Many years ago, while in my first year of major seminary for the Catholic priesthood in Washington, DC, I had a curious experience. While sitting at my desk I received a message that it had been reported on a sketchy online gossip forum for the community whose parish I had been assigned to the previous Summer that I was no longer in seminary. Annoyed at this lie, I posted a response to this anonymous person using my real name clarifying that this was not true and asking them to stop spreading lies.
The response I received created one of those moments that makes you question your own sanity; I was told by this person that I was not me and that I was no longer in the seminary which I was sitting in. You see, someone had said that I had left and it must be true.
This feeling of crazy is precisely what I was feeling in March 2020. Nearly the whole world was insisting, without evidence, that a deadly plague unlike any prior had descended upon the world. Despite the cruise ship Diamond Princess offering definitive proof regarding precisely who was at risk, that some apparently were not susceptible to infection, and that only certain groups like the elderly were particularly at risk, people were predicting outcomes from a respiratory virus that literally only happen in science fiction.
On March 22, 2020, The Centre for Evidence-Based Medicine at Oxford estimated an Infection Fatality Rate of 0.2%. For comparison, seasonal flu is estimated to have an IFR of 0.1% and that for the Spanish Flu was estimated to be 2%. People were claiming that hospitals were overwhelmed, but anybody looking at the publicly available numbers could see that this wasn’t true.
The truth about what we were facing was completely evident from the beginning for anyone who cared to look at the data, but panic spread and intensified. You see, those of us counseling calm had to be wrong, because someone else they trust (i.e., a person on the TV) said so. In many ways, mass hysteria and slanderous gossip have the same means of psychological origin. But unlike gossip, mass hysteria can trigger a religious fanaticism that threatens the very foundations of a society.
A Biblical Example of Mass Hysteria
In the 24th chapter of Exodus the people of Israel ratify their covenant with God and agree to follow each and every one of His ordinances. Moses then goes up the mountain to receive the totality of this Law. Eight chapters later, the people have grown anxious waiting for his return and what happens is perfectly instructive for what we have been living through since early 2020:
- There is a real concern. Moses is delayed in coming down.
- Mass hysteria takes hold because of the evil of the people. Aaron explains why this has happened: “You know how the people are prone to evil” (32:22) The crisis which is created is literally a product of their own wicked imaginations. They believe, for no reason, that Moses is not coming back and that they need a new God to save them.
- Mass hysteria creates the demand from the people to “Do something!” This is always the most dangerous situation that a society can experience, for this is when it is most prone to following the advice of the evil liars in their midst who plot wickedness. These “experts” will use the confusion as an opportunity to advance their own standing within the community.
- Weak and fearful leadership always will give in. Aaron’s excuse for leading the people into sin is perhaps the most pathetic in all of human history: “I threw this gold in there and an idol came out so we worshiped it!”
- In mass hysteria, all prior held moral absolutes can and will be abrogated. The people quite literally had just ratified the covenant and promised to never, ever do what they were now doing: “When Moses came to the people and related all the words and ordinances of the LORD, they all answered with one voice, ‘We will do everything that the LORD has told us’” (24:3).
- In God’s eyes, there are none who are held guiltless, for each individual is morally responsible for preventing this phenomenon. “Let me alone, then, that my anger may burn against them to consume them. Then I will make of you a great nation” (32:10). The people only survive because Moses fulfills his role of begging mercy on their behalf. Furthermore, they are all forced to drink the water which has been polluted by the remains of the golden calf.
- Because moral absolutes are abrogated, chaos ensues. Moral order breaks down. “Moses saw that the people were running wild because Aaron had lost control—to the secret delight of their foes” (32:25). The weak leadership which allowed the hysteria to spread and take over is impotent to reestablish order.
- Mass hysteria doesn’t end on its own, but rather through the forceful reestablishment of order. Additionally, this task is explicitly priestly. This is the frightening part of the story that gets left out of children’s Bibles and modern liturgical books. Moses’ return PROVES that there was no reason for any of this to happen. The people made up a reason to panic and then did unspeakable evil. Yet they don’t repent and fall back in line, because the moral order has been shattered. Moses then must resort to summary executions of thousands of men: “Moses stood at the gate of the camp and shouted, “Whoever is for the LORD, come to me!” All the Levites then rallied to him and he told them, “Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel: Each of you put your sword on your hip! Go back and forth through the camp, from gate to gate, and kill your brothers, your friends, your neighbors!” The Levites did as Moses had commanded, and that day about three thousand of the people fell. Then Moses said, “Today you are installed as priests for the LORD, for you went against your own sons and brothers, to bring a blessing upon yourselves this day” (32:26-29).
Lockdowns and Mandates as Religious Conversion
It was evident to me from the early days of the lockdown that something very cult-like was occurring. When quite literally nothing happened during those first 15 days to justify the lockdowns, the mantra of “just wait two weeks” was on the lips of the believers of the Branch Covidians, much like how a doomsday cult leader is allowed to pick new dates when the aliens don’t show when they are supposed to.
Creators of mathematical models (which only tell you what they were told to tell you) were exulted as if they were prophets who could tell the future, and like the false prophets of the Old Testament they weren’t punished and ignored when the first round of predictions failed to come true. The Amish, the state of South Dakota, and the country of Sweden may very well have never existed because it was impossible to speak of them.
Suddenly, argument from authority (which is the weakest form of argument in every science except Theology) became the primary means of demonstrating scientific truth; people were citing CDC web pages the way I might cite Scripture or the Church Fathers. It was as if, in the manner of God, the CDC can “neither deceive nor be deceived.”
Suddenly, complete novelties such as 6-feet distancing, lockdowns, forced masking, and experimental mRNA shots were declared as “safe and effective” not because of any real evidence but out of some misplaced “faith” and unjustified “hope” so that the absolute cruelty of destroying peoples’ jobs, making them be muzzled to return to work, and then threatening to fire them if they didn’t receive the sacrament of the covenant with Pfizer might mockingly be called “charity.”
Indeed, some people who received the earlier rounds of vaccinations were describing the experience in terms that were just as religious as descriptions of full immersion Baptism in the early Church.
The strongest evidence that something akin to a religious conversion was occurring in people was precisely what I witnessed among some of my fellow clergy. “Do not be afraid” became “Fear is a virtue.” “Those who wish to save their life will lose it” became “We must wish to save lives at any cost.”
While seeing the face of God is to experience salvation, seeing the faces of those made in his image no longer held any value at all. Those who once described themselves as defenders of the rights of laborers ignored my own call to action and I was forced to admit embarrassment at the fact that a socialist publication could more easily observe the damage being done to the poor and working class than my own confreres.
What I was witnessing was a “religious deception offering men an apparent solution to their problems at the price of apostasy from the truth” which is how the Catechism of the Catholic Church describes the “mystery of iniquity” which accompanies the Church’s final trial (CCC 675).
I recognize that many readers here may not be of a particularly religious background, so I will add that this experience of conversion also occurred in people regarding supposedly deeply held ideological and moral beliefs.
Committed libertarians became radical authoritarians. Those who would proclaim that health care should be free to everyone now insisted it should be denied to those who don’t comply. Those who once claimed government was too large now eagerly caused it to grow.
Those who once asserted rights to privacy and bodily autonomy renounced the right to be taken seriously ever again by declaring that medical decisions should be public and forced. The entire field of public health basically apostatized from the entire moral and policy framework that they had created before 2020. Medical doctors completely abandoned everything they were trained to do with respect to treatment and ethics, even to the point of refusing to see patients in person and jettisoning the concept of informed consent completely. School teachers now argued somehow that in-classroom learning, the very thing they were paid to do, isn’t actually important for children and that it was okay for preschool and kindergarten to look something like this:
It was as if the entire world renounced everything held as true before and now embraced a new creed, new code, and new cult. Lockdowns were the catechumenate, masks were the religious garb, vaccines were the initiation, and any infidels in our midst should be treated as witches who cause disease and death.
The Consequences and The Way Back to Normal
The consequences of mass hysteria, like the polluted water which Israel was forced to drink from, must be borne by all of us. Inflation is now terrifyingly high. The education of so many children is now permanently ruined, which will have effects that will be with us for generations. Businesses have permanently closed and jobs have been lost permanently. Excess deaths are terrifyingly high, not as a result of the plague we sought to avoid but because of the quite frankly evil decisions which we made along the way. Grave injustice has occurred, and it is morally and spiritually impossible to just simply ignore what has occurred.
As Moses and Aaron discovered, things don’t simply go back to normal once everything has fallen apart. It is impossible to punish everyone who is guilty, for nearly everyone is guilty of at least going along with the insanity. It was essential, however, that some bear maximal punishment so that the evil which was done will be acknowledged as evil.
Exodus gives us no insight as to what exactly was done to merit being among the 3,000 who were killed, but I do note that Aaron is obviously not numbered among them, meaning that there were some among them who were more responsible for the hysteria happening and continuing. Let’s call them the “experts.”
Intuitively we have done something like what Moses had to do in our history as a civilization. War crimes and crimes against humanity are punished by special tribunals because we recognize that it is impossible to move forward without accounting for what was done in the past. Truth commissions are established in order to chronicle the wrongdoings of abusive regimes and punish those most responsible. The widespread guilt of entire countries is adjudicated by the giving of consent to the punishment of a few.
We are at a critical juncture in our attempt to recover from madness that occurred following March of 2020. Believing we could magically avoid cold and flu season led us to this moment and we must now resist magical thinking that somehow things will passively go back to the normal we experienced in 2019. The consequences of our actions will be with us the rest of our lives, but we can make sure this damage will not be repeated by forcibly reestablishing the moral order.
The truth must be outed, and many among our elites, experts, and technocrats must receive the punishment which they have earned for themselves. Our media and social media companies must be forced to admit they engaged in illegal and immoral propaganda and censorship activities.
I leave it to others to determine precisely what that looks like, for I am no Moses. But it is a duty to Truth and Justice that such a rendering of account be given and such a tribunal may be the only hope for some of our neighbors to acknowledge the wrongs which they were complicit in. The only way to reestablish a moral order is to admit that it was destroyed and hold those most at fault as guilty of crimes, just as Moses was forced to do in the desert.
Published under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License
For reprints, please set the canonical link back to the original Brownstone Institute Article and Author.