Catholic Culture Resources
Catholic Culture Resources

Pandemic paranoia: What must never happen again

By Dr. Jeff Mirus ( bio - articles - email ) | Jul 27, 2021

I had an interesting discussion the other day trying to sort out what was real and what was contrived, or at least unnecessary, in the Covid pandemic. For several very broad reasons, this is not easy.

First, the advice of key medical leaders (such as our own Dr. Fauci) has been inconsistent, with private admissions sometimes undermining allegedly essential public protocols. Second, the narrative about the origin of the COVID virus has been a moving target, though it now seems clear that it really did leak from a Chinese lab with typically inadequate safeguards, a lab that was partially funded by Western investors (including Dr. Fauci himself).

Third, it bothers many people in the United States that the virus was the reason advanced for more widespread absentee voting in the 2020 American Presidential election, which even proponents like Amazon’s Jeff Bezos are now arguing is more prone to fraud (when it is being used by his employees to unionize). Fourth, careful statistical analysis suggests that many claims about the infection rate and the death toll ignore things like the failure to differentiate COVID from flu and wholesale ascription of the cause of death to COVID when other serious conditions are present. Finally, hasty pressure for vaccination raises still more questions.

Given the massive dislocations caused less by the pandemic itself than by the various forms of lockdown, people are beginning to ask the classic question: Cui bono? Who benefits? Nor has it been lost on the general public that bureaucratic governments tend to be very quick to impose all kinds of restrictions without any significant allowance for those who prefer to think outside the box into which they find their lives being stuffed.

But I will let you in on a secret: We live in an all but worldwide society which is now generally conditioned to being “taken care of” by bureaucratic states, in which people tend to be more fearful because of ubiquitous reporting of every tragedy, and in which most are now very uncomfortable with the prospect of making their own fundamental decisions about anything, lest, by exercising personal responsibility, they will be held responsible. On almost every significant question today, people throughout the so-called first world ask themselves what ideas and attitudes are acceptable to those they recognize as “elites”, before deciding on any course of action. When the right “buttons” are pushed, a massive media makes promotional hay, and the signals come through loud and clear.

In other words, conspiracies are seldom necessary: There is a marked psychological tendency toward a kind of “soft totalitarianism” almost everywhere today, and sometimes it is not even so soft.

This must stop

This tendency has affected even the teaching, policies and practices of the Catholic Church. For the past eighty years or more, the Church has sought increasingly to be accepted as a loyal component of a rapidly secularizing Western culture, and has dramatically shifted what she is willing to say out loud in the midst of that culture, lest she be regarded as uselessly outdated and out of step. Again, conspiracies are hardly necessary in a social order so highly conditioned to take its cues from the dominant culture—as, indeed, most social orders are, except that in our time the dominant culture is all but exclusively secular, in rebellion against God, and used to operating with unprecedented bureaucratic control over daily life, including education.

To me, therefore, even with many questions left unanswered, the most important thing that happened during the pandemic is that the Catholic Church around the world almost entirely discarded her own spiritual and moral obligation to express and inculcate a Christlike vision of human life and a faith-filled way to respond to human problems. Instead, she simply imitated what the secular world was doing, accepting that her mission was superfluous, complying with the effort to make her effectively abandon that mission. Thus she proved once again her loyalty to the dominant secular culture, simply by cooperating in a widely-implemented plan to make herself even more irrelevant than before.

The mind boggles at such a lack of vision, but I submit that the Church is a major casualty, not of the pandemic itself, which by all rights should have made her importance to society more obvious, but of the universally imposed Pandemic Culture.

We can argue, certainly, that the Church, like most of us, was taken by surprise, not quite understanding what all this told us about how far both the culture and the Church herself had drifted from a living Faith. Therefore we can argue that she will not be caught so flat-footed the next time around. But that is not yet obvious, and the only thing we can say with certainty is this: If the Church as we know her today really believes in her own mission, she must never again cooperate in her own irrelevance the way she did during the COVID pandemic of 2020 and 2021.

Another chance coming?

Ah, but wait. There is increasing talk of COVID setbacks, of new viral strains, of inadequate protection, of the need to re-impose the same isolation measures which have already caused so much harm to so many. Most of us, after all, are not members of the privileged decision-making and publicity groups which, around the world, are regarded as “essential personnel”, and are generally proudly exempt from onerous restrictions of access, employment and income. We are hearing all but gleeful talk of renewed exercises in isolation, of renewed sacrificial “responsibility”, of renewed fear, and of renewed “awareness” of the “folly” of facing any problem without hiding our faces and even our very selves, especially when it comes to faith and worship.

I believe the time is ripe to remind ourselves of how the Catholic Church handled this problem the first time around, so that Catholics at all levels can see exactly how that first time around was an exercise in futile fear and faithlessness. Then perhaps we can help to shake the Church out of her lethargy, awakening her to her essential mission, that is, her active and courageous trust in and witness to Jesus Christ. The easiest way to accomplish this task—to get clear in our minds what has gone wrong and what must be put right—is to read Phil Lawler’s outstanding and remarkably efficient book, Contagious Faith: Why the Church must spread hope, not fear, in a pandemic.

I reviewed the book back in April, so I don’t need to repeat that information here. But now Sophia Institute Press is offering a 25% discount to readers, who can use the promo code contagious25 to get that discount. The point here is that if you read Phil’s book, you’ll learn exactly what was wrong about how the Church responded to the pandemic, and how to make it right the next time around.

Then we can all get busy talking with our fellow-Catholics, our priests, and wherever possible, our bishops. Given Christ’s promises, the next time the Church acts as if her sacramental ministry should essentially disappear during a crisis may not mean the complete end of the Church. But it will mark another massive missed opportunity to bear effective witness and save souls in a frightened, fatuous and faithless world.

Purchase Contagious Faith now at a 25% discount with promo code “contagious25”.

Jeffrey Mirus holds a Ph.D. in intellectual history from Princeton University. A co-founder of Christendom College, he also pioneered Catholic Internet services. He is the founder of Trinity Communications and See full bio.

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  • Posted by: Dennis Olden - Jul. 28, 2021 11:10 PM ET USA

    I am proud and blessed to say that I am associated with Saint Benedict Center in Still River MA, a descendant of Fr. Feeney's original group in Cambridge MA. Everywhere one goes in the American Catholic world, the mention of the Center brought immediate scorn and dismissal. Yet the Center maintained an extra-Mass schedule and its school, with the proper precautions, during the COVID crisis. Father bequeathed to his followers a strong faith that withstood the secular push to run and hide.

  • Posted by: pvanderl7463 - Jul. 28, 2021 12:22 PM ET USA

    I wanted to weep after I read Phil's new book Contagious Faith. It is his best-to-date. It really is an encapsulation of all the variables in church, state, historicity, and human activity that evil roaming the world is sausage-making into its poison under the pseudonym: Covid. This book was written in Dec. 2020 and the sequel has already begun. Same characters. Same plot.Will there be a plot twist? Will the Kingdom come? Yes, if we can KEEP THE FAITH. Come, Lord Jesus , save us from ourselves.

  • Posted by: miketimmer499385 - Jul. 28, 2021 11:53 AM ET USA

    We need to individually seek and find pastors who think and believe as we do, to support the revival of the Church at the parish level. The fly in the ointment then becomes the questionable beliefs and actions of the diocesan bishop. These are very depressing times. The majority of Catholics today simply look upon the Church as a social welfare agency. This delusional development is given life by Wilson Miscamble in "American Priest," Theodore Hesburgh, our Colonel Nicholson. Thanks to you Jeff

  • Posted by: grateful1 - Jul. 27, 2021 7:01 PM ET USA

    Superb piece, Jeff. I pray it is widely read.

  • Posted by: jalsardl5053 - Jul. 27, 2021 7:01 PM ET USA

    Totally predictable as "power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely". Not only the Church but the people must vigorously reject the use of fake science that does more damage than is imaginable psychologically and culturally otherwise "soft and not so soft totalitarianism" will simply harden and harden more. The American people would do well to remember that the only thing they have to fear is fear itself.

  • Posted by: grateful1 - Jul. 27, 2021 7:01 PM ET USA

    Superb piece, Jeff. I pray it is widely read.