Wednesday, February 03, 2021

Live Not By Lies

Live Not By Lies, A Manual for Christian Dissidents (Sentinel), is a recent book by Rod Dreher, who is well-known in American journalism of politics religion and culture. His book and its central argument will be of interest and concern to any genuine Christian. Dreher is concerned about the rise of what he calls ‘soft totalitarianism’ in the US. We are all aware of totalitarianism, what he calls hard totalitarianism, a system of  power  based on the power of an elite,  the secret police and privilege of the Party. based on the loss of citizenship, resulting in the absence of freedom of thought and of debate. Soft totalitarianism is Dreher’s term for the sacrificing of freedom, including religious freedoms, by appealing to the comforts and pleasures of modern life and our unwillingness to sacrifice them. (p.11) 


He focuses on Eastern Europe whose history endured first the totalitarianism of Nazism, to be followed not by liberation at the end of the second World War, but by the totalitarianism of the USSR, forcing the people the be shackled to Communism. Dreher obtained he this from people, now elderly, some of which emigrated to the US  who were deprived of religious liberty. His concern is that such a degeneracy will follow the West, and he discerns the signs of it.

He tells how an old lady, an emigrated Czech,  was reminded how this pattern  of what he calls ‘soft’ totalitarianism, by the passivity of the men and women in Czechoslovakia who,  after the Second World War, the Czechs the Soviet Union was allowed to take over their nation, involving the loss of their liberty the work of their  Soviet-backed government. Only members of the Communist party could enjoy full privileges as citizens, the rest were discriminated as second – class citizens. It was not until the collapse of the Soviet Union in…that they began to regain their sought-for liberties.

He recounts this through interviewing several who suffered in these sickening events.  Dreher based his book on interviews he conducted in. Here are some of his examples Kolakovic ‘the prophet’, as Dreher describes him, discerned a coming conflict between in 1944. Soviet totalitarianism posed a threats to hope for liberal democracy, though promising freedom. He writes

Father Kolakovic knew that the clericalism and passivity of traditional Slovak Catholicism would  be no match for communism  For one thing, he correctly foresaw that the communists . For one thing, he currently foresaw that the communists would try to control the Church by subduing the clergy. For another, he understood that the spiritual trials awaiting believers under communism would put them to an extreme test. The charismatic pastor preached that only a total life commitment to Christ would enable them to withstand the coming trial.. (4)

It’s possible to note the onslaught of totalitarianism, precisely because we have a misunderstanding of how its power works. in 1951, poet and literary critic Czeslaw Milosz, exiled to the West from his native Poland as an anti-communist dissident, wrote that Western people misunderstand the nature of communism because they think of it only in terms of ‘might and coercion’. (9)

Dreher comments that totalitarians today may yearn  for justice, and go to the length  of demonizing dissenters and victims in order to being about ‘social justice’. Advocates of this become totalitarian in order to become to bully for ‘social justice’ at whatever the price. (10) He mentions other, similar cases such as Kremery (45),  Solzhenitsyn (170, and Wurmbrand (199-201).      

These were among those who suffered by their defiance of a totalitarian regime, and he sketches their social conditions and the mind set of the culture when in the hands of their masters, such as loneliness (31and in social   conditions, what he calls social atomization, (31), and their experience of mutual  distrust between citizens 

Dreher contrasts this with what he holds is a rising current totalitarianism  in the U.S.,through  consumerism, involving restrictions to the liberties of the market for goods and services. The way in which these liberties were suppressed in post-war Czechoslovakia, when those who were members of the Party,  the favoured segment of the population who has ‘correct’ views, as against the remainder of society who were not supporters of the Party, and so  lose their place in the society. Now, in the rights are curtailed That is, the curtailment of traditional freedoms when certain activities are reserved by the LGBT community,  or by the Left view more generally, such as the ‘Black Lives Matter’ in social justice. These are developed without any opposition from the wider public. It is this process is the tightening of the loss  of freedoms for those who refuse of the LGBT community, which he calls Dreher  calls the onset of ‘soft’ totalitarianism.

So Dreher’s evidence for his view of ‘progress’ depends from the experience of those of an earlier era, as in Czechoslovakia and other post-war countries under Soviet rule. He depends on Hannah Arendt’s book on the rise of totalitarian, finding similarities. And of  course, from the interviews from those who found Soviet-driven totalitarianism breaking out after the defeat of Hitler. They experienced one loss of liberty and then another.


These facts  have stimulated Rod to take trips to eastern, former Soviet dominated peoples. The first part of the book ‘’Understanding Soft Totalitarianism’ goes into the effects of this period in some detail. These are prompted by what Rod  learned from his interviews of elderly people of countries who were first colonized by the German Nazis, and then dominated by their enemies, as in Soviet Communism.

Dreher premises his book on the way in which totalitarian power is overcome, , as in the U.S.S.R and earlier on Nazi Fascism. He thinks that it is possible to detect a totalitarianism in the current culture and social life in the U.S. Because of the tactics and positions if the LGBT community, who have been able to politicize universities, media and even government departments. 

The political tactics of soft totalitarians polarizes the population into the  oppressed and the oppressors, forcing the average easy going-citizen onto one camp or the other, or dangles some goal, only if they will commit to the cause. 

So soft totalitarianism, how it initiated the sex revolution, its social attitudes, and advocacy of social justice (54, 63) and woke capitalism (71-8) This is the doing of critical theory, to the end of  the ‘progressiveness’ of what is called ‘social justice’.

The US is not the UK, and soft totalitarianism is not established,  though its seeds are evident The strategy of the totalitarian is the same in contemporary China, as it was in Czechoslovakia after the war, and what we are faced with. `it is that of a conditional promise….

Carl Trueman puts this succinctly. 

Critical race theory, like other critical theories – postcolonialism or queer theory, for example, is self-certifying. Its basic claims, for example, that racism is systemic or that being non-racist is impossible, are not conclusions drawn from arguments. They are axiom, and they cannot be challenged by those who do not agree with them. Those who dissent or offer criticism are, by definition, part of the problem


What should be the responses of Christians faced with critical theory? Dreher makes a number of suggestions: Prioritize the truth, cultivate a sense of history, and church history, tell the past to your children, 

1.Resist the reductionism of  secularism, to think of all life is what is of value. The immanent is not all-important. Cultivate the memory for Christians, and church history. The memory can be a fortress against contemporary propaganda , which includes  not only the capacity for dialogue and tolerance. Some matters cannot be bargained away. Be prepared to suffer for your faith, bearing the cross. The Christian life is not that of the values of contemporary bourgeois. The family must be developed and,  prepare – to sacrifice,  and to follow the Saviour.

God’s kingdom, whose members worship Christ her king,  needs immanent ‘room’, agencies in education, literature and society. With an effect in society, but not of a worldly, political character.  Politics should not enter the life of Christ’s kingdom. His kingdom is not of this world.

Friday, January 01, 2021

Two Sermons

I had the good fortune of hearing two sermons before the season of Christmas had got going.  Each were quite different but both reflected on Jesus as God. This was most unusual, for more usually I am told in such an Easter sermon, that on the first Good Friday, Jesus died, and that since he was God, God died. He was died usually for the period of Easter, whatever that period was. Then, Easter forgotten, God had become  restored to fully God again, for the rest of the church year until the onset of the next Advent, which was another occasion when this nonsense was bruited. And Christmas  sermons (where they continue to exist) have come to have a childishness too.

You will see that this inference i ‘when Jesus died, God died’ is not due to a failure of logic, but I like to call it a mistake of grammar. I should like to take up on this occasion what this means and why it is useful. Jesus is God, but he is not only God. He has another nature, which John in his peerless introduction of John’s Gospel asserted, though it was not the first thing he said. The chapter starts with the Word who was with God and more importantly, was God, from eternity,  ‘from the beginning’. He was the creator. ‘All thing were made through him’, which John calls ‘life’, ‘in him was life’ and that life had an enlightening force on mankind. He had the power of creation, and so was the Creator, as Paul says, (Col.1.16). That ‘from the beginning’ or ‘in the beginning’ may suggest that  the Son was alongside his Father, but he was God every bit as much as his Father was God, One God. In the Nicene Creed we read that the Lord Jesus Christ, ‘is from the essence of the Father, God from God…begotten  not created, of the same essence as the Father, through whom all things came into being….’ The Son of God is God, both scripturally and creedly.

John does not use ‘Son’ until v. 14. Then, John says ‘The Word became flesh and dwelt among us….’ (v.16) It does not say that the word was a creature , or the flesh, or that the flesh brought about the Word. So now John has passed on to the incarnation of the word, or of the Son. And this incarnation becomes more apparent from what is later,  said in v. 39 and following……He is a man who ‘stands’ with others. The entire first chapter can be thought as a disclosure of the incarnate Son of God  in successive verses. He is first the Word who was with God, (v.1)  and who was God, (v.1) and is our Creator, (v.3), and then as the God-man, becoming flesh,  (v. 16), and the originator of the new birth ( v.1,13), full of grace and truth (v.12), at the Father’s side(v.1. 16). And in the latest phase of the Son he gives  evidence of his true humanity, as he not only is shown as the eternal son of God,  displaying his glory as the Son of the Father,  but as incarnate.

So if we study this bit of what John has stated,  we find that there are things we can and cannot say of Jesus if we have keep to what is revealed, that in John the Baptist’s words, Jesus is the Lamb of God. (1.29)

The word ‘became’ is particularly liable to send us in the wrong direction, ‘And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us’ (v.16) ‘Became’ can have a strong and a weak sense. When it is stated that the Word who was God and with God (V.1), obviously cannot change as those who are in time change.  He became flesh, but this cannot mean that in becoming flesh the Word ceased to be with God and that he was not with God. Rather he took on flesh. Here we at the heart of the mystery of the Incarnation, what Paul called ‘Great is the mystery of godliness’ (I Tim.3. 16). At this point we must be resolute in our maintenance of the divinity, the godhead, of the Word. As such he was eternally was God and with God, and was with us.

He became flesh, possessing a human nature, when Mary  was told by Gabriel not to be afraid, in that ‘you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, and he shall be great………(Luke 1.31-2), and ‘The Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over his house of Jacob for ever, and of his kingdom there will be no end. (Luke 1.32) And ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore he child to be born will be called ‘holy’…..the Son of God. (1.35): Christ – great, 

Here we see the mysterious working of the Incarnation, insofar as we are given it, and can understand it. But that event was unparalleled, and so it does not become us to try to understanding this profound mystery by producing this or that ‘model’ of the Incarnation in order to comprehend it. But we can confidently state that here the eternal Word became flesh, as John states so. ( Jn. 1.14)

The second sermon

The second on was an exposition from the well-known words from Isaiah 9.

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulders,  and his name shall be called Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting  Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and uphold it with justice and righteousness from this time forth and for evermore. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this. (Isa. 9. 6-9)

This is a rich description of the divinity of the one who is to come. He is the mighty God and, even more strangely perhaps, the Everlasting Father. (But he is [fatherly] in the sense that by Holy Spirit he is the Comforter of his people’.)  Through the work of the Father,  He exercises an everlasting government, inheriting the throne of David for ever. But the verses give us of his humanity,  says Calvin, concentrates our attention not to the divine essence (though this is affirmed, but to the various divine powers by which he defends and comforts his people. ‘He does not speak of Christ’s mysterious essence , but applauds his excellencies, which we perceive and experience by. This ought to be  the more carefully considered , because  the greater part of men are satisfied with his mere name, and do not observe his power and energy, though that ought to be chiefly regarded’. As Paul states in Colossians (II.3) in Christ ‘are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge’.  Imagine a sermon at Christmas concentrating upon the wisdom and government of the newly born baby!

It is interesting that in Luke’s extensive account of Christ’s birth, the angels who spoke to those godly believers into whose circle he came,  used the language of the Old Testament was what they expected, a Mighty King.  Mary was told by the angel Gabriel that her child was to be  ‘great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to  him the throne of his father David, and he will reign and he will reign over the house of Jacob for ever, and of his kingdom there will be no end, (Lk I. 32-33). This continues in the Magnificat  of Mary who refers to the child as ‘God my Saviour’, (Lk. 1.48), the one she magnified as ‘the mighty one ’.

We should remember that Christmas is not best celebrated as a climax of the pantomime season. It is the declaration of the birth of the mighty king. 

[The review of Rod Dreher’s book Live Not By Lies has not been forgotten. It should appear at the end of the month.]

Tuesday, December 01, 2020

Carl Trueman's New Book

                                               Carl Trueman

I have been reading Carl Trueman’s  The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self - Cultural Amnesia, Expressive Individualism and the Road to Sexual Revolution. (Crossway. )I could hardly put it down. It is a weighty, clear, and thorough treatment of its theme, the modern understanding of one’s self. Throughout the book, the author seems to be in control of his material, and has a clear, commanding style.  He is a historian by profession, and a Conservative Protestant.  A treatment of this kind of analysis on contemporary culture makes  the book pretty unique.

This book can be thought as a study of a history  of ideas, or of human culture, and in the influence of its elements on our contemporary world , the world of human values and priorities of its culture. In theological terms, then, the book is an exercise of anthropology, the doctrine of human beings, involving an estimate of some of its current expressions. Some of these data are psychological, others from poetry, and in the arguments political philosophy. If you stick to the text, my guess is that you will learn a lot. Trueman’s style is clear, and his contents are highly organised. He is highly proficient in the mores of our non-Christian neighbours, to adolescent children, and agenda of the media. There is a welter of material, but to his diligence and clarity, his readers  will usually know where they are in any place they come to.

The sources

The key to what follows in the book is the thought of Philip Rieff (1922-2006 ), an American sociologist, whose view of the modern Western culture is  that its dominant feature is what he calls the 'plastic' view of the self, joined Charles Taylor, the Canadian philosopher, (1931 - ) whose books Sources of the Self, and The Making of the Modern Identity, strongly concur in the character of our culture,  though not knowingly, They have arrived at different times and places of a similar outlook. 

The third influence is Alasdair Macintyre, (1929 -      )  the philosopher, who is the author of a number of books, of which After Virtue (1985). Their interest to Trueman lies in versions of psychological views of human nature…… . Each of Taylor and Macintyre are Roman Catholics. Macintyre  has argued for many years the view that  ethics in the modern world is emotive, (nothing but expressions of emotion), as a result of which moral argument and modern ethical objectivity, and the ideas of virtue and vice, have become impossible.What once views and intuitions were settled as matters of fact, and of the law, they now are matters of choice. People are free to pursue their own projects. Other influences are Romantic English poets such as Percy Bysshe Shelley, and William Blake, Neo-Marxism and the influence of Nietzsche and Karl Marx, and Darwin.

What do this rather different trio of Rieff, Taylor and Macintyre have in common? I think it is fair to say that Trueman treats them as sources of the reimagining of the human self. The three thinkers do not concur, and certainly have not collaborated,   But their approaches overlap, each providing materials which can provide elements of the modern view of the self. In this situation argument regarding matters of sex is futile. No doubt Trueman could have given his readers other examples. What interests his interest is the LGTBQ+ community, and their birth and variety, from it.

The Introduction

It is my plan here to introduce the book through its first two chapters ‘Reimagining the Self’, and ‘Reimagining our iCulture’ set the basis of the book, its given. And chapter 2 will give the interested reader a slice of Trueman’s scope, and a brief taste of the chapters that follow, ‘Reimagining the Self’, and ‘Reimagining Our Culture." ‘Reimagining’ is Taylor’s word for the newly discovered of the human self, He sees such 'reimagination' currently having its public culmination in the ‘sexual revolution’,’the radical and on-going transformation of sexual attitudes and behaviours that has occurred in the West since the 1960’s’( 21) The self has to do with the level of self - consciousness which emphasises a level of inwardness as the criterion of who a person is, his loves and hates. So inwardness is shaped  by its territory, by fixed do’s and don’t’s basic to themselves. It is only in a situation in which the do’s and don’ts have weakened from the self’s traditional sense at vanishing point that the modern sexual revolution could occur. That revolution is not only of the sexual changes of this idea of the self, but it is at least this. Another criterion of the character of the self is what makes a person happy. So it is a paradox that two views which are different but cannot be argued for their truth or falsity may contribute centrally to the view of the self that is regarded as true, indeed, as part of a person’s view of him or herself. Gay marriage and transgenderism, for example,  are  now legitimate, deep and intuitively true, obvious to very many in our culture as a result of these cultural changes, as divorce in marriage became general in an earlier era.

The Central Argument

The central argument of the book in Part 2, chapters 3, 4 and 5, takes the reader into the eighteenth century, to Rousseau and into English poets such as…William Blake and Percy Miss Shelley, who as part of their Romantic outlook had an antipathy of the straitjacket necessarily imposed by Christian Holy Matrimony.  Trueman shows this by reviewing developments associated in Romanticism  in poets including William Blake and Percy Bysse Shelley who inveighed against society’s ‘Christian sexual codes and particularly with the normative status of lifelong, monogamous marriage’. (27) To this mix is to added Macintyre’s advocacy of emotive ethics, which makes rational argument about a moral issue difficult if not impossible.

So, there three identifiable elements, foundations of in Trueman’s account: (1) the appearance of new general descriptions of the self, and generalisations over the new caste and activity of human consciousness:, and the impossibility of ethical argument, due to emotivism and subjectivism: (2) facts about changing behaviour, and particular over sex; especially of cohabiting, homosexuality and transgender: and (3)  The disparagement of monogamous life-time marriage between the sexes, which presents fundamental  problems for Christians.

In these chapters Trueman shows himself to be at home in various relevant historical epochs bearing on his topic, and then to their contemporary bearing in  Nietzsche, Marx and Darwin. At the end of the book, Trueman, has some comments of a general kind to Christians. In this vein, In this, the climax of the book,  I shall add a little to what he says. 

The attractiveness of the Sexual Revolution is its lawfulness. Homosexuality and  Christian matrimony law. As views of gender and sexuality have widened  the law was changed, because certain acts were illegal. Now it is the novel views that have the preservation of the law. So, you might say, this leaves the Christian in a position of what the law permits. If that were so it may live and live and let live. But it is not so easy. So, increasingly, the orthodox Christian views are outlawed. They are not exclusive. In the days when Christian orthodoxy had the preserve of the law, the church, particularly the church established by law. The privileged position of the Church of England was taken for granted, and non - conforrmity trailed in its wake. How were the rising generations treated? Was the newly-dawning  libertinism avoided?  For example, were the children of Christians warned and instructed? It was taken for granted that Christian orthodoxy was the view of everyone. Anything other life-style was not even talked about. The idea that Christians have a unique mode of life was forgotten. 

The times had changed or were changing. As for the New Testament, the times were changing. Jesus warned the Pharisees and Sadducees ‘You know how to interpret  the appearance  of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times’. (Matt. 16.4) But now  there are groups riding a coach and horses through Christian teaching, and we did not seem to care.

This reference to such a text as ‘endure hardness’, (Paul’s advice to Timothy)    reminds me that the American conservative Christian and author Rod Dreher was invited  to write the Foreword of Trueman’s book. The theme of Dreher’s   own book might be said convey the apostolic advice  to  Christians, to  ‘endure hardness’ (or to ‘get real’). It is hoped to review Dreher's book Live Not By Lies: A Manuel for Christian Dissidents, (Sentinel)  in our the next blog.