Rusty Reno, over at First Things, has been digging himself in for the last week, about how the church, and now even the government, should be handling this thing—this thing, of course, being an illness that is sweeping across the world, an illness that one can spread without knowing one has it for up to 14 days, an illness that afflicts the elderly disproportionately to the young and fit, an illness that is filling up coffins across Europe faster than they can be put in the ground.
Mr. Reno starts his latest salvo this way:
Governor Andrew Cuomo said, “I want to be able to say to the people of New York—I did everything we could do. And if everything we do saves just one life, I’ll be happy.” This statement reflects a disastrous sentimentalism. Everything for the sake of physical life? What about justice, beauty, and honor? There are many things more precious than life.
At this point, I’m pretty sure that twitter stopped reading and indulged itself in one of the most glorious ratios ever witnessed, at least by me. Some of the pithy remarks made were, “So I guess Christians aren’t pro-life now,” “I’m just here for the ratio,” and “Great article, Azrael.” There were also some pretty brilliant gifs. I haven’t checked in this morning, but I will as a special treat to myself mid-day.
Really? Mr. Reno, what kinds of things are more precious than life? This is an astonishing claim, particularly when the pro-life cause continues to make such strides, win so much philosophical ground, get laws changed, raise up a generation of younger passionately pro-life people. There was a pretty great twitter thread a while ago where some pro-abortion person accused the pro-life community of only caring about the baby. What have you ever even done for the woman facing such a devastating “choice” this person asked. And immediately (again, a big fan of the judicious ratio) showed up and ‘splained. So much is being done for mothers and babies, because, dare I say it to a Christian journal, very few things are more “precious” than life. If you don’t have life, you only have, what’s that called? Oh yeah—death.
Incidentally, Jesus also is not a fan. That is why one of the names he takes for himself, one of those amazing I Am statements in John, is not only The Life, but also The Resurrection, because he has the power to restore life to those who have lost it—forever. This is actually the very heart of the gospel, like the reason that Jesus actually came to earth, because humanity had pledged itself to death, thinking that literally everything was more “precious” than the life given by God himself, and so, because we were all so utterly “dead”—I just feel like going full bore on the scare quotes—he came and literally and spiritually and physically and eternally, took our “death” and in exchange gave us “life.”
Interestingly, one of my big problems with Mr. Cuomo is that he has said things in the past like, (and this is a paraphrase), ‘if you’re pro-life you and believe in traditional marriage you have no place in this state.’ That kind of stung. There are a lot of people in New York state who work tirelessly for the pro-life cause, who care about life at every stage, who give money and time and prayer and love and hope to women and babies and even men facing an unplanned pregnancy. So honestly, if there’s one good thing about coronavirus, it might be that these startling words could come out of the lips of Mr. Cuomo, the very one who lit up New York City in pink to celebrate abortion, “If everything we do saves just one life, I’ll be happy.” My goodness, I’ll be happy too, Mr. Cuomo! I will be so happy.
I mean, my parents had to travel through the heart of NYC on every kind of public transport on Saturday, and I don’t know if they were exposed to this foul illness or not, we won’t know for at least the quarantine period. But by the grace of God, because New Yorkers did what Mr. Cuomo said, they were the only ones on the train, people kept their distance, everyone was kind and friendly, but also keeping way back. They might come through this ok, they whose lives are precious at least to me, because for once in American life, everyone thought of other people before themselves.
I’m just curious, where do you think “justice, beauty, and honor” come from when all the old people are dead? Do you think that’s going to make this world more beautiful? Do you think that is just? Or honorable? If we sacrifice the weak for the sake of a better economy, does that make our culture more beautiful? Oh wait! We’ve been doing that for the past 40 years. We’ve been tearing babies out of the womb and chucking them away, destroying the lives of their mothers and fathers in the process and yeah, the economy, heretofore, has been ticking along fine, but, I would say, with little beauty and less honor and certainly dubious quantities of justice.
Mr. Reno continues:
And yet we have been whipped into such a frenzy in New York that most family members will forgo visiting sick parents. Clergy won’t visit the sick or console those who mourn. The Eucharist itself is now subordinated to false god of “saving lives.”
Um…say what now? The Eucharist is subordinated to the “false god” of saving lives? Does Mr. Reno even know what the Eucharist is? I mean, I’m not Roman Catholic, so obviously we would disagree about some very essential particulars about how it all works out. But one thing I and most Roman Catholics do agree about is that Jesus, who, again, is the Life, makes himself present with his people during communion. Also, get this, he is not actually bound by time and space, so even though we can’t all go take communion right now with the bread and the wine, because coming close to each other is kind of dangerous right now, Jesus Can Still Feed Us With Himself. Does Mr. Reno think it is magic? That if he doesn’t get to take communion, it’ll be the end of the world? So the weak should be sacrificed? Which is actually kind of the opposite of what literally almost every Christian thinks, and if they don’t think that, they are either really really badly catechized, or maybe aren’t even Christian.
Yeah, it is pretty upsetting right now. I am really personally grieved on several accounts. One, I am separated from my parents and am anxious about their health. I sit helplessly here, and they are just a few hours away, and we can only talk on WhatsApp. Two, I desperately miss being with my church face to face. I didn’t expect this grief, but when I think of us all in our own houses, separate from each other, I can’t stop crying. I am completely bowled over by this. I didn’t realize how knit together I am with the women of Good Shepherd, how much we rely on each other for strength and comfort. Three, my kids are grieving. They also are very close to their community of friends. Thank heaven for technology. They have been able to talk and even play games online. Four, I am deeply anxious about the older members of our congregation whose lives are actually in danger if they don’t stay away, and yet they are lonely, and would suffer greatly from an extended isolation.
But this is all so that we might truly save some lives. Suddenly, in a time of trial, all the things that are really important have revealed themselves clearly, whereas even three weeks ago we didn’t corporately, as a culture, even remember what they were—Life being the first. Without that, there isn’t a country. We have chipped away at this first principle for decades, and before that, in Slavery and injustice, we confused ourselves and our children about the very bedrock of what it means to be human. And here, in this time of trial and suffering, even the likes of Mr. Cuomo are saying true things.
If you read the bible a lot, you’ll know that justice and mercy always go together. God will send judgment on his people, but in the same moment, the very act of judgment is a mercy. He judges because he loves. The cross is the perfect expression of this. The judgment of God meets the mercy of God and we are saved. Hearing Mr. Cuomo say something like that made me understand that even in the greatest darkness, God is still able to shine the light of his own life.
I guess maybe I’ll pick up the next paragraph tomorrow, if I can get to it, because what he says about Truth is even more astonishing.