Perhaps you have seen the fantastic series Chernobyl. One of my favorite parts was the ending when Valery Legasov gives this amazing speech. His summary on the cause of the Chernobyl disaster? Lies.
This scene is a clear reference to the Soviet reformer Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s amazing “Live Not by Lies“. It was published the day he was arrested and exiled in 1974. In it he exhorts his fellow Soviet citizens to no longer cooperate with the Soviet regime’s lies. It’s a very quick read and definitely worth it.
When violence [the various bloody Socialist Revolutions] bursts onto the peaceful human condition, its face is flush with self-assurance, it displays on its banner and proclaims: “I am Violence! Make way, step aside, I will crush you!” But violence ages swiftly, a few years pass—and it is no longer sure of itself. To prop itself up, to appear decent, it will without fail call forth its ally—Lies. For violence has nothing to cover itself with but lies, and lies can only persist through violence.
And therein we find, neglected by us, the simplest, the most accessible key to our liberation: a personal nonparticipation in lies! Even if all is covered by lies, even if all is under their rule, let us resist in the smallest way: Let their rule hold not through me!Solzhentsyn
In just 50 years, Solzhentsyn saw how Socialist revolutionaries went from utopian idealism of collective support and ownership by the workers into one of the worst police states in history. One that killed millions of its own citizens. It was a regime that carefully crafted and brutally imposed lies. After the revolutions, the regime quickly changed narratives, erased (canceled) their own revolutionary leaders/party members, and carefully controlled the reporting of every story.
Yet Solzhentsyn was right. Despite a regime that had unlimited control to silence any dissenting voice, in just 14 short years the entire Soviet regime collapsed. Lenin’s grand experiment of Socialism barely lasted 65 years (1923 – 1988). Brought down in large part by a policy of lies.
So what does it mean to live by truth instead?
Truth used to be a simple concept that has been engrained in everything from the court systems to the scientific method. For centuries, all thought was based on the notion one found truth through careful investigation, experimentation, and repeatable work. Truth is universal – others can do that same experiments, investigation, and come to the same answers regardless of who did them, where, or when.
In the US over the last 5 years or so, there is a growing problem with echo chambers and false news. Instead of truth, echo chambers and fake news simply reflect what we want to hear and feeds emotional outrage instead of thought.
How does this slow progression happen? Instead of actually believing that truth is universal – something that can and will stand on it’s own no matter what is thrown at it – we now have come up with the idea of telling ‘our truth‘. ‘Our truth’ is philosophically little more than opinion and all too often collapses in the face of any real science, examination, or facts. This position about truth lets us avoid thinking critically about our own position nor engage in the charitable and necessary hard work of dialoging and debating our viewpoints with opponents so that real truth can be found by all. This notion of proving and debating what we believe is true is the core of scientific discovery and any democracy. Without that, we live under the oppression of whomever is most willing to enforce their views. History shows us this happens both with progressive (Russian/Chinese/North Korean socialist revolutions) and conservative (Fascist) movements.
Solzhentsyn points out what happens next with this kind of thinking. Violence. We now are going down that road with growing US domestic terrorism. Instead of simply fixing corruption or prosecuting bad actors, we have juvenile calls to throw away the notion of truth and replace it with…well, violence. Once relegated to compound dwelling militants, we now see activists of many stripes openly encouraging people to use violence to impose their ideas on others WITHOUT public debate or discourse. Ironically, it is increasingly being seen in left-leaning quarters that previously called themselves progressive and enlightened. Fringe groups like Antifa call themselves anti-fascists while threatening violence and following exactly the kind of views that actual Fascists believe.
Example: this congressional hearing where representative Nancy Mace grills activist Alejandra Caraballo on her Twitter posts. It is a perfect example of what we are increasingly seeing today from activists who are promoting the same ‘self-assured’ violence Solzhentsyn talks about.
The Consequencies of Lies
Many now choose to believe lies even when those lies fly in the face of science – such as proven environmental or biological science. But reality doesn’t care about your opinion – it exists outside ourselves. If you choose not to wear your seatbelt because you don’t believe in them – the physics of a car crash will correct you. If you choose to ignore vaccinations, changing environmental conditions, or deny your chromosomal makeup – your viruses, storms and your biology will exert themselves no matter what you want to believe is true.
Some lies only hurt ourselves or do injuries to another’s reputation. Chernobyl shows, however, even seemingly simple lies can also cause disastrous consequences. The Soviet Union showed that millions can die and even with complete control and absolute power, it could not stand for more than 65 years based on violence and lies. What began as a utopian experiment became one of the most brutal and murderous forms of government in all of human history – because of lies.
Yet, each of these horrors also showed us that truth always wins. In the end, you are not fighting ‘them’ – you are fighting the truth.
When the truth offends, we lie and lie until we can no longer remember it is even there.
But it is still there.
Every lie we tell incurs a debt to the truth. Sooner or later, that debt is paid.
For the Christian, this is nothing new. Christians went from being a tiny, fringe oppressed group in the Roman empire to completely conquering it in just 300 years – without a single battle. They did this simply by living the Truth. What is the real Truth? It’s the Truth that has lasted longer than every country, government, culture, company, and civilization since it entered the world. It’s the teachings of and relationship with Christ. Unlike the notion of ‘our truth’, Jesus promises us that living as He taught and living daily with Him is real Truth – Truth that is the same today, yesterday, and always. Truth that has overthrown and outlasted the most powerful rulers and kingdoms in the world. If you wish to live in universal and eternal truth, then live by the author of Truth.
Live not by lies. Let the rule of lies hold not through me.