“We Knew Mordor Was Real”: What It Takes for Christians to Survive under Totalitarianism

Rod Dreher’s new book, Live Not By Lies: A Manual for Christian Dissidents, includes many stories of Christians who survived life under the communist regime of the Soviet Union. One of those families, the Bendas, who lived in the Czech half of the communist Czechoslovakia, modeled Christian resistance through family unity, radical hospitality, and by placing a higher value on faithfulness than their own political freedom. 

One of the things the mother, Kamila Benda, did, in addition to her role of teaching at a nearby university, was to read to her six children several hours every day (yes, several hours!). One of their favorite books was J. R. R. Tolkien’s trilogy, The Lord of the Rings, because, as she recounts, “we knew Mordor was real. We felt that their story”—that of the hobbits and others resisting the evil Sauron—“was our story too. Tolkien’s dragons are more realistic than a lot of things we have in this world.”

For those who are not familiar with the storyline of the Lord of the Rings, Mordor is the land of Sauron, the embodiment of evil trying to take over and dominate Middle Earth. Tolkien drew from the evil and destruction of communism and fascism to imagine a force that sought to bring everything into subjection to its control. In the novels, therefore, Mordor represents the enemy of dignity, freedom, and life. 

Live Not By Lies is a warning to the West and a call to Christians. It warns that many of the social and political trends in the West that increasingly curtail freedoms also happened under communism in the Soviet Union. Dreher interviews many older Eastern Europeans who are genuinely alarmed at the changes in America and Europe. More importantly, the book is a call to Christians to understand that individualism, big-box churches, and “my house is my castle” lifestyle will not sustain believers under totalitarianism.

We have much to learn from our brothers and sisters who suffered under genuine oppression and persecution in the Soviet system, something I began to learn more than twenty years ago during my first teaching trip to Ukraine. To survive the persecution coming from increased surveillance, the LGBT+ lobby, intolerance, and secularism, we will have to change our way of life. We will need communities of Christians to share life together, strengthen one another, and perpetuate our faith to the next generation, as we stand in opposition to the ideology forced upon us.

The church can and will survive under any amount of pressure, but only if believers faithfully teach and live courageously. Live Not By Lies may very well become the manual for Christian dissidents within the next decade.

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