One of the primary tasks of a free citizenry is to resist encroaching tyranny – even of the ‘soft’ variety – for once we’ve given up our rights, ‘tis very difficult to get them back’
On Tuesday, July, the 14th, the memorial of Saint Camillus de Lellis, patron of the sick, it will be mandatory in the county where I live to wear a mask covering one’s nose and mouth in any indoor ‘public’ space – including churches and all places of worship. Such is already the law in Toronto, Ottawa, and across other large swathes of Canada and the United States. Some are going along compliantly with this, either in the name of charity, or self-protection, or both, while others are resisting, wondering whether we want a masked populace.
This is not a screed for or against masks, but rather some thoughts on this matter, and let the chips, and your own conscience, fall where they may.
The Moral Side
Let us just prescind for a moment from the medical argument, and focus on what it means to wear a mask in general, and I will begin with aesthetics, which may seem odd, as the least of our concerns. To not wear a mask because it’s unattractive and off-putting?
Yet, in science, when an equation or solution is ugly, complex and cumbersome, it usually means it’s wrong, in accord with Ockham’s razor: That the truth tends to be simple and, we may add, beautiful.
Transferring this to the moral realm, when an action or practice seems aesthetically unappealing, it often means there is something wrong with it. But what?
Well, for one thing, masks hide our identity as persons made in God’s image. In Greek, the word for ‘person’, prosopon, is also the term for ‘face’, and is also the word adopted by the Church for the ‘Persons’ in the Trinity. It literally means what ‘sounds through’, or speaks as God the Father speaks His own Word through His Son, Who is the very ‘face’ of the Father, of God Himself. And we too speak through our faces, by which we communicate, dialogue and build up friendships and community.
Hence, we should think and reflect before we cover our faces.
After all, masking is often done for nefarious purposes. Ponder your reaction – outside of the present context – if someone were to walk into your house wearing a mask. People hide their own face when they want to do evil, and they hide the faces of those to whom they may wish to do evil. And whatever one thinks of the death penalty – whether justified in some cases – we cover the faces of the condemned.
The reason for this is that hiding the face ‘de-personalizes’ us, makes us anonymous, in some sense less ‘human’, and, hence, to some extent at least, breaks down the social and communitarian bond between us, even if done apparently for good.
Besides this, masks engender, prolong, and exacerbate fear – even the protocols in the county where I live, admit that masks may not be effective – more on that in a moment – but they will at least remind us to ‘social distance’. Hmm.
We should especially think twice or three times before we mask little children – as the protocols for my own county require, any toddler above two years of age – just try putting something on their face for longer than a few seconds. Even if we could, should we engender such fear in their developing minds and souls, of themselves, of others, of society, which they will be unable to contextualize?
The Medical Side
Perhaps, you might be saying, we could and should tolerate all this for the sake of the ‘common good’, for charity’s sake, to prevent the spread of infection. Even if you’re not sick, you don’t want to make others sick! How selfish of you not to wear a mask! Save a life!
Such principles have embedded themselves firmly in the minds and hearts of many, making this even more difficult to discuss rationally, as the flood of emotions muddies the waters. But beware of compassion unhinged from reason, and keep our wits about us.
We could retread the tired arguments that this illness poses a minimal risk to almost the entire population, and almost all those who are at greatest risk are already in nursing homes and hospitals. Eliding this with the moral question, how far should we go to reduce risk to a zero level? Should we not then forbid the driving of cars – or, gasp, motorcycles – cycling, walking down the street, kissing someone, having a child, mountain climbing, jumping off cliffs into water, going for a brisk hike, getting out of bed in the morning, or even staying in bed? And what of smoking – first and second hand – which statistically kills more people every year than all these things combined? Everything we do has some potential for harm, or even death. ‘Staying safe’ is not a motto which should govern our life. Life, rather, is something we engage in, as the saying goes, at our own risk.
We should recall that these masking and distancing protocols are formulated by a small coterie of ‘medical personnel’ who advise the governmental apparatchiks, with both seeming to be almost entirely ignorant of the rights written into the very fabric and constitution of a free society. We may wonder if they have ever heard of the term ‘subsidiarity’. Any risk appears to be too much for them to bear, especially if it’s a risk for others. They all seem to be trying to cover their respective rear ends, their lawyer codices and insurance policies, to the last jot and tittle. As one author – a physician – wrote recently, the new queen of the sciences is epidemiology, and, unlike the now-dethroned theology, a rather uncertain queen it – she? – is.
Given the principle by which they are justifying these protocols – that we must minimize the potential of infection to asymptotic levels – why would they let up anytime soon? Even if a vaccine is developed, will all be coerced to take it, and will even that be safe enough for them? After all, the ‘regular’ flu (keeping in mind that coronaviruses have been around for millennia, and are not going away) kills hundreds of thousands each year. Why should we ever again be permitted to go mask-free, with faces unveiled? Do we want the world turned into some giant, inescapable ICU ward? Or, perhaps more aptly, a vast leper colony, our fellow humans, even relatives and friends, now seen as walking viral vectors, crying ‘Unclean! Unclean!’
At the same time, it’s hypocritically ironic that the most zealous enforcers of ‘safe’ distancing, lockdown and mask policies are also generally the most vehement supporters of the real plagues upon our society, abortion and euthanasia – Trudeau, Cuomo, Northam, to name but a few. Yet, here they are, quite literally smothering us with ever new strictures, ‘if it saves one life’, while they aid and abet the murder of thousands of the most innocent and defenseless.
Even if one were to accept that this is the Black Death redivivus – which it is not, for otherwise we would have voluntarily barred our doors and sheltered in place – there is evidence that the donning of masks is statistically ineffective. Peruse the compilation of peer-reviewed studies by Professor Rancourt here. People touch their masks, contaminate them, have bushy beards, take them off to breathe. And most people don’t wear masks even as ‘effective’ as those in the studies, with the home-grown cloth or disposable variety being predominant.
Speaking of disposable, does anyone wonder where these masks end up? I was speaking with an engineer who works for a car manufacturing plant in southern Ontario, with 8,000 employees, all of whom are now bound to mask up, and many go through three or more in a day. Even at a low estimate, that’s about 20,000 saliva-and-mucous covered masks dumped in landfills per diem, 140,000 per week, which is 7,280,000 per annum. From one factory. And for those places that burn their garbage, what will those toxic clouds contain, as they drift over towns and cities? Not that I’m its greatest fan, but whatever happened to the message of Laudato Si to limit waste and protect the environment?
And should we not take into consideration our own everyday health? Breathing in one’s own carbon dioxide all day long – especially when working – and having what fresh air one can take in filtered through layers of plastic, fiber, paper and/or cloth, does not seem a recipe for maintaining a balanced immune system, nor even psychological well-being. I recently heard of a student nurse who has to wear one all day while sitting alone in an office – she comes home each evening with a headache, and goes to bed early to sleep it off – mask-free, one may presume – an hour after dinner. The time I wore a mask visiting a dying friend – I don’t go much to ‘indoor public places’, and will even less in this milieu – I had to wait as the PSW finished her work, and so had a chat with her son, also masked; the conversation was, shall we say, stifling and awkward. I could never get used to it.
The over-reaching Covidian policies – the global lockdown, (whose effectiveness is at least uncertain), the consequent fear of hospitals and infection – have had any number of deleterious consequences – from abuse, to depression, to untreated illnesses, to death – which make the prophylactic ‘cure’ worse than the disease. Will this be much different?
The Ecclesiastical Side
So let’s presume we have to mask up in hospitals, grocery stores, government offices, and libraries. But what of Mass and other forms of worship? We should make clear from the get-go that the State has no direct authority over the Church. This is a muted doctrine in today’s world – even within the Church – but one that is true nonetheless, clarified in documents from the Concordat of Worms, to Pius IX’s Syllabus of Errors, to Leo XIII’s Immortale Dei, all the way to Dignitatis Humanaeof Vatican II. The priority of the Church as a divinely-founded supernatural society provided the basis for claiming ‘sanctuary’ – immunity from civil prosecution – which still stands today for refugees living in churches across the land (whatever one thinks of that).
‘Render to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God, what is God’s’, stands as true today as when Christ said it. As well does Saint Peter’s exhortation that ‘we must obey God rather than men’. The authority of the State stops at the threshold of the church.
The Church is a ‘public’ institution only in a distant, analogical sense, in that anyone, in theory, may attend and join. But a public institution in the strict sense – in the Church’s own teaching – is one that is governed by the State and its laws, whereas a private institution is ruled by its own members and its own rules. The Church in that sense is private; indeed, she is the most perfect of institutions, and her laws and teachings, divinely founded and inspired, should, au contraire, inspire and form the policies of the State, not the other way round.
Hence, whatever we make of the mask-wearing and other decrees, it must be the Church, our hierarchy, the bishops and priests, who make that call, not the State. And not the hierarchy because the State told them to. Bishops should not be seen or even perceived to be kowtowing to bureaucrats, especially if this is against their own better judgement as shepherds of Christ’s flock. After all, the primary role of the successors of the Apostles – see Saint Peter, above – is to ensure our spiritual health and get us to heaven, not our physical good, and the prolongation of our earthly lives. As I wrote recently, the creeping error of Erastianism – the Church being subservient to an all-powerful State – is well upon us, and must be resisted.
If our bishops truly think that donning masks to worship God is a good idea, then so be it. We may agree, or demur (the reader may have gotten the gist that I am in the latter camp), but at least we can make up our minds and conscience in response to proper authority, and not to one usurping an authority beyond its God-given scope.
And as you make up your mind, ponder these words of Saint Paul I quoted recently: And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being changed into his likeness from one degree of glory to another (2 Cor 3:18)
Ah, yes. Unveiled faces.
To be clear: I’m not saying never wear a mask. There are cases where they may well be called for – surgery, of course, visiting the truly vulnerable, certain hospital settings, nursing homes, situations where one’s prudence and good sense (remember those?) come into play. But for everyone to be forced to wear one, by the full power of the State, semper et ubique? Especially in our places of worship? To look out over a sea of masked and muted parishioners as I read at Mass is not a sight to which I look forward.
Whatever one thinks of various prophecies – Fatima and the errors of Communism spreading throughout the world – we should not simply discount them. After all, as Pius XI makes clear in his 1937 brilliant exposition of its sophistic errors, Divini Redemptoris (well worth a read), one of the goals of atheistic communism is to reduce us to anonymous individuals, to break down the family or any subsidiary community, and make us totally reliant upon the State and its ‘experts’.
It’s the top-down nature of this whole thing that seems most troubling, akin to the lockdown amounting to universal house arrest, with little or no room for people to make up their own minds, according to the circumstances of each unique situation. If this is an experiment in social control, it’s rather insidious, done under the cloak of goodness, which ironically brings out the worst in people – the abuse has already begun, generally from the masked to the unmasked. Is this an attempt to discover who will conform and, perhaps more to the point, who will not? We should have the freedom, and courage, to act as we see fit, to strive to see past the smoke, mirrors and media-manufactured-and-magnified fear, before we turn from an independent and free people with faces, to an enslaved and compliant sheeple without them – even if I fear we’re already some ways down that road.
This is not to label or judge anyone, for we must all make our decisions in good conscience in each situation we find ourselves.
But what I am saying is that if we are forced to wear a mask when we know we shouldn’t have to, and that it’s just silly virtue-signaling, and if we fear being reported if we’re without a mask, or even if we lower our mask to catch a breath (what’s next, mandated masking in our own vehicles, or even homes? How unlikely is that, we may now wonder?), then the dawn of the coercive state is upon us. And if we tie even our necessary activities – work, groceries, hardware stores, schools – to undeviating compliance with such decrees as these, then we are traveling the road towards totalitarianism. As de Tocqueville wrote in his reflections on early America, one of the primary tasks of a free citizenry is to resist encroaching tyranny – even of the ‘soft’ variety – for once we’ve given up our rights, ‘tis very difficult to get them back.
Just after I completed a draft of these thoughts, I was listening to some semi-random music over dinner, as is my wont, and serendipitously the plaintive ballad The Rose rose up on my computer, these lines of which struck me: And the soul afraid of dying, that never learns to live. To wander through life in a state of perpetual and paralyzing fear, is, in some deep sense, not to live.
But it’s never too late to turn back, and regain what freedoms are rightfully ours, not least so we might choose, when we think it ‘safe’, to breathe easy and see each other smile. It’s a lot more human. And healthy.