This is part two of a three part series on preparing for tyranny. Read part one here.
This is especially important at present, as the government-media machine makes more and more noises about the so-called “Pirola variant,” indicating the return of the COVID narrative, restrictions – and potentially, mandates and camps (as began in Australia, before the war between Russia and Ukraine).
What will we do, when faced with the choice between suffering in a camp, and compromising with evil?
At the start of The Gulag Archipelago, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn poses a question that may face us all in the time ahead:
How can you stand your ground when you are weak and sensitive to pain, when people you love are still alive, when you are unprepared?
What do you need to make you stronger than the interrogator and the whole trap?
The answer, he says, is to give up all little hopes – without turning to despair – and to fix one’s whole will on fulfilling the duties of conscience and truth. He writes:
From the moment you go to prison you must put your cozy past firmly behind you. At the threshold, you must say to yourself: ‘My life is over, a little early to be sure, but there’s nothing to be done about it. I shall never return to freedom. I am condemned to die – now or a little later. But later on, in truth, it will be even harder, and so the sooner the better. I no longer have any property whatsoever. For me, those I love have died; and for them, I have died. From today on, my body is useless and alien to me. Only my spirit and conscience remain precious and important to me.’
Confronted by such a prisoner, the interrogator will tremble.
Only the man who has renounced everything can win that victory.
Let’s consider the various false hopes we might have once in a Gulag machine. They include:
- Hope to live
- Hope to avoid bodily suffering
- Hope to protect loved ones outside.
These are truly good things, but they are all false hopes used by tyrants to further their evil agendas.
Life and death
At the threshold, you must say to yourself: ‘My life is over, a little early to be sure, but there’s nothing to be done about it. I shall never return to freedom. I am condemned to die – now or a little later. But later on, in truth, it will be even harder, and so the sooner the better.’
Once we are in the gears of their machine, let there be no more frantic grasping at preserving our lives, especially through anything that will soil our consciences. Rather we should see ourselves as already dead, and just waiting for the clock to time out. As Our Lord says:
He that will save his life, shall lose it: and he that shall lose his life for my sake, shall find it. (Matt. 16.25)
Perhaps we should always see things in the light of death, and what comes thereafter – but it’s very hard to do that when we are comfortable. It’s a lot easier when looking death in the face.
Unlike the Russians in the early twentieth century, we know how these revolutionaries proceed. We know that the instigators of tyranny cannot be trusted in any promise that they make, whether to liberate us, to spare our lives, or to spare us physical suffering.
And as I said previously: Why would we want to live “freely” in the monstrous world that they want for us?
Again, I am not counseling despair. But it is crucial that we prepare for this, and more importantly for a holy death. The moment of death will be the most important moment of our lives, determining whether we have succeeded or failed as Christians and as men.
Loved ones on the outside
I no longer have any property whatsoever. For me, those I love have died; and for them, I have died.
If we are inside the apparatus, and leaving a house and family on the outside, should we not do what we can to secure their comfort?
But how, dear friends, do we think we will do that? They cannot be trusted.
One of the stupidest, most foolish things possible, would be to believe a wicked man’s promise to help us on the condition of our doing something wicked ourselves.
We cannot make plea-bargains with devils. It is cold, it is hard, it is brutal: but those inside must accept that they are now powerless to help those outside. If, when inside, we can consider our property and loved ones to have already gone, perhaps it will be easier to deal with the temptation to do something stupid to save ourselves or them.
There are accounts of prisoners, on worthless promises, doing grossly immoral things for their jailers and torturers. There are other accounts of the spouses of prisoners doing the same, to obtain better conditions for them inside. What a pity, what foolishness.
Perhaps, at the time, people thought that these degrading things would achieve something.
But it should be obvious to us that men so wicked as to instigate or cooperate with a tyrannical regime cannot be trusted to honor promises to help us. Especially at the price of immorality on our part.
The paradox is that in this situation, the only hope of seeing our loved ones again is for us and them to consider each other already dead, and to refuse any pointless and foolish attempt to deny this paradox.
From today on, my body is useless and alien to me. Only my spirit and conscience remain precious and important to me.
What can we say of this, we who are on the outside and have not experienced what these men experienced? We can only comment, abstractly, that this is true. We must fix it in our minds. Our Lord says:
Fear ye not them that kill the body, and are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him that can destroy both soul and body in hell. (Matt. 10.28)
All we can say is that under conditions of torture, we must continue to say, “No” – and endure what we must, leaning on God.
Pictures of saints can seem rarefied, and some accounts of martyrdoms can seem like mere stories. But they were real men and women.
The English martyrs during the reformation are perhaps the most accessible group of saints to inspire us. 500 years ago is no time at all, and the accounts of their tortures and horrible deaths are clearly realistic accounts of what happened. Those martyrs were men like us, recent enough to have even been speaking our language as we speak it.
The same blood that they shed for Christ, which flowed during horrible tortures – that same blood flows in our veins too. We are made of the same stuff as them.
Though we maybe cannot claim to be descended from Edmund Campion or Margaret Clitheroe and the others, still we can see them as our glorious kin. Let us strive to live up to our family’s honor.
In addition to this, let’s fix in our minds the truth of the Penny Catechism, that “I must take most care of my soul,” as opposed to my body – let us start today to chastise our bodies.
Will we have hot showers, coffee, wine, chocolate, and physical ease in the time ahead? Who can say?
But should we not find ways to start preparing ourselves now?
Winning the victory
Confronted by such a prisoner, the interrogator will tremble. Only the man who has renounced everything can win that victory.
What a temptation it will be, if we find ourselves between the hammer and the anvil, to depart from this advice, and think that we need not abandon everything as we have discussed, or that we can compromise just a little bit.
It will be most tempting to think that we are different, or that our situation, our jailer, or whatever, are different.
No, no, no, no, no!
Our only hope is to renounce it all and to refuse to comply, to compromise, to confess, to denounce, to inform, to hope falsely, or to sin in any way at all.
After the quote we have been discussing, Solzhenitsyn adds:
But how can one turn one’s body to stone?
How indeed? The answer he gives is important, even if insufficient in its context. He tells us that those who persevered did so by firm “religious and moral principles.” He gives the example of Nikolai Berdyaev, a philosopher:
Berdyayev did not humiliate himself. He did not beg or plead. He set forth firmly those religious and moral principles which had led him to refuse to accept the political authority established in Russia. And not only did they come to the conclusion that he would be useless for a trial, but they liberated him.
He gives another stirring example of an old lady who was interrogated for having helped the Orthodox Metropolitan escape the country. Her words to her interrogators:
There is nothing you can do with me even if you cut me into pieces. After all, you are afraid of your bosses, and you are afraid of each other, and you are even afraid of killing me [because you would lose a possible informant.]
But I am not afraid of anything. I would be glad to be judged by God right this minute.
The grace of God
Standing firm is impossible without the grace of God. Inside or outside, we all must pray. The communists tried to take even that away from prisoners in some camps, which shows the importance of praying now.
For us, who are not in a Gulag, things are not yet hopeless – but our time is short. “The night cometh, when no man can work.” (John 9.4)
Starting with prayer, we should realize that we can do nothing on our own, and make a serious commitment to spend time with God in prayer – not just the saying of prayers, but of retreating into God and resting in him.
Reading Solzhenitsyn, or having firm principles, are not guarantees that we will be protected from falling away or into despair. But let his words be warnings against the false hope for the “carrot” from those wielding the “stick.” Those who fall into the jaws of the beast must just hold on and not give in. As our Lord says to the Church at Laodicea in the Apocalypse:
Those whom I love, I rebuke and chastise. Be zealous therefore and do penance… He who overcomes, I will permit him to sit with me upon my throne; as I also have overcome and have sat with my Father on his throne. (Apoc. 3.19, 21)
Our Lord Jesus Christ is the Way, the Truth and the Life. Let us adhere to him; believe his words; hope and trust in his grace; and love him with all of our heart, mind, soul and strength.
Let us decide, now, that whatever the cost, we will never depart willingly from Christ our Lord, who himself is the most perfect goodness, truth and beauty.
And yet… perhaps there remains some further doubts.
If we can make ourselves into unbreakable iron, what about our families and children?
Will they be broken, taken away, starved, corrupted, destroyed?
This will be the subject of the next part.