“I have married a wife; and therefore I cannot come.”
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Picture: St Thomas More, His Father and His Descendants – Lockey, after Holbein (Source – Wiki Commons CC)
In Preparing for Tyranny Part I, we considered Solzhenitsyn’s advice for those who fall into the Gulag apparatus, including his hard words on how they should consider their loved ones:
“For me, those I love have died; and for them, I have died.”SOLZHENITSYN, THE GULAG ARCHIPELAGO VOL I, p 130
Please note that the link above leads to a spiritual biography of Solzhenitsyn, rather than the full text. My reasons are explained below.
This is particularly relevant to the early stages before conviction and sentencing, when the tyrannical forces are doing their best to leverage their victims into making false confessions, denouncing or betraying others, committing grotesque immorality or doing other things that soil a man’s conscience.
In this piece I want to address a real, legitimate fear about refusing to comply with tyranny.
Nothing here should be taken as glib. This is an immensely difficult and painful topic to think about.
The greatest fear
Those who have families and children are vulnerable in a particular way to the predations of tyrants. While this article is aimed mainly at those of us in this situation, it is also applicable to those who fear that they would be broken by some future Gulag system. As such, it is for single men and women as much as parents.
Our duties to protect, provide and to be present for our families are powerful motivations to compromise. They exclude any cheap braggadocio about suffering and dying for what is right, and make it hard to know where we should draw our lines. Many family men living under tyranny, such as St Thomas More, have had to navigate these things.
Here are some worries we could present to ourselves when faced with a truly tyrannical demand, harmful to our nations, our freedom, our consciences, and the Faith:
If I do not comply, then perhaps they will prevent us from buying food, and perhaps I will have to watch my family starve. If I do not comply, then perhaps I will lose my job and be unable to pay the mortgage. Perhaps I will have to watch my family starve and be homeless. If I do not comply, then perhaps I will go to prison, and my family will be vulnerable. How will I fulfil my duties to educate and raise them? What will my spouse do without my help? If my spouse and I both go to prison, then perhaps the children will be taken, and could be harmed in various ways. Or perhaps if they leave us "at liberty," they could split up the family in other ways leading to the same consequences. Perhaps without a father or mother present, the children will lose the Faith, or will be assimilated into the amorphous revolutionary mass, and will wind up in Hell.
Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps. Yes, perhaps – but also perhaps not.
But these are real fears based on realistic possibilities. They could be incentives to start mitigating them immediately – like trying to live without a mortgage, if possible. But what else shall we make of these worries?
The one thing necessary
Let us find the time and space in quiet to think clearly, and ask ourselves these questions.
Imagine, in the face of some hypothetical, intolerable tyrannical command, that you knew that your family would be OK, and that you knew that they would be looked after.
What then would you do?
And imagine if you also knew that they would keep the Faith and ultimately be saved, whatever happens in the interim.
What then would you do?
Imagine if you knew that you would not be broken, or at least that you would be given the grace to return and persevere in the end.
What then would you do?
And imagine if you had the guarantee that all these things would be fine, and that your loved ones would be looked after in every respect.
What then would you do in the face of wicked, tyrannical commands?
You know what you would do.
You would not comply.
You wouldn’t, and you know it.
This imaginative exercise is a way of discounting the factor of our families, cutting away the layers of fear and getting to the heart of what we really think.
We know that we should not comply with certain things. And once we have seen that, I don’t think we can un-see it.
Do we have such guarantees that all will be well? No, we don’t. But discovering what we really think, and what we know we should do, will allow us to think clearly in making difficult decisions.
But having discovered what we think, how should we act?
Perseverance and the Imitation of Christ
In his classic work, the Imitation of Christ, Thomas a Kempis presents an example which has fresh relevance to all of us, whether we have children or not:
“One day when a certain man who wavered often and anxiously between hope and fear was struck with sadness, he knelt in humble prayer before the altar of a church. While meditating on these things, he said: “Oh if I but knew whether I should persevere to the end!” Instantly he heard within the divine answer: “If you knew this, what would you do? Do now what you would do then, and you will be quite secure.” Immediately consoled and comforted, he resigned himself to the divine will and the anxious uncertainty ceased. His curiosity no longer sought to know what the future held for him, and he tried instead to find the perfect, the acceptable will of God in the beginning and end of every good work. ‘Trust thou in the Lord and do good,’ says the Prophet; ‘dwell in the land and thou shalt feed on its riches.’ (Ps 36.3)” Book 1.25
What does this mean for us, as we prepare to hold our breath as the tsunami breaks upon us?
Our anxieties about our own strength and about our families are two different examples of one thing: fear about the future.
What the Imitation tells us to do is to stop worrying about the ends and to focus, as we have done, on the means. We must focus on what is truly important and necessary for us to do – and do it, trusting the future to God’s hands. A man does not get to his destination by endlessly worrying about the distance, but rather by putting one foot in front of another, and trusting that each step will get him to where he needs to be.
Acting as if we trust God could be a powerful way to actually come to trust him. Putting our fears to one side, trusting God with the outcomes, and acting as if we trust him: these are the only way that we can do what is right and persevere. Even in this we must rely on him and his grace, and not on our own strength. Perhaps they will break us – but still we must trust in him. In the words of Holy Job:
“Although he should kill me, I will trust in him.”Job 13.15
Indeed, what else can we do? The agents of tyranny cannot be trusted, so appeasement and compliance will not help us escape their wickedness, nor will they protect our loved ones. The only hope we have is to stop hoping that the tsunami will not break over us, and to stop hoping that things will resolve themselves by our mere compliance. We must refuse what must be refused.
Tyrants rely on such futile hopes to keep their victims silent and compliant. As Solzhenitsyn wrote:
“Every man always has handy a dozen glib little reasons why he is right not to sacrifice himself.”Solzhenitsyn Vol I p 17
Our families, our spouses, our children, our loved ones – these are certainly not “glib little reasons” for making decisions. The same applies to the realistic fear of being broken by monsters, and even losing our salvation. But we must stop thinking about outcomes which are out of our control, and now focus solely on our duties and what is right, what is true, what is good, and what is beautiful.
It is only by doing so that we can hope to help our families and to influence those outcomes, anyway.
And Christ – he who is himself truth, goodness and beauty, he for whose sake we must do our duties and refuse the unacceptable – he said:
“Every one that hath left house, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands for my name’s sake, shall receive an hundredfold, and shall possess life everlasting.”Matthew 19.29
Do we really think this hundredfold reward is for us alone, and has no relevance to those loved ones that are left?
These words surely also have some application to the welfare of those we love. God loves us and our families, our wives and our children much more than we ever could. He is more capable of looking after us and them than we are. He will look after us and them in the way that is best, even if that may look strange or disastrous to us as it unfolds. He can be trusted. He must be trusted. It can all be well in the end, particularly in matters of grace and salvation, because God will provide all of us and our families with the graces sufficient for us to get through.
The alternative is trusting ourselves to obtain our own victories and to protect our families under a tyranny – and that will get us no-where.
Let us love them more and more
All of these ideas for psychological preparation for what lies ahead may seem cold, hard and unfeeling. Yes, of course: we have to step back in this way to see the cold, hard and unfeeling reality before us.
But this should not make us cold or hard towards our families. On the contrary, seeing the reality of what really matters, of what we will not tolerate or accept, and what we do not want for our children is liberating, liberating us to love our loved ones more and more.
Knowing that soon, a great sacrifice may be asked of us, allows us to appreciate each extra day we have with them.
We can remind ourselves that the reason we must refuse the monstrous hellscape the tyrants are building is because we love our families and our children too much for that. And as Solzhenitsyn says to those outside the Gulag:
“Rub your eyes and purify your heart and prize above all else in the world those who love you and wish you well. Do not hurt them or scold them, and never part from any of them in anger; after all, you simply do not know: it might be your last act before your arrest, and that will be how you are imprinted in their memory.”Solzhenitsyn Vol III p 592
God will make all things new, even if this is preceded by seemingly incomprehensible sufferings. He did not say that we would be free from such things, but rather that after them, he will wipe away every tear. If we at least act as if we trust him, he will not forsake us.
But above all we must pray – and for that reason we refer all our readers to the Third Rosary Novena Crusade in reparation for blasphemy.
So much for why we should do what is right, why we should refuse what cannot be accepted. But putting it into practice is another thing: can we strengthen our resolve any further?
We can look at it another way: we can consider why we should not do what is wrong, and why we should not accept the unacceptable. In the next parts we will consider the cursed and degraded state of tyrants and their collaborators, and the hollow crown achieved by preserving our presence with our families at the cost of compliance with tyranny.
Preparation for Tyranny – Top 5 Books
1. Joseph Pearce – Solzhenitsyn, A Soul in Exile (and for UK readers). I recommend reading this over reading the three volumes by Solzehnitsyn. The full text from Solzhenitsyn is very long and contain a lot of detail, much of which will not interest our readers, and some of which is very disturbing and unsettling. Pearce’s biography contains nearly all of the information from the three volumes about the moral and spiritual lessons learned in the Gulag. It is a great read, and more than sufficient.
2. Fr Walter Ciszek SJ – He Leadeth Me (and for UK readers). The inspiring account of an American Jesuit in Russia, brought into the Gulag machine. Fr Ciszek teaches us what not to do in these situations – namely trying to rely on ourselves or our own strength.
3. Fr Jean Pierre de Caussade SJ – Abandonment to Divine Providence (and for UK readers). This is a classic text dealing with the principles of abandonment and trust, rather than the details of living under tyranny.
4. St Thomas More – A Dialogue of Comfort Against Tribulation (and for UK readers). This was written while St Thomas More was in prison in the Tower of London and is a completely comprehensive answer to all of your fears.
5. William Shakespeare – Hamlet (and for UK readers). Many readers may have bad school memories of Shakespeare in general, and perhaps Hamlet in particular. But the depth of insight into these matters in this play is astounding, especially for times like ours. This is not surprising when we recall the oppressive and tyrannical regimes of his time. If you struggled with it at school, you might be surprised if you return to it as an adult. Bear in mind, however, that Shakespeare is supposed to be performed, rather than read.
Preparation for Tyranny
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