By Charlie Johnston
When driving in the midst of a snow or rain storm you are much more likely to go into a skid than in normal times. Yet if you try to maintain control too hard by over-correcting, you make yourself more likely to lose control. It is in the most inclement conditions that you must be most deliberate and cautious to maintain control – the very conditions that make you most nervous and tempt you to precipitous action.
The world is in that very situation now. Tumult and chaos abound – and so it is only natural that people would over-react in dangerous ways to try to regain control rather than being more deliberate and cautious. I get at least five or six videos and articles a week sent to me purporting to tell me the real truth or the whole truth about Covid 19. To date, I have counted about 17 completely different and contradicting narratives, all breathlessly claiming they have the fullness of the truth about it. Some very earnest people send me separate narratives that contradict each other and tell me this explains it all. I want to ask which one of the contradictory things a single person sent me explains it all – and which they reject.
There are some sorts of expertise that require years, even decades, of study to master. It can be years before one even gets a good grip on the fundamentals involved. None of us can, in an instant, suddenly become experts in these areas. If we try, we only add to the chaos and confusion – and end up in a ditch. It may not be the ditch corrupted “experts” tried to draw us into. But confusion is the devil’s tool – and he doesn’t care which ditch we land in, so long as it is a ditch.
That is not to say there is nothing we can do. Most of us have sufficient common sense and expertise to know when something is wrong in an area that affects us. You don’t have to be a master mechanic to know when your car is running badly. You don’t need to be a surgeon to know if you’re sick. You don’t need to be a master builder to know when the ceiling is sagging and leaking. While you can’t suddenly develop years or decades worth of technical expertise, you can learn to ask the right questions and how to do research that reveals internal contradictions in the official narrative. In fact, that was the ideal I worked with to train reporters. They could not become experts in every field, but they could become trained and disciplined researchers who could effectively verify or challenge what the experts told them.
Here then are some simple rules for discernment. It is a very basic survey, by no means an advanced look at the subject. If you internalize these guidelines, though, you will keep much steadier even as the winds of chaos howl more violently around you.
First, do not parrot a treatise on a subject you do not have real expertise in just because its conclusions match what your basic sense tells you. Stay away from things that purport to have the “real truth” about a complicated subject. They are almost always overheated hokum – and you will come off as a rube if you accept them in toto. Most hokum has a kernel of truth attached – but do not mistake a mere kernel for a field of corn.
Demand solid sourcing. That means references that lead you to data you can independently verify and find by other means than the piece you are reading. Solid sourcing is NOT just a matter of footnotes and links. I have been inundated with a bunch of wild-eyed stories from people that claim to be “fully documented!!!” But when you check the links, all you find are more stories with assertions that are either fact-free or with “facts” that cannot be replicated independently. That is pure trash and a waste of good time.
If you can, check the history of the person or institute making the claims for previous complicated subjects they have explained or predictions they have made. This will give you a baseline on their overall credibility. If public health officials had followed this rule from the beginning, we may never have had a panic over Covid in the first place. The panic was started by Dr. Neil Ferguson at the Imperial College of London. Ferguson predicted 2.2 million deaths in the U.S. alone. It turns out, though, that Ferguson has a long and ugly history of making ridiculously large death predictions that never come even close to accurate. This is why news outlets repeatedly referred to him as a “respected epidemiologist” or “one of the best disease modelers in the world” without giving any actual history. When those terms are bandied about instead of actual data and history, all they mean is, “he says what I want to hear.”
Seek hard data that contradicts what you think and, especially, what you want to think. By hard data, I again mean that which can be verified and replicated. When you find it, try to understand it. Sometimes things are counter-intuitive rather than contradictory. Work to get an understanding that makes sense of the overall picture and how it fits together. But don’t let an overall scheme cause you to ignore data that contradicts that picture. Unfortunately, good people sometimes go off the rails. I used to enjoy the work of Kelly Bowring. Then he fell hook, line and sinker for the proven Maria Divine Mercy hoax. That could have just been an errant blip, except that even after it was proven this was just a publishing gambit by an opportunistic Irish woman, he doubled down on trying to prove his error was correct. He has been useless since that whole drama went down. I very much respected the work of Dr. Taylor Marshall until I started seeing red flags a couple of years ago. Then he published the book, “Infiltrated,” which is pernicious pseudo-history that, unfortunately, many good-hearted Christians have thought explained everything because they don’t know enough about actual Church and secular history to understand what silly over-heated nonsense his book is. These sorts of things do not help. You are either holding things steady or adding to the confusion – and to hold things steady requires real and constant discipline.
If you do this, you won’t know with certainty how to rebuild or stabilize our world, but you will have a calm at the center, won’t add to the confusion, and can be a useful tool in God’s hands at each step because you do not let your head explode over every offense.
Understand that the devil is far more clever than people give him credit for. Most know that he will use your anger, greed, vanity and lust to lead you astray. Few understand how cleverly he will use your eagerness, charity, humility and love to lead you astray, too, if you are not acknowledging God at every moment and taking full responsibility for your decisions. In fact, the latter are some of his favorite gambits for those who are pious.
Many times, when a pious Christian’s plans and wishes are blocked or fail, they blame the devil. Could be – but it could also be that God blocked them because their plan was deficient. How often does love for someone degenerate into enabling bad behavior? Do you think the devil does not love both the behavior of the disordered one and the enabling action of the falsely pious? How often do we get so vested in an otherwise noble plan we have devised that we pursue it to our peril after it should have been clear that it is not God’s plan? Do you say you can always tell whether it is God or the devil? If so, what you are really saying is that you already are a greater saint than Sts. Anthony, Teresa, John of the Cross, Padre Pio, and John Vianney, all who openly conceded that they were sometimes fooled by the devil. Further, you deny Scripture – for St. Paul tells us that the devil disguises himself to us as an angel of light. (2 Corinthians 11:14). Whenever I hear someone say they can always tell, I think that here is one headed for a fall or to be taken by the devil entirely. Acknowledging God in everything is the only way to escape the wiles of the devil who, despite our best efforts, will sometimes curl his scaly claws around us.
Are you eager to do good? Do you know the devil lays the best ambushes in the universe for the fools who are always eager to rush in? Yes, prudence is the most common excuse for rank cowardice – but eagerness for good is the most common excuse for disastrously rash imprudence. Take the next right step before God, knowing that what prevents you from doing the good you intend may be the devil – or may be God trying to tell you that your plan is not His plan.
Remember always that it is you alone who will have to account to God for the choices you make. It is good to seek counsel, but you can never abrogate your moral agency to anyone else.
As a matter of course, if someone mystically tells me what God wants me to do other than the obvious commands of Christ for all of us, I get very skeptical. The fact is that God is close at hand to each of us if we just seek Him with a clean and open heart. Determining our vocation is the result of intimate encounters with Him – and not directed by another, regardless of the quality of counsel they give. It is NOT my job to live your conscience and it is not your job to live my conscience. I have had many times when people have told me what it is God wants me to do or what I must do for them to believe the things I say. First, I am far less concerned than they think over whether they believe me – and when I want to know what God wants of me, I will take it to God in prayer. So should you.
If a mystic starts giving threats in their work, supposedly of divine origin, to anyone who does not believe them, I almost always dismiss them entirely. When Jesus walked the earth He was more restrained in demanding gormless fealty to His words than some supposed modern mystics. And He is God! Wisdom is its own justification. It will prove or disprove itself over time. What seems errant now may prove to be true over time. What seems insightful now may prove to be banal over time. We must always wait on the Lord, neither ignoring promptings credibly reputed to be inspired from Him nor credulously accepting them without the sifting of time and circumstances.
Finally, avoid petty formulaic means of considering or dismissing wisdom. Whenever I hear someone say that the way to tell a true prophet is that they are never wrong, I wonder if they have ever read Scripture at all. Almost all the Old Testament prophets made significant errors on timing and many made substantial errors of interpretation. The one who was the most precisely right on all things was Isaiah – and he stood out because of it. God works through flawed people. We hold these treasures in earthen vessels, as St. Paul says (2 Corinthians 4:7). The very best sometimes misunderstand the import of what they are shown or told. Others go off the rails for a time. Some come back, some never do. But we are called to judge wisdom by its substance – and if you are primarily a respecter of persons, do not be surprised if it pleases God to give you His most important message through someone you take lightly and most easily dismiss. Be deliberate. Acknowledge God, take the next right step, and be a sign of hope to those around you. The latter is particularly important because you are going to mess some serious things up, even if you do the very best you can. As it is written in 1 Peter 4:8, charity covers a multitude of sins. We are each going to need all the charity we can give.
I emphasize this because, as serious as the times now are, they are likely to get much more serious and tumultuous before we find peace again. Now peace is a positive, active thing that we choose – and that fills us and spills over to those around us. Peace is no more the mere absence of strife than love is the mere absence of malice. If we ask Christ for more love or more peace, He will give us a supernatural abundance that will take up residence in our hearts and spread to all we encounter. I emphasize these things that, together, we may have peace – and that it may grow to fill the earth in one harmonious hymn before God. It is a prerequisite in the times that lie ahead of us.