Covid’s Ancillary Destruction

Have you severed ties with a friend or relative because you view the question of vaccination policies differently?

Apparently this tragedy is growing in frequency. Just last week, a person very, very dear to me declared that we had “come to a parting of the ways.” I pray for a restoration of the relationship when emotions cool, but for the moment, it seems I am “dead” to my sister.

She is one of the people who find themselves at one end of the vaccination spectrum. There are, of course, some who believe those who receive vaccinations are dupes, endangering their health with possibly unnecessary medicine that may have lasting side effects. At the opposite end, stand those who consider anyone unwilling to be vaccinated as tantamount to being a heartless murderer.

Sadly, those of us who lie midway along said spectrum—who understand precisely how others might arrive at those extreme positions, and call for reasonable, respectful conversation—are typically regarded with contempt by each extreme.

Ironically, my wife and I eagerly received our injections at the first possible opportunity. Yet, because our adult children (intelligent and mature, one and all) have made a different decision, we have suffered this separation from some of our extended family.

A report published this week revealed 14% of vaccinated respondents said “they ended things with friends who refused to get vaccinated.” That suggests that approximately one out of seven people are unwilling to place friendships on pause; they apparently prefer to terminate them.

“Stress from the Pandemic Can Destroy Relationships with Friends—Even Families” describes the tragedy in the following way.

The pandemic’s toll on friendships goes deeper than mere political polarization — the confusion of a mask with support for “big government.” It’s more about discovering personality differences between you and your relatives and friends, including different levels of risk-tolerance and what might seem like irrational optimism on one side vs. hysterical alarmism on the other.

At a time when many of us are losing sleep, picturing ourselves or someone we love gasping for air in a crowded emergency room, these differences are painfully relevant.

Taking these words to heart should help us all be more tolerant of our varying responses to the strain of living during this pandemic.

I hope that you have not experienced the pain of ruined relationships. And, I beg you, if you are inclined to write off friends who disagree with you on this controversial subject, please reconsider. After all, as C.S. Lewis wisely said to those who claim to be followers of Jesus, “to be a Christian means to forgive the inexcusable, because God has forgiven the inexcusable in you” (The Weight of Glory).

You Should Read This

I just finished the best article I’ve read on this subject, and commend it to you. Pastor Peter Leithart authored the provocatively titled “Why I Didn’t Get the Covid Vaccine.”

The title is a little misleading, since Leithart’s rationale is that as a covid survivor he currently has the resulting “natural immunity.”

The article is quite enlightening, however, because it is not an argument for or against the treatment per se. Rather, it is a very brief historical reminder of a perhaps more perilous ailment. He approaches the subject through the work of an Italian philosopher.

As Roberto Esposito put it in Biopolitics, political authority was traditionally the authority to kill. Under the reign of biopolitics, rulers care for and manage life. Once upon a time, the ruler bore a sword; now, a syringe.

“Body politic” is an ancient metaphor, but in biopolitical regimes the body becomes the real place “where the exercise of power [is] concentrated.” Public health takes center stage in a “limitless process of medicalization” as health care is “superimposed” on politics. It’s now the government’s job—its primary job—to keep us safe and healthy.

“Life becomes government business,” Esposito writes, and “government becomes first and foremost the governance of life.” To manage life, governments have to exercise social control, keep populations under surveillance, maintain constantly-updated databases, and, as necessary, isolate and separate sectors deemed dangerous to the corporate body.

In an article written more than a year ago, entitled “Biopolitics in the Time of Coronavirus,” the writer describes the evolution of the concept of biopolitics since the 1970s. He warned then, “Instead of worrying about the increase of surveillance mechanisms and indiscriminate control under a new state of exception, I therefore tend to worry about the fact that we already are docile, obedient biopolitical subjects.” One can only imagine what he might say today.

Back to Relationships

I am no philosopher, and it is not the purpose of this post to answer the big questions. What I believe is simple. The vaccine is good for some, but not all. And disease is terrifying, especially when it can be terminal.

Oh, and I believe one other thing. We should discuss such matters civilly. Graciously, even. Because differences of honest opinion about debatable matters are insufficient grounds for destroying lifelong relationships. After all, true friendships are precious . . . and rare.

C.S. Lewis discerned a little-known truth about the importance of friendships. One that reminds us they should not be discarded in the passion of a moment. Lewis describes here how there are eternal repercussions related to our actions. Refer to salvation, the resurrection and heaven as the “glory” God desires for all people, Lewis writes:

It may be possible for each to think too much of his own potential glory hereafter; it is hardly possible for him to think too often or too deeply about that of his neighbour. The load, or weight, or burden of my neighbour’s glory should be laid on my back, a load so heavy that only humility can carry it, and the backs of the proud will be broken. . . .

All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or other of these destinations [heaven or hell].

It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics.

There are no ordinary people. You have never met a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilisations—these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat.

But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit—immortal horrors or everlasting splendours (The Weight of Glory).

23 thoughts on “Covid’s Ancillary Destruction

  1. This is an important post. Although I’m constantly listening to different views on why some choose to get vaccinated & other’s don’t, I never thought about how this debate could distroy not only friendships, but break apart families as well. No matter what goes on in the world there’s always two sides, I think many simply are custom to finding something to be angry about.

    1. It certainly is shocking, how destructive the arguments can become. I have always hated arguing, especially when voices are raised. I much prefer allowing everyone to offer their opinions and then allowing them to make their own decisions.

      Some of those choices are wrong, of course, but you cannot force people to violate their personal conscience. Well, you can force them, but you cannot coerce them into believing what you want them to believe.

      You’re right about some people being angry by nature. So sad.

      In this case, their number is greatly increased by the way the media have been stoking the flames of resentment. Whenever they polarize people–make us view things as “us” and “them”–they create more division.

      1. Get all the rest you need–it’s a key element of staying healthy!

        Sadly, I agree with you that we cannot yet see the light at the end of this particular tunnel.

      2. You might like this piece I just published yesterday entitled “Rolling Back the Enlightenment.” I tried to post a link to it, but WordPress wouldn’t accept the comment with the link. You can go to CounterPunch to find it, or you can wait until I repost it to the blog on my personal website.

      3. Thank you Marilyn (Dr. Piety). The point of you essay is quite similar to my warning about the danger of polarizing, divisive behaviors. Of course, you address the matter from a broader, more objective angle.

        You write: “The real commitments of these rhetorical bullies are to hierarchical authority and ideological conformity. Their zealotry blinds them to the fact that their intolerance of views that diverge from their own is sowing the seeds of a brutality they will eventually be unable to control.”

        I absolutely concur with your caution that they are seeding a future, equally intolerant, backlash. Such a stupid course for supposedly intelligent people.

        I encourage others to read “Rolling Back the Enlightenment” |

    2. Kyle Winward

      “No matter what goes on in the world there’s always two sides, I think many simply are custom to finding something to be angry about.” Very true, and sad but true about the anger issue. I believe that some individuals enjoy being angry and it becomes habit forming – there is a certain “high” in the state of being angry (I like I’m sure many others, have felt it myself). I also believe to some extent, some elements of media, especially social media encourage or at least reinforces the “need” to be angry. The mantras of “quick, choose which side you’re on”, and “either you’re with us or against us”.

      I have to add that it has been disappointing for me and my family to witness or to be at the receiving end of church leadership discounting public health recommendations such as the efficacy of wearing masks, equating developing COVID with giving in to fear, i.e., if one is faithful enough they don’t need to worry about COVID. These approaches certainly haven’t been helpful in encouraging conversation.

      1. You’re absolutely right about the media fostering partisanship. And you’re insightful about how they demand alignment choices “right now!” Then they stoke the fires of the side they have opted to favor.

        As for churches denying benefits from different, prayerfully considered, precautionary matters, I’m pleased to say my own denomination very rarely plays the manipulative faith game you describe.

        In the States we have a precious, fundamental right to the free exercise of religion. My concern has only been with the presumption of some government officials that they can impose mandates that interfere with that right (e.g. initially forbidding gatherings). It’s a terrible precedent to render unto Caesar what is the Lord’s.

    1. Only by the grace of God (speaking for myself). I used to be much more susceptible to the draw of extremes… and far less charitable to those arrayed “against” me. (Back when I was young enough to foolishly believe I knew almost everything.)

  2. A very balanced viewpoint, in my opinion, thanks Rob. Family pain is extra painful, my heart goes out to you.

    And that Lewis quote at the end, superb! Thus far we’ve managed to maintain the balance in our house church fellowship, though not easy. In the family we’ve got it right, so far, thank God.

  3. Rob,
    Thanks for this post. It helps put into perspective the experiences of the day in the light of eternity. I grieve that we have made our health and safety idols at whose altars we sacrifice our charity and our liberty.

    1. Thanks, Mitch. God’s given me a genuine peace that it will be resolved. She doesn’t really want her heart hardened… it’s just the adversarial spirit that certain principalities are so successfully fostering today…

  4. madaboutgreys

    How very sad. I think that social media encourages people to be aggressive to those who disagree with their point of view and this polarises opinion. True friendships are indeed rare and precious; families are irreplaceable. I hope that time will heal the rift in yours.

    1. Thank you. I believe time–and God’s grace–will soften my sister’s heart.

      Yes, social media is one of the major culprits in the polarization. It “dehumanizes” the interaction between people and makes it much easier to say/write things you would never say to someone’s face. And, we have all learned that once spoken, words cannot be unsaid.

      For my part, I love my sister no less. And, in fact, have even greater empathy for her.

      All is well…

    1. Moderate behaviors… a thing of the past. Oh, what a sad future we are building. Maranatha.

      As for the computer glitch… the forces that be may be trying to “cancel” me… (Just kidding, of course.)

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