“Every man dies. Not every man really lives.”
“They can take our lives, but they cannot take our freedom!”
~ William Wallace from Braveheart (1995)
This is a follow-up to my last Rant, covering a few points in greater depth. Now, after President Trump outlined steps to slowly and timidly “re-open” the American economy after many states forcibly (and tyrannically) shut down businesses deemed “non-essential,” leading to record unemployment and the destruction of countless small businesses, the controversy and divisiveness and stoked by this issue has only heated up. Based on what I’ve seen on social media, most Americans have settled into one of two bitterly divided camps: those of us who believe the government lockdowns, virtual quarantining of healthy persons, and shutdowns of business are an assault on basic American constitutional rights and freedoms and destroying our economy, and those who believe such draconian measures are necessary to save lives.
When not telling us we’re idiots, those in the latter camp often accuse those of us in the first of all kinds of moral deficiency and depredation. According to one priest’s words, those opposed to the quarantines of healthy persons, shuttering of businesses, and banning of public masses are driven by selfish “narcissism” and “misbegotten libertarianism,” valuing personal freedom over human life. Or that we care about money or the GDP more than about saving lives. At best, we’re selfish and materialistic, at worst, as one person put it, guilty of complicity in “genocide of the elderly and vulnerable.” The entire debate over the quarantines, lockdowns, job losses, loss of civil liberties, etc. is reduced to a simplistic morality play of Evil Selfish Greed vs. Righteous Saving Human Lives. Those who oppose Universal Perpetual Lockdown are accused of being Un-Christian or “Not Pro-life.”
First, the entire assertion that shutting down much of the economy, and plunging millions into unemployment, is “saving lives” is extremely dubious at best. A prolonged forced shutdown of economic activity, coupled with runaway deficit spending, will likely lead to economic collapse, which will ultimately cost more lives than the virus. It’s not the rich that will suffer most, but the poor and vulnerable.
The fact that many religious Catholics, rather than just the liberal Pelosi types, appear to have bought into this kind of dubious moral reasoning reveals a deeper issue of moral confusion going on here, one which predates the Wuhan virus. This concerns the distortion and cheapening of the term “pro-life.” It began decades ago with the so-called “Seamless Garment” theology proposed by the leftist Cardinal Bernadine in the ‘80s, and which dominates the moral/political rhetoric of the Bishops today. Originally, the term “pro-life” meant we opposed the deliberate killing of innocent human life (in other words, murder); thus we oppose abortion and the euthanasia, or “mercy killing,” of human beings. But according to Bernandine and other liberal clergy, to be “pro-life” meant we must also support such things as nuclear disarmament and a large welfare state. Today, many bishops and their cronies in the USCCB insist that to be “truly pro-life,” we must support basically every item in the ever-growing laundry list of left-wing political causes and demands (with the possible exception of abortion/infanticide on demand). Now we’re told we’re not “really pro-life” unless we support “gun control,” socialized medicine, open borders, carbon taxes, transgender restrooms, etc. Liberal Catholics re-define every issue of political contention as a “life issue,” with the “pro-life” position just happening to be whatever Democrat politicians are pushing. Of course, a bitter cynic like myself is inclined to write this off as a rather obvious political ploy to get religious pro-life Catholics to vote for abortion-loving leftist politicians, though those holier-than-thou “truly pro-life” types would assure us otherwise.
In any case, this has contributed to rather muddled moral thinking, which has combined with our modern culture’s obsession with safety and risk avoidance, and a nasty virus unleashed by the Chinese Communists, to create a perfect storm of hysteria and deranged moralism.
We live in a society increasingly driven by political and media induced fear and panic. The left (both politicians and the media) tries to keep us in a constant state of fear – of the immanent destruction of life on earth from man-made climate change, of mass shootings, of President Trump (who we are constantly told somehow represents a “grave danger,” and urgently needs to be removed before he commits Hitlerian atrocities). The only way for us all to avoid certain doom is for us to give leftist government ever more power, and for them to make more restrictions on our freedom.
Then, out of Communist China (the land where “Catholic Social Doctrine” is “best implemented”), comes a gift from the Leftist gods – an actual deadly (for some) virus that spreads with shocking rapidity. The Left wasted no time politicizing this scourge and blaming it and all its ugly consequences on the Bad Orange Man (after earlier calling him racist for barring flights from China). The economy then goes to hell after states (especially those with “liberal” Democrat governors) shut down large swaths of the economy, destroy small businesses, and millions are forced out of work.
And now, if one dare question the lockdowns, or the wildly overblown predictions they were predicated on, one is at best denounced as a “denier” and “anti-science” (yes, those wonderful all-purpose words to shut down dissent from the political orthodoxy). Or worse yet, we’re moral reprobates who value “the economy” over human life, and want to kill off old people or minorities. Yes, the rhetoric used by those in favor of everlasting lockdown against their critic is exactly the same as that used to push for government disarmament of the people and the “climate change” agenda. However, in the case of the virus, the threat is much more real and immanent (even if exaggerated), so such tactics are more effective, and influence people a lot more beyond the typical “left-wing” crowd.
All this is enabled by the moral confusing of deliberate murder with the danger and risk inherent (to some degree or another) in so much of human existence. Because of modern technology, life expectancy in the developed world today is far higher than it was throughout most of history, when most died of various diseases or other causes well before reaching old age. We fool ourselves into thinking that with just the right diet and exercise program, we can cheat death and become immortal. We kill our babies for convenience, yet feel entitled to live our own lives free of any threat of death, and demand government make laws to take away anything we find unsafe or threatening.
And now, among those few of us who remain religious Catholics, the confusion of muddled “pro-life” moral thinking grown from the seeds of political-minded liberal clergy has taken root, even among the pious and “conservative.” We often hear things along the lines of “the Church considers protecting life its highest priority” and that “saving lives” (or avoiding risk of death) must trump (no pun intended) all other considerations. I’ll set aside for the moment, the argument (which I’ve often made) that an economic collapse brought about by a prolonged shutdown will in result in more deaths in the long run. The reality is that a prolonged existence shut in one’s home, avoiding any physical religious, social, or political gatherings, or group work or play, unable to wander about without showing the officials one’s papers, can truly be considered living. Nor is it accurate to claim that the Christian Faith upholds preservation of physical life as the ultimate moral good. If that were true, the Church would never honor the heroism of countless martyrs who were willing to give up their very lives for their Faith and their God.
Throughout history, men have been willing to risk, or even give up, their lives for God, for family , for country, for freedom from tyranny. Today all too many willingly give up freedom and embrace tyranny, even the godless tyranny of the leftist state, for the sake of feeling a little more safe from death. There was long a word for those who exalt their physical safety above all else, and that word is “coward.” The only thing worse than cowardice is cowards trumpeting their cowardice as superior moral virtue.
But this widespread panic and cowardice is all the more dangerous – much more dangerous than the virus, in fact – as it is orchestrated and played for political ends. If the Left is successful in getting the majority of people to choose fear rather than freedom, the consequences will be disastrous. We need to wake up, reject fear, and prepare to fight like hell.