Eamonn Clark, STL
As the last Covid mandates etc. finally begin to fall, there is beginning to be a genre of “what have we learned and what should be done next time” articles. Here’s a good one by Fr. Roger Landry. This one is mine.
In my first Covid post, I stated that we know 20 things, including about medicine. Aside from referring readers to this fact summary (which includes the now-obvious truth that the vaccines weren’t all they were cracked up to be), and to this excellent meta-study on masks by the same wonderful research group (we are finally allowed by the social media overlords to point out that they don’t work, because they don’t and have terrible side effects, both physical and psychological), I will not be talking directly about medicine per se in this post. Plenty of others are doing that better than I could. I will also refer the reader to Prof. Feser’s summary article on the vaccines, along with the links at the bottom of that post, which lays out essentially my own moral position on the issue as well. (Really, check out the medical info links above, they have great stuff on this and on other topics. Very useful.)
So, here we go. What have we learned in the last two and a half years, and what are the questions that remain? These are at least a few things to think about.
First, what we have learned.
- There were a great number of people in the pews who were planted in rocky soil, so to speak. The sun beat down, they withered, and the wind blew them away. They are not planning on coming back. They are GONE. While it’s true some people, for whatever reason, are still watching mass online instead of showing up in person, this is not the majority. It will be next to impossible to recover the tumbleweeds at this point through the normal means of inviting them back to mass. They took a long break, and they felt that their life was either unchanged or better by not attending mass. This is a point for serious reflection. Why did that happen? (I guess this point belongs in the next section, but oh well, there you have it.)
- Bishops’ conferences need some examination. For all their money and bureaucratic strength, national bishops’ conferences generally failed to play a significant role as mediating associations between individual bishops and national governments. While it is the case that some individual bishops were far too quick and zealous to close churches, etc., the temptation to do nothing but vilify individual bishops for caving to inordinate government pressure is also somewhat misguided, albeit understandable. The credibility of the “threat” that one bishop can make is limited compared to the sort of “threat” the entire body of bishops within the country can make. This reveals either a systemic flaw in the way that bishops’ conferences work, and/or, in those countries where the episcopacy was not all-in on Covid avoidance, it reveals significant fault-lines which killed the ability to cooperate meaningfully, calling into question what the conference is for in the first place other than for rubber-stamping translations of Scripture and liturgical texts.
- People expect a lot from their bishops and their priests. This includes an expectation, not unreasonable, for their parish priest or bishop to advocate vociferously for the freedom to worship, and even put himself at some risk of losing his personal liberty. And yet, to my knowledge, not a single Catholic cleric in the USA (or anywhere else in the world, for that matter) went to jail over holding mass or administering the sacraments during the entire past two and a half years on account of violating Covid policies. I’m sure there are a few – I don’t follow Catholic news in Madagascar – but this absence of “white martyrs” speaks volumes. There was also not as much creativity and initiative on the part of clergy as many would have hoped. This is not to say that there was none, but there could have and should have been more, especially in certain places. There is the strong and often warranted sense that, when it mattered most, the hierarchical Church failed. So much for closeness, accompaniment, and walking together.
- Dioceses generally lack the resources to evaluate public health crises reasonably in view of liturgical adjustments. Case in point, as I noted in one post, the use of holy water (which is optional!) does not spread Covid. This was able to be known some time around April of 2020. Bishops (or even parish priests) ought to find out who in their flock, with the right credentials, got everything more or less right on Covid from the start. They are out there – so go find them and use them as advisors. Brostradamus (clip from 2020) is out there too, but people want a white lab coat. Fine, find a doctor who has a proven track record on this stuff.
- People like simple narratives and are ready to believe the worst about the intentions of those they disagree with on public policy. This is not new, but it bears repeating. If there is any hope of having conversations with people disagreeing over something like Covid policy, it will doubtless start by acknowledging the good intentions that each party has – and then working backwards, citing as much evidence as possible.
- There is an immense dearth of understanding of bioethics among those who ought to know better. This includes those who suggested that the use of any of the 3 or 4 major vaccines was intrinsically evil due to extremely remote connections with abortion or because of closer connections with tyranny, to those who suggested that it was certainly evil not to use them or even that it was evil not to mandate their use as a condition for engaging in basic life activities. (Perhaps the scuffle over cooperation with evil in using medicines centering around Fr. Matthew Schneider, LC is worth its own post at a future point, when all of the dust has totally settled, though I think he ultimately gets it basically right from a structural point of view.) Unfortunately, even the usually excellent NCBC had an altogether avoidable gaffe when failing to take account of the experimental quality of the technology of m-RNA vaccines as opposed to the vector vaccine which was then-available, an extremely relevant factor in moral analysis. Vector vaccines have been around a long time – while the Covid vector vaccine (J&J) was new, its technology was not. The m-RNA vaccines, on the other hand, have essentially brand new technology, in the sense that there has not, until now, been the sort of clinical testing usually required for such a thing – large phase 3 clinical trials on humans. Also, very few people pointed out the key to the conscience-exemption issue, which is to recognize that actions which are not intrinsically evil may nevertheless still be rightly judged as evil. Why is that? Am I not reading enough? It is really not that hard.
So much for what we have learned. What about things we still don’t know but should be thinking about? What will we do the next time something like this happens?
- What are the limits of a bishop’s authority to limit the administration of the sacraments in his own diocese without suspending clergy from ministry, especially confession and extreme unction? To what extent are priests morally obliged to obey directives which they prudently analyze and find to be based on suspect medical advice? The corollary is: to what extent are clergy obliged to disobey the directives of their superior in favor of the faithful requesting the sacraments? Some of this is quite unclear and calls for serious canonical and moral consideration.
- Do the faithful really have the obligation to practice particular medical directives from their parish priest or bishop in order to access the sacraments, and to what extent? This ranges from vaccination to wearing masks to standing far apart. All of these things can either prohibit worship or inhibit it to varying degrees.
- To what extent can a bishop or religious superior legitimately demand medical interventions, such as vaccination, of his inferiors, including employees? We saw a large number of clergy, especially religious, who were forced to take experimental drugs under the guise of “obedience.” Was this right? The answer may seem obvious, but consider too that in order to be pastorally useful in some cases, i.e., to be able to visit hospitals, clergy had to play ball with whatever civil mandate was in effect. It is not exactly clear cut, though I do think there is a stronger argument one way rather than the other.
- What is the spiritual effect on the faithful of the prolonged use of televised/livestreamed masses?
- How exactly does general absolution work? That is, can it be used over a whole city or diocese, such as by a bishop flying above in a helicopter? How? What about online? Or individual confessions assisted by technology in some other way (i.e. by cellphone from across a parking lot)? There are some clear answers here, but there are still some dark corners which need light shone upon them.
- How can the skills learned (especially livestreaming and other online technology usage) be harnessed positively going forward? There are countless opportunities – for those who wish to explore them.
Well, that is what comes to the top of my mind. What did I miss? Comment below, and be sure to subscribe!
Eamonn Clark, STL
I have held off for a long, long time on writing about Covid. It has been a difficult exercise in restraint for me. Hopefully, readers will therefore appreciate that the points I am about to make are not “shooting from the hip” or any such thing.
Because I initially committed not to writing on this at all, as it is rather boring and unhelpful to spit in the ocean, this will likely be my only real post on SARS-CoV-2, unless we are still dealing with this issue as a world in another “15 days”…
All lives matter, therefore all deaths matter. I find it awful that anyone would contract a respiratory illness and succumb to it. But this does not negate the following important points.
- Covid has a rather low mortality rate, especially among the young and healthy. The average healthy child (under 18) is more likely to be struck by lightning than to die from Covid, and the average driver/rider of average cars is FAR more likely to die from a car crash than from Covid (about 1/1,100 people). The average age for death from Covid in many places is either approximately the same or even above the average age of death from any cause. Also, everyone is going to die – the point of life is not simply staying alive, it is virtue, flourishing, preparing for and striving for Heaven.
- Extraordinary means, including extraordinary expenses, are generally not obligatory to save any particular person’s life, even when those means are certain to be effective. We are not so certain that much of what has been done in a rash attempt to save individually unidentifiable people has been particularly effective, and it has certainly caused much collateral damage in terms of psychological, social, economic, and even medical harm. Rightly ordered love comes only after the acquisition of knowledge.
- Those who claim the mantle of “Science” are often engaged in pseudoscience in the strictest sense, and often this seems to be done in the service of personal and professional gain. “If they had only locked down more/worn more masks/took more vaccines, they would have done better.” The question is begged. That’s not science, it’s irrational dogma parading as science, as is the choking of discussion about treatment options and demonizing those who dare disagree with “The Science” who are plenty qualified to write prescriptions, run clinical trials, and evaluate such things.
- Masks don’t really work, and neither do lockdowns – unless you are doing something really extraordinary with either. Hand sanitizer is also practically useless for Covid, which if I recall, has been known by people as unqualified as myself since late spring of 2020. (The lines and arrows on the ground… well, I guess we are still waiting on those numbers.) The typical stuff which we are now used to is just not effective to any noticeable degree. (Here is a great game to play which helps to prove the point.) I don’t know how this can even continue to be a debate at this stage. In fact, the recommendations about masks in particular were made by certain three-letter organizations back when they embarrassingly insisted that they were right and others were wrong about how Covid spread – until they realized they were actually wrong and quietly changed their position on the issue, without changing their public policy recommendations so as not to draw too much attention to their ineptitude.
- Even if the more perverse policies were effective, this does not answer the question of whether they are worth it. Real empirical science gives us data but does not tell us how to value goods based on that data – only “The Science” does that.
- It has become unreasonable to say that vaccines prevent infection or transmission in the long-term. One must wonder if this was part of a “repeat business” strategy on the part of companies standing to make hundreds of billions of dollars, a constant stream of income from taxes and newly printed currency. Maybe, maybe not. Maybe “Trump’s Vaccine” which was evil and super-scary before has become so good because people stand to benefit financially from switching teams.
- Perverse financial incentives plague the Covid system from top to bottom, and at this point one must really be blind not to see this. It is not for health and safety that to travel one needs a test here, another test there, a self-funded quarantine, and then another test. As Qoheleth says, “Money answers all questions.” (Ecclesiastes 10:19) One must also wonder in certain countries about coordinated efforts by organized crime and by socialist parties to bring about the end of a large private sector which they do not have a death grip on through backrooms. Desperate small businesses either close during lockdowns, or they get loans from unsavory characters…
- It is reasonable to have reservations about adverse reactions from the vaccines, both in the short-term and in the very unknown long-term.
- The emaciation of intermediary associations like clubs, guilds, unions, etc. is one of the gravest social evils of our time. Social media is no replacement for directed, organized associations with particular aims that draw people together for the sake of lobbying for those aims. Major, non-violent, credible threats “from below” are almost impossible to make in the developed world right now.
- The vaccines are not intrinsically evil to take or to administer, despite their distant immoral origins in abortion. However, that does not mean they are moral to take in every case, such as one being convinced of a serious danger for their own health, or having a prudential concern about supporting the destruction of the principle of autonomy, both of which derive from Catholic moral theology quite directly and could thus be appealed to reasonably in addition to one’s disgust and concern about the use of illicitly obtained cell-lines which could also be grounds for objection in view of one’s own unnecessary act of supporting an illicit industry and practice, vis-à-vis one’s own actual individual estimation of the benefit of defense against Covid. Furthermore, a conscience objection could also have the motivation that one feels compelled to speak against a particular system or program and this is the best way to do it. These considerations were almost totally missed in all of the discussions about conscience objections in the Catholic world.
- In my professional estimation as a moralist, it is generally mortal sin for a pastor or bishop to meaningfully exceed the demands imposed by civil authority in limiting access to the sacraments and regular worship due to public health concerns like Covid.
- In St. Alphonsus Liguori’s much more professional estimation as patron saint of moralists, parish priests (pastors) are specially bound to administer the sacraments to the dying during time of plague when nobody else is available when the need for the sacraments is extreme or even only grave, even if such assistance is likely or even certain to be fatal for the priest. (See Theologia Moralis, Book IV, #358 – a topic which ought to be more explored these days.)
- This is probably only the beginning of a long battle over social credit. If you do not know what an algocracy is, educate yourself. We are poised to begin creating one… the “Green Pass” system can now be used to include, for example, one’s carbon footprint, one’s purchases, other medical information, and so on. If you have been a “good citizen,” doing “correct things,” you will be able to do more for less money. And simply trying to avoid conflict over this kind of thing will not only mean losing the conflict which one is trying to avoid, it means inviting more conflict later on with more serious consequences. It was just supposed to be 15 days, remember…
- A lot of “crazies” are actually really smart. Like the so-called “Brostradamus” (video from September of 2020). I am reminded of the parable told by Kierkegaard about a clown crying out in a village that the circus is on fire and that everyone needs to hurry to protect themselves. They laugh and cheer him on, he becomes more animated, they laugh and cheer more, and then the town burns to the ground. Those who are dismissed as “conspiracy theorists” are sometimes very well-read in history and medicine etc. but are just bad at self-branding and presentation.
- Most of the “narratives” are partly true. There is indeed a cabal of globalist billionaires who want to control the world, but this is not sufficient to explain everything; nor is a bunch of health experts with nothing but good will sufficient to explain what is going on. The real narrative is complex.
- Why people disagree so fiercely over Covid and how to respond to it is a function of several factors, including the intellectual laziness of preferring a simple narrative to a complex but more accurate one. Tribalism is unhealthy for the truth-seeker, and truth-seeking is necessary for good-seeking (knowledge, then love). Of course, many serious goods are on the line and are set up as being opposed to each other as alternatives – protecting biological life and health vs. principles of liberty which are ordered toward living a good common life… so it is understandable and actually good that people are angry about the issue, as injustices against life or liberty are very bad injustices indeed. This is compounded by various exposures to differently organized data sets, and different values which interpret data sets in light of a predisposition to or away from collectivism, and all this is augmented by people’s varying temperaments.
- The prevalence of the daughters of lust have dumbed down public discourse in general and led many people into despair of the goods of the next world such that they are apt to fixate on biological health to the neglect of social and spiritual health.
- Many comparisons have been made to Nazi Germany. Most of them have been overblown. However, the 1930’s came from the 1920’s. Most interestingly, the Jews were the object of fear in Italy, but the object of disgust in Germany. Disgust is often a more powerful incentive to repulsion/suppression/aversion. Now, we have the confluence of these two forces in the “unclean” people who have not done what the regime has indicated will make them “clean.” Simply not having reached a certain point in public policy does not mean it will not or cannot come… as history shows, the future comes after the past. It is important to make sure our future is not the way the 1930’s were to the 1920’s.
- It is obvious that there is a pseudo-religion present in the Covid “structure.” There is a sacramental system, special clothing, prophetic and priestly castes, a protology, an eschatology, a moral system, and special language. Heretics are not tolerated publicly. This is Covidism. In this case, I encourage people to be “spiritual” but not “religious.”
- Ideology develops its own interior life and logic. Havel describes this in great detail in his must-read book “The Power of the Powerless.” Many who do not believe in Covidism are too afraid to “live within the truth” to ignore the social pressure to conform to a system of rules and regulations which one does not believe in. To take Havel’s example, the greengrocer who takes down the Communist sign in his shop window becomes a massive threat to the post-totalitarian regime by making others aware that they can do this too – and that is very scary indeed. Even those who seem like they have real control are often only servants of the ideology and will be dispensed with if and when they deviate, including being dispensed with by other people who do not agree with the ideology but are afraid of being dispensed with themselves…
Well, there you have it. My 2 cents. I could say more, especially about the knowledge-love paradigm (and how central planning is such a bad idea because of this dynamic being ruined), but this is probably enough for now… see you in another “15 days,” perhaps… In the meantime, the pandemic is over – it is now a worldwide endemic. Covid is here to stay forever in constantly changing forms, and there is really nothing we can do about it. So relax, go for a walk, and live your life – in the truth.