Christian Samizdat?

Speaking of Solzhenitsyn. . . .At the Circe conference, Barbara Elliott spoke about the role of writers in bringing down Soviet Communism, something she documents in her book Candles Behind the Wall.

Though Writers and Artist Unions could give creative folks a good, prestigious living as long as they conformed to socialist ideology, those who did not were consigned to prison camps or insane asylums. (When I was in Estonia, I attended a birthday party for a poet who had just been released from a mental hospital where he spent many years for writing an anti-communist poem.)

A number of dissidents, though, resolved to bypass the totalitarian culture and create a “second culture.” They would write novels, short stories, plays, essays, and create other works of life that were committed to just “telling the truth” about life under communism. They would bypass the official publishing houses and distribute their work via secret printing presses and illegal copy machines. This was called “samizdat,” or “self-publishing.” People would get a manuscript, read it, then make more copies and distribute them to their friends. After awhile, denizens of the communist empire began seeing through the lies and fallacies of the regime until they no longer took communist ideology seriously. Eventually, the communist house of cards collapsed in an unprecedented peaceful revolution.

Do you think the time might come–or is now here–when Christians might oppose and undermine our secularist culture with a samizdat movement that promotes a “second culture”? This would entail not just writing evangelistic stuff that could not be published in the mainstream but “telling the truth” about the culture today. I could see stories that reveal what abortion is, satires of contemporary education, critiques of the intellectual establishment, films that anatomize what is happening to our families, poems against sexual immorality, music and art that express a Biblical worldview, and on and on.

The process of Samizdat is easier now than ever with the internet giving, in effect, everyone a printing press and a distribution outlet. Most Christian writers and artists currently seem to be caught in the syndrome of trying to make it in the mainstream or of trying to find commercial success. What if Christians set aside commercialism entirely and created for free? Obviously, things are not so bad yet as under the Soviet Union, but are there things Christians could learn from Solzhenitsyn and company?

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

  • http://www.brandywinebooks.net Lars Walker

    I don’t know. There are a lot of creative people working in fiction and movies who are begging other Christians to get out of the ghetto and be salt and light in the mainstream media.

    I don’t imagine there’s any reason why we can’t do both, but it will be hard to avoid the impression that the “underground” stuff is simply second rate, written by people who can’t make it in the big leagues.

  • http://www.brandywinebooks.net Lars Walker

    I don’t know. There are a lot of creative people working in fiction and movies who are begging other Christians to get out of the ghetto and be salt and light in the mainstream media.

    I don’t imagine there’s any reason why we can’t do both, but it will be hard to avoid the impression that the “underground” stuff is simply second rate, written by people who can’t make it in the big leagues.

  • Random Lutheran

    Something must be in the water! The following quote from Eliot was posted on the Boar’s Head Tavern recently:

    It is our business, as readers of literature, to know what we like. It is our business, as Christians, as well as readers of literature, to know what we ought to like. It is our business as honest men not to assume that whatever we like is what we ought to like; and it is our business as honest Christians not to assume that we do like what we ought to like. And the last thing I would wish for would be the existence of two literatures, one for Christian consumption and the other for the pagan world.

  • Random Lutheran

    Something must be in the water! The following quote from Eliot was posted on the Boar’s Head Tavern recently:

    It is our business, as readers of literature, to know what we like. It is our business, as Christians, as well as readers of literature, to know what we ought to like. It is our business as honest men not to assume that whatever we like is what we ought to like; and it is our business as honest Christians not to assume that we do like what we ought to like. And the last thing I would wish for would be the existence of two literatures, one for Christian consumption and the other for the pagan world.

  • http://www.oldsolar.com/currentblog.php Rick Ritchie

    I wonder if the biggest hurdle would not be getting a hearing, but in being heard and then quickly forgotten. Our media culture pours out a high volume. This has a great effect on how what is taken in is processed. It’s almost inevitably one drop in the stream.

    In another cultural moment where one piece could hold attention for six months, I think the prospects would be different.

    This doesn’t make it not worth doing. But a “15 minutes of fame” culture has its own peculiar challenges.

  • http://www.oldsolar.com/currentblog.php Rick Ritchie

    I wonder if the biggest hurdle would not be getting a hearing, but in being heard and then quickly forgotten. Our media culture pours out a high volume. This has a great effect on how what is taken in is processed. It’s almost inevitably one drop in the stream.

    In another cultural moment where one piece could hold attention for six months, I think the prospects would be different.

    This doesn’t make it not worth doing. But a “15 minutes of fame” culture has its own peculiar challenges.

  • Chris H.

    I agree with Rick, but the way to overcome the “one drop in the stream” effect is to start a waterfall. If enough Christian writers started writing truthfully about our culture, it would be hard to ignore.

  • Chris H.

    I agree with Rick, but the way to overcome the “one drop in the stream” effect is to start a waterfall. If enough Christian writers started writing truthfully about our culture, it would be hard to ignore.

  • http://planetaugsburg.wordpress.com Andy Adams

    Isn’t this blog an example of such? Given this is not a “work” per se, but there is quite a bit of truth-telling going on.

    Indeed, that has been one of the blessings of the internet (it has its curses)–the free flow of information without the need for a media outlet (publisher, TV network, Radio network).

    I think we have only just begun to see the way the Gospel can spread through the use of this medium.

    Christians, most especially the confessional-kind, are lagging way behind in our knowledge and use of the internet and other modern forms of media.

    I think we are predisposed to have an impact on the internet through the written word (that tends to be our strength). Hmmm, I wonder why?

    We have been sorely lacking on the visual media side of the equation, but perhaps we can make up for lost ground? The cost of visual media (TV shows, movies, videos, etc.) is getting cheaper by the minute. This will help with the access issue, but we have got to be able to produce something high quality.

    God has a plan. We are victorious, regardless of how it may seem.

    Imagine what St. Paul could have done with the internet? I bet he would have had a smokin’ blog! Luther too!

  • http://planetaugsburg.wordpress.com Andy Adams

    Isn’t this blog an example of such? Given this is not a “work” per se, but there is quite a bit of truth-telling going on.

    Indeed, that has been one of the blessings of the internet (it has its curses)–the free flow of information without the need for a media outlet (publisher, TV network, Radio network).

    I think we have only just begun to see the way the Gospel can spread through the use of this medium.

    Christians, most especially the confessional-kind, are lagging way behind in our knowledge and use of the internet and other modern forms of media.

    I think we are predisposed to have an impact on the internet through the written word (that tends to be our strength). Hmmm, I wonder why?

    We have been sorely lacking on the visual media side of the equation, but perhaps we can make up for lost ground? The cost of visual media (TV shows, movies, videos, etc.) is getting cheaper by the minute. This will help with the access issue, but we have got to be able to produce something high quality.

    God has a plan. We are victorious, regardless of how it may seem.

    Imagine what St. Paul could have done with the internet? I bet he would have had a smokin’ blog! Luther too!

  • Bruce

    Great quote, quoted by Random Lutheran. Particularly the last. One naturally thinks of Flannery O’Connor, of course: crypto-evangelism in the form of hard-to-digest short stories.
    Clearly, what we ought to be fixing here is not anything at all like what the writers and artists were addressing in the former Soviet Union. The collapse of that regime can be explained in any number of ways, but not primarily because the writers were going underground. I would even go so far as so suggest that the art was an expression of–not a cause of–whatever people’s rebellion may have been a part of its downfall. The final expression of lots of things not working right there was simply economic breakdown.

    Ironically, a sustained Christian counter-cultural art movement in the US would ultimately be speaking not to the political structure, but to the clamoring voice of secular and non-Christian artists and writers here. The idea of squelching THAT voice is…overwhelming.

  • Bruce

    Great quote, quoted by Random Lutheran. Particularly the last. One naturally thinks of Flannery O’Connor, of course: crypto-evangelism in the form of hard-to-digest short stories.
    Clearly, what we ought to be fixing here is not anything at all like what the writers and artists were addressing in the former Soviet Union. The collapse of that regime can be explained in any number of ways, but not primarily because the writers were going underground. I would even go so far as so suggest that the art was an expression of–not a cause of–whatever people’s rebellion may have been a part of its downfall. The final expression of lots of things not working right there was simply economic breakdown.

    Ironically, a sustained Christian counter-cultural art movement in the US would ultimately be speaking not to the political structure, but to the clamoring voice of secular and non-Christian artists and writers here. The idea of squelching THAT voice is…overwhelming.

  • Patrick Kyle

    Andy,

    Check out

    http://www.piratechristianradio.com

    for a sample of how confessional Christians are using the web.

    Some of the shows have their own podcasts. A couple of the more worthy ones are Issues Etc. and my personal favorite the God Whisperers.

  • Patrick Kyle

    Andy,

    Check out

    http://www.piratechristianradio.com

    for a sample of how confessional Christians are using the web.

    Some of the shows have their own podcasts. A couple of the more worthy ones are Issues Etc. and my personal favorite the God Whisperers.

  • Anders L. Swendsrud

    I agree that there is a definite need for a Christian counter-culture. What has happened to Christians at the fore-front of the culture? Just a couple hundred years ago we were the leaders in modern society. In some ways we don’t need an underground culture, but we need a definite change from the second-rate Christian “happy go lucky”, feel good, writing, art, and music that is being created these days in mass.

  • Anders L. Swendsrud

    I agree that there is a definite need for a Christian counter-culture. What has happened to Christians at the fore-front of the culture? Just a couple hundred years ago we were the leaders in modern society. In some ways we don’t need an underground culture, but we need a definite change from the second-rate Christian “happy go lucky”, feel good, writing, art, and music that is being created these days in mass.

  • Anon

    Hasn’t this already been going on since oh, the ’70s? Of course the quality reflects our worldly cultural values.

    The KGB lacked the tools that the DHS and the Obama 500,000 man internal army will have to suppress dissent, censor the internet, control computers and printers and so forth. The window may well be closed.

    We need something much more radical than a mere change in tactics. “if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.” 2 Chronicles 7:14

    Otherwise if vectors remain unchanged, it will be a matter of how long we hold out under “it isn’t really torture.”

    Lars, I thought once you were over-dramatic on your web site. No longer.

  • Anon

    Hasn’t this already been going on since oh, the ’70s? Of course the quality reflects our worldly cultural values.

    The KGB lacked the tools that the DHS and the Obama 500,000 man internal army will have to suppress dissent, censor the internet, control computers and printers and so forth. The window may well be closed.

    We need something much more radical than a mere change in tactics. “if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.” 2 Chronicles 7:14

    Otherwise if vectors remain unchanged, it will be a matter of how long we hold out under “it isn’t really torture.”

    Lars, I thought once you were over-dramatic on your web site. No longer.

  • Christopher Jackson

    I wonder if a Samizdat-esque movement is really necessary in our context.

    Madeline L’Engle, Anne Rice, Walt Wangerin, Johnny Cash, Mel Gibson, and Alejandro Monteverde are just a few examples of Christians who have spoken out through existing cultural channels.

  • Christopher Jackson

    I wonder if a Samizdat-esque movement is really necessary in our context.

    Madeline L’Engle, Anne Rice, Walt Wangerin, Johnny Cash, Mel Gibson, and Alejandro Monteverde are just a few examples of Christians who have spoken out through existing cultural channels.

  • http://www.bikebubba.blogspot.com Bike Bubba

    I would argue it exists to a degree through homeschoolers and such already. Perhaps not fully developed, but all good things take time, no?

    I work with a lady from Poland who took part in Poland’s version while a grad student in Warsaw. No computers, just writing on paper, and they had a LOT of fun tweaking the Communists.

  • http://www.bikebubba.blogspot.com Bike Bubba

    I would argue it exists to a degree through homeschoolers and such already. Perhaps not fully developed, but all good things take time, no?

    I work with a lady from Poland who took part in Poland’s version while a grad student in Warsaw. No computers, just writing on paper, and they had a LOT of fun tweaking the Communists.


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