The Most Dangerous Post-Election Lie
‘Live not by Lies ‘
For conservative Christians, it’s a belief that politics will save us from the persecution to come
This is a photo of Alexander Solzhenitsyn at the Gulag. Watch the video here. It’s important.
I returned late last night after spending a few wonderful days in London, where I met amazing people and felt recharged in all the right ways. Although I’ve had the worst year of life due to the divorce, London reminded me that I am immensely blessed by the people I have. In London, I gave a talk about Live Not By Lies — the lessons we Christians should learn from the suffering underground churches under Communism, that can be applied to our own situation. One of the three main lessons is the importance of small groups and their support. In my reporting for the book, I heard repeatedly from dissidents that they couldn’t have survived with their faith intact if they hadn’t had small groups. Jan Chrysostom Korec (subterranean Slovak Catholic bishop, later cardinal), told his followers that while the state could take everything, the one thing it cannot take away from them is their small group of faithful. This is something I have come to appreciate deeply over the last few days in London. Through making new friends and renewing friendships, I was able to make deep connections. You can overcome anything if you have people who love you and are there for you when you’re in trouble. It was true for those who had to live under totalitarianism. How much more so for us? As I was making my morning coffee, a revised version a well-known Auden quote came into my mind: You will love your broken neighbor/With a broken heart.
On the flight back from Budapest, I was trying out to understand the meaning of the election day that just passed. It is clear to me that it would have been a Red Wave if Donald Trump had not been involved. He did a lot of good for the conservatives in 2016, but now, he is an enormous liability. True MAGA supporters won’t accept this, but the truth is that there are many Americans who would vote Republican and will vote for Trumpist policies. However, they won’t vote to elect Trump or Trump-adjacent politicians. This is easy to grasp. Trump’s statements since election day reveal once again what we have always known about his character: that he is a reckless, vain man who doesn’t want to do anything other than create a cult of personality around himself.
Aaron Renn, the Calvinist public intellectual best known today for his “three worlds of Evangelicalism” model, writes of the striking repudiation of pro-life advocacy in this election:
This is just more evidence that we live in what I called the negative world. Conservative Christians must understand that the majority in the public does not agree with them on social issues. This is why the culture war approach is obsolete. This is going to be a painful adjustment for a lot of people who are used to thinking of themselves as a “moral majority.”
I think this election shows that the MAGA movement in America is out of gas. Paul Gottfried once stated that conservatism was essentially a journalism project. It was mainly a collection op-ed writers and not policy people or serious academics.
Similarly, one way to describe MAGA is as a social media influencer movement. It’s been long on ecelebrities, rhetoricians, but short on competent, serious people who can produce results. In this election, the MAGA/Trumpy candidates who performed poorly in competitive races were the majority. JD Vance won his Senate seat in Ohio, but he was badly behind Republican Ron DeWine’s performance in his gubernatorial race.
DeSantis is an interesting case study in post-MAGA politics. He was aware of the inpopularity and limitations of the consensus status quo. He took strong actions to oppose consensuses that were popular, while avoiding those that were not. Child transgenderization, for example, is not popular. However, most people want abortion legal. So he only signed a 15-week abortion ban, which seems in line with public opinion.
In retrospect, he was also one of the most efficient governors of any major state leader during this pandemic. Florida’s death rate was somewhere in the middle of the pack, according to me. His decision to keep schools open is now the accepted wisdom of what should have been done everywhere. He also kept business open, which allowed Florida to reap the benefits of the changing landscape. South Florida has seen a lot of high-end venture capital and high-finance – even from the ESG-promoting BlackRock. This was an act of great courage and DeSantis was ridiculed by the media for two decades. Even today, they refuse to give DeSantis credit for his position.
He seems to have managed the recent hurricane quite well. Although it’s not something he did, Florida seems to be the gold standard for running elections. The results are available very quickly. That’s a big change from 2000. He seems competent.
DeSantis lacks the natural charisma of many politicians. It is not clear how his approach or he will perform outside of Florida. He has shown that a strong Republicanism that stakes its claim to popular post-MAGA positions and displays courage leadership and the ability to get things done can be extremely popular. This shows the divergent fortunes between traditional religious conservatism, and a possible postChristian, post-MAGA Republican Party.
Aaron published this on his Substack newsletter, which he’s got a this-week-only special subscription offer extant. Even if you are not a Protestant, I strongly recommend that you subscribe. Aaron is a smart man and doesn’t hesitate to share the hard truths with his fellow Christian conservatives.
He points out that religious conservatism and the interests of the “post Christian, post-MAGA Republican Party” diverge. This is something that older Christians have difficulty understanding — I mean, the idea politics are not the solution. Don’t misunderstand me (I mean that everybody misunderstands me but I’m going make another plea here): This is not an either/or situation. It’s not “throw yourself completely into political” or “head to the hills.” There are no hills to climb. We are stuck in this situation, regardless of whether we want to or not. Christians and other traditionalists have to be as political as possible, while at the same time preparing our communities for the dark and difficult days ahead. We don’t have any choice. I was telling somebody in London that I find it so much more rewarding to be among younger (under 50) Christians in Europe and the UK talking about this stuff, because they live in more advanced post-Christian societies, and can see very clearly how hard it is, and is going to be. Americans are not there yet. American Christians would be well advised to engage British and European Christians who are serious in their faith (I’m talking about people not like the liberal Catholics who are currently trying to revolutionize Catholic Church in the name synodality, accompaniment), to gain from their counsel.
For me, the trans issue is more important than abortion and is the most pressing issue facing Christians today. According to my knowledge, Wes Yang is not a Christian or a conservative. However, he has been a fierce opponent of the transing in America. His Twitter account contains stories from detransitioners about how their lives were manipulated and lied to. After the election, he tweeted:
I’m right there with him. This campaign to seize young people from their bodies, to mutilate and sideline parents is one of the worst things I have ever seen. Yet, very few people seem to care. The GOP doesn’t seem to care. Chris Rufo, Matt Walsh, and Ron DeSantis have done more to reverse this evil than any GOP politician. Walsh lives in Tennessee. It is amazing to me that Republicans haven’t made this a major issue — not because they think it will help them win more votes, but because it is so awful. How many pastors are making an issue out of it? How many pastors are explaining to their congregations the dangers of it and how parents and children can resist it? How many people want to hear it? This is what it means for a country to be post-Christian. This is what it means that you have bought the modern story about the material world, and the human body, as meaningless matter upon the which we can impose any will without limit. Many Christians have bought into this story and don’t know enough about the faith to understand what they are doing. An Evangelical pastor friend of mine texted me yesterday to say that he had spoken to a group of about 60 Evangelical college students at a big Southern university, and was shocked to find that none of them knew much of anything about the Bible, or the faith. They were all blank slates. They were not born that way. This is what their grandparents and parents did to them. We Christians, partly because we believe too much in politics, have created a generation without chests. We wonder why they are willing to become women without breasts or balls.
Do you think Pope Francis’s “synodal”, a church of “inclusivity and “accompaniment”, is going to make Catholics resisting the Vatican? Read this column by Gavin Ashenden, a former Anglican priest, now Catholic. He witnessed what this kind of talk did for his church and is now raising the alarm. Excerpt:
[I]n the world of Anglicanism, an essential part of the leftist sociological take-over of the church was almost always accompanied by the promise that the Holy Spirit was very much part of the project. The progressives had mistakenly identified the spirit of the age with the Holy Spirit at the end. Ex-Anglicans have seen the tactic used to create division and destruction once before and want to share their experiences of the danger it poses to the integrity of Church. The problem appears to be due to the Synodal Way’s particular theological worldview. The arena of historic spirituality might include clergy and lay; clergy and religious; faithful and unfaithful, observant and nominal, ethical and moral; pietists, activists, etc But the Synodal Way has, whether you are a supporter or a critic, pre-arranged the conversation by imposing the categories “excluded” and “included”. These are meant to be variations of those with power and those without power. A more faithful perspective to the Church’s traditions would be more interested in the categories of those with faith or those without power than those who had it.
We have been moved from the realm of Christian spirituality to that of Marxist power-play. The Synodal Path has become a study of “alienation”. We are back in the world of identity politics, where your personal virtue (or lack thereof) is more important than your group affiliation. This is the place for you if you feel marginalized, excluded, or alienated.
It’s happening to Catholics now. There are movements among some theologians and activists in my Orthodox Church to make the same thing happen. A young Russian Orthodox believer told me recently that Russia is not a Christian country. He stated that the younger generation of Russians who have been educated by Western pop culture will have strong opinions about gender ideology and all other issues. As did Polish Catholics of his time, he said that Western pop culture is the most powerful way to instill moral imagination in young people. This is exactly what the senior Catholic leadership is doing. According to my knowledge, many Orthodox leaders prefer silence and incomprehension. A Nigerian Anglican bishop said, surprise, that Africa needs Benedict Option thinking when he spoke at a Benedict Option conference held in Massachusetts a few years back. The minds of Africa’s youth are being colonized by Western pop culture, which is distributed via global social media networks.
This morning, a friend texted me this remarkable post-election thread by someone I don’t know. It starts like this:
Read it all. I have just followed @mallardreborn, and am looking forward to seeing what else he has to say.
He points out that Generation Z is completely in the pockets of Democrats in the thread. This has been obvious for a long time. The political scientist Eric Kaufmann wrote earlier this year that surveys show a majority of Americans under 30 favor what he calls “cultural socialism” — that is, an illiberal leftism that rejects traditional liberties (free speech, freedom of religion, and so forth) when the exercise of those liberties stands to offend sacred victim groups. Kaufmann told me at a small conference that conservatives should prioritize fighting the culture war. He said that if they don’t, they won’t soon be allowed to express their beliefs and practice their faith as they wish, because a democratic majority won’t tolerate it.
I go back to the ignorant young Christian blankslatists my Southern pastor friend encountered recently. These young people may appear to be Christians, but they don’t know much about their faith. They won’t make it, and this is something that the Boomers and older Xers did to them. They are now adults and can take responsibility for their own actions. I met a young lady in London who is not a conservative but has been red-pilled towards Christianity through the madness of the sexual revolution. Although she is not a Christian, she is very close to becoming one. The church — the true church, not the woke simulacrum — offers sanity and is a refuge for her. I was told by a UK Christian friend that Millennials are drawn to Christ because it is chaos.
In fact, as a Christian, I heartily recommend Louise Perry’s (totally secular) book The Case Against the Sexual Revolution. She came to orthodox Christian belief not as a religious person but as a feminist who was appalled at the Sex Rev’s actions towards women, children, and those most vulnerable. I bought a copy of this book for my teenage daughter so she can see that what her parents taught her about the body and the meanings of sex and marriage isn’t just a churchy thing.
As I write in The Benedict Option, and as I wrote in this 2013 TAC essay “Sex After Christianity,” sex is a very, very big deal regarding the social order. Philip Rieff, the secular Jewish sociologist and social critic, wrote in 1966 that the Christian sexual ethic was what made the early church so distinct, and the abandoning of it in modern times as an ideal is going to lead to the dissolution of the churches, though (he said) Christian leaders can’t see it. It’s now written in fire from the heavens. TAC piece, which didn’t mention transgenderism at the time.
Twenty years ago, new president Bill Clinton stepped on a political landmine when he tried to fulfill a campaign promise to permit gay soldiers to serve openly. The issue of same-sex marriage was not a political cause. It was three years away from the Defense of Marriage Act, and four years from Ellen DeGeneres’s first-ever prime-time appearance.
Then came what historians will recall as a cultural revolution. Now, we are entering the final phase of the fight over gay rights and the meaning homosexuality. Conservatives have been defeated in court and in increasing numbers in the court of public opinion. It is common belief that opposing same-sex marriage is only for religious or rank bigotry reasons. Neither of these arguments–the argument goes -has any place in deciding laws or public standards. The extent of the defeat suffered in the past by moral traditionalists will only get worse as older Americans leave the scene. Poll after poll shows that for the young, homosexuality is normal and gay marriage is no big deal–except, of course, if one opposes it, in which case one has the approximate moral status of a segregationist in the late 1960s.
All this is, in fact, a much bigger deal than most people on both sides realize, and for a reason that eludes even ardent opponents of gay rights. Back in 1993, a cover story in The Nation identified the gay-rights cause as the summit and keystone of the culture war:
All the crosscurrents of present-day liberation struggles are subsumed in the gay struggle. Although the gay moment is similar to other communities’ past experiences, it is also unique in that it encompasses all the current liberation struggles. It is not certain that the changes will be easy. It’s possible, however, that America will be transformed by a small, disgraced sexual minority.
They were right, and though the word “cosmology” may strike readers as philosophically grandiose, its use now appears downright prophetic. The struggle for rights of “a small, despised sexual minority” would not have been possible if the old Christian-cosmology had prevailed. To put it bluntly, gay-rights has succeeded precisely because the West’s Christian cosmology has disappeared.
Same-sex marriage strikes the decisive blow against the old order. The Nation‘s triumphalist rhetoric from two decades ago is not overripe; the radicals appreciated what was at stake far better than did many–especially bourgeois apologists for same-sex marriage as a conservative phenomenon. America’s future will be forever changed by gay marriage, and these changes are only beginning to be visible. It will make America less Christian, for better or worse. It is already doing exactly that.
Trans simply brings the argument to its natural conclusion. If there are any Christian readers who labor under the illusion that repealing Obergefell is possible, or would be effective if it happened, should reflect on the fact that absent Roe, very many Americans want abortion to be legal and liberally available. Similarly, if Obergefell were somehow overturned, it would take a day and a half for every state in America to write same-sex marriage into law. We are not the same country as we were. We are post-Christian. The fact that most Americans still identify themselves as Christians (something that isn’t true with Gen Z) only demonstrates the shallowness and superficiality of the faith.
Which brings us to The Benedict Option. It’s five years old now, and since 2020, I have heard from a number of Christians who tell me they used to think I was an alarmist, but no longer do now. The most striking sign of post-Christian times to me is what Wes Yang sees. This monstrous experiment is being conducted on America’s youth, and it is being directed and executed by a network containing the most powerful people in American society. There has been very little resistance. All power to the Matt Walshes, Chris Rufos, and the rest of the world! They are doing tremendously important work, and I support them 100 percent. This stuff must be fought politically as hard as possible. There are many victories.
But those victories will be transient absent a radical change in the culture. The future is not decided. We have the freedom to choose life or death. People’s minds, hearts, and cultures can all be changed. The churches of today are largely ineffective. They don’t know the reality of Negative Earth, or they don’t want change strategies. We don’t have priests and bishops being held in prison or threatened with imprisonment, as was the case under Soviet communism. Worse, religious leaders are giving up their courage when they don’t feel compelled. My message to believers: Don’t wait to be led! It is unlikely that it will happen. It’s unlikely that it will happen. Educate yourself and form small faith communities and networks to help your children grow up in the faith. I talk about this in both The Benedict Option and Live Not By Lies. We don’t have to be passive and watch as chaos and darkness sweep over us. There are things that we can do and do together. I recall a pastor I met a few years ago who said he wouldn’t discuss gender ideology to his congregation, as he didn’t want to create division and introduce politics into the church. This man will have to answer to God for leaving his flock undefended. Thank God that you are part of a church where the clerical leadership has been active, courageous, and aware. If not, find one or start a small Ben Op/LNBL group within your congregation.
In The Benedict Option, I highlight the Tipi Loschi, a big community of orthodox Catholics who all go to ordinary parishes in their Italian city, but who created this community years ago because they knew that they weren’t being fed the substantive Catholic faith by the parishes, and they knew that their children needed more if they were going to remain Christian in this post-Christian world. Father Cassian Folsom, who was then the prior at the Benedictine monastery of Norcia, St. Benedict’s birthplace introduced me to this community and said that any Christian family that wanted to survive the storm would need to be part of such a community.
It’s late. What are you going do? This is hard. Louisiana was the worst place for me to attempt something like this. Although I can understand why it didn’t work in my case, that doesn’t stop me from supporting the idea, which is sound. I’m now in Budapest and need to find out what I can accomplish within the boundaries of my culture and my place. What other options are there? Friends are important! Because of the solid Christians I met in England, men or women who see the challenges before us and want to face them together with hope and courage, I am now on a spiritual high. They are my ally! They are mine! We must find each other. We need to practice together the Slovak Catholic underground church founder Father Kolakovic’s strategy: See, Judge, Act.
There is no escaping the suffering ahead. It is clear from those who were part the underground church during Soviet times that the survival of the faith relies on individual Christians’ willingness to endure the pain. Our mission is to live with hope, courage, faith, and love in the face of what lies ahead. We also want to offer our churches as arks to rescue people from the flood of liquid modernity. If you’ve dismissed the Benedict Option in the past, I urge you again to reconsider it and to get busy being part of a creative minority while you still have time. As I tell my audiences today, we are living in a Kolakovic Moment for the West. Father Tomislav Kolakovic arrived in Bratislava in 1943, escaping the Nazis. In his classes, he told Catholic students that while the Germans would lose the war, thank God that they would be defeated by the Soviets, and that they would rule their country after the war ended. The Soviets also promised to persecute the Church. He began to build small groups of resistance, which were groups that prayed, studied, deliberated, and acted together to strengthen faith among people, making them more resilient. It was not something the Catholic bishops of Slovakia wanted to hear. They said he was being alarmist. That did not stop Father Kolakovic — and thank God for it, because when the Iron Curtain decisively fell over Czechoslovakia in 1948, everything happened exactly like he said it would. The Kolakovic network was the backbone for the underground church.
We Christians are free today, like the Catholics of Slovakia were in the mid-1940s. Our freedom is not going to last forever, any more than theirs did. We can see the future. We must see what’s coming. We don’t believe politics will save us. Nor do we believe that Christianity as it is — comfort, winsomeness and conformity — will suffice. Even as we stay politically engaged, if only to protect our religious liberty, we have a sacred responsibility to get off our backsides and See, Judge, and Act. I believe that God will hold each of us accountable for what we did and didn’t do. It will not suffice to blame priests, bishops, or pastors. This is a radical responsibility for all of us: to our children, our children’s children, and God. All of us. Me. You. You.
The most dangerous lie that American conservative Christians can live by today is the comforting thought that everything is going to be fine again, if we just keep doing what we’re doing now, and sit back and wait.
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By the way, if you buy a copy of Live Not By Lies now — it’s just out in paperback — here is a link to a free, downloadable study guide to help your group see, judge, and act.
UPDATE: Forgot to say that I had a disturbing conversation with a couple of Christians in London about how they are seeing among American Christians of the Right a turn towards actual fascism as a response to despair, and to the “cultural socialism” of the Left. This is a warning sign. Malick’s film A Secret Life , focuses on the life and death the Blessed Franz Jagerstatter (a martyr to fascism) In that man’s Austrian Catholic parish, everyone was a Catholic. Only Franz and his family stood firm against Nazism. Everyone else gave in. His story teaches us a valuable lesson. It’s confusing that the Left calls any interest of tradition, family, or national sovereignty “fascism”. However, fascism exists and is an anti-Christian thing. If we Christians don’t offer our children, our families, and our communities a meaningful and authentically Christian alternative, we will lose our people.
UPDATE.2: To make certain I am not misunderstood, let me reiterate: Political action is urgent and necessary! The point I’m trying to emphasize here is that politics alone are not enough, and not even close to enough. Don’t be fooled. We have the culture and politics we have today. We have the culture we have because the church has lost its meaning in the lives of people.
I’m a journalist who specializes in investigative reporting and writing. I have written for the New York Times and other publications.