Thinking In Public

October 28, 2020

Live Not by Lies: A Conversation with Author Rod Dreher about Moral Resistance in a Secular Age

Transcript

Albert Mohler:

This is, Thinking in Public, a program dedicated to intelligent conversation about frontline, cultural and theological issues with the people who are shaping them. I'm Albert Mohler, your host, and president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. You know Rod Dreher is a New York Times bestselling author. His 2017 book, "The Benedict Option," became one of the most discussed volumes in recent Christian history. You can also find a Thinking in Public conversation with him about that book.

Albert Mohler:

But today, we're going to be talking about his latest book, "Live Not by Lies.” And I think it's, if anything, and even more important book, than The Benedict Option. You also know Rod Dreher as a very influential writer online and in print for The American Conservative. He has a long career in journalism and as a public intellectual. He is right now known as an author who is raising some of the most important issues for intelligent Christians in the world today. He's made many media appearances across the waterfront to the mainstream media, and it is my great privilege to welcome to Thinking in Public, Rod Dreher. Rod Dreher, welcome to Thinking in Public.

Rod Dreher:

It's great to be back.

Albert Mohler:

The last time you were on the program, you were here on the campus assessing your book, The Benedict Option. That was a book that created just about as much conversation as any book written by a Christian can in today's moment in society. I can only hope that the same thing is true of, Live Not by Lies, your new book, A Manual for Christian Dissidents. And so I want to start out by telling you that we had a fascinating conversation about The Benedict Option, and some of that just has to come up in this conversation.

Rod Dreher:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Albert Mohler:

But I actually think, this is a far more important book and I mean, no slight to The Benedict Option. But I think, The Benedict Option was most important for its powerful argument. I think this book is not only an argument, it's very emotionally moving and I think you probably intended it to be so.

Rod Dreher:

I did. This is really more a book of storytelling, Live Not by Lies than The Benedict Option. Then there is the theoretical cultural analysis in the front part of the book, but the heart of the book is my made of my interviews with Christians in the former Soviet Bloc and in Russia, who came through the communist yoke. And who have stories about that, that they want American Christians to know, so we can prepare ourselves for what they see correctly, I think, as a different kind of totalitarianism, that's coming up on us.

Albert Mohler:

Now, we're going to get into this in some detail and texture. But you discussed the distinction between a hard totalitarianism. And we're going to talk about just how hard, for example, a Soviet totalitarianism was as compared to a soft totalitarianism. And that's not unique to you. That kind of language has been used before, but I have to wonder if between the time you set out this argument and when we're having this conversation, you've had further thoughts about the distinction between hard and soft totalitarianism. Play that out a bit for us.

Rod Dreher:

I can see the idea of the book back in 2015 under circumstances we could talk about later, after an elderly Czech woman made the remark that the thing she's seeing happening in this country now remind her of what she left behind in Czechoslovakia. But I've been thinking about it for a while, and I finally sold the book proposal early 2019. Turned the manuscript in at the end of February and thought, how am I going to sell this book to my fellow Christians? I believe the argument is solid that we're on the verge of a soft totalitarianism. But I remember with The Benedict option, I got a lot of Christians saying, "You're being alarmist. Things really aren't that bad." Well, then since I turned the final manuscript in, here comes COVID, and here comes George Floyd, and race riots, and the militant woke-ness now, within institutions, within college campuses, within journalism, within big business, that's really transforming these environments. I don't think now that I have nearly as much of a challenge selling the argument to Christians who are the least bit observant, as I would have just six, seven months ago.

Albert Mohler:

Yeah. Well, let's kind of trace this through an intellectual history for just a bit. And the history of the 20th century. The Marxists were very frustrated. And Marx himself, as well as Engels very frustrated that the Bolshevik Revolution, of course, they didn't see it, but the revolution that became known in Russia as the Bolshevik Revolution. They thought it would happen in a city like London or Berlin, and especially, the more industrialized, the more class dominated and all the rest. It didn't happen. And by the time you get to the period between the two wars in the 20th century, and then especially afterwards, you've got people on the left making the judgment that there's no way people are just too far along in a consumer society. It's just too far along. And this idea of representative democracy that there's going to be anything like a Bolshevik Revolution in London, or Washington, or Chicago.

Albert Mohler:

And so instead, the European Marxist said, "We've got to do the long march through the institutions as you use the language." But it seems to me that when you're talking about this soft totalitarianism, it's actually kind of the backside of that. So if the Bolshevik Revolution didn't happen in London and in Washington, or for that matter in Rome, and in Paris because we're kind of far along in a consumer society and all the rest, one of the interesting points you make and we're reading the same stuff is that, it's that very consumer society that becomes the engines of the soft totalitarianism.

Rod Dreher:

Right. The Bolshevik sought to... and orthodox Marxists sought to capture the means of economic production. What these neo-Marxist have done. And they did this in the 1960s. There was an interesting flip when everybody lost faith in the Bolshevik Communist economic model. They decided to capturing the means of cultural production their goal, and that's what happened. This is when identity politics in the late '60s or early '70s began to supplant class politics in the Marxist mind. And it turns out that this goes quite well with advanced capitalism, in what you can tell people that, who they are is what they will, what they desire. Well, you can sell them a lot of products that way. And so this is why one of the reasons I think that we've lived long enough to see big business, big capitalism become large, hand-in-hand, with the woke revolution, because it's all about constructing an identity out of your own desires. But unfortunately, I believe that capitalism has created the grounds for its own dissolution because of this.

Albert Mohler:

And the totalitarianism is there, and Americans know it, but are just kind of apparently, okay with it.

Rod Dreher:

Yeah.

Albert Mohler:

Shoshana Zuboff in her book, The Age of Surveillance Capitalism, I pointed many people that book. They're not going to come and take your freedom, you're giving it away, we all are, by the way. I mean, even to have this conversation.

Rod Dreher:

Absolutely. When I was in Prague interviewing this woman, Kamila Bendová for the book, she and her late husband, Václav Benda, they were the only Christians in the inner circle around Vaclav Havel, and the dissidents there in Charter 77. I was sitting in her apartment talking to her, and I noticed that she had a dumb phone on the table next to her, not a smartphone. And I asked her about that. And she said, "In my family..." Meaning her adult children and their children, "We don't use smartphones, and we're very careful about the internet, because if you've been through what we've been through, you know that there's no such thing as the innocent gathering of personal data by outside agencies." Now, in their case, it was the state. But in our case, it's private corporations, Google, Amazon, Facebook, and so on and so forth.

Rod Dreher:

She looked at me and said, "You Americans are so naive. You think that as long as you're doing nothing wrong, you have nothing to hide, and that nobody's going to hurt you. Gathering the information, gives power to those who have the information." She said. "And they will find a way to use it against you one day." I thought later about this, about, if somebody from government came to our front doors here in America and said, "We would like to install this speaker, it's going to make your life, your consumer life so much easier. It's called Alexa. Make your life easier, but it will also be listening to what you say and transmitting it back to a company." We would know right away what that was, and we would tell them, "No." But if a big business can come to us and tell us, it can make our lives easier, we'll pay them money to put it in our house. This is the way that they're doing this right under our nose, completely legally with our consent.

Albert Mohler:

Yeah, absolutely. In 2017, I was in Berlin. It was a series of meetings for the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. And I was in KaDeWe, the famous department store. And it's a great symbol of Berlin by the way, an amazing place to visit. And I was in there and I picked up a neck tie. And I got a text, and so I put the neck tie down and picked up the text and it was about the neck tie.

Rod Dreher:

Wow.

Albert Mohler:

And it was an alert on the phone and I thought... I wanted to run out.

Rod Dreher:

Right. But how many of us, especially young people would have gotten that and said, "Oh, cool, look at this. This might be a deal for me." And this is how we become groomed by technology, by the uncritical acceptance of technology, which is really a collective myth in our culture that technology is always good. It's always making things better for us. We become groomed to accept the conditions of our own captivity.

Albert Mohler:

Yeah. Well, let's stipulate some terms here. We are now living in a post-Christian condition in the West. We're living in a situation in which there's a new moral regime in power, gaining influence, and frankly, in motion continually in what they would characterize as a progressivist arch. I mean, the Hegelians are basically in control, and this is the unfolding of history in what they see as inevitable. We're obstacles to that. "Christianity is a patriarchal and oppressive remnant of old Western man," as C.S. Lewis said, that has to be removed literally toppled off of a statue, and pictures taken down, and names taken off. But in this condition, the powers of cultural persuasion and formation are so unbelievably strong that it's going to take everything in us to prevent Christianity simply being co-opted into perhaps, begrudging part of the system.

Rod Dreher:

Yeah. And it's already happening everywhere we look. So many churches, Catholic, Protestant, otherwise are surrendering to this woke-ness, as we call it. This left-wing social ideology, because they're desperate to be relevant, right? And there's nothing more quickly dated than relevance as you well know. But I think about the stories that I got from these people in the Soviet Bloc, about the way the communist or totalitarians controlled people by controlling their cultural memory.

Rod Dreher:

There's one man, Tamas Salyi in Budapest, I quoted him in the book. He said that when he was growing up under communism, the government was constantly hitting them with propaganda, trashing the past, anything traditional religion, folkways, farmers, farm life, that sort of thing. It was condemned as useless and old. And what they were doing, they were trying to condition these young people to accept anything that the government said to them as part of progress, right? The grand march of progress. He said that, "Imagine how it is to get to my age..." He's in his '60s now. "And to have lived the last 30 years of capitalism and freedom here in my country. And to realize that capitalism and liberal democracy has done more to effectively erase the cultural memory in my country and its people than even communism did."

Albert Mohler:

Yeah. Your book is very Eurocentric. You're looking basically at Western civilization as the backdrop of conversation, we'll get more to that specific context in a moment. But at several points in thinking about your book, I was reminded of what's going on in the ultimate surveillance state right now in China, and it was interesting. The Financial Times and The New York Times both ran just massive articles in the last year or so, on the fact that the Chinese people by and large are accepting a new social contract in which that surveillance state is just a fact. And there was a Chinese student studying in the United States, and was communicating with her mother back in China. And her mother said, "Yes, but our condition... " Meaning material condition, "Is so much better than it was." And I thought, Americans reading the Financial Times and The New York Times, are going to look at that and say, "We never make that trade." And I'm thinking, if what you're making right now.

Rod Dreher:

Exactly. I think China is the future. I hate to say that, but when I began looking into China and its so-called social credit system I did this in context of reading Shoshana Zuboff's Age of Surveillance Capitalism. I thought, "My God, this is how they're going to do it here. In China-"

Albert Mohler:

Or are doing it here.

Rod Dreher:

Are doing it here. Yeah. In China the state maintains this constant surveillance through... Everything is integrated with the work you do on your smartphone, on your computer, what you do on the street because of there are cameras everywhere, facial recognition software, they know what you're doing all the time. And they feed it into a central bank. I mean, this is oversimplified, but it's basically true. And so each citizen has a profile, a social credit score. If you do socially positive things, according to the government, like downloading the speeches of Xi Jinping, but then you get a higher score and you have more privileges. If you do socially negative things like go to church or hang out with people who do, and who have low social credit scores, yours goes down and you lose consumer privileges.

Rod Dreher:

And so this is how they can control people without the secret police ever having to show up at your front door. Well, guess what? As you said, we're doing this here. The same data are being gathered right now by the free market, by Google, Amazon, Facebook, and so on. And it's not going to take much to operationalize that, to cause an American social credit system that will... And as everybody around us wants to have a higher standard of living, we will be willing to give up these fundamental political freedoms for the sake of comfort.

Albert Mohler:

I saw something and I didn't intend to talk about this, but I'm going to. I saw something just the other day. And let me just pause it. I am not a pandemic denier. I am not a COVID-19 denier. We follow on this campus, all the social distancing, mask wearing and all the other things that are quite rational responses to a pandemic, much as would have been called for in the 1918 flu, if we had understood better than how it worked. So in other words, I'm doing my best as an institutional president, as a Christian leader, and just as an individual, and husband, and father, grandfather to try to act responsibly in this.

Albert Mohler:

But I look at that social credit system and I realized that the way it works in China is that they have the perfect contact tracing system. So even if nothing is ever brought to your attention and in that giant set of algorithms in the Chinese cloud, they know everyone who's been in proximity to anyone else, anyone who's been seen routinely talking to someone else. And so, if there then ends up being a problem, not only do you lose your social credit score, but those with whom you associate are warned. And I look at that contact tracing system, and I tell you what, it does appear that in the middle of COVID-19, there are governments and others who are all of a sudden saying, "There are real opportunities here for an awful lot of control." And the question is, do they have any intention of giving that up post-COVID?

Rod Dreher:

No, they won't. And in fact, I think that, if we see political violence and unrest, sustained political violence and unrest in this country after the fall election or over the next two or three years, I think that will be the excuse too, that liberal elites use to bring about a social credit system, just to create a whole country a safe space. And I think the whole COVID experience, I'm like you, I'm not a COVID denier at all. In fact, I've been kind of irritated with a lot of my fellow conservative Christians for getting their backs up about this. Nevertheless, it is a grooming opportunity for the surveillance state.

Rod Dreher:

And if we are all told, "You know what? If you want to get your economy back, then submit to this system." China, its economy is roaring back right now. If we're told that is the deal we need to make, and people are sick and tired of having to sit at home, having to see their businesses collapse, and so on and so forth. A lot of us will make that deal because we have forgotten as a people how to suffer. And that was one of the most important lessons of my entire journey in writing this book.

Albert Mohler:

So, several things come to mind. I mean, honestly, a part of the power of this newest of your books, Live Not by Lies, is not just the narratives that it tells, and the social analysis, and the thesis of your book, but the opportunities to connect dots. So, one of the things I thought of when I just began the first few pages of your book was Neil Postman's Amusing Ourselves to Death now several decades old. And the interesting thing is he begins by saying that, people in the West were concerned about an Orwellian dystopia, 1984. And he says, "But we now know that that's not what we really should have been fearing. We should have been fearing Aldous Huxley's Brave New World. It's not the boot and fist of 1984 we have to fear, it's the therapeutic place'... Narcotized culture. I read your book, I thought, I'd love to bring Neil Postman into this discussion and say, "Hey, it turned out it was Orwell after all."

Rod Dreher:

Well, I had to think about Huxley, and you know the story from the book. When I was in Budapest doing some interviews, I was riding through the city on a tram with my young translator. She's married four years, small child at home, a Catholic. And she was telling me how frustrating she finds it in among her friends there in the city, because she can't talk to any of them about the struggles she has as a young wife and mother. Because as soon as she begins to say, "This is really hard because of this or the other." They immediately jump in and say, "Oh, just leave your husband. Put your son in daycare, and go back into the workplace. You'll be happier that way." And she said to me that, "I want to tell them like, no, I like being a wife. I love my husband. I love being a stay at home mom, but it's just hard. This is human life. Help me deal with this." And I looked at her and said, Ana, it sounds like you're fighting for your right to be unhappy.

Rod Dreher:

She said, "That's it. Where did you get that?" So I pull out my smartphone of course, and go to chapter 17 of Huxley's Brave New World, where the Mustapha Mond, the world controller has the showdown with John, the Savage who lives on the outskirts of society. Now compare that to in Orwell's 1984, when Winston Smith, the protagonist meets the torturer, O'Brien. O'Brien tries to grind him down physically to get him to conform, but Mustapha Mond, when he confronts the Savage in Huxley, he said, "Why wouldn't you want to join our world? This is Christianity without tears." And so, John, the Savage says, "I'm fighting for my right to be unhappy." And that's a hard sell to young people and any people today in our civilization, but that's what we have to fight for.

Albert Mohler:

Right. You speak of young people, another work I thought of was Arthur Koestler's, Darkness at Noon. One of the most tragically prophetic works of the 20th century. And one of the aspects of that work is how Koestler shows the retreat into the mind. Eventually, the only safe place was in your own mind. And it strikes me that given the ubiquity of digital and social media, young people in our world today don't have that, or very few of them do. And so, the powers of social coercion, moral coercion especially amplified through social media and digital media, it's such that if an 18 year old dares to think a thought contrary to the regime, they'll just be savaged, canceled-

Rod Dreher:

Yeah. And this is how they have that whole technology, whether intentional or not, has conditioned an entire generation to be terrified of anxiety and of non-conformity. A couple of years ago, I was up at Harvard... In Boston, and I ended up having lunch with a friend of mine who was finishing graduate work at Harvard. He was European. We had lunch. And I said, "So, what is the most important thing you've learned in your time here at the world's greatest university?" And he said, "How fragile the American leadership elite are." Said, "Really? What do you mean?" He said, "This was so shocking to us, Europeans. We would go into classes. This was at the Kennedy, School of Govern'... And professors would start the classes by saying, "Okay, we're not going to talk about this, this and the other thing today, because some of you have come to me ahead of time and said that it would be too triggering for you. So, we'll leave that off the discussion."

Rod Dreher:

And this Italian, here's my Italian friend, he said, "The rest of us, Europeans looked at each other like, wait, what is happening here? Is this a university?" But that happened in every class. And you and I were talking before we started recording, I'm scheduled to go speak at a small university here in Louisiana later tonight. And I have been warned by the professor there, "Hey, just be aware that there are some professors here who don't want you here, because they are afraid that your words..." Talking about my book, "Will cause young people to feel unsafe." I mean, it's incredible how this has happened. And again, it is not been enforced on us by the government. This has come to us through consumer capitalism and our own free choice.

Albert Mohler:

Yes. But to force a bit of a point with you, I think my first thought in reading your book is the distinction between hard and soft totalitarianism is actually a tautology. I know what you're doing with it. And I'm in agreement with your analysis, but here's my point, totalitarianism is totalitarianism. And the distinction between hard and soft is going to be hard to maintain. So for instance, let's say that you're talking about the United States. There is no communist party to exercise discipline. There is no secret police that is dragging us out of our homes at night. But I think we're looking at a future in which conservative, evangelical, traditionals, Roman Catholics, Orthodox Christians, Hasidic Jewish citizens, others, they're going be in a position which their kids are not going to be able to go to law school.

Rod Dreher:

Yeah, absolutely.

Albert Mohler:

But that's not soft, that's hard. They're not going to be able to enter into certain professions and other things. They're not going to have access to professions, and funding, and admissions and things. And so, I just want to say that one of my thoughts was, what's called soft totalitarianism becomes pretty hard, pretty fast.

Rod Dreher:

I see what you mean. Yeah. And I think one of the reasons I draw the distinction is because I want to anticipate the charge that I'm an alarmist. They're not building Gulags out in the desert. No, they're not.

Albert Mohler:

Not here.

Rod Dreher:

Not here, no. They're doing it in China.

Albert Mohler:

Yes.

Rod Dreher:

But they have softer ways, more therapeutic ways of implementing a totalitarianism. And so that's why we don't see it coming, we Americans, because it's all happening under the guise of helping and of social justice and so forth. But these people who saw the same sort of thing happen in the Soviet Bloc, that's why they're trying to warn us. And ultimately it will turn hard. And I'll tell you one thing too, that worries me. In the Soviet Bloc, at least, if you lost your job within a university or any good job because you are a political dissident, there was always something you could do it, maybe it was sweeping a street, but there was something you could do. But in the Chinese social credit system, because it's a cashless society and everything is almost completely cashless. Now, everything is done with your smartphone. If the government wants to, it can make it impossible for you to buy or sell-

Albert Mohler:

You become a non-person.

Rod Dreher:

What's that?

Albert Mohler:

You become what the Soviets call a non-person.

Rod Dreher:

Right. And so, what if that happens here? For the first time doing this project, I got in touch with my inner Hal Lindsay and thought, "My God, they really can make it to where we can't buy or sell." And that is something new.

Albert Mohler:

Yeah. It is something new. And look, we're seeing it. And I don't think I have an inner Hal Lindsey, but nonetheless I believe that every word of scripture is true and every word of prophecy will take place exactly as foretold. And the mechanisms that were not imaginable 20 years ago are now quite before us to such an extent that nothing actually needs to happen now for that prophecy to be fulfilled. Nothing technological is now necessary. Everything technological is now in hand.

Rod Dreher:

That's right. And I've noticed too in this COVID thing, I bet you have as well, that when I go out into the world to shop for groceries, or get fast food, I don't have cash in my wallet anymore. Some of the places I shop like Starbucks, they won't even accept cash.

Albert Mohler:

Right.

Rod Dreher:

And so this, again, as a matter of grooming us to live in a cashless world.

Albert Mohler:

Yeah. Now, let's just have fun theologically here for just a moment. A part of biblical affirmation and what we would call a Christian worldview, a Christian worldview of life, and meaning, and morality. One of the goods is materiality. You and I have had conversations about music streaming versus even CDs, at least you own a CD, it's a material thing. You can lose it, and you can file it, and you can put it in a machine and listen to it. You don't have to announce the entire world what you're listening to on a CD player, but you do announce to the whole world what you're streaming. And so, I look at that and I think that materiality is something that we're losing. So, in the Roman Empire, for instance, until Bretton Woods, in one sense, Richard Nixon. A coin actually had real material value. And even a bill had real material value behind it in Fort Knox. But now we're in a world of lacking all materiality. And I just want to say, I think as a Christian theologian, that's a dangerous world.

Rod Dreher:

There is a book that just came out this week, as we're talking, a new novel called Alexandria by an English writer, Paul Kingsnorth.

Albert Mohler:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Rod Dreher:

And it's one of the most important books I've read in a while. He's not a Christian though he's interested in Christianity, we talked about it. But it's set in the future. It's a dystopia set 1000 years into the future after an ecological catastrophe. And the point of the book is about the body, the importance of regaining materiality in the body. The people who are holding out for the human are those who are trying to resist the techno totalitarians, that promise if we can just get rid of this body, then we will know and be able to live in peace and harmony. This is a lesson for us today, not in the tradition of the best dystopian fiction. It's a lesson about what we're facing today.

Albert Mohler:

I want to take us back into the book and I really want listeners to this conversation to read your book. I say that just about every conversation I have, because I only have conversations I want to have for this program, so that's the filter right there. But there are certain books that I think at a certain moment are really, really helpful to the church. And I really believe that your book, Live Not by Lies is one of those. I didn't have to be told where the title came from. A part of my intellectual adventure in life is that through being a 16 year old reading National Review magazine and The University Bookman and things like that, I came to know of Solzhenitsyn and then of course he won the Nobel Prize for Literature. It was very much a part of international conversation.

Albert Mohler:

But then through being active in politics, I came to know of even the situation when the Gerald Ford refused to meet with Solzhenitsyn. One of the great presidential errors of modern American history. But Solzhenitsyn, was just a part of how I learned to think. And what I would say are profoundly more Augustinian terms, and it wasn't. So, it's a young evangelical Protestant kind of comes to terms with evil by reading Solzhenitsyn. So, this was his final address to the Russian people or the Soviet people. Tell us what's going on when Solzhenitsyn says, "Live not by lies."

Rod Dreher:

Yeah. Well, the Soviets were on the verge of kicking him out of the country, exile again to the West. Last thing he wrote in 1974, he sent a communicate to them through samizdat under the title, "Live Not by Lies." It's a short little essay in which he told them, "Look, people may say that we can do nothing as ordinary people against this kingdom of lies, this totalitarian tyranny. But that's not really true. We can always refuse to offer our consent and our affirmation that what they're saying is true. He said that... I'm going to read this from the book. "We are not called upon to step out onto the square and shout out the truth to say out loud what we think. This is scary. We're not ready."

Rod Dreher:

He writes. "But let us at least refuse to say what we do not think." And that was the power of the powerless to use a phrase that was used three years later, by Vaclav Havel in a famous essay hero, to the Eastern European dissidents that made the same basic point to Solzhenitsyn, that, when we are powerless to change the system, we at least can refuse to say what we do not think.

Albert Mohler:

I think we're somewhere near the same age. I'm 61. So the great fact of the Soviet Union, the massive fact of the Soviet Union framed so much of my childhood and adolescence. And I wanted to understand it, wanted to understand ideas. So I would read The Communist Manifesto. I actually got ahold of other Soviet propaganda and just read it. And by the way, none of it made sense, including the fact that even a 15 year old in the United States could figure out the only thing that was true with their five-year plans is that they never were successful at all. But they just became the whole Soviet experiment of horrifying repression. And yet, I just think most people who are half my age might as well be hearing about the Holy Roman Empire, in other words they just don't know, and that worries me. I think it worries me the way that so many of our Jewish friends in their '90s are worried that this far from the Holocaust people think of it like Mesopotamia.

Rod Dreher:

Right. Well, this is why they stress the importance of cultural memory, maintaining historical cultural memory, as a means of resistance. In the book, I quote a passage from the Czech dissident novelist, Milan Kundera, who is quoting, putting words in the mouth of Gustav Husak, who is one of the communist dictators in Czechoslovakia. And he's addressing the youth saying, "Children don't look back, keep going into the progressive future." Because the memory of history is a weight on them and allows them to have people who remember history. It gives them a perspective by which to judge the present.

Rod Dreher:

And so, in my book, Live Not by Lies, I had this amazing conversation with a young woman from California, 26 years old, college graduate, who happened to mentioned to me that she thought communism was a great idea. "The brotherhood of man. What could be better than that?" I looked at her and said, "Well, what about the Gulags?" She said, "What?" She honestly did not know about the Gulags, did not know about the Soviet Union. Somebody had told her about communism and I'd given her the song and dance, but here she was, a college graduate in the United States of America, no idea.

Albert Mohler:

That's part of the reason why so many college students and others, even high school students, and how they're being polled on this, I'm not even sure. But you see credible research saying that there's so much more open to socialism. And so, I found myself in conversation with a 20 year old about this just recently. And he did not condemn socialism the way I thought he would.

Rod Dreher:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Albert Mohler:

And I thought, "Well, okay. Lacking the experience and the entire experience of the 20th century." Let's just have this conversation. So I said, "Let's forget we're talking about a massive society like the United States. Let's just forget that for a moment. Let's forget we're talking about the Commonwealth of Kentucky, the City of Louisville. Let's just say, we're talking about you and your three best friends. How did it work to have central planning in terms of what all four of you would own, and what you would drive, and how much you could make, and on what you could spend, and all this?" And he said, "Well, that's something none of us would put up with."

Albert Mohler:

And I said, "Well, that is the smallest unit of socialism I can imagine. Now you're saying, let's have that controlled by people in the state." You just need to bring back somebody like Margaret Thatcher, who just pointed onto... Her most famous line was socialism, "Eventually runs out of someone else's money to spend." But the other thing she said was that when it comes to socialism, she says it again, "it doesn't work in your family. How is it going to work at the scale of a nation?" Extended family she meant, extended family.

Rod Dreher:

Well, your story reminds me of something that happened to me in Moscow last year when I was over there interviewing people. I talk about this in the book. I had spent three previous days interviewing people who had come through the Gulag and seen all kinds of horrible things. I was having dinner at the home of a Russian family, Christians, and I blurted out at the beginning, "I don't understand how anybody ever could have taken what the Bolsheviks said seriously." The father looked at me and said, "You don't understand it?" And he goes back 300 years. And he takes me through a tour of Russian history for 300 years, about how the rich had oppressed the poor, and the church had collaborated with this.

Rod Dreher:

By the time we get to the late 19th century, he said, "Look, I'm not saying the Bolsheviks were right. They were wrong and they were evil. But you see where they came from because so many poor people had been so beaten down and had so little hope for anything, that when the Bolsheviks came along preaching utopia, they believed it." Now, I think that is something we have to think about today too. Czeslaw Milosz one of the great anti-Soviet dissidents, a poll said that, "People in the West..." This was during the Cold War. "They don't really get communism. Why people would pay attention to it and embrace it in the first place. It's because it doesn't just talk about materiality. It offers people a sense of hope. It's a false hope, but when people are hopeless, this is something they can grab onto and seize."

Albert Mohler:

I just want to really come back at you on that, because I think that's true, but irrelevant. I can say that to a friend. You know I say that just to get your attention.

Rod Dreher:

Sure.

Albert Mohler:

The problem is that the advocates of socialism right now are not the disadvantaged. They are upper middle class Americans on university campuses. And so in other words, yes, I understand. I can go back with you to the massive, massive poverty, that was such a fact... And by the way, I mentioned the Chinese daughter and relating to her Chinese mother who is still in China and was making an apology for the current social capital and credit system, by saying, "Things were so bad. We had so little before." I understand that. And that's why I'd understand it, if I were hearing this and I wouldn't agree with it, but I don't understand it if I were hearing this from someone in that context. But we're hearing it... It's kind of like Occupy Wall Street.

Rod Dreher:

That's right. But whether it's a material factor or not the sense of anxiety that people have over that maybe they will lose what gains they've made, that's what the socialist speak to. I mean, you have to keep in mind that in Russia, the Marxists never really got anywhere until the middle classes or what counted for the middle classes back then started listening to them. They came in 1891, '92, there was a terrible famine in Russia. The governments failed miserably to handle it. And that was the first time that the middle class began to think, "Well, maybe these marches have something to offer."

Rod Dreher:

Of course, they didn't. But that sense of that, "We can no longer believe in the hierarchies and institutions that were here, that people opened themselves up to something new." And I think that's what's happening here with socialism and even communism in this country, these aren't the poor that are reaching out for it. These are dissatisfied middle class intellectuals. And they think that when they hear socialism, they don't hear redistribution of resources in the way you and I would hear it. I think what they hear is, "We're going to have permanent security."

Albert Mohler:

Yeah. Well, good luck with that.

Rod Dreher:

Well, they're wrong, clearly they're wrong. But I'm saying that, I think, we have to take... And I'm dealing with my own son who's in college now, and he's not a socialist at all, but he was really interested in Bernie Sanders. And I've trying to understand why. I mean, you were raised in a conservative home and he said, "It's all about insecurity because..." And I have to admit that the world that faces him when he graduates, it's not nearly as solid as it was economically for his father.

Albert Mohler:

I get that entirely. But then we have to ask the question, why? And what will be the conditions of some recovered stability? So, just in the last three days, I've been in sustained conversation with a young man who's basically from Silicon Valley. And if you want to see social inequality, go to San Francisco. If you want to see the haves and the have-nots, you want to see a housing crisis, go to San Francisco. The closer you actually get to the new technological world, the more ruthless it gets.

Albert Mohler:

So you talk about insecurity. Well, one of the greatest issues of insecurity is, you can be in at Google today and out tomorrow, and I mean out permanently. And by the way, it can happen any number of ways. But one thing is, they put a premium on youth to such a point that being 40 means you're kind of already out of date in Silicon Valley. So you look at that and I'm thinking, "Well, here's the thing, many of you who are complaining about insecurity, you're actually demanding the conditions that lead to insecurity, and forfeiting the conditions that lead to any kind of real security."

Rod Dreher:

Yeah. I think you're right about that, but this is a hard argument to make. It's one we have to figure out on how to make these young people. But I believe just from the work I've done, that we have to narrow in on that sense that they have that all the institutions of society have failed them. David Brooks has this really interesting article in The Atlantic this month, about the collapse of social trust, especially among the young in this country. And I think that they're seeking out a false economic solution for something that's really deep down a spiritual and a moral problem.

Albert Mohler:

Yeah. And this is my great frustration with David Brooks. That means it requires more than a little conservative turn. It requires more than slowing down the progressive train, and making some kind of peace with it. It requires some kind of transcendent truth for human dignity, and human rights, and human liberty that... Yeah, I just don't see coming from the squishy conservative. Whatever The New York Times might consider to be a conservative, it's just not there. So yes, I will look at that same thing. I'll say you're absolutely right. And Robert Putnam at Harvard, he's got Bowling Alone, and American Grace. He's got another very important book just coming out. It's going to be fascinating. It's going be important and we'll be talking about it. But how in the world do you reclaim social trust or rebuild social trust, when you've destroyed the conditions that could produce that trust? That's why I think that's a failed experiment.

Rod Dreher:

Yeah, I think you're right too. And we think about technology, what we're dealing with now, when people can have their entire livelihoods destroyed by someone secretly recording them on a smartphone, and using that technology to spreading it to the world. The late Sir Roger Scruton, in the last year before he died, I went to see him at his house to interview him for Live Not by Liies. And he had just come out of an attempt to destroy his reputation by a left-wing journalist who interviewed him, and Roger took him in on good faith. And in smeared him by distorting his words. Thanks be to God, Roger had a recording of what he had actually said, and that got out and discredited the journalist. But if Roger hadn't recorded that this journalist would have taken him down and people are willing to do that now. In this age of etiology, people aren't just wrong, they're evil. And they're willing to tell any amount of lies to destroy their ideological enemies.

Rod Dreher:

And this, by the way is one of the things that made me realize I had a book here back in 2015, when I first heard from this Czech woman we talked about. I contacted this Hungarian couple I know in the UK, in Cambridge, they defected from Hungary, the 1960s. And I said, "Baylor, Gabby, this is what this old Czech woman says. Is there anything to it?" They said, "Absolutely. We're seeing this play out here in England every day." And the main thing they said was the way ideological actors on the left, were willing to destroy people professionally and personally for not adhering to left-wing ideology. I say, "It's madness. My wife and I..." Said Baylor, looking at each other every day saying, "This was how it was when we were young back home."

Albert Mohler:

So I want to turn to mechanisms for recovery, oases of truth. Chapter seven of your book, "Families are Resistant Cells." And boy, again, given someone my age, that chapter title really gets my attention because I know what a resistant cell was. I even know about the Italian cell theory that became a part of European Marxism. And so conservative Christian, dissonance created their own cells. Talk about that.

Rod Dreher:

Yeah. I dedicate the book to a man named Tomislav Kolakovic, Father Tomislav Kolakovic. He was a Croatian Jesuit doing anti-Nazi work in Zagreb in 1943. He got a tip that the Nazis, the Gestapo was coming for him. So he escaped the country, went to his mother's homeland Slovakia, and lived under her name Kolakovic, and taught in the Catholic university there in Bratislava. And he told the students, he said, "The good news is, the Germans are going to lose this war. The bad news is the communists are going to take this country over when it's done. And the first thing they're going to do is come after the churches. We've got to be ready for them." So what Father Kolakovic did was put together small cells of really committed young Catholics who had come together for prayer, for scripture study, but they also came together to talk about what was happening in the society around them, and how they as Christians were going to react to it.

Rod Dreher:

They also learned the arts of resistance, like how to resist an interrogation. The bishops in Slovakia told Father Kolakovic said, "You're being alarmist. Don't scare people like that." But Kolakovic had studied the Soviet mindset because he wanted to do missionary work there. And he didn't listen to the bishops. He spread these cells all throughout his country. Sure enough, when the iron curtain fell, the first thing the communists did, they came after the churches. And Father Kolakovic's resistant cells became the backbone of the underground church for the next 40 years. So what I think we need to do now in this country is figure out what that means for us. If we are in a 1943 Kolakovic moment here, what kind of cells should we be putting together, to understand together as faithful Christians what's coming, and figure out how to prepare for it?

Rod Dreher:

And in a similar way, you brought up the family chapter, the vendor family in Prague, faithful Christian family. They raised six kids as Christians under communism, and not only under communism, but in freedom in the most atheist country in Europe. And they're all practicing Christians. Now, I asked them how they did it, and a lot of it had to do with the example the parents gave, with the parents teaching them how to spot evil in the world, but not only that, of filling those kids their moral imaginations with goodness, with truth and with beauty, with the reading of literature and discussing it within the family.

Albert Mohler:

Well, the family is not just a resistant cell by sociological and moral fact, it is so by ontology. You would agree.

Rod Dreher:

Yeah.

Albert Mohler:

As part of the order of creation, this is a part of what God has done. And to the extent that without the family, as a resistant cell, there's no resistance left. And so I think of the documentation that you give in this book and the narratives are absolutely powerful. And frankly, I think to Christian parents... I'm a Christian grandfather, it's just very encouraging, sobering. It's the kind of things that we've all been thinking about. Back in 1993 I spoke at a big private university, not a Christian university, a big private university by invitation. And it was shortly before I came here as president. And I was asking a press conference, "What is it you're trying to do?" I said, "I've got to go raise the resistance." And they said, "To what? What does that mean?"

Albert Mohler:

And I said, "Well..." I didn't give as extensive a list then as I would now. But I said, "Look, for one thing, the resistance to the Protestant mainline powers that be, resistance to the cultural left." Which is already then very, very far along in 1993. And that was shortly after the Casey decision, in which, people active in the pro-life movement as I was, were devastated by the Casey decision when it came down. Because all this effort to try to Reverse Roe, just for example. And so, it's resistance against now a regime that with everything we just talked about with social media, surveillance, capitalism, the Neo Marxism, the critical theory and all the rest, then resistance is going to have to be massively powerful, right?

Rod Dreher:

It has to be. And I don't see where we get that power right now-

Albert Mohler:

Well give me just a minute, and you're answering the question about the culture, I can see why. Let's get to that. But I mean, the family is going to have an incredibly powerful convictional center.

Rod Dreher:

Absolutely. We have to start there in areas of life where we do have control, which is over the family. And we're going to have to be very intentional because if we're not, we're going to be blown away. As you'll remember from our discussion of The Benedict Option, this monk, he was the prior of the monastery in Norcia in Italy, where Saint Benedict was born. And I told him about The Benedict Option idea back when I made my first visit there. He said, "Oh, listen to me." He said, "I can tell you that any Christian family who doesn't have some version of this that is to say, sees itself with intentionality as counter-cultural, they're not going to make it over through what's coming."

Albert Mohler:

No. But now, let's go back to what you were answering in the larger culture. I agree with you, by the way. But I want to come back after you say what you're saying, and press the point. Go ahead.

Rod Dreher:

Yeah. Well, I think the left has all the cultural high ground now, make no mistake about it. They are controlling all the institutions. Conservative Christian friends of mine think that if we can only get the politics right, even at this late date, they think if we can only get the politics right, politics can turn it around. Look, it's important to vote. I mean, you look at the future of Christianity. I see the federal judiciary as being the last line of defense for Christian schools and institutions, and the future to come. Nevertheless, politics and law cannot save us if the culture is rotten from within. And right now I see so many Christian families who are looking for there to be a political solution, or they blame their pastors for not doing enough. When in fact they ought to be looking, we ought to be looking interiorly and seeing what can we do, and our families, and our churches and communities right now to build that resilience.

Albert Mohler:

Yeah. Here we are. We're having this conversation shortly before a general election in the United States. And I do not want in any way for Christians to think there is any less urgency in voting than when they began thinking about these issues. I want them to see the stakes are even higher. But politics is not only is as Daniel Patrick Moynihan said, "Downstream from culture." It's kind of the last line of slowing down a political movement, which by the way, it gets me back to the very essence of American and English speaking conservatism. I mean, going all the way back to Burke, and I am a Burkean. Going all the way back to Burke, there was an open admission that conservatism is seeking to slow something down. You don't need conservatism when you have a stable culture, you need conservatism when people are trying to drive it in a leftist direction away from its roots and foundations.

Albert Mohler:

And then you can fast forward to National Review magazine, with William F. Buckley Jr., saying, it was his purpose to stand before history and cry halt. But the fact is that, if you do an honest historical analysis, the problem's just been around for a much longer period. I mentioned Buckley. So I went back and re-read something that I've read probably five times in my lifetime. I went back and read Buckley's book, God and Man at Yale. In so many ways that was a Seminole text for awakening, a conservative movement in the United States. And what reminded me is that, basically right after World War II, before 1960, William F. Buckley Jr., said, "Yale's already lost."

Albert Mohler:

And to the very same forces that we would now describe, in other words, it was the political progressivism that was... And frankly, a very ardent secularism that was in control. And so I realized this, one other thing I want to throw out is that, I think Francis Fukuyama is right in his Foreign Affairs article, several years ago when he said that, "The only conservative grounding of any society in the modern age is the middle-class."

Albert Mohler:

And if you eliminate the middle class or you gain the influence of the middle class, you eventually will determine the future of the society. And the reason I raise that is because, you mentioned the middle class in Russia, but it was very small, very, very small. But you look at the middle class now in the English speaking world, and it's basically giving up all the... I mean, they left the bourgeois values. But the middle class values of marriage, fidelity, investing in children, thrift, hard work, labor all those things are just being dissipated before our eyes. They were destroyed in the Soviet Union, but they're being eliminated here.

Rod Dreher:

Right. You saying that reminds me of going... I having gone a few years ago to a conservative evangelical college to give a speech. This was maybe seven years ago. And just having dinner with some of the professors before the speech, and I was asking them, "What are you saying among the students on campus?" And one of the professors said, "My greatest worry for them is that none of them will be able to form stable families." I look at him astonished. I said, "But this is a conservative evangelical Midwestern college. How is this possible?" He looked at me with tears in his eyes and said, "Because most of these kids have never seen a stable family."

Rod Dreher:

And I looked around the table and all the other professors were nodding. And that really kind of red pilled me because I had this romantic idea that this conservative evangelical school, this was going to be a bastion. But this man was telling me that, "No, the culture has degraded so much, the culture of family that it doesn't even make sense to them." And I think that, if we are going to have any hope at all of preserving Christianity, or even a memory of Christianity, it has to begin by rebuilding the family. And that begins by making choices ourselves and reinforcing those choices, and helping young people to value marriage and having children, and helping them do so.

Albert Mohler:

I cannot recommend this book with more enthusiasm. Live Not by Lies by Rod Dreher, A Manual for Christian Dissidents. Rod, you're a friend. I'm very thankful for you as a co-laborer in this great task of building the resistance. And you've done really good job now, with this book, joining The Benedict Option and raising a lot of these issues. And as a Baptist talking to an Eastern Orthodox believer I'm in the position of saying, I can go with you all the way on this book in a way that actually couldn't with The Benedict Option.

Rod Dreher:

Right. Thank you for saying that. One thing that I learned from this research and the travels in the Eastern Bloc is that when these Christians were thrown into prison, the denominational lines collapsed. It wasn't that they gave up denominational distinctives at all, but it's that, the deep brotherhood they had in Jesus Christ came forth and they helped each other, and they prayed with each other. And it made me realize that when the secret police came for them, they didn't come because they were Protestant, they didn't come because they were Catholic or Orthodox. The secret police came because they were followers of Jesus Christ. I think the same thing is going to happen in its own way here in this society. And that's why all of us who follow Christ in any sort of tradition, need to build these bonds and networks right now, because we are going to need each other. That is a kind of ecumenism that I can get behind. And I bet you agree.

Albert Mohler:

Yeah. In the sense that, I would have to say that kind of ecumenism actually requires Baptist to be more Baptist.

Rod Dreher:

Yeah-

Albert Mohler:

And Catholics to be truly Catholic, and the Orthodox to be truly Orthodox in the deepest resources. We still have very important theological arguments to have, but we're going to argue for each other's religious liberty, and freedom, and dignity, and the rights of each of us to raise our children as we see fit in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. And the right to defy the regime.

Rod Dreher:

Amen. A Christian federal judge, friend of mine told me, and this is a man who cares deeply about religious liberty. He said that, "Christians have got to fight for the religious Liberty of people who aren't Christians. We are already a minority in this post-Christian society. And we either stick together, or we will hang separately." And that's always stayed with me. Whenever I say, this is a point of agreement, and where we can find common ground with people of other religion, or even people have no religion at all, when it comes to political rights, the right of free speech.

Rod Dreher:

And I'm really encouraged, frankly, by the number people who... People like Bari Weiss, the journalist Bari Weiss, a secular Jew. A secular atheist, like Bret Weinstein and his wife, Heather Heying at Evergreen state. They're not believers, they're not even conservatives, but they have seen this soft totalitarianism with their own eyes. And they are looking for allies to stand by them and fighting it. And I'm proud to be with them.

Albert Mohler:

Yeah, I think as in closing here of the speech given by Emmanuel Macron, the President of France, in recent days about creating a French Islam. And only relatedly, did the Christians figure out that if he's shutting down homeschooling for Muslims, he's also shutting down homeschooling Christians and Jews.

Rod Dreher:

That's right.

Albert Mohler:

That's the way it works.

Rod Dreher:

This is one of the reasons why in The Benedict Option, I think I've found a much greater audience appreciation in Europe. It's been translated into 11 languages, because these people know what it's like to live in a de-Christianized society. And they know how isolated they are, and they know how badly they need each other.

Albert Mohler:

Rod Dreher, thank you again for joining me for Thinking in Public.

Rod Dreher:

It was a pleasure. Thanks for having me.

Albert Mohler:

Many thanks to my guest, Rod Dreher for thinking with me today. If you enjoyed today's episode of Thinking in Public, you will find more than 100 of these conversations @albertmohler.com under the tab, Thinking in Public. For information about The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, go to sbts.edu. For information on Boyce college, go to boycecollege.com. Thank you for joining me today for Thinking in Public. And until next time, keep thinking. I'm Albert Mohler.

Topics

Abortion Adultery Anglicanism Animals Art & Culture Ask Anything Atheism Bible Birth Control Books Childhood Church & Ministry Church History College & University Coronavirus Court Decisions Death Divorce Economy & Work Education Embryos & Stem Cells Environment Ethics Euthanasia Evangelicalism Evolutionism Family Film Gambling Heaven and Hell History Homosexuality Islam Jesus & the Gospel Law & Justice Leadership Manhood Marriage Mormonism Obituaries Parental Rights Pluralism Politics Population Control Pornography Preaching Publishing Race Religious Freedom Roman Catholicism SBC Science Secularism Sex Education Sexual Revolution Singleness Social Media & Internet Spirituality Sports Technology The Apostles' Creed The Gathering Storm The Prayer That Turns the World Upside Down Theology Tragedy Trends United States Womanhood