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Amnesty after the lockdown? For Whom?

By Phil Lawler ( bio - articles - email ) | Nov 04, 2022

“Treating pandemic choices as a scorecard on which some people racked up more points than others is preventing us from moving forward.” That’s the conclusion of Emily Oster, in her Atlantic article, “Let’s Declare a Pandemic Amnesty,” which has launched a thousand clicks.

Here’s the problem with that argument: We can’t move forward until we decide which direction is forward. Having come through a very painful experience, we now hope to learn from it. How can we learn, if we don’t pause to take note of what we did right (not much) and wrong (a lot)?

What would be clear evidence that we, as a society, are “moving forward?” Oster offers one clear example: opening schools. She concedes that closing the schools, and keeping them closed for months, was a mistake. But it is this sort of mistake, she suggests, that we should put behind us, because…

And here I’m afraid I lose the thread of her argument. I fail to see how the desired “moving forward”—the opening of schools—would be prevented by asking questions about why the schools were closed in the first place.

Many people made honest mistakes in their early responses to the Covid epidemic. “But in the spring and summer 2020, we had only glimmers of information,” Oster explains. Yes, but why did we have so little reliable information? Then people argued over which vaccine to promote. That, the Atlantic article continues, “was the result of uncertainty.” But why was there so much uncertainty, about an injection that everyone was strongly advised—in many cases commanded—to take?

The lack of information, and the uncertainty, were direct results of a frantic rush to judgment. As soon as our government leaders organized a response to the epidemic, they imposed a rigid orthodoxy, suppressing all dissent. With the aid of the mass media, and invaluable help from the censors of social-media outlets, they prevented the free flow of information. “Trust the science,” they told us, and pointed to a general consensus among public-health experts. But scientific facts are not established by consensus. They are tested against competing theories, and proven by laboratory tests, and subjected to peer review.

The great tragedy of the lockdown was not caused by the people who made innocent mistakes—like wearing cloth masks or wiping down counters—in the mistaken belief that they were preventing the spread of the virus. The tragedy occurred because, once the appointed experts had issued their edicts, no one was allowed to question them. From the early days of the Covid era, there were eminently qualified scientists offering reasonable arguments against the lockdown policies. (See the Great Barrington Declaration, which has now drawn nearly one million signatures.) But they were not given a hearing. On the contrary, they were treated as pariahs, in many cases stripped of their academic credentials. How about an amnesty for them, now that their ideas have been vindicated?

A prominent Evangelical leader, Pastor Doug Wilson, has produced an insightful commentary on the Atlantic article—marred by his occasional collapses into laughter as he reads the Oster piece. Her fundamental mistake, he explains, is that she does not recognize the offense for which she says we must offer forgiveness. Oster advises us to forget innocent mistakes. And we should. But what we should not forget, and what caused the lockdown disaster, is the brutal suppression of ideas—ideas which, again and again, turned out to be true.

If “moving forward” means guarding against a repetition of the Covid-induced disaster, then it requires a serious reappraisal of the systems that allowed that suppression of scientific inquiry. It requires an education in citizenship, so that we will not again meekly consent to being stripped of our liberties. It requires the development of new means of communication, to break the stranglehold currently in place.

As a Catholic, looking back on the appalling effect that the lockdown had on our Church, I insist (as I did in my book Contagious Faith, written as the madness peaked) that “moving forward” entails asking how our pastors came to believe that our physical health was more important than our spiritual health, so that for months they denied us the sacraments. That was not a failure of scientific judgment; it was a failure of faith.

Phil Lawler has been a Catholic journalist for more than 30 years. He has edited several Catholic magazines and written eight books. Founder of Catholic World News, he is the news director and lead analyst at CatholicCulture.org. See full bio.

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Show 3 Comments? (Hidden)Hide Comments
  • Posted by: miketimmer499385 - Nov. 07, 2022 9:44 AM ET USA

    There can't be amnesty for anyone because the whole story hasn't been heard. All readers should listen to Peter McCullough's podcast of this weekend's interview on America Outloud concerning the vaccine and the government ownership of it through DARPA and the serious lack of delivery protocols. It will be years before the this war is over. Physicians are the targets of decertification by state medical boards for a newly created crime of using their clinical judgement to treat patients.

  • Posted by: Cory - Nov. 07, 2022 8:11 AM ET USA

    Let us remember and never forget their stupidity and evil. Vote them out!

  • Posted by: feedback - Nov. 06, 2022 8:56 AM ET USA

    I'm not sure if the Atlantic piece is genuine or a "trial balloon" by DNC and Pfizer, esp. since their coerced vaccines are proven to be neither safe nor effective. But this is more than what we hear from our "Church leaders" who had instantly followed the covid hysteria, to the point of an anti Christian abuse of power. Sacraments banned, Swiss guards fired, few months ago card Cupich fired school principal who allowed kids w/out masks: catholicculture.org/news/headlines/index.cfm?storyid=53831