Authority in the COVID-pandemic – the extremes of blind obedience or personal judgment

In the past two years, various health measures have been set down by governors, ministers or church authorities, such as restrictions on gatherings, prohibition of public Masses, or the wearing of masks. In the responses to these measures, two greatly contrasting approaches to obedience have revealed themselves.

Some argued: those are the rules, laid down by legitimate authorities, so you have to follow them, and to disobey them is sinful. (1)

On the other side, some argued that, e.g., wearing a mask would be a sin, because giving in to this unjust and unreasonable demand is supporting an unjust “system”. (2)

More commonly, it was argued that, if the claimed reasons for mask wearing could be called into doubt, mask wearing could not be mandatory. More or less “I don’t think masks are necessary, so I’m not morally obliged to wear one”

Taken to one extreme, obedience to authority’s dictate would leave no room for reason and conscience; taken to the other extreme, the subjection of the authority to the judgment of each individual would remove authority’s ability to regulate matters on which there is no consensus about what is reasonable.

What was particularly striking in this case was that many, generally reasonable persons, on both sides of the issue, considered the case to be so obvious that those who disagreed with them must be stupid, wicked, or both. In not a few cases, friendships were broken over the issue.

The contrast between the “authoritarian” and “discerning” or “libertarian” views of obedience was particularly vivid and evoked strong emotions in the past years. But these contrasting views have a long history in philosophy, politics, and the Church.

References

(1) Examples at:

https://www.reuters.com/article/us-health-coronavius-pope/pope-says-obey-rules-during-exit-from-coronavirus-lockdowns-idUSKCN22A0VM

http://www.jeffvanderstelt.com/blog/year/day/month/covid-19-submission-to-authority

https://sydneyanglicans.net/news/obeying-government-and-obeying-god/50660

https://ca.thegospelcoalition.org/columns/ad-fontes/my-threshold-for-civil-disobedience-in-a-covid19-world/

(2) (E.g., “it’s contrary to the common good to continue to go along with an attempted communist takeover of the United States, which is what’s happening.” – https://www.catholicnewsagency.com/news/45692/denver-archdiocese-fssp-evaluating-priest-who-told-catholics-to-disobey-bishop-on-mask-wearing

and https://www.lifesitenews.com/news/bishop-christians-must-refuse-covid-vaccine-derived-from-aborted-babies-even-if-it-means-martyrdom/ – while not quite explicitly stating this – I also know some people personally who argued along these lines)

One thought on “Authority in the COVID-pandemic – the extremes of blind obedience or personal judgment”

  1. I wore a mask as an act of charity. I knew two widows who were terrified of catching covid. I thought there must be other people like that I didn't know. While I thought the mask was ineffective at keeping covid at bay, I did think it was effective in helping people with fears. You can say the fears are not justified, but they are real fears and should not be dismissed lightly. Just as people should be careful not to terrify a child, people should realize there are others for whom covid is more of a threat–people living alone without a large support group.

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