Home/Rod Dreher/Woke Preacher: Live Not By Lies Is ‘Dangerous’

Woke Preacher: Live Not By Lies Is ‘Dangerous’

Greg Thompson, who resigned his pastorate to work full time to fight 'white supremacy' (Woke Preacher Clips)

In today’s news of Big Tech wokeness, Facebook has announced a new policy instituting a hierarchy of hate to guide its policing of racist speech. From the Washington Post:

Facebook is embarking on a major overhaul of its algorithms that detect hate speech, according to internal documents, reversing years of so-called “race-blind” practices.

Those practices resulted in the company being more vigilant about removing slurs lobbed against White users while flagging and deleting innocuous posts by people of color on the platform.

The overhaul, which is known as the WoW Project and is in its early stages, involves re-engineering Facebook’s automated moderation systems to get better at detecting and automatically deleting hateful language that is considered “the worst of the worst,” according to internal documents describing the project obtained by The Washington Post. The “worst of the worst” includes slurs directed at Blacks, Muslims, people of more than one race, the LGBTQ community and Jews, according to the documents.

As one way to assess severity, Facebook assigned different types of attacks numerical scores weighted based on their perceived harm. For example, the company’s systems would now place a higher priority on automatically removing statements such as “Gay people are disgusting” than “Men are pigs.”

Facebook has long banned hate speech — defined as violent or dehumanizing speech — based on race, gender, sexuality and other protected characteristics. It owns Instagram and has the same hate speech policies there. But before the overhaul, the company’s algorithms and policies did not make a distinction between groups that were more likely to be targets of hate speech versus those that have not been historically marginalized. Comments like “White people are stupid” were treated the same as anti-Semitic or racist slurs.

In the first phase of the project, which was announced internally to a small group in October, engineers said they had changed the company’s systems to deprioritize policing contemptuous comments about “Whites,” “men” and “Americans.” Facebook still considers such attacks to be hate speech, and users can still report it to the company. However, the company’s technology now treats them as “low-sensitivity” — or less likely to be harmful — so that they are no longer automatically deleted by the company’s algorithms. That means roughly 10,000 fewer posts are now being deleted each day, according to the documents.

All race hatred is equal, but some forms of race hatred is more equal than others.

The important thing to see here is that race neutrality — one standard for all — is considered bad because it results in outcomes that the woke see as intolerable. You’d think that the Washington Post would at least question that illiberal premise in its report, but no, the Washington Post is a newspaper that publishes a puff-piece interview with Ijeoma Oluo, a black writer who says white males are the source of evil in the modern world. No questioning this toxic thesis at all. Hard-hitting questions, like:

This is not a student newspaper. This is the main daily newspaper in the capital of the most powerful nation on earth. It’s from an interview with an author whose thesis is that white men make America bad. And the Post writer just assumes that this is a normal thing to say. I guess it is among American elites and their institutions.

Take a look at the first chapter of the book, via Amazon’s “Look Inside” feature. As you read it, replace “white men” with “Jews” in the rhetoric. Or with “black men”. You will immediately recognize this as racialist propaganda designed to convince the reader to hate its targets. It would be one thing to hold up to critical examination the role that white males play in our society, and have played historically. That is a legitimate target of discussion and debate. But that’s not what this book is about, to judge from what’s available. This is a book about demonization. Again, if a book were published in this country in which Jews (or any minority) were written about in these terms, and in this tone, it would immediately be recognized as hateful. Instead, Oluo gets a softball interview in the Post in which she is never once challenged about her thesis, but is instead given the opportunity to discuss how writing about the evils of the white man really wears her out. Isn’t that just like the crafty white man, to make people wear themselves out telling him how bad he is?

The point is not that Oluo holds these contemptible views about people on the basis of their race and sex. The point is that this kind of obnoxious radicalism is absorbed without question by the class that controls the means of cultural production in this country. This matters. This is the kind of thing that the people who escaped Soviet communism are trying to warn us about, and that I talk about in Live Not By Lies. They are conditioning people to scapegoat and persecute. What Facebook is now doing — abandoning its race-neutral policy on hate speech, and declaring that hate speech against whites, males, and other Deplorables, is not as bad — is just one more mile marker on the road to whatever horrible system they are building. In my book, I quote the cultural critic René Girard’s line from the turn of this century:

“The current process of spiritual demagoguery and rhetorical overkill has transformed the concern for victims into a totalitarian command and a permanent inquisition.”

Speaking of spiritual demagoguery and rhetorical overkill, I suppose I am obliged to inform you that someone on the woke Evangelical Left has taken notice of Live Not By Lies, and has written a review of it. I knew that Greg Thompson’s review was coming, and that it was going to be harsh, but I had not expected that I would reach the end of it and be laughing out loud. No kidding. He doesn’t call me a “racist,” but he does call me blasphemer of the Holy Trinity. It’s that kind of review. [UPDATE: A reader points out that Thompson is not calling me a blasphemer of the Trinity, but saying that my remark that there is “no place to hide” is the most un-Christian thing a person can say aside from blaspheming the Trinity. I apologize for the mischaracterization. I think it’s a dopey thing to say, but it’s not what I thought Thompson said, so I admit error. — RD]

I’ve read it three times, trying to figure out how to respond, but in all honesty, I can’t. The review is so spectacularly dishonest in its characterization of what I have actually written that to begin to address the criticism would require me to write something as long as he did. I mean, this is a review that faults me for being illiberal, and for being too quick to dismiss the problems with liberalism. Well, which is it? Again, it’s that kind of review.

The part that gives the game away is when Thompson faults me for writing a book about anti-communist dissidents in the Soviet bloc instead of writing a book about his favorite topic, the struggles of black Christians. Even though I make it clear in the introduction that the idea for Live Not By Lies came from meeting emigres from the Soviet bloc to America who told me that they sense something arising here that they thought they had left behind, Thompson is sure that I have a nefarious reason for this. After all, he said, I could have talked to Americans in the black church, who have lived through and are living through present-day totalitarianism (he really does say that totalitarianism in America is “a past and present reality”). I didn’t do this, he alleges, because black people would have laughed at my thesis. Um, no; I didn’t do this because I was interested at first in why people who lived under Soviet totalitarianism think that something similar is starting to emerge here. As is perfectly obvious in the introduction.

Greg Thompson is mad that I didn’t write the book Greg Thompson would have written, and more to the point, he’s mad because my book identifies people who believe the things Thompson believes as the problem. That’s fine — the fox naturally does not like it when someone endeavors to warn the hens that a fox is on the prowl. It’s interesting to note that in his long jeremiad, Thompson doesn’t really deny that the things I say are happening are actually happening. He just denies that they are bad. On this, we disagree so profoundly that I don’t see grounds for constructive dialogue. Honestly, when a reviewer construes my remark in Live Not By Lies that “there is nowhere to hide” — by which I mean that faithful Christians should not think they can escape this stuff — as “blaspheming the Trinity,” I realize that we live on the same planet, but in different worlds. Oh well.

Thompson is a white liberal social-gospeller (to use an old-fashioned term) who has co-written a book (to be published next year) about why white Christians should give reparations to black people. When it comes out, he can count on a lot of favorable attention from the mainstream media (which has ignored Live Not By Lies, but I expected that), which will ask him no hard questions about his thesis, which I’m guessing would require, if enacted, expropriating money from some Americans, on the basis of race, for redistribution to other Americans, on the basis of race. It will no doubt come as a surprise to these pale-skinned emigres from Eastern Europe and Russia that they will owe money to the descendants of black slaves to pay for the sins of the well-off white people of generations and centuries past. All that matters is skin color. From Live Not By Lies:

[A]n American academic who has studied Russian communism told me about being present at the meeting in which his humanities department decided to require from job applicants a formal statement of loyalty to the ideology of diversity—even though this has nothing to do with teaching ability or scholarship.

The professor characterized this as a McCarthyite way of eliminating dissenters from the employment pool, and putting those already on staff on notice that they will be monitored for deviation from the social-justice party line.

That is a soft form of totalitarianism. Here is the same logic laid down hard: in 1918, Lenin unleashed the Red Terror, a campaign of annihilation against those who resisted Bolshevik power. Martin Latsis, head of the secret police in Ukraine, instructed his agents as follows:

Do not look in the file of incriminating evidence to see whether or not the accused rose up against the Soviets with arms or words. Ask him instead to which class he belongs, what is his background, his education, his profession. These are the questions that will determine the fate of the accused. That is the meaning and essence of the Red Terror.

Note well that an individual’s words and deeds had nothing to do with determining one’s guilt or innocence. One was presumed guilty based entirely on one’s class and social status. A revolution that began as an attempt to right historical injustices quickly became an exterminationist exercise of raw power. Communists justified the imprisonment, ruin, and even the execution of people who stood in the way of Progress as necessary to achieve historical justice over alleged exploiters of privilege.

No, I am not saying the Greg Thompsons of America are going to inflict Red Terror on us. What I am saying is that the same orientation to justice as a matter of collective guilt is what animates the Social Justice side — and that it will inevitably lead to great injustice. This is precisely what the people who lived under the Soviet version of this understand, and why they are so anxious right now. In a Facebook post not too long ago, Thompson dismissed people who see Marxist tendencies within the social justice movement as snowflakes who have their feelings hurt. Read the post, and you’ll see that he’s managed to insulate himself against any criticism of the Social Justice Left as being in bad faith. He’s got the Washington Post on his side, and the most powerful media company in the world, Facebook, and the cultural wind at his back. Kulaks of the world, be warned.

Look, it is quite possible that I’ve written a bad book. But I think in this case, the book could be nothing other than bad to a woke preacher like Greg Thompson, not because it fails to understand his causes, but because it understands them well. I am reminded of leftist intellectual Susan Sontag’s memorable, extremely controversial remarks at a 1982 conference about the Solidarity trade union movement. Addressing her leftist and liberal audience, Sontag said:

“Imagine, if you will, someone who read only the Reader’s Digest between 1950 and 1970, and someone in the same period who read only The Nation or the New Statesman. Which reader would have been better informed about the realities of communism? The answer, I think, should give us pause. Can it be that our enemies were right?”

Fifteen years from now, compare Live Not By Lies, the work of a journalist, to the contemptuous review of the learned University of Virginia PhD, and let’s see who had a clearer vision of the deepest meaning of wokeness. I have every confidence in my book’s vindication.

Thompson writes:

I find Live Not by Lies to be so utterly egregious. And not simply egregious but, in spite of its quavering affect and hunted ethos, dangerous.

Good. To woke ideologues like Pastor Thompson, it is supposed to be.

UPDATE: A reader who read the review writes:

This was great:

[Quoting Thompson’s review:] What I do intend, however, is to note the extraordinary narrowness of Dreher’s horizon of victimization…. It does not even include Christians as such, many of whom, though more progressive than Dreher on some issues, daily feel the tensions created by their Nicene path. 
Yeah. The Christian Left are victims because their politics are fundamentally incompatible with their faith, and because their political allies persecute their fellow Christians. And basically you’re Judas for pointing that out.
These people are hopeless.
An Evangelical friend who is part of the PCA (as is Pastor Thompson) says I’m right that Thompson couldn’t possibly like the book because the things I identify as vices, he considers to be virtues. My friend says that woke Evangelicals are the most dangerous figures at this moment for the church, because they do consider their vices to be virtues, and therefore pursue them with utopian ardor.
UPDATE: A reader writes:
The comment that your reader made, that woke Evangelicals are the most dangerous people to the church, really caused me to pause with a chill through my veins.  I would like to join a church, but this very reality keeps me out of them. It is so easy to destroy somebody through social media and I’m alone, with nobody to help me, so I cannot afford to lose my job. Only one ‘wrong’ interaction with somebody could do it.

I live in a well-to-do suburb of [major US city] in a little old rented house that is surrounded by much newer McMansion wannabees, inhabited by people who often despise me because I’m dragging their property values down. My neighbors to the west have made it abundantly clear that they would like nothing more than to see a bulldozer sweep the yard and the house away with me in it.

Yesterday, the mailman dropped off some of their mail in my box, so I walked it over there to leave it with them. That allowed me to get close enough to read the sign posted in front of their house that said, ‘In this house, black lives matter, there are no illegal persons, …’ and some other woke stuff. It made me laugh out loud. I wished that I had seen them so that I could have pointed to the sign and asked them, “do you have any compassion for your neighbor and the rest of God’s Creation that you abhor watching me feed?”.  I watch these people walk their children to the Catholic church that’s a block away. What a terror. They are not ambassadors of Christ.

about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. A veteran of three decades of magazine and newspaper journalism, he has also written three New York Times bestsellers—Live Not By Lies, The Benedict Option, and The Little Way of Ruthie Lemingas well as Crunchy Cons and How Dante Can Save Your Life. Dreher lives in Baton Rouge, La.

leave a comment

Latest Articles