Covid -19 and Fear
It’s 2020 and it is impossible to see or read a news report without being bombarded with news about COVID-19 (Coronavirus). It’s mentioned in every category of news: local, national and international news, political news, business news, opinion pieces, letters to the editor, sports coverage, entertainment, health news, travel news, even the editorial page cartoon.
There is a straightforward and stark reminder in the Globe and Mail the day I’m writing this. You can slow it down, but you can’t stop it. That is from Michael Graham, an infection prevention expert at a Toronto hospital. I believe that much of this news is turning us even more than ever into fearful people, avoiding physical contact with others.
The editor of igNation asked me to write a post on COVID-19. I’ve pondered it for a few days, trying to find a different twist on this issue. What reflections would readers of this blog need to hear?
I’ve just found an article that says what I wanted to say. It’s by the esteemed Father Antonio Spadaro, S.J. writing in La Civiltà Cattolica. Let me offer just a few selected quotes. I’m sure that readers can find the entire article online.
“The coronavirus COVID-19 is spreading around the world, generating a syndrome of universal contagion. Humanity’s system of worldwide interconnection gives us a paradoxical experience: the more connected we are, the more contact can turn into contagion, communication into contamination, influences into infections.
The apocalypse is at hand. Antibodies are triggered, which go crazy and become an immune system against everything we fear, do not recognize, or cannot control. Viruses have long been a feature of our landscape: from the biblical plagues to Manzoni’s descriptions of the bubonic plague in The Betrothed, and on to today’s cyberattacks. The boundaries of the soul narrow with the discovery of our vulnerability.
The pandemic in these cases always ends up being one marked by insecurity and anxiety. The coronavirus seems to have also become today a symptom (and a symbol) of a more general condition of fear that we carry within us. A recent SWG survey has highlighted how much fear Italians feel. What fears? One statistic paints the picture: 72% fear that their children will not have a decent standard of living and 58% fear that they will not be able to raise a family. Fear of the future: this is today the virus of the soul.
The first effect of being infected by the virus of fear is the arid soul, in a state of desolation. The first task of a Catholic is, first and foremost, the fight against drying up and withering.
What are the symptoms of the virus? The immune reaction makes us perceive contact with the other, the different, as a risk of contagion. It is taking root in our societies and assumes various forms: a narrow, security-driven outlook that diminishes our rights, our freedom and the rule of law; sovereignty understood as the opposite of a foreign policy based on multilateralism and Europe; hostility toward integration; the political manipulation of Christianity reduced to “civil religion.”
The reasoning: if I want to feel good and be safe, I have to wear a mask and be wary of contact with strangers. “Everywhere, people avoid being touched by what is foreign to them” (Elias Canetti). It applies at the personal level; it applies at the political level. The Facebook algorithm teaches us this: relationships are based on a degree of affinity. Algorithms ensure that we essentially meet those who are like us, similar and compatible.
Christians feel that they must take on the expectations, changes and problems of the country. How can we concretely activate antibodies against the virus of the pandemic of fear, anxiety and hatred in our social and political life? One way out of this is to physically break the bubble of the algorithms that trigger a fear reaction.”