Dreher, a senior editor at The American Conservative, received a phone call in 2015 that sent him on a journey to investigate whether America is losing its freedoms in the same way that Eastern Europe lost its liberty to the Soviet Union. What he found inspired his latest book, “Live Not by Lies: A Manual for Christian Dissidents.”
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Can you tell us what it was about that call that alarmed you and led you to write “Live Not by Lies“?
Dreher: Sure. This was back in 2015 just before the Obergefell ruling. And your listeners might remember that the state of Indiana passed a state version of the Federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act and it caused corporate America to come down with like a ton of bricks on the state of Indiana.
In particular, there was a little evangelical pizza parlor, evangelical-owned pizza parlor, in small-town Indiana where a TV reporter went and asked the owners, “Would you cater a gay wedding?” And they said, “No, that would be against our conscience. We would serve gay customers. We wouldn’t cater a gay wedding.”
That led to this little pizza parlor receiving hatred from all over the country—death threats, threats of burning them down—and they had to shut the place down.
Well, that sort of thing prompted a phone call from a prominent physician in Minnesota. He called me and said that his elderly mother had been watching all this on TV and told him, “Son, the things I’m seeing happen here in this country now remind me of what I left behind in Czechoslovakia.”
Now, he said his mom is an immigrant to this country, that when she was a young woman, she was put in prison for six years in Czechoslovakia for her Catholic faith. And the fact that this woman in her last years in the land of the free is seeing things happen here that remind her of what she left behind was pretty chilling.
And the doctor called and said, “Look, I don’t know you, but I feel like I need to tell somebody.” Well, Rob, what I did after that was I thought, “This sounds pretty alarming, but my mother’s old too, watches a lot of cable news. Maybe the old lady is really kind of exaggerating.”
So I started checking with people I know who immigrated from or defected in one case from the Soviet bloc and asked them, “Is this Czech lady, is she seeing things as they are?” Every single one of these people, Rob, said, “Absolutely.”
They’re seeing the tyranny of woke culture and cancel culture rise in this country. And they say they can’t believe that Americans won’t pay attention to them and don’t see what’s happening.
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The second half of my book “Live Not by Lies” is filled with stories from people in Russia and the former Eastern bloc nations telling about what they’ve been through and giving advice to Americans.
The two most important pieces of advice that I believe they had to offer was, first of all, the importance of solidarity, small group solidarity.
I didn’t expect this before I went over there, but over and over again I heard that this kept people from going crazy. Just being around other people, even small numbers of people who could see the truth and who are not willing to suffer for the truth really kept them hopeful.
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I dedicate the book to a man named Father Tomislav Kolakovic, a Croatian Catholic priest . . . Father Kolakovic told his young Catholic students, “The good news is the Germans are going to lose this war. The bad news is the communists are going to be ruling this country when it’s over and they’re going to come for the church. We’ve got to get ready.”
So what Father Kolakovic did was put together small groups of really dedicated young Catholics, maybe come together for prayer, for study, and also to learn the arts of resistance, like how to endure an interrogation. And they spread … these groups all around the country and built a network.
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And secondly, we need to start building these networks of mutual support, prayer support, as well as material support for when the day comes when our people start losing their jobs.
It’s important to get these networks in place right now, Rob, because, as Father Kolakovic said, we have to use the time when we’re free to prepare because the day’s going to come when we won’t have those freedoms.
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They won’t need the gulags to force conformity on us. We’ll do it because we can’t stand the idea of losing our jobs. And look, I don’t mean to make light of that. It’s huge to lose your job, it’s massive, but this is how it’s going to happen. We see it happening right now.
J.D. Vance yesterday, I was doing a webinar with him. J.D. Vance told me that friends of his who are liberals are already scared to death of what they can and can’t say in their workplace. This is not the state. This is not [President] Donald Trump coming and telling them they can’t do that. These are their companies doing it.
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So when this woman, this elderly Czech woman, saw this cancel culture mob coming from Memories Pizza, she knew what she was looking at, but this wasn’t something sent by the state. Again, this is something arising out of social media, arising, in some cases, out of universities and out of major companies.
One thing that we don’t see as Americans because of our outdated model of what totalitarianism is, we have no idea how big business, the role of the big business and corporations, especially in Silicon Valley, play in propagating this totalitarianism. Because we still have our mindset on, “Oh, well, if it’s not coming from the government, it’s not totalitarian.” That’s just not true.
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We need to form these networks and alliances even outside of the conservative sphere because we’re all going to have to stand together. If we don’t stand together and fight while we can, we will hang separately.