While the coronavirus pandemic besieges our world, the response to it brings into relief another, even more insidious, contagion. A blatant repudiation of facts has infected populations worldwide, spreading a disease of lies, a denial of reality. Significant numbers, albeit in minority, deny the severity and deadly consequences of COVID-19. This latter pandemic has been fueled by sectors within the Christian community and by aspects of Christian tradition. The COVID pandemic has illuminated another virulence that destroys an individual’s willingness to recognize the peril unleashed by denying realities.
We see an example of this disease in the United States, where the world wished for is treated as the world that is. The presidentially promoted claim of a fraudulent election result challenges facts. Evidence is meaningless in the face of insistence on a fabricated narrative, based in a self-gratifying ideology.
This type of thinking can also be seen in the negative reaction of certain Catholics, and others, to the reported statement of Pope Francis concerning the treatment of members of the LGBTQ community, specifically in relation to civil unions. The response belies reality. Pope Francis is stating a straightforward fact: those who follow the path of Christ must respect, be open to and treat with dignity all human beings, in the diverse forms in which we exist. The Pope asks us to be Christ in the world, as it is, rather than simply citing a metaphysical absolute.
The disease manifests when the facts of the sexual abuse crisis in our church are denied “because it’s just not possible,” because the church is sinless.
Often, the underlying problem is presented as a struggle between those who hold to spurious claims or to science. As Christians, I suggest the alternative to spurious claims is not simply the facts of science, but being open to reality: the world as it is. It is about being a realist who lives with hope. When we look at the gospel stories, the gospel witness of Jesus Christ, we see a man who dealt with people as they were, in the fullest sense. He knew who he was dealing with; he recognized the woman caught in sin; he also recognized the crowd wanting to stone her. He responded with dignity to all human beings. He embraced the lepers, even though his society said they were to be shunned. He spoke to the Samaritan woman and honored her despite his society’s and his religion’s taboos. It is that example of facing reality, of embracing the world as it is, that brings healing, love, acceptance, that we should follow today.
This is our challenge. It is the necessary response to the pandemic. It is not about my rights, but about whether I care about my brother and sister. Pope Francis’ statement about nonheterosexual civil unions was not about sacraments or Christian doctrine; it was saying that we have a profound Christian obligation to look at each other with love, compassion and understanding; to respect the dignity of every human being.
Currently, as the world looks to possible vaccinations to save us from COVID, we need to look to reality through the example of Christ, to save us from the ravages of self-serving refusals to acknowledge the existence of injustices to humanity and the natural world. As Francis describes in Fratelli Tutti, we have failed to recognize that the grace of God is not about the possibility for me to achieve great wealth or acclaim, the power and privilege that Daniel Rober spoke of in last week’s blog. It is about my ability to be with those in need. It is about me recognizing that I have both something to give and something to learn from those who are marginalized in our societies. We must walk with each other and not just with the one who makes me feel good. The other includes every other, regardless of whether I approve of their lifestyle or whether I think they are deserving.
As Christians, we need to address the pandemic of fabricated realities that wraps itself in dogma but denies the Word of God that calls us to live the gospel, to embrace the forgotten, neglected, condemned. We are broken as communities, as countries, as a civil society—not because of some absolute metaphysical transgression, but because we fail to embrace out sister and brother, as Christ has embraced us. Through love I transform myself, my heart, my vision, to see that God in me is God in every other. It’s not about me; it’s about us.
Myroslaw Tataryn is professor emeritus at St. Jerome’s University, Canada, and a Ukrainian Greco-Catholic priest.