By Charlie Johnston
I spent a good chunk of last Sunday meandering in the mountains, with an hour in contemplation and prayer at the foot of Mt. Meeker. I actually wrote a lot last week – but I’ll deal with that another time.
People frequently call to ask me if this is it. Well, it certainly is becoming more and more of a global civil war fought on cultural lines. I think this is a sort of warning, a foreshadowing of the fullness of the storm, and an opportunity for all of us to take stock of where we are and of who we have become. I think it is clear that most of us are not ready for serious trials right now, though I hope it is the unreadiness of the Pacific Fleet right after Pearl Harbor. It went to sea to carry out punitive exercises in response and discovered that, though it had good equipment, it was pathetically unable to carry out any serious mission, so it came back to base and started relentlessly drilling. It became one of the finest fleet forces in world history once it took things, including rigorous training, seriously and with sober resolve.
The devil almost always attacks you at your weakest point. It is a classic of basic tactics. Only a fool would attack the castle at its strongest point – unless he were setting up a diversion to draw attention away from the weakest point in order to mount a subtle attack or ambush there. So, if you actually ARE attacked at your strong point, guard your weak point all the more. Sometimes silly men boast because their faults are not the same as others. The gambler says, “At least I am not a womanizer,” and the womanizer says, “At least I am not a gambler,” and both say, “At least I am not a drunk.” What fools! When you have such profound failings yourself for which you have required so much mercy, how can you dare be miserly to others with the mercy you have received in such abundance? Do you think God will be impressed? Do not view, through the beam in your own eye, the mote in your neighbor’s eye with satisfaction. Instead, bear each other’s burdens, live solidarity, cover your father’s nakedness as Shem and Japheth did for Noah (Genesis, Chapter 9). Always keep in mind that the devil seeks to inflame our greatest passions into disorder and then to sin. Thus fear, anger, envy, lust, greed, and wrath are all things he seeks to infect and inflame. Yet these ugly passions are often merely the disordered side of qualities the Lord bequeathed us that we need for our work. Seek to use your passion for the purposes for which the Lord has given them to you – and armor them against the satan’s attempts to inflame them into disorder and chaos. Frankly, these past couple of weeks I have been struggling with deep anger and disbelief.
The majority of what matters has already been revealed; the lines of battle are hardening; and so, inevitably, comes the moment when a decisive choice must be made by each person. Such is the time of visitation that will form the course of the rest of each person’s life. It is amazing to me. I have been present at the moment of visitation of many individuals – that moment when they must make the fundamental decision that sets the course of the rest of their lives. I have never seen a moment of visitation come to all at almost the same moment. The whole world has entered into a moment of visitation. I have found that most people do not recognize their moment of visitation until after it has long passed. Many of those who choose well never recognize it, for they just continue in their way of steady honor. Those that choose poorly almost always come to recognize it – and are either embittered or haunted by the loss entailed by their choosing poorly. It makes me wonder how many, even now, recognize the crossroads we have come to.
We are coming through the third worst general pandemic of my lifetime. While the media recently trumpeted that the Covid virus death toll recently reached 100,000, even Dr. Deborah Birk, head of the White House task force, said that these deaths have been overstated by “at least” 25 percent. With all the cancer, heart attack – and even traffic accident, shooting and stabbing fatalities wrongly attributed to Covid, I suspect her estimate is substantially low. But let’s take her at her word. That means that Covid deaths are actually no more than 75,000 – at the upper range of a normal flu season (30,000-80,000). I expect it will top off at about 90,000 in real deaths. The Asian Flu of 1958-59 claimed about 100,000 lives in America, while the Hong Kong Flu of 1968-69 claimed about 115,000. Still, though Covid is in the range of normal notably rough years, it has had a more devastating effect than the worst in American history – because we decided to quarantine the healthy and shut down the American economy. As bad as all that is, I am more shaken by what the hideous over-reaction has revealed about all of us than I am by the over-reaction itself.
I already knew that a great diabolic disorientation had overwhelmed the modern left: they use compassionate buzzwords to leverage absolute power to themselves, which is all they care about anymore. So I was not surprised when petty officials throughout the land used the Covid scare to impose arbitrary rules unrelated to any rational analysis on what they consider to be their subjects. I had suspected that “experts” had succumbed to the same feverish politicization of everything, so I was not terribly surprised that they made what Sen. Rand Paul (R-Kentucky) called “wrong prediction after wrong prediction after wrong prediction.” I was a bit taken aback that their serial public beclowning of themselves did not lead to any humility or prudent restraint – but just led them to ever more bitterly demand obedience to their dictates. This is ever the behavior of frauds as their power and prestige starts falling away. We have reached the “pay no attention to that man behind the curtain” stage of leftist bureaucratic rule. The wizard, when caught, had the grace to own up to his deception. The modern left more frantically fires up the thunder and lightning engines.
Though I was not surprised at the attempted usurpation of unconstitutional and unjust power, I was startled by how quickly and easily we submitted and by how eagerly some policemen were to become the instruments enforcing that immoral power grab. I expected all of this to end by the fourth week, certainly no later than the fifth, when ordinary Americans made it clear we would not submit and police officials determinedly refused en masse to enforce unlawful orders. Boy, was I ever wrong! What really shocked me, though, and has still left me a bit shaken, is how many very good people let fear get hold of them and drive their decisions. By the third week of closures, simple objective research showed that this virus was manageable with prudent, cool heads. Even had it been the modern equivalent of the black plague, shutting down the world and quarantining the healthy was a notably dumb approach. It is a signal embarrassment to have done all this in response to a mouse that roared.
I watched in astonishment as people I know to be smart posted things that are biological commonplaces as if they were something frightening and new. Many reacted to the perfectly ordinary and predictable with the horrified wonder of a child discovering there is no Santa Clause or how babies are actually made. At first, I kept searching restlessly for what I was missing, for surely if such solid people could be so thoroughly frightened, it was probably me who was out of step. But the more I saw of solid people spouting mundane information as if it was something terrifyingly unique, the more I saw that a mass hysteria had genuinely taken hold – and taken hold of some of the best, who were now more than willing to allow “authorities” to impose rules that have no rational relationship to the threat at hand and dictate how free people must live.
I know how panic can paralyze the rational faculties. When I was 26 years old, I was visiting some relatives. As is my wont, I was up very late reading, long after everyone else had gone to bed. There were four young children in the house, sleeping in downstairs bedrooms. I heard a loud clatter downstairs. It panicked me and sent me cowering near the fireplace. I was horrified at my reaction. I had always run to danger. By that time of my life, I had thwarted an attempted bank robbery, faced down two mobs trying to beat up other kids, and had smoothly taken control of a crisis in Elizabethtown, Kentucky as I was passing through when everyone else had panicked. It was a point of pride with me that I was the calm center of any storm around me, encouraging and soothing others to useful action. But not that night. I willed myself to get up and go check on the kids. No matter how much I willed myself, my body would not respond and I kept trembling all over. I was both terrified and astonished that I could not get past the terror. I don’t know how long I was frozen in raw panic; it felt like an hour before I got a grip on myself and checked on the children. It was one of the most deeply mortifying episodes of my life – but one for which I am deeply grateful. It made Jesus’ words that the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak (Matthew 26:41) resonate in a deeply visceral way for me. I realized that even a brave man can be paralyzed by panic when caught off guard. It emphasized the critical need to be ever vigilant and deliberate. It instilled in me the humility of knowing that, whatever my own self-image, I could be routed in a moment of panic.
I was gratified to see that, like my cowering in front of the fireplace incident, the general public finally got a grip and has largely started to ignore and ridicule improper official commands. I am gladdened that some who initially panicked have taken a cooler look at the data. I am saddened that some who initially panicked have not yet calmed down, but keep restlessly trying to justify that panic. Certainly, it became clear pretty early on (despite the media efforts to keep panic whipped up) that, though this virus was particularly dangerous to people who had substantial co-morbidities, were elderly, or were substantially overweight, it was largely innocuous to anyone under 60 (and please spare me the anecdotal accounts; those can be found for every infectious disease ever out there, including the most feeble). People can responsibly assess their own vulnerability and take appropriate action. All people should stay home when sick. It is not heroic to go into work and infect everyone else there. The CDC and the WHO have changed their minds over whether masks are a help or a hindrance a good four or five times, but they have become a visible placebo. (It makes me chuckle over those social media sites which have said they will remove any opinion that disagrees with the WHO. Which formal opinion? This week or last week’s?) If you choose to wear a mask, that does not bother me a whit. But if you insist that government has the right to force everyone to wear masks (at least under current circumstances), I will not submit. The danger is that if we conclude that government was right to trash the Constitution, individual liberty and, particularly, religious liberty because of this virus given the facts in evidence about it (and I am NOT speaking of hysterical media reports), then the government has the right to shut down everyone every virus season, make whatever rules they want, the Bill of Rights be dammed, and our liberty is at an end. If you have any doubt that this is driven by politics rather than sound policy, note that a coterie of public health “experts” has publicly stood with the rioters, noting incoherently that “white supremacy… contributes to Covid-19.” I often put the word, “experts,” in quotation marks because I define an expert as someone who has demonstrated actual expertise rather than someone who merely makes loud political statements. We need more experts and need to stop paying so much attention to “experts.”
In past pandemics, the disease was spread fairly evenly across political lines. If 57 percent of the population was governed by Democrats, about 57 percent of casualties would come from Democrat states. This one was most peculiar: as of May 20, 80 percent of the casualties came from states governed by Democratic governors, which were the states which took the most draconian arbitrary measures. The states with the lightest touch were the least affected. Of course, much of this is because so many of the draconian Democrat governors forced nursing homes to take in those who were affected with Covid. The Democratic approach was NOT to protect public safety, but to lockdown the healthy and shoot the wounded.
As the panic over Covid started to subside, then came the mass rioting across the country. In this, almost all incidents which trigger such things come in Democrat-controlled enclaves. What is undeniable is that almost ALL the violence comes in Democrat-controlled cities. For a brief moment, the media and some Democrat leaders were trying to convince people that white supremacists were fomenting the violence. It is so clear that Antifa is driving the violence that that that narrative never really got off the ground. Ironically, I think it is true. Antifa has replaced the Ku Klux Klan as the paramilitary arm of the Democratic Party. Since the mid-1800’s, the Democrats have ALWAYS used race to divide the nation and amass power: they just switch up which races they are going to oppress and which to privilege from time to time. The left uses minorities as disposable fodder to get their way, and Antifa uses them for cover of their own nefarious acts.
Now, the left’s response to mass violence is to “defund the police.” This is a useful narrative for three reasons: 1) It may persuade some of those cops who so eagerly enforced the illegal orders of leftist officials that they are NOT making new friends, 2) It may persuade rational authorities among police officials to crack down hard on those police officers who enjoy being leftist toadies so they don’t forfeit public confidence altogether and, 3) It should make it crystal clear to all but the most hopelessly obtuse normal people that the left does NOT care about them and will not protect them. Many leftist officials have decided their policy is to bully the normal and enable the violent. Just a couple of days ago, while looters were running wild in New York City and Mayor Bill DeBlasio was refusing help from the National Guard, he DID send out a contingent of police to threaten to arrest Hasidic Jews who participated in evening prayer services. Some New York Jews slyly decided to describe their prayer services as “George Floyd Memorial Services” – and weren’t molested. Police cannot succumb to this formula or the credibility they need to do their jobs will circle the drain. I heard of one ordinary young fellow who comfortably leans left for the social panache it brings complain that he doesn’t know who to believe anymore. Well, if you still won’t believe the mountain of evidence in front of your own eyes, your children may not grow up in chains, but it won’t be because of anything you did.
The left has no regard for truth, justice or honor. All it cares about is power. It now demonstrates that it will use any means – foul or fouler – to impose its will on everyone. It would make war rather than leave people to decide what is best. Normal people, ultimately, will accept war rather than forfeit their freedom. And so, war will come and will fully degenerate into a global civil war fought on cultural lines. There is no place of neutrality left.
Some people, both friends and opponents, have noted that I don’t pay serious attention to either the conspiratorial scheming of the left or the strategy and tactics of those normal people who are fighting it. They are right. In the end, God is the victor. All we can do is, by our actions and choices, choose to participate with Him or against Him. None of the conspiratorial schemers are with Him so however much fire and fury they summon, they are destined to come to nought. To the extent that normal people seek to sublimate their anger to steadfastly work in submission to Him, I support their efforts. But the best conceived strategies and tactics will come to nought if they do not acknowledge the Lord’s mastery of the situation.
We are not getting out of this without a fight. One side must win and the other must lose. I hate to act or speak when I am under the sway of some powerful emotion – and I don’t unless there is a time deadline that forces my hand. Fortunately, the discipline of not acting or speaking publicly when I am in such sway helps calm the decisions I am forced by such deadlines to make when I am under such sway. The last couple of weeks I have been struggling with a furious anger – and have been adjusting to the new circumstances, some of which I did not anticipate. I will speak next of the challenge facing the Church and of all religious leaders. What is clear is that the battle lines are hardening. Those people who wait much longer to choose the side of God will find it brutally hard to switch horses once the battle is fully engaged. God will protect your immortal soul if you act humbly in His name, testing yourself at each step. We must not fail to act out of fear and call it “charity” or “forbearance.” Nor must we act out of anger or malice and call it “righteousness.” But we must prepare ourselves to act.
The time is at hand when each of us must choose or perish.