With some hesitation, I join the endless and almost out of control discussion about the spread of the new virus in Italy and around the world. Perhaps it would be better to keep quiet not to amplify the case further. However, my small intervention is precisely an attempt to “contain” the media and panic epidemic, more than the viral one, by showing what is likely our most vulnerable point in this regard. If it is true that our body has no immune defense against the new virus (whose degree of dangerousness, as we know, is much discussed and controversial), it is equally true that we are mainly suffering from a lack of antibodies against dangers and threats that are different from those of the disease itself.
Without any prejudice against legitimate, proportionate, and proper prudence and precautionary health care measures, many people have the idea, which I share, that the most severe problem emerging is mental, cultural, and, I would add, spiritual. The truth is that people are afraid, way too scared. As Mounier said, almost a century ago speaking about crises in the West, it is a miserable “little fear.” For too long, our system and mentality have focused on “protection,” “security,” and an inflated concept of “health” that (as the WHO defined decades ago), tends to designate not only the absence of pathologies but also well-being. This sheer utopia has now become a mentality.
People are too scared to die or even to become a little sick. Right now, the fear is disproportionate to the threat. Why? Perhaps one of the main reasons is the lack of future prospects. Let us think for a moment of those who made the unification of Italy or fought in various ways in the resistance during the last World War, the American Wars of Independence, or even the Russian Revolution. For them, the homeland or freedom was worth more than life because the future was a greater good than the present. They thought about future generations (acting as adult-parents) and gave their lives for a future in which they believed (albeit in some cases it was utopian). Likewise, a believer who would rather risk his life and lose it than deny his faith has before him an eternity in heaven. Accordingly, both heroes (Greek-Roman, romantic or revolutionary) and ancient or contemporary martyrs (think of the former USSR or China), are emblematic figures who represent and made epochs.
However, as Baumann has pointed out, the emblem of our era is neither the Christian martyr nor hero but celebrities, stars, stage, visibility, appearances.
That means that we no longer have a future – immortal glory, posterity, homeland unity, a society of equals, progress, paradise, or eternal life. Our culture only has the present, ephemeral, that which happens right now. And we desperately want to keep it because there are no alternatives or emergency exits. If we lose the present, we lose everything. We have come to an end. A symptom of this narcissistic syndrome is the refusal to grow old and the lack of courage and desire to beget children. This attitude is no longer modeled after a responsible adult life concerned about posterity but on perpetual adolescence, “eternal youth.” That does not mean there are no martyrs or heroes today, but the culture no longer holds them up as models and examples to be imitated. We try to emulate stars, successful men. Social failure (dying for an ideal or becoming a martyr to live with Jesus eternally) no longer holds sway. One must preserve life at all costs, except when it becomes unbearable or oppressive: then it is better to die because there is no longer a reason to live.
In fact, for the westernized masses, there is neither a future beyond death nor a historical future worth living or dying for. In the last century, the philosopher Karl Loewith wrote a famous book titled, A Human End to History? Humanity born of the crisis and dissolution of modernity no longer has a history because it no longer has a goal, a final destination, be it earthly (the classless society) or otherworldly (the free homeland or kingdom of God). And it no longer feels that it has a “better” future or an ultimate goal. For this reason, progress no longer matters no more. Pro-gressus and pro-gredire literally means to take a “step forward” or to advance. That supposes proceeding with a sense of direction, gauging whether one is developing or getting sidetracked. Today there is less and less talk of progress and more and more of “growth,” which is a neutral, protean word: any reality or body can always grow in size regardless of its/his goal. That is how contemporary metropolises grow, adding new neighborhoods and suburbs extensively and quantitatively. In this model of protean growth, one does not lose but accumulate, one does not advance but becomes heavier.
Once the myth of progress and society of equals is over, and heaven has disappeared as a goal to be desired, what kind of future remains? The surviving utopia now is to “leave humanity,” which has reached the end of the line. We must transition toward trans-humanism, looming as something no longer human but, alas, less than human. Man, once seen as an intermediary between animals and gods (Hesiod and classical Greece), animal and angel, or between the sub-human world and God, is now supposed to become a cross between animal and machine. In other words, on the one hand, a human being who decays to the level of uncontrolled instinct and satisfies all his needs without hesitation (emotion of the moment) and on the other hand, a creature with technological transplants and prostheses with sophisticated applications that approach the robot. Conversely, animals are raised to the rank of subjects with rights, life partners, and full-fledged family members (even replacing children or human companions). For their part, robots tend to resemble human beings, simulating their behavior. The distinction between what is human, animal, and robotic becomes ever more tenuous.
In conclusion, if the ongoing epidemic can be compared with the great outbreaks of plague, smallpox, cholera, etc. that decimated populations in past centuries, it is not drawing its strength from the number of its victims or the objective danger, but from the spiritual weakness of humanity. The latter is clinging to the present and does not want to lose or give up anything but to indefinitely perpetuate itself and grow. Now, wishing to remain in this state of permanent and indeterminate growth (without any goal other than growth) means wishing to remain teenagers. That is why we risk losing everything.
Fear kills more than the sword and more than viruses. When nothing is higher and more precious than generic adolescence here and now; when people no longer have a sense of history and a life goal to attain (not even the adulthood of the Enlightenment); and when they no longer have anything worth suffering or dying for out of conviction, life is doomed to extinction.
However, the saddest and most worrying thing for the future of humanity is that churchmen themselves have forgotten that the grace of God is worth more than the present life. For this reason, they have closed down churches to abide by health and hygiene criteria, transforming the Church into a health agency instead of a place of salvation. The bishops should think carefully about closing churches and depriving the faithful of the sacraments, including the Eucharist, which is medicine for soul and body. Closing church doors in the hope of salvation by human science is closing the doors to God’s help; it is to trust in man rather than God.
Fr. Giulio Meiattini, a Benedictine monk at the Abbey of Madonna della Scala di Noci (Bari), is professor of theology at the Pontifical University of Saint Anselm, based in Rome.
Source: Blog di Sabino Paciolla
Translated by the staff of Fatima Today.
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