Almost a lifetime ago now, it seems, I hosted a St. David's Day (St. David is the patron saint of Wales) meal at my home. It was a quiet Sunday afternoon, and the member of our company preparing the main meat dishes was Welsh herself, so we not only ate well but authentically. The afternoon featured plenty of wine, good conversation, and even a card trick or two when we got to the digestifs.
Some weeks later, after getting back from what was then a new occurrence to me, but is now routine, attendance at a "secret" Mass here in Paris, I decided that I wanted to celebrate Easter with these same friends, even if the quarantine was not declared over. Easter is a celebration of a higher power than the Fifth Republic, and if friends were willing to risk the trip over, I was willing to host them to celebrate Our Savior's victory over death. Yet, I fully understood that there might be some trepidation and wouldn't fault them for refusing. One said yes, one had to check with his wife to see if she would consent, a third said she would get back to me (she politely demurred a few days later), but this response really made me sit up:
Thanks for the invitation, but I am shocked that you would think I might even consider this. So to be clear: I find your attitude ill-informed and foolhardy, and you are putting other people's lives at risk. The fact that you consider yourself more competent to judge this situation than the experts who are in charge is pure hubris. Please stop being reckless and do your civic duty.
I had been Greta'd: How dare I! I was honestly shocked, but quickly messaged back, "My mistake. Have a good Sunday." I had no desire to get into an argument with someone of those convictions. That said, my "friend" did tell me what he really thought, and I suppose I should thank him, because it helped me go from understanding that there is a panic pandemic to the next logical step: the intellectual enforcement and social shaming that must enforce that pandemic. It was Solzhenitsyn who said that the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. It seems that the attitudes on what has befallen our world in 2020 cuts through friends, business associates, and even family.
Part of me understands that we all have to understand that some people are naturally anxious, and such a panic only leads them to more anxiousness, and I want to be respectful and delicate when speaking with them. But I also know that there are many who are excitedly pulling on their jackboots, who have been waiting for this day to come. They had hoped it would come for the causes of climate change, or veganism, or even the reversal of Brexit, but if it's because of some random disease, that works too. A new religion has been established: Shut Up and Do What You're Told.
Like any religion, there are rules. I can't profess to have a full catechism but I can sketch a few brief ideas just from the text message sent to be by one of its fervent adherents:
- The highest authority is the state. Alas, we were always going to come here after the Peace of Westphalia, but now there is no discernible difference between the governments of France, China, and the US. If there is a disease floating around, apparently the government has the unlimited and unilateral authority to end ordinary existence for all citizens. Where is that in the law? Shut up and don't ask questions.
- Death, above all, is to be feared. The leading "lights" of our death-obsessed society, people like Bill Gates, would vaccinate us in order to save us (despite non-publicized evidence of his failures in Africa and India in "helpful" vaccines). No one in the media seems to know about Gates' well-known adherence to eugenics, which belies all his talk about "saving" people. He was also deeply associated with Jeffrey Epstein (and no, in case you're wondering, he didn't kill himself) and seems to be gleefully alluding to the idea that mass gatherings will only take place post mass vaccinations. Why do we care specifically about "covid" deaths but not about flu, car crashes, or (gasp) abortions? Shut up and don't ask questions.
- Experts are to be unquestioningly obeyed. Let me get this straight. So people who couldn't lead others to a pub on a Friday night are now going to guide us through a "crisis"? Are these the same people who tell me red wine is good for me one week and that it's bad for me the next? Or the ones who never saw the financial crisis coming? "Experts" touted by the media almost never are, and make their living discussing theories they spin in ivory towers, not practicing in the real world. Why do these people, who are unelected and thus unaccountable, who get paid no matter what happens, who have never dealt with anything on this scale before, get to make life changing decisions for all of us? Shut up and don't ask questions.
- We must signal our adherence to our religion in our dress and actions. We have just completed the Holiest of days for Christians: the Triduum that leads to Easter. But in many places Masses are banned. In its place we have scheduled (and fake) community clap sessions at 8pm each night. Masks must be worn (though it is amusing to see many people wear them under, not over, their nose, thereby rendering the masks useless) and hand sanitizer, our new lavabo, is sometimes mandated for you to use as you enter stores. Here in France we must carry permission slips and present our "papers" should the authorities stop us. They've recently banned exercise between the hours of 10am and 7pm, ignoring the logic that this means those who do exercise will be out in much greater numbers in the morning and evening, thereby making "social distancing" that much more difficult. What are the actual facts regarding transmission of this disease, recovery, and mortality? Shut up and don't ask questions.
- Quarantines are good for you. Do people even know what "quarantine" is? In the 14th century the town of Ragusa established "trentino," which was a 30-day isolation for ships which were coming from plague-affected areas (the bubonic plague, an actual deadly disease, but one that did not cause churches to be forcibly -- or willingly -- closed). Over the next century the period of isolation slowly crept up to 40, and quarantino, not trentino, became the root of our English "quarantine." But quarantines are meant to isolate sick or at risk people from a healthy population, not keep healthy people in. Without some kind of testing regime, won't the transmissions simply explode as soon as the quarantine ends? Shut up and don't ask questions.
- The governments of the world, backed by the IMF, will pay for everything. We don't have any historical template to back this assertion up, despite how obsessed with "facts" and "science" the disciples of the new religion are. This is hopeful fantasy on their part. The world has never before, as a body, agreed to simply voluntarily stop commerce and migration for the fear of a disease. Since the US left the gold standard in the 70s, and really, since the inauguration of the thieving Federal Reserve, US money has been fictional anyway, and all our "wealth" today is really just digital fiction - from the beyond bankrupt Social Security system that the Boomers failed to reform to the corrupt instruments of the men of finance that are pitched to us as "safe" investments for our IRAs, 401ks, and mutual funds. If the government can just print money to save us, why do we pay taxes? Shut up and don't ask questions.
- Non-adherents must be named, shamed, and put on social media. By now you will have seen the lone paddle boarder on the ocean, ostensibly putting fish and dolphins at risk for coronavirus, chased down by a boat and then frog-marched by authorities. No? How about the man who was arrested for playing catch with his daughter in an empty park (the nice touch is that he's a former police officer himself)? How about the police in Derbyshire using drone footage to publicly name and shame on twitter? No. Well, you should learn, this is our new tattletale culture. Strangely, though, this sounds oddly familiar. Didn't communist countries have an ethos of reporting misbehavior of your neighbors to the authorities? Shut up and don't ask questions.
- Sick lives matter more than healthy lives. In cultures that by and large worship the right to murder babies in the womb, in localities that stand and applaud when even more stringent pro-abortion laws are passed (or, as in formerly Catholic Ireland, celebrate when abortion becomes legal) we are still being lectured about how important it is to save lives. What about the damage that will be done to society because of lost jobs, shuttered businesses, and suicides, do they not count? Shut up and don't ask questions.
I was coming home from a very muted Maundy Thursday low Mass when a friend messaged to let me know the lockdown was now indefinite in France. The New Religion is in ascendance. But France has seen these new religions come and go. I cling to its founding religion, the religion of Clovis, the one responsible for all that is good, true, and beautiful in this land. It is the power and center of my life. It is its principles I follow, both in "normal" times and in times of crisis.
This weekend, when I celebrated Easter at home alone, I was reminded once again that death is not to be feared. It is the gateway to life everlasting, beyond irrational fears, quarantines, and the silly machinations of would-be world-ruling technocrats. In the 40 days ahead of Ascension Thursday as I say Christus Surrexit I will carry the same interior conviction I do now: He is in charge and remains in charge, and no adherents of the latest religious craze will convince me otherwise.
A version of this article originally appeared on the Fleming Foundation.