In the competitive world of online status-mongering, courage involves little more than clicking “like” or earning a “mention” in a post that could risk losing a follower or two. Real courage is, of course, something else entirely. It’s about doing the right thing when there are real costs. It’s taking an unpopular stand, even a dangerous one when sitting back and doing nothing would be far easier.
During the dark days of Communist tyranny in Europe, governments spouted their dangerous nonsense, and citizens were expected, often by intimidation, to act as though their folly were true. Refusing meant social ostracization, police supervision, the loss of opportunity and freedom, and the compromise of personal safety. Most citizens ducked their heads and did what they could to survive.
Others, however, made the difficult choice to stand up. Their courage entailed not taking up arms or taking to the streets but, in a world where dissent was costly, a simple refusal to go along. Among those who showed this kind of courage was the Bendová family of Czechoslovakia, a family featured in the book Live Not By Lies by Rod Dreher. Kamila Bendová will be a featured guest at the Colson Center National Conference, along with Rod Dreher, to tell the story of her family’s courage, even when that courage brought suffering. As Dreher wrote,
She too was a dissident. She kept the family together when the communists put her husband in prison. When Vaclav was tempted by an offer to accept exile in exchange for liberty, she bucked him up, and told him that the things they were fighting for were worth suffering for too.
Or, as Terry Mattingly put it,
It didn’t matter if the Communists had imprisoned her husband — the late Vaclav Benda, a leading Czech dissident and Catholic intellectual. It didn’t matter that state officials had bugged their flat near the medieval heart of the city. It didn’t matter if a friend showed up after being tortured at the secret police facility a block away.
Faithfully, through years of pressure, threats, and fears, Kamila Bendová showed her children, local students, and fellow citizens that resistance is not futile. Her life is a lesson to us in this cultural moment. Though what we face is less openly dangerous, it is confusing and consequential. As Mattingly wrote,
Traditional families now face threats that are harder to identify than those of the Communist era, said Kamila Bendova. Warning children about the secret police is one thing. In a way, it may be harder for today’s parents to convince their children to be truly countercultural in an age of social-media narcissism, gender confusion, online pornography and credit-card materialism.
In his book Live Not by Lies, Dreher tells story after story of courageous Christians from the recent past. Their courage can inspire and inform us in this moment, Dreher thinks.
Should totalitarianism, hard or soft, come to America, the police state would not have to establish a web of informants to keep tabs on the private lives of the people. The system we have now already does this—and most Americans are scarcely aware of its thoroughness and ubiquity.
Though we do not face the exact tactics of Marxist regimes, we face the expansive power of a de facto social credit system, where holding the “wrong” opinion comes with a social cost. In Britain, railing against the Jewish people and the whole of Western civilization is acceptable, even encouraged, but silently praying outside an abortion clinic brings a visit from the police. Social pressure and government pressure, heightened by corporate pressures, have brought radical and dangerous ideologies into the mainstream.
So, now is a time for courage, the kind that refuses to go along with dominant paradigms when it would be easier to be quiet. The Bendová family knew that their children would require tools to think critically and carefully. Ours will too, especially in this age of expressive individualism and ever louder propaganda. We can learn from Kamila Bendová what this kind of intentional parenting entails.
How Christians can have a courageous faith is the focus of the 2024 Colson Center National Conference, to be held May 30-June 2 in Arlington, Texas. Joining Kamila Bendová and Rod Dreher are Dr. Albert Mohler, Fr. Calvin Robinson, Dr. Sean McDowell, Dr. Kathy Koch, and author Dr. Neil Shenvi. Only a few hundred spaces remain. To register, go to ColsonConference.org.
This Breakpoint was co-authored by Dr. Timothy Padgett. For more resources to live like a Christian in this cultural moment, go to breakpoint.org.
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