John Horvat writing at The Imaginative Conservative, has a great article on the philosophical underpinnings of our current situation (The Stunning Triumph of Thomas Hobbes in the COVID Crisis).Let me preface what I’m about to say that I have since the pandemic began I have continued to serve Liturgy, hear confessions, and bring people Holy Communion. While I’ve taken basic precautions (mask, hand washing, etc.), I’ve done everything I can to make sure the sacramental life of the Church remained available to not only my own parish but neighboring parishes.

Yes, all of this entailed a certain level of risk on my part (and my wife’s part by the way). But what choice did we have? To do otherwise, would mean leaving my flock without a shepherd and prove myself a hireling.

This isn’t to say that, especially in the case of clergy and laity in high-risk groups, more rigorous precautions (including quarantine) aren’t prudent. They are. But while I was supportive of the lockdown in the first days and weeks of the pandemic because we faced a high-risk situation without good information to evaluate that risk, I think we have (as the article points out) given ourselves over to fear of death.

Again, this doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t take precautions. We should. But it’s hard to escape the author’s basic point that fear of death has now come to control our behavior as a society (a baneful abstraction but it will have to do for now).

I think the author’s point about our current situation is especially instructive:

The second problem with the Hobbesian COVID policy is that it prevents the finding of solutions to the crisis. A society bereft of risks may avoid the dangers of disaster, but it also removes any possibility of triumph. America is in chains today through such a policy.

As one quick example, here in Madison, private schools worked all summer with county health officials to develop plans to teach in person. Some of these schools ran daycare/camps all summer without incident. Nevertheless, without warning and at the last minute, the health department ordered schools closed for in-person instruction for grades 3-12.

At least as the schools tell it, they had no indication that their plans for reopening were inadequate. Indeed, throughout the summer, the corrected their plans in response to county health officials’ concerns.

We have grown fearful and we are afraid because we lack love. We are fearful and lack love because we have, as a culture, given ourselves over to self-indulgence and violence rather than self-restraint and personal responsibility to avoid the consequences of our actions

Hosea’s words are applicable to our situation:

They sow the wind,
And reap the whirlwind.
The stalk has no bud;
It shall never produce meal.
If it should produce,
Aliens would swallow it up

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory