Live Not by Lies

The Least We Must Do


John Stonestreet

Bari Weiss, who recently resigned in protest from The New York Times, has just published a shocking piece in Tablet, warning of a “danger, this one from the left… one that has attained cultural dominance, capturing America’s elites and our most powerful institutions.”

“I am here to ring the alarm,” writes Weiss. “I’m here to say: Do not be shocked anymore… It’s time to accept reality, if we want to have any hope of fixing it.” Weiss describes a growing and institutionally enforced anti-Semitism, and proceeds to list a series of incidents that she says cannot be accurately understood as isolated, but instead as an essential and insidious component of the new liberalism, a “mixture of postmodernism, postcolonialism, identity politics, neo-Marxism, critical race theory, intersectionality, and the therapeutic mentality.” 

Writing from the left, Weiss’ diagnosis is not exactly a Christian one. Yet, what she describes is a powerful cultural undercurrent already felt by Christians such as Jack Phillips and Baronelle Stutzman and will most likely face Christians and Christian institutions in the near future. It’s one thing when our most deeply held beliefs are thought to be wrong and antiquated. It’s another when they are seen as evil, with no place in modern society.

It’s a pessimistic view, to be sure, but we are not powerless.

In his final essay to the Russian people before his exile from his home nation, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn offered a way forward. The essay is titled “Live Not By Lies,” and I am indebted to my friend Rod Dreher for pointing me to this essay in his new book by the same title.

According to Solzhenitsyn, we must, at the very least, commit ourselves to “personal non-participation in lies.”

Though lies may conceal everything, though lies may control everything, we should be obstinate about this one small point: let them be in control but without any help from any of us… It is the easiest thing for us to do and the most destructive for the lies. Because when people renounce lies, it cuts short their existence.

Even if, Solzhenitsyn continued, “we do not march into the squares and shout the truth out loud… let us refuse to say what we do not think…let us each make a choice: whether to remain consciously a servant of falsehood…or to shrug off the lies and become an honest man worthy of respect from one’s children and contemporaries.”

Such a person, Solzhenitsyn wrote:

  • will not sign, write or print in any way a single phrase which in his opinion distorts the truth;
  • will not utter such a phrase neither in private conversation nor in public, neither on his own behalf nor at the prompting of someone else, neither in the role of agitator, teacher, educator, nor as an actor;
  • will not depict, foster or broadcast a single idea in which he can see a distortion of the truth, whether it be in painting, sculpture, photography, technical science or music;
  • will not cite out of context, either orally or in writing, a single quotation to please someone, to feather his own nest, to achieve success in his work, if he does not completely share the idea which is quoted, or if it does not accurately reflect the matter at issue;
  • will not allow himself to be compelled to attend demonstrations and meetings if they are contrary to his desire;
  • will immediately walk out of a meeting, session, lecture, performance or film if he hears a speaker tell lies, or purvey ideological nonsense or shameless propaganda;
  • will not subscribe to or buy a newspaper or magazine in which information is distorted and primary facts are concealed.

While these are not “all possible and necessary ways of avoiding lies,” wrote Solzhenitsyn, “whoever begins to cleanse himself will easily apply the cleansing pattern to other cases.” And then he warns,

“It will not be the same for everybody at first. Some will lose their jobs. But there are no loopholes… Either truth or falsehood: towards spiritual independence or towards spiritual servitude. If we are too frightened, then we should stop complaining that we are being suffocated. We are doing this to ourselves…”

Solzhenitsyn’s prophetic voice is one of four that we are featuring in our upcoming short course, “How Four Christians from History Confronted Cultural Chaos.” The course began yesterday, but recordings are available on demand for anyone who registers. Sign up at


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Sign up for October’s short course here

Stop Being Shocked

Bari Weiss | Tablet | October 14, 2020

Live Not by Lies

Alexander Solzhenitsyn | February 12, 1974

Live Not by Lies: A Manual for Christian Dissidents

Rod Dreher | Amazon | September 20, 2020

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