As COVID-19 Continues To Spread, A False Notion Of Freedom Threatens Us All

As COVID-19 Continues To Spread, A False Notion Of Freedom Threatens Us All May 7, 2020

Becker1999: Open Ohio Rally IMG 0910 /Wikimedia Commons

Despite the fact that COVID-19 continues to be a major threat to the United States, despite the fact that COVID-19 cases continue to increase, with the distinct possibility that it will cause over three thousand deaths a day in June, many States have decided to stop properly dealing with the threat. Instead, they seem to be listening to the protestors and will do as the protestors demand: prematurely open up the States, even though this will lead to a unnecessary loss of a great number of lives for the foreseeable future.

It is clear that many people do not respect the dignity of human life. The threats issued by protestors, as well as the signs and actions of many of them, all indicate that they are willing to sacrifice others if it will help them get ahead. There is no sense of the common good left. It Is pure barbarism. Society cannot go on when such people get rewarded.

And if someone were to say, “let everyone decide for themselves what they want to do,” so that everyone can be “free,” the reality is no one will ever be free in that way. There will always restrictions on what we do. Someone will always complain when society tells them they can’t do as they wish. But how do we determine which restrictions are justified, and which are not? By the way they treat the human person and the common good.  What protects human dignity promotes true freedom, while that which undermines that dignity ends up destroying it.

When we look into what the protestors say they want, it is clear, many of them have legitimate concerns but they have been misled as to how to deal with them. Demanding everything open up as if there were no pandemic going on will only lead to destruction. Those who think “opening up” the State will allow people to decide for themselves whether or not they will put their own lives at risk ignore the fact that the interdependent nature of society means they will not only risk their own lives, but those who they come into contact with as well. Likewise, those who are afraid to go to work are already being told they have to work or else it will be seen as if they voluntarily left their job, and so they will lose unemployment benefits, their health insurance, and other forms of COVID-19 relief. How is that freedom? It is not.

Those who say that all they want is freedom do not care if they restrict the freedom of others; they are not about freedom, but rather, domination. So long as they do not have such power to dominate and dictate to others, they feel they are not free. And if they are told this, they will respond, “But we are being told what to do.” And there is the rub. Like little children, they do not want to be told to behave. They equivocate being told to behave (for the sake of the common good) with the slavery. Sadly, the result of their efforts will be what truly leads to the slavery they decry. Slavery ignores the common good and undermines human dignity, while promoting the welfare of every citizen promotes the dignity which is needed and so cannot be seen to be slavery. Similarly, slavery undermines human dignity and considers people as objects to manipulate and control, while the government, working for the common good, elevates the good of the human person and uses what is good for the human person as the foundation for its rules for law and order. It is not slavery to tell people not to murder other; likewise, it is not slavery to tell people to behave in such a way as to promote and defend the life of others.

COVID-19 has hurt the United States, indeed, the world. But we do not need to make things worse by letting it be free, for that is exactly what will happen if the protestors get what they want. COVID-19 will be freed from the confines of social distancing, and it will spread, far and wide, if all the protections put in place are removed. It will not be humanity which will be free, but the virus. Once it is let loose upon the people, death and destruction will comes in its wake.

We should care about the harm which comes as a result of trying to deal with COVID-19. We should do what we can to alleviate that harm the best we can. Sadly, this is not what the protestors want. Instead of dealing with reality, they want every man, woman, and child to fend for themselves. That will make things far worse than they can imagine. Society, however, has the means, if it has the will, to protect those being harmed by COVID-19 and the efforts to protect society from it. We can take away debts, protect small businesses from destruction, and pay everyone a basic level of income. But to do this, we must move beyond our outdated capitalistic system which makes a profit on such pain and destruction and follow instead a new economic system which balances the free market with the products which technology can readily give without much labor. We must understand the economy should be for the sake of humanity, not humanity for the economy. We must promote the universal distribution of goods; we must recognize that wealth should not be hoarded but used for the common good. The sad thing is many people getting involved with protests are suffering, but they have been led to believe that the system before the pandemic has to remain the same, and so they are promoting their own destruction by protesting the wrong people (as well as ignoring the structures of society which need to be reformed).

Society can do much to help the common good. The resources are there. We should care for those being harmed by COVID-19 and the lockdowns which have been put in place. We need to emphasize with the plight of the people, sympathizing with those in need. This is, as Albert Schweitzer suggests, part of what makes us truly human: “We must never permit the voice of humanity within us to be silenced. It is man’s sympathy with all creatures that first makes him truly a man.”[1]

We should not look at what lies before us as an issue of freedom, because it is not. It is an issue of human dignity, of life and death. If we looked at the situation beyond the libertarian perversion of freedom, we will begin to see that we can do what is necessary to help everyone while also preserving authentic human dignity, and with it, true freedom. Those who currently speaking about freedom tend to do so with a perverted notion of freedom. They twist freedom to be such that it is the unlimited pursuit of their own selfish desires. Rather, freedom is always about the freedom to do what is good. This is why it is possible to say: “The freedom to kill is not true freedom, but a tyranny that reduces the human being to slavery.”[2]  For freedom elevates the human person, while its sham imitation cares not for human dignity, only the selfish will of the individual wanting to live a libertine lifestyle.

WWould Christians say it was a lack of freedom which lay behind the Sabbath, where people were told they should not do unnecessary work? Would they say it was a lack of freedom when they were told not to work on Sundays if they could avoid it? Both of these rules are about the needs of humanity and what is necessary for humanity to be truly free.  Vatican II said that, “the Lord’s day” helps us enjoy “freedom from work.”[3] Protecting humanity from slavery means overriding the work-based mentality which we see in society today. We must not think that work, and the profit which is made from work, is what grants us freedom. This is an illusory freedom, because by its dictates, no one will ever truly be free.  But if we, as Christians, recognize this, if we as Christians recognize restrictions on work and what can be demanded of others is a part of what makes us truly free, then we can begin to understand why, when facing a pandemic, restrictions on work, far from undermining human liberty, is all that is left in order to protect it.

We are still under threat from COVID-19. Sadly, human dignity and true freedom are being ignored and replaced by its false alternative. The dangers of COVID-19 are being minimized if not outright ignored. Sadly, if we let things continue along these lines, the destruction which lies before us is far greater than anything we have yet to experience. Will we learn our lesson before it is too late? Will we finally realize we are in this together, and only by coming together we can overcome all the hardships of the pandemic? Let us hope we will.

[1] Albert Schweitzer, The Animal World of Albert Schweitzer. Trans. and ed. Charles R. Joy (Boston: Beacon Press, 1950), 177.

[2] Pope Benedict XVI, “Homily of Pope Benedict XVI for the Mass of the Procession of the Chair of St. Peter.” Vatican translation.  (May 7, 2005).

[3] Sacrosanctum Concilium. Vatican translation. ¶106.


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