The pandemic has exposed a deeper illness in secular-humanist culture.
In early April our Catholic Church offered a generate-in food items donation push and Eucharistic Adoration. Stranger than the social distancing exercise of dropping off the donations was the incongruity of looking at our priest solution us with the monstrance and to truly feel repelled and attracted at once. Repelled by dread of the virus. Attracted by the sacrament Covid denied us and which Catholics believe is the physique of Christ. The Priest’s eyes ended up sullen as he reported “I skip you, and I appreciate you” as we little by little drove past.
As I believe back on this instant now, I am reminded of Mathew 4:4 “One does not reside by bread on your own.” A more true verse could not be spoken of these occasions, when numerous of us are lucky more than enough to have our fridges comprehensive but nevertheless starvation in our souls. Covid has exposed a crack, with the possible to turn out to be a catastrophic floodgate failure, in the dam that materialism and secular humanism has built about man’s look for for the eternal. What held the drinking water back until eventually now was a simple premise: Progress, technological know-how and materials consolation will sate your demands and offer all the solutions. Dying can be pushed to the margins of consciousness by various varieties of self-care and chalked off to the random machinations of the universe when the Grim Reaper prevails above the former. You are each the source of and the solution to any difficulty you may perhaps face in the lookup for meaning you could embark upon. Any attempt to justify your existence also commences and ends with you. You are the evaluate of all factors.
All of these anthropological promises about the nature of existence, as Anthony Pagden details out in The Enlightenment: And Why it Still Matters (2013), are not in reality timeless truths, but innovations of 18th Century philosophes. The Enlightenment philosophers took Thomas Aquinas’s Christianized natural legislation, rebranded it as organic legal rights, and designed off like a thief in the evening with new presumptions about human character. Absent was the thought that all individuals ended up by character relational beings who sought out the group of other individuals long gone was the idea that man had imprinted on his soul the desire to search for and know God. In their stead was Locke’s “blank slate” of a perhaps perfectible mankind shaped by his setting and the freely assumed obligations of the self-intrigued specific. Even issues as fundamental as ties to household and country, as Yoram Hazony factors out, were being construed as someway “chosen” by the unique as he emerged from the pre-hisotrical “state of mother nature.” As Hazony surmises:
“In lessening political lifetime to the individual’s pursuit of lifetime and house, Locke did not basically offer you an impoverished and unsuccessful account of human determination and action. His political principle summoned into staying a desire-globe, a utopian vision, in which the political institutions of the Jewish and Christian world–the national state, neighborhood, family members, and religious tradition–appear to have no reason to exist.” (30)
It is a fantastic irony–Or is it?–that Covid lockdowns have compounded the flaws of the West and America’s individualistic technocracy construed considering the fact that the Age of Cause. We dwell life surrounded by know-how, relative substance consolation, and bonds which are freely preferred, dissolved, or additional on according to specific option. And yet in spite of our manifold freedoms to self-invent and self-determine to our heart’s information, we truly feel alone. According to a modern CDC analyze, 40% of respondents determined adverse health effects associated to the pandemic, ranging from despair to substance abuse and even suicidal ideation. All of these data are up from pre-pandemic levels, but arguably intensify developments presently obvious in American lifestyle this sort of as the opioid crisis and a burgeoning stress and anxiety disaster amid the young.
The question of what to do about our overlapping Covid and loneliness crisis–each of which fortify each individual other–is exactly where Covid, Christianity, and the Culture Wars all converge. One the one particular hand, as the prospect of a profitable vaccine becomes significantly likely–and thank God for that–secular humanists like Steven Pinker will proceed to stall for time with bromides this kind of as the subsequent: “Evolution is a competitive approach and we are variety of sitting down ducks besides for our capability to defeat our organic enemies by the software of cause.” This is a easy operate-out the clock method: defer all the queries and all the existential angst generated by the pandemic until eventually explanation the moment once more will come to the rescue, at which issue we can pivot again to bread, circuses, and the god of development. The other alternative, of training course, is to make politics the finish objective of our lives. Civil rights gets civil faith. The newest iteration of wokeness is just one of the several born-all over again revivals found satisfactory within the confines of secular cause, since they point to eternal struggle, but not to eternity by itself. Earthly utopias are not heavenly edifices and hence pose no danger to the technocratic arrangement.
Christianity, on the other hand, presents a a lot more comprehensive–and hence additional threatening to the Pinkers of the world–view of human existence. Our everyday living is not about us, as Catholic apologist Bishop Barron states, but about exploring God’s will for us. It is specifically our unchosen obligations–to God, to our households, to our fellow human beings, even to the natural world–and how we respond to them, which outline us as human beings. In Why Liberalism Unsuccessful, Patrick Deneen similarly details to the pre-modern definition of independence as liberation from our individual egotism in service of the prevalent very good. The Covid crisis is a distinctive, non permanent, ( hopefully when a technology or significantly less) opening for Christians to plead their circumstance for this means, purpose and success. It is also a likelihood to acquire a leg up in the Society Wars prior to “back to normal” or “life as usual” buries us the moment all over again in a entire world of distraction by design. As liberals enjoy to say, never ever permit a crisis go to squander.
Kurt Hofer is a native Californian with a PhD in Spanish Literature. He teaches substantial faculty history in a Los Angeles place impartial university.