Bonnie Kristian is a new columnist at Christianity Today,a contributing editor at The Week, a fellow at Defense Priorities, and the author of A Flexible Faith: Rethinking What It Means to Follow Jesus Today (Hachette).
The shutdowns are worth it, said New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, at a recent press conference. “And if everything we do saves just one life, I’ll be happy.” Bringing New York City to a grinding halt and risking national economic turmoil more severe than the Great Depression is all worthwhile, Cuomo argued, if it lowers the death toll from the COVID-19 pandemic even a little.
In an immediately controversial essay at First Things, the journal’s editor R. R. Reno roundly rejected Cuomo’s claim. “This statement reflects a disastrous sentimentalism,” he wrote. “There are many things more precious than life.” Anticipating allegations of hypocrisy citing his advocacy against abortion, Reno insisted these are dissimilar concerns. The “pro-life cause concerns the battle against killing,” he said, “not an ill-conceived crusade against human finitude and the dolorous reality of death.”
The germ of this argument is clearly in the air. Texas Lt. Governor Dan Patrick, a Republican, argued that elderly people like himself should be willing to die of COVID-19 so their grandchildren can keep “the America that all America loves.” Radio host Glenn Beck made the same proposal. And in conversations with Christian family members about the value of social distancing, I keep running into similar logic.
“None of us gets out of life alive,” they say, or, “The Lord will take me when he takes me.” Physical death is not something Christians need fear, they argue, because Christ conquered death itself (1 Cor. 15:54–57; 2 Tim. 1:9–10). Dramatic measures to control the deadly spread of COVID-19 aren’t a good thing. State mandates to stay at home are causing enormous economic and social disruption—not the least precluding in-person church services—and are a greater ill than the illness they seek to curb.