the name of Christianity must not be required to tolerate the humanity of others unless it conforms to their tenets of belief. They feel persecuted because others will not tolerate their intolerance. The term of totalitarianism is used incorrectly here. Totalitarianism seeks subservience which is indeed what this  brand of Christianity expects of its followers. To be open, equitable, and inclusive is not totalitarianism.. #NetGalley
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I have been sad to see the way that our country has been quickly changing over the last few years. Live Not by Lies does an excellent job of laying some groundwork on what is going on, the history of socialist countries, and the dangers that we will face if we do not make some changes now. I have taken a long time with this book because there is so much to go through with it, and I would like to take some more time to really delve into what Dreher has to say, and the research that he has done. I think this would be a book that I would like to have in physical form in order to mark up and bookmark things that stand out to me.
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If I could urge you to read one nonfiction book this year/quarter/X time period, "Live Not by Lies" would be it. Regardless of political-party preference, this book will challenge and inform the reader in a way I've not seen for some time.

While Dreher primarily addresses the political realities in America today, I believe readers from other countries will still find the read informative, enlightening, and insightful--especially as he draws on the experiences of persecuted Christians worldwide, with a special emphasis on those in the former Soviet bloc.

You may say that America is by no means totalitarian, and never could be. Dreher would beg to differ. "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. [It] aspires to nothing less than defining and controlling reality. Truth is whatever the rulers decide it is." (eARC loc. 235) Sound familiar? Yeah, I thought so too.

Dreher's title stems from a Solzhenitsyn publication in 1974 urging the Soviet people to "live not by lies": "Everybody says that they have no choice but to conform, says Solzhenitsyn, and to accept powerlessness. But that is the lie that gives all the 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." (eARC loc. 373-380).

I really appreciated the real-life stories Dreher included throughout this book. Earlier this year I read Nik Ripken's book "The Insanity of God," detailing his entrance into missions work and pivot into the study of persecuted Christians worldwide (particularly Soviet-bloc and Asian), and felt that Dreher's expounds on that even further and more effectively for the reader. Soviet-bloc Christians know what it is to suffer under Communism, and have seen the writing on the American wall for upwards of 30 years or more.

Dreher does an excellent job at summarizing what soft totalitarianism even is and how we (America in particular) got here (it didn't happen overnight!), then pivoting into "what's next"--plenteous and practical action items for Christians moving forward. (Suddenly, Orwell's "1984" became relevant for me again. I almost ... emphasis almost ... want to read it a second time, lol.) He exhorts Christians to decide now--before totalitarianism gains any more of a foothold--on how to respond. In short: "draw close to authentic spiritual leadership...form small cells of fellow believers...[and] See, Judge, Act" (eARC loc. 393).

Powerful, stunning read that certainly woke me up; I pray it does the same for other readers, and that each person will be so bold as to read and engage with it and those around them, regardless of political or religious affiliation. We truly are in a battle "not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms" (Ephesians 6:12 NIV).

I received an eARC of the book from the publisher via NetGalley. All opinions are my own.
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Not something I would recommend to most, unless you are trying to understand Dreher or a certain form of conservatism more. I'd instead suggest looking up a history of conservatism, or reading the author's other book, the Benedict Option.
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This book was very hard to get into because it began with an unspoken request to trust hearsay. The author received a call from a stranger whose relative was perplexed about a potential rebirth of communism/totalitarianism. It was too many hoops to jump through too soon in the narrative. 

As an American reader born in the late 80s, the historical scene of the Soviet Union was not effectively described for someone (like my ignorant self) who may or may not have known all the sociopolitical conditions at play at this point in history. More detail and scene setting would have been helpful for millennial readers. And it didn't read so much like a guide, as promised in the title, but more like an academic book. I was disappointed. 

Ultimately, Rod Dreher lost credibility with me when he, as a Christian author, chose to call Chicago dance teachers "dipshits" in a public tweet yesterday, March 3.
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Rod Dreher has a fascinating take on the current political landscape in America. The central claim of his book is that soft totalitarianism is coming quickly in America and that Christians must be prepared to stand up under difficulties. Today’s soft totalitarianism is not the same as 20th-century hard totalitarianism, but it has parallels in terms of controlling ideology and making life difficult for those who don’t agree with the culturally accepted picture of reality. While it might not come through governments, it could very well be controlled by big corporations who push woke ideology and control the spread of information. He cites cancel culture madness, the “surveillance capitalism” of big tech invading private life, the therapeutic culture, and woke ideology as examples of this rising tyranny.

Dreher notes many parallels between our current society and life leading up to the 1917 Bolshevik revolution. In Russia, Marxism first spread among the intellectuals and artists, capturing the universities and enticing young students in privileged classes who became sick of their parent’s failures and wanted to “change the system.” Civil unrest, economic instability, and desire for change created conditions ripe for revolution. Dreher draws out the many parallels between then and now--widespread isolation; loss of faith in institutions like religion, media, and government; propaganda and powerful ideology (as seen in SJW ideology/progressivism); and hatred of free speech.

There were many aspects of this book that I found very helpful, like the repeated explanation of the difference between totalitarianism and authoritarianism. Authoritarianism is complete political control by the state. Totalitarianism is complete ideological control of institutions. As the author puts it, they want nothing less than “defining and controlling reality.”
Another principle I found fascinating was his reference to Malosz’s idea of ketman, which is maintaining an outward appearance of agreement will inwardly disagreeing. This happened under communism, and Dreher contends that it happens today with many conservative Christians under wokeness who affirm lies for the sake of their jobs or education. I see this happen all the time in college. Students write something that agrees with the professor just to get the grade. This silence and disingenuous conformity is to the detriment of our own souls.
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I read Live Not by Lies at the beginning of 2021, with the presidential election still under a cloud. The book was easy to read because as a liberal Democrat I have already been thinking on these lines for the last four year. Nevertheless the book is an excellent summary and would be a good suggestion for Christians and others who are on the fence about events.

I give the book 4 stars, not 5, simply because it is a dark difficult subject. In spite of all the testimonials of saints to the joy of suffering, I found myself praying in the Garden of Gethsemane with Christ that this cup pass from the American church, or with Ebenezer Scrooge entreating the ghost of Christmas-yet-to-come whether these things MAY yet be changed!

Certainly Mr. Dreher has me wanting to immerse myself in Solzhenitsyn's books and to identify with those whose recent history is being ignored and forgotten. I feel some shame at how I was living during the harrowing persecution of the 70's & 80's these heroes faced so bravely.

The suggestions were good but not enough. How can we start a movement? Live Not by Lies is exactly what is needed most in the present crisis. This is a book to reread along with Pilgrims Progress as a call to true discipleship in an age of weakness and confusion.
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1.  For young Christians who aren't familiar with the role of Christian believers in Cold War anticommunist resistance in Central/Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union, the latter half of the book is a very good place to begin.  If you were an intellectual-type evangelical circa 1988-1991, some of it may be more of a review. If you were setting up a year-long study on Christian political resistance in the Cold War, it might be a good, popular-level kick-off book -- or a good book with which to conclude.

2. The first half of the book is a wide-ranging jeremiad about Marxism/Leninism/Gramsci, radicalization and terror in late imperial Russia, SJWs/wokeness, the "pink police state," Zuboff's "surveillance capitalism," and Kai Strittmater's work on China, big data, AI, and social credit.  It felt like a hodge-podge, and one that makes it very easy for outside readers to read into the analysis what they will.  

3.  Dreher clearly states that the culture war is over, and evangelicals lost.  Also, at one point, he asserts that American Christians need to be thinking about the "mechanics" of how to do underground work.  Personally, I completely agree with the former, but I think the latter is overstated (but I'll take it as a point of further debate).
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Dreher at his best—a natural evolution of the Benedict Option argument. At once both darker and more hopeful than its predecessor, "Live Not By Lies" is a must-read.
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Rod Dreher’s new book, Live Not By Lies: A Manual for Christian Dissidents, includes many stories of Christians who survived life under the communist regime of the Soviet Union. One of those families, the Bendas, who lived in the Czech half of the communist Czechoslovakia, modeled Christian resistance through family unity, radical hospitality, and by placing a higher value on faithfulness than their own political freedom. 

One of the things the mother, Kamila Benda, did, in addition to her role of teaching at a nearby university, was to read to her six children several hours every day (yes, several hours!). One of their favorite books was J. R. R. Tolkien’s trilogy, The Lord of the Rings, because, as she recounts, “we knew Mordor was real. We felt that their story”—that of the hobbits and others resisting the evil Sauron—“was our story too. Tolkien’s dragons are more realistic than a lot of things we have in this world.”

For those who are not familiar with the storyline of the Lord of the Rings, Mordor is the land of Sauron, the embodiment of evil trying to take over and dominate Middle Earth. Tolkien drew from the evil and destruction of communism and fascism to imagine a force that sought to bring everything into subjection to its control. In the novels, therefore, Mordor represents the enemy of dignity, freedom, and life. 

Live Not By Lies is a warning to the West and a call to Christians. It warns that many of the social and political trends in the West that increasingly curtail freedoms also happened under communism in the Soviet Union. Dreher interviews many older Eastern Europeans who are genuinely alarmed at the changes in America and Europe. More importantly, the book is a call to Christians to understand that individualism, big-box churches, and “my house is my castle” lifestyle will not sustain believers under totalitarianism.

We have much to learn from our brothers and sisters who suffered under genuine oppression and persecution in the Soviet system, something I began to learn more than twenty years ago during my first teaching trip to Ukraine. To survive the persecution coming from increased surveillance, the LGBT+ lobby, intolerance, and secularism, we will have to change our way of life. We will need communities of Christians to share life together, strengthen one another, and perpetuate our faith to the next generation, as we stand in opposition to the ideology forced upon us.

The church can and will survive under any amount of pressure, but only if believers faithfully teach and live courageously. Live Not By Lies may very well become the manual for Christian dissidents within the next decade.
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Live Not by Lies by Rod Dreher is divided in two parts. On the firs part, Rod takes a closer look to the totalitarian regime of Communism through History and story-telling and compares it to the near-past and present of Western Civilization to press on the fact that we live on a soft totalitarian regime, not on in Europe but it is already present America. The second part of the book is dedicated to provide wisdom and instruction on how Christians can be ready to go through this storm.

This is a must read for any discerning Christian, not only to have his eyes and mind opened to this new reality but to know how to act and in the context of the nuclear family.

Thanks to Netgalley for providing a free digital copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.
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Dreher's new book is a wonderful exploration of and a testament to the dissent against totalitarianism. By using the experience of dissidents throughout Russia and Eastern Europe before the fall of Communism in Russia, he compares the hard totalitarianism of Communist Europe and the soft totalitarianism starting to form in the United States.

It's powerful and prophetic. It also gives is ideas for how to live and ultimately the hope that by the action and witness of Christian and secular dissidents, totalitarianism, whether hard or soft, can be overcome.
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Wow, this was fantastic! A highly recommended read.

This book is divided into three parts. First Dreher discusses how totalitarianism is infiltrating the West (in a slightly different format described as "soft totalitarianism"). The book focuses on America specifically but I think it can be more broadly applied to other Western countries as similar "wokeness as religion" trends are popping up. Second, he explores stories from christian survivors of totalitarianism in Eastern Europe and gives insight into how they survived their ordeals. Lastly, Dreher teaches his readers to apply the lessons from previous generations to our own lives and explores how we may begin combating (or merely surviving) infringements on religion and our ability to dissent.

The timing of this book couldn't be more perfect. What a few months ago may have appeared as far-fetched is becoming increasingly realistic in America. We as a "Christian" nation have much to learn from those who came before us and survived brutal totalitarian regimes, particularly as our country's threats to religious liberty expand and our ability to speak our minds appears to be dwindling rapidly. 

I love that Dreher focused on how as Christians our "happiness" is not the ultimate goal in life and suffering often comes as the price to pay for being a follower of Jesus Christ. I think modern western churches often brush suffering under the rug or say it can be easily overcome through faith. 

We will face different challenges than previous generations in part due to the rise of social media and surveillance technology, but the end goal will be the same. I would highly recommend this book to Christians and non-religious people alike as it gives great insight into what could be coming for us if we wilfully blind ourselves to what is currently unfolding in the name of "progress".

Very interesting read and I feel like I have so much I need to learn about communism and its infiltration of Eastern Europe. Now I will proceed to pass this book out like candy!

I received an ARC of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
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Drehere makes the choice that unfortunately far too few Christian conservatives make, and goes beyond his perceptions of politics to listen to Christians who've actually experienced persecution (in China, in Soviet Bloc countries), getting their perspective on America's current situation. By doing that, asking them what it looks like when totalitarianism starts, and what it takes for Christians to band together and provide better solutions, Dreher gives a mature and objective view of what Christians should be concerned about and how to prepare themselves.
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This is a dense, complex exploration of the rise of totalitarianism. Dreher takes a hard look at the elements that allowed for the rise of Stalin. He points out cultural differences in modern America that change our response to various warning signs. Interesting though it feels like the intended audience is fairly Catholic leaning.
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