“Live Not by Lies” by Alexandr Solzhenitsyn


The late Soviet dissident, Alexandr Solzhenitsyn (1918 – 2008) was exiled from the Soviet Union on February 13, 1974.

The day before, this Russian writer had released his short essay, “Live Not by Lies.” He gives insightful advice to his fellow Russians that could apply to many people in many places around the world today.

As believers, we are to follow Christ, for He is the truth (John 14:6). Also, the Holy Spirit will guide us into all the truth (John 16:13).

Having never lived under oppression as Solzhenitsyn did, I appreciate his insights and the practical ways he suggests to not support lies when living under a repressive system.

I’ve excerpted parts of the essay below. I recommend reading the original for the practical ideas.

“Live Not by Lies” by Alexandr Solzhenitsyn

“There was a time when we dared not rustle a whisper. . . [We] heartily complain to each other of all they [the Soviet government] are muddling up, of all they are dragging us into!  . . . they put whomever they want on trial, and brand the healthy as mentally ill—and it is always “they,” while we are—helpless.

“We are approaching the brink; already a universal spiritual demise is upon us; a physical one is about to flare up and engulf us and our children, while we continue to smile sheepishly and babble: ‘But what can we do to stop it? We haven’t the strength.’

“We have so hopelessly ceded our humanity that for the modest handouts of today we are ready to surrender up all principles, our soul, all the labors of our ancestors, all the prospects of our descendants—anything to avoid disrupting our meager existence. We have lost our strength, our pride, our passion.

“. . . And therein we find, neglected by us, the simplest, the most accessible key to our liberation: a personal nonparticipation in lies! . . . For when people renounce lies, lies simply cease to exist. Like parasites, they can only survive when attached to a person.

“We are not called upon to step out onto the square and shout out the truth, to say out loud what we think—this is scary, we are not ready. But let us at least refuse to say what we do not think!

“. . . And thus, overcoming our temerity, let each man choose: Will he remain a witting servant of the lies (needless to say, not due to natural predisposition, but in order to provide a living for the family, to rear the children in the spirit of lies!), or has the time come for him to stand straight as an honest man, worthy of the respect of his children and contemporaries?”

NOTES:

  • Read “Live Not by Lies” at the solzhenitsyncenter.org. Also, sagepub.com also has a PDF version which includes a drawing and poem that apparently accompanied the original essay.
  • Read Solzhenitsyn’s autobiography on the Nobel Prize website. Solzhenitsyn embraced atheism briefly, but returned to his childhood faith, Russian Orthodoxy. Find more detail on Wikipedia, as well.
  • He was awarded the 1970 Nobel Prize in Literature “for the ethical force with which he has pursued the indispensable traditions of Russian literature.”
  • The Gulag Archipelago was one of Solzhenitsyn’s most important books that challenged the Soviet state, It has sold tens of millions of copies. It was first published in English and French in 1973. After the fall of the Iron Curtain, it has been available in Russian.
  • The photos of Solzhenitsyn are from February 1974 and is available on Wikimedia Commons. The photo is also under the Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal Public Domain Dedication.

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