Lenten Brunch Lite 5: March 28, 2020
This Lenten season has been somewhat overwhelmed by all the attention paid to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, it has given us all an opportunity to ponder some fundamental aspects of what we believe and how we view the world (certainly consistent with Lent’s purpose).
This morning I want to respond with utmost disagreement to a purportedly Christian perspective on what’s happening, from an article by R.R. Reno at First Things. Here is a key passage from his article:
In our simple-minded picture of things, we imagine a powerful fear of death arises because of the brutal deeds of cruel dictators and bloodthirsty executioners. But in truth, Satan prefers sentimental humanists. We resent the hard boot of oppression on our necks, and given a chance, most will resist. How much better, therefore, to spread fear of death under moralistic pretexts.
This is what is happening in New York as I write. The media maintain a drumbeat of warnings. And the message is not just that you or I might end up in an overloaded emergency room gasping for air. We are more often reminded that we can communicate the virus to others and cause their deaths.
Just so, the mass shutdown of society to fight the spread of COVID-19 creates a perverse, even demonic atmosphere. Governor Cuomo and other officials insist that death’s power must rule our actions. Religious leaders have accepted this decree, suspending the proclamation of the gospel and the distribution of the Bread of Life. They signal by their actions that they, too, accept death’s dominion.
This is nonsense. A complete failure to discern pile of nonsense. Pharisaic nonsense.
Reno imagines that putting into practice what we have learned from science and public health studies, now being advocated in an effort to save lives and protect the vulnerable is a wholesale capitulation to a materialistic mindset that is captive to the fear of death.
To support his argument, Reno imagines a laughable interpretation of what happened during the 1918 influenza epidemic.
That older generation that endured the Spanish flu, now long gone, was not ill-informed. People in that era were attended by medical professionals who fully understood the spread of disease and methods of quarantine. Unlike us, however, that generation did not want to live under Satan’s rule, not even for a season. They insisted that man was made for life, not death. They bowed their head before the storm of disease and endured its punishing blows, but they otherwise stood firm and continued to work, worship, and play, insisting that fear of death would not govern their societies or their lives.
This is so preposterous that I cannot believe a major Christian publication would even think of printing it. Look at the newspapers from those days! (see images) Furthermore, we learned from 1918. One thing we learned is that those cities (such as St. Louis) that practiced more severe forms of social distancing saved many more lives than those who didn’t (such as Philadelphia). This was about protecting people, not imprisoning them under death’s captivity.
In his response to Reno’s awful article,
The primary virtue of this world is autonomy: the sacred and inviolable right to self-rule. Individuals ought to do as they otherwise would despite the potential harm they would do to others or their community. Cities ought to return immediately to their daily rhythms regardless of what those rhythms might spread. Nations ought to pursue their economic prosperity without regard for how the very mechanisms that generate economic activity establish the conditions health experts warn us to avoid. Anyone who advocates for a break from life already in progress is under the sway of the power of death. The moral choice to act for the good of others, whether on the personal or social level, is thereby invalidated.
DeLorenzo is also on point when he says that the genuine Christian response to our current crisis is found, as always, in the cruciform way of Christ, who chose to sacrifice himself for the well being of others, especially the most vulnerable. Letting go of a bit of our autonomy for the good of our neighbors seems like a small sacrifice to me. And if we are asked to give more, then may God continue to guide us in a Jesus-shaped way.
In contrast, Reno’s article is preposterous, Pharisaic, and a complete failure to discern what it means to be a Christian in the world, especially in times of crisis.