During the COVID-19 pandemic, pressure was put on the federal government to override the rights of the states and impose sweeping lockdown policies. This was only partially the case, since most states underwent lockdown and quarantine measures of their own. Such policies soon went under the microscope of public opinion to determine their validity, and the results have been mixed, at best.
After numerous stimulus packages, massive unemployment benefits, and overly strict enforcement of mask-wearing, everyone has been through a lot in the past year. But, throughout this pandemic, something else was put under particular stress: the dignity and social nature of the individual.
One prevalent theme in Catholic Social Teaching is the dignity of the human person. Man is made in the image and likeness of God, as seen in paragraph 1700 of the catechism of the Catholic Church, and we are called to love others, as they, too, are made in his image. Some would argue that these lockdowns were made out of respect for the dignity of others; however, the opposite is true, since lockdown policies also violate the social nature of humankind.
Humans are social by nature, as shown by what many scholars refer to as the “creation mandate.” In the book of Genesis, the creator tries to create a suitable partner for Adam by making numerous different creatures, but only when God creates an additional human does Adam find a suitable partner. From the onset of creation, we find that humans are inherently social by nature and require other humans to fulfill our vocations, which are given to us by God.
By cutting us off from in-person relationships, the lockdown policies denied this social nature. Instead, we should have taken a community approach. The catechism does say in paragraph 1919 that human communities do need authority; however, in paragraph 1923 is says that political authority needs to guarantee the conditions for humans to exercise freedom. To continue, paragraph 1925states that the common good needs to promote “the fundamental rights of the person,” as well as develop the worldly and spiritual needs of society. In this case, lockdown policies go against the teachings of the Catholic Church by denying people from actively practicing their religion in a community. This leads to a denial of the freedoms which paragraph 1923 specifies, as well as the common good in paragraph 1925.
To continue, paragraph 79 of Pope Pius’ Quadragesimo Anno dictates that it is grievous evil, as well as a bastardization of the right order, to distribute to a greater association that which a lesser organization, or community in this case, can accomplish. From here, we can see the religious implications: A mandate from higher governments over smaller communities is morally incorrect. Christian teachings require communities to make the proper decisions to keep their community safe.
From this, the conclusion can be drawn that governments should have taken a laissez-faire approach and allowed individual communities to create their own lockdown guidelines. This would have allowed more personalized approaches to preserving life, the economy, and the overall prosperity of a community by allowing humankind to engage with one another, rather than denying our inherent social nature and our ability to participate in community religious ceremonies.
Hopefully, this failure of policy can lead to more localized approaches to the problems our country endures, and create a method of preserving our social nature and fundamental rights of a community.