Well here we go again. Another round of restrictions imposed by our governing authorities. Another set of closures and limitations for small businesses. The people talk and they complain, of course. Our social media feed is full of references to the insane overreach for a virus that has an incredibly high survival rate. Where is the concern for those who are unemployed, or those who are depressed, or those who are lonely? They tell the churches when to open and when to close, where to worship and how to conduct themselves. They dictate how we are supposed to celebrate Halloween and Thanksgiving and, without a doubt, Christmas. They believe they have a right and even a responsibility to know what is going on in your home: how many are gathered there and how you are implementing the mandates of the state.
It is staggering how fast things have gotten to this point. No one would have imagined back in March, when we all did our patriotic and charitable work to flatten the curve and not overwhelm our hospitals, that today we would have our governors (or mine at least) telling us how to worship or how to celebrate Thanksgiving.
I try not to fall into conspiracy theories. I really don’t want to be that crazy alarmist at my non-compliant Thanksgiving dinner, but it all seems to be too much. Too much of a grab for control, too much of an assumption that those in authority over us know better than us. Too much bad policy that passes for faithful science or reasonable work.
But I think I might have settled on what is really going on. And it came to me from an unusual source. By the side of a member of my congregation in suffering, the pieces have started coming together. Her husband has been in the ICU for the last two weeks. He doesn’t have Covid-19 but is struggling with an extremely complicated pneumonia. Now due to the current state of things, she has not been allowed to be with him. For two weeks her only contact with him has been through text messages and the occasional update from the nurse or doctor attending to him. Here’s the thing, we all know that he needs more than clinical medical attention. He needs the comfort and reassurance of his wife. He needs the emotional and spiritual and psychological blessings that are found in the cumbersome interactions between us. To deny him this is to treat him like a robot in for repairs or a cog in a machine that just needs to be put back in balance.
As I tried to encourage her, or at least sit with her in the grief, it started to become clear. Perhaps what is happening is a legitimate attempt to restructure our society. I first read about this Taylorism, or its more common name “Scientific Management,” years ago in trying to understand the public school system. It begins with the understanding that the haphazard interactions of mankind, the workplace structures and the convivial relationships that make up our life, are inefficient. The goal, then, is to manage the whole structure so that it flowed more efficiently. Everybody has their role to play and all are a part of a much larger machine. Everyone is a cog or a robot.
The great vision of what this might look like was Aldous Huxley’s famous “Brave New World”. Not only was the workflow of society scientifically managed from top to bottom but so were the people. They were engineered to fill their roll, to be the perfect cog in the machine. Drugged and placated to accept their roles, society was much more stable and predictable. This provided greater security and prosperity.
This pandemic has revealed just how flawed and fragile our society is. Especially in this country, where individual liberties are prized. A better organized, more well maintained, and managed society would have responded much better. Like turning on or off a machine, every cog would do its part and the virus would have been stopped immediately. In fact, this is what frustrates the managers of our world, our political and technological elites. They can’t quite control us.
And so, an attack on worship in churches around the country makes sense. A control over the gathering of households and those who celebrate Thanksgiving is reasonable. For these places are not hotspots of Covid-19 so much as they are hotspots of resistance to scientific management. They refuse to see each other as cogs in a machine. They don’t honor the machine. They seek something more than security and health in this age.
Will we resist? Will we fight the management of the bureaucrats? Or will our families and our churches and our communities continue to simply fall in line?