By Charlie Johnston
One of the things that this Corona Virus business has illuminated, but is rarely commented on, is that there are reasonable precautions we could have and should have been taking all along to defend vulnerable populations from the ravages of ordinary flu seasons. In the aftermath of all of this, I seriously doubt that many people who are sick will think it prudent or brave to go to work or Church anyway. That is the one silver lining I see in all this mess.
In the beginning, experts raised enough serious questions that it was not entirely unreasonable to take extraordinary precautions. If this was going to be the equivalent to the Spanish Flu, it made some sense to take steps to prevent it rather than just react to it after it had taken hold. Even so, never before had we massively quarantined a healthy population instead of just reserving that practice for sick populations. By week three, it was pretty clear that this was NOT the successor to the Spanish Flu. But instead of rifling our approach to protect target populations, we just doubled down on locking everything down. In the process, we revealed some fearsome things about who we have become as a people.
It would have been good if people had thought clearly, from the beginning, about the trade-offs involved in this approach. There are always trade-offs; there is no free lunch. Shutting down the world economy has consequences – and the longer the shut-down, the deeper the consequences.
Imagine two small villages in a remote area of the world. One has very little currency in circulation – but the people there make things, grow things and build things; making up for their lack of cash by trading vigorously with each other. The other has an abundance of cash, but its people do not make anything, grow anything, or build anything. Which do you think is rich and free from want? This is one of the illusions of socialism – spreading cash around as a substitute for the hard goods and production which constitute actual wealth. It is why a Soviet Union, Cuba or Venezuela becomes, almost overnight, an impoverished nightmare. The timeline to go from prosperity to ruin is how long it takes to draw down the accumulated capital that the previously productive society had accrued. Our response to this virus has been to shut down productive work and print more cash. The longer this goes, the more like the second little village we will become.
A couple of things have startled me. In every previous crisis in the history of Western Civilization, the churches have been regarded as the most essential function in the society and, in fact, in some cases have been the institutions responsible for bringing the crisis to an end. In this case, churches have been regarded as entirely unessential havens of superstitious ninnies. I am not surprised that that is how modern elites treat faith. I am shocked at how easily the whole society has accepted that verdict – even as abortion clinics, liquor stores and pot shops are branded essential businesses which must be allowed to continue offering their services unimpeded.
I expected that some local officials, getting their first taste of authoritarian power, would become as enthused about and hooked on it as a crack addict. I did NOT expect so many police officers to be such willing accomplices to enforcing arbitrary and senseless exercises of raw power. I always thought they would be on the side of normal people. I think most of them are – and some police organizations have publicly vowed that they will NOT enforce un-Constitutional orders that have no rational basis. But way too many have eagerly agreed to cultivate snitches and arrest people for playing ball on a deserted playground, surfing alone on an empty beach and other such nonsense. If police organizations which do respect Constitutional rights don’t start giving serious blowback to those who don’t, the police will dilute the support of those who have been their strongest allies. And if any think that the left is ever going to be supportive of police in a genuine law and order context, boy, are they in for a surprise.
As I said, I knew that the various restrictions would energize the exuberant aspirations of petty tyrants across the land, but I had no idea it would be so quick, so comprehensive, and that so many people would accept it with such docility. We are, as Dennis Prager says, in a dress rehearsal for a police state. Even as the impact of the virus, itself, is being proven to be minimal, many local governments’ response gets more draconian.
Before this virus took off, many systems across the globe were over-stressed. We have added an unprecedented amount of new stress to the mix. There will be no getting back to normal. We have dramatically destabilized already unstable economic, political, cultural and religious systems across the globe.
It strikes me as altogether consistent with the Divine sense of humor that He chose to give us a choice once more – a serious but responsible approach to a potential crisis or naked, blanket panic. We were faced with a choice of freedom or safety. We could have had both with a serious response that respected liberty and did not impute authoritarian power to government officials. Instead, we chose panic and general lockdown. And so, as to freedom and safety, we will have neither. At least not without a fight.
Therein lies the irony. By mismanaging this crisis and refusing to refine our course when we saw the evidence of our mismanagement, we have laid the seeds for a much greater conflagration that we will not be able to manage. The churches will not deliver us from this particular crisis – but they will become our sole, best hope for emerging from the conflagration whose seeds we have sown.
I think we will emerge from this crisis and probably spend the summer thinking we have dodged a bullet, that we have gotten things back under control. But the demons we have unleashed will steadily eat away at the already damaged pillars that hold society up. And then we will have to make our stand, for God and for man, for liberty and for responsibility, for faith and for reason. There are only three major roles to take if that crisis comes – oppressor, soldier, or victim. We are called to be God’s hands and feet on earth, His soldiers.
In my mind, I see two opposing and errant poles of thought. One thinks we are sufficient to ourselves, and so relies in its own prowess to solve all problems, leaving no room for God. The other, in a caricature of piety, insists that if we pray enough, God will take care of everything, never demanding that we engage in the prayer of doing, leaving no room for us. At her trial, St. Joan of Arc was asked why, if God wanted France to be saved, He didn’t just save it instead of having her raise an army. She replied that, “the army fought the battles and God gave the victory.” There is a reason why I regard St. Joan as one of my most important patrons. The way to avoid either of these poles is to regularly take on things too big for you, things that require God to have any hope of success while vigorously doing everything in your power to accomplish all that is not reserved to God. If you fail, that is not what God had in mind or, it was, but not in the way you expected. Then get back to work on your next project.
We have entered a great forge. May we cooperate with God so that what He brings out of the forge is better and more noble than what went in.