The response to COVID is a manifestation of a godless philosophy and offers to remake society in its own cruel and inhumane image. It hurts people. And it’s incompatible with Christian truth.
Meet our Insect Overlords
Francis Schaefer wrote about the psychological distress of believing in a materialistic universe. If reality is a deterministic machine consisting merely of time, space, matter, and energy then there is nothing that answers to the deep needs of the human person for meaning and fellowship. Schaefer compared the plight of being human in such a universe to that of being a fish inside a universe without water. You have gills but no water from which to draw oxygen. You have fins but nothing in which to swim. Multiple faculties of the human person find no corresponding reality with which to engage. Those faculties most painfully useless are the ability to comprehend and appreciate meaning, and to relate to others on a personal level.
“Life is absurd,” that’s how the existentialist philosophers put it. Humans are equipped with all kinds of fins designed for swimming through meaning and gills for drinking in narrative. Too bad for us, the existentialists say, that there isn’t any meaning. Your life is going nowhere. It’s not even a tragedy, because a tragedy would require some wasted potential meaning, and life never had that potential. No origin; no destiny.
Oh, you don’t care for meaningless suffering? Well, how about some meaningless pleasure? We’re afraid that’s all that life can offer you. At least, if you stay rational. You could, of course, make an irrational choice to claim your life has some meaning. Could be anything then. There’s no rational basis for your claim. If we speak strictly rationally, (so they say,) your life has no meaning.
The COVID response of these last 18 months has tended to transform society itself into a manifestation of the belief in a meaningless, impersonal universe. The West has been heading that direction for a long time, but the COVID response was a Great Leap Forward. If you can call it forward. Human need for companionship, society, the significance of bodily presence and physical interaction with the created world have been judged non-essential. This is a manifestation of existentialist philosophy. The effect of all this will be to more thoroughly impress us all with the feeling of being aliens in a world never intended for our existence.
Only a materialistic view of the universe and of man himself could reduce human life to a binary condition, or equate a breath breathed in an open meadow with one drawn inside a virtual reality pod, with wires protruding from one’s skull. It is this view which gave us universal house arrest, Zoom churches and the perpetual masking of the human face. It is this view which makes it conceivable, if just barely, to suggest that parents wear masks around their unvaccinated children or isolate them within their own home for two weeks, if they show symptoms if illness.
In this view the only thing that approximates an objective value is human will. Why? Because, in the existentialist scheme, the will is what you use to impose meaning onto a meaningless existence. It’s not really objective, only subjective. But it’s the best we can do.
So human will is supreme. Desire. Choice. The bare fact of wanting. What is wanted doesn’t matter. No set of desires is better than another, and all possible desires are to be exchanged for one more moment of simply being. After all, we exist by accident in a fundamentally hostile cosmos. We achieved consciousness by lightning strike and all that matters is to continue willing as long as possible before the ugly reality of the abyss reasserts itself, and our brief, absurd personhood is swallowed up by the impersonal universe.
This inhuman vision of the human person isn’t just soul-crushing, it is soul-denying. The life they mean to protect isn’t human life at all, but the barest form of conscious existence. From this point of view there is no need to balance safety with freedom, or sanitation with companionship. Indeed there is little need to prove any additional safety will come from further restrictions. Since that which is restricted is only subjectively valued, and isn’t actually real, theoretical safety is plenty good enough. There is nothing on the other side of the scale.
Schaefer often noted that while intellectuals speak of life as meaningless existence, they find it impossible to live that way. They go home and love their wives and children as if it means something. In the hypocrisy of the elites running our COVID response we discover another truth, it is still virtually impossible to live in accordance with this view, but it is relatively easy to govern according to it. When you intellectually embrace the narrow view of human life as mere existence, it is easy to place restrictions on others which you find impossible to endure yourself. Dispassionate rationalism makes it easier to treat others inhumanely, especially at a distance, than to live that way yourself. Their consciences will not bother them over how they treat those they govern, because they believe their cruelty is rational and enlightened.
Whoever is righteous has regard for the life of his beast, but the mercy of the wicked is cruel.Proverbs 12:10
The Meaning of Life
In contrast to this, the Christian view is of an intentionally designed human person. Our every faculty and limitation is intentionally created by God. Every fact and facet of our being is part of a grand design. Nor is the design restricted to what we are in ourselves, it extends to the encompass the whole of the cosmos.
Therefore our interactions with our environment and with our fellow man are fully intended. They have a sense, and a purpose. They could never fully be replaced with artificial simulacra. Zoom calls can not replace being physically present with a mourning friend or rejoicing with a celebrating relative. The meaningfulness of the design is too all-encompassing to allow such substitution without suffering loss.
Similarly, work can not be replaced by sending out stimulus checks. Yes, the checks may buy food and the food may prolong existence and the existing allows you to continue placing irrational subjective values on things. I guess. But no such bleak mockery of human life can replace the natural productivity of men pursuing the dominion mandate in their various vocations.
And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”Genesis 1:28
There is even more to be said about the glorious design of creation. It doesn’t just incorporate all of creation, it is actually a reflection, an expression, of the creator himself. So we find that not only is there internal consistency and interrelatedness to all creation, but it is all related to very bedrock of being, which is God himself. This is the story God is telling. Why is he telling it? Because it means something to him.
The qualities of the human person correspond to the attributes of the divine creator. Our need corresponds to his abundance. Our desire corresponds to his ability to satisfy. He gave us sight in order to share some of his ability to perceive. We hear so we can feel the weight of words. Our aesthetic sense reflects his own love of beauty. The beauty is real and God has shared with us the ability to appreciate it.
Even that which is tragic, ugly and evil in man corresponds to the goodness with which God overflows in redemption, beautification, and judgment.
Thus the Christian vision is the most perfect opposite of the existentialist view. Man is not a brute fact in an alien universe. The earth is made for man and man is made for fellowship with the creator.
Christians may not embrace the madness of our society’s response to COVID. We may not treat human life as a bare biological fact. We may not treat all the good things which God has created for man to engage in as non-essential. Things like family, community, companionship, vocation are meaningful parts of God’s design for mankind. We may not be block headed utilitarians. We may not re-imagine these things into some ugly, alien form. Life is not absurd, therefore we may not treat it as absurd.
We may not treat our neighbors as though the most important thing about them is that they are capable of carrying diseases. We may not treat them as though the value of their lives is in simply drawing another breath regardless of whether they ever again walk in liberty, earn a living, show their faces in public or enjoy the company of their fellow man.
We may not treat them as if they are irrational for preferring some level of risk over indefinite house arrest or unemployment. They should prefer some risk. It honors God to prefer some risk. There really is something on the other side of the scale.
And I looked and arose and said to the nobles and to the officials and to the rest of the people, “Do not be afraid of them. Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome, and fight for your brothers, your sons, your daughters, your wives, and your homes.”Nehemiah 4:14