COVID-19 has shown that many politicians and public figures believe in the ideology of safety over all else. They focus obsessively on keeping us safe, elevate that single idea above its proper place, and force all to bow down to it.
Businesses, churches, and schools tout safety as they dramatically change longstanding policies. State governments implement restrictions and force businesses to close in the name of public safety.
It is the hallowed end, and citizens are expected to obey and accept whatever means are necessary to achieve it.
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But why should safety dwarf all other concerns, as it appears to have done at times during the pandemic?
A man who flees the battlefield because he fears death is considered a coward, not a hero. If safety is the top goal, why do we see the actions of this soldier in this way?
The argument starts with the idea that it is better to live than not to live. But why? For what end is our life? Do we live to be safe?
If men were only animals, this might make sense because safety allows animals to satisfy their needs and propagate the species.
But as Aristotle said, “There is an irrational part of the soul and a part having reason.” We share the irrational part with the animal kingdom, but the rational part distinguishes humanity from other creatures. We have additional capacities and needs that must be exercised and met if humans are to flourish.
Presence of a mind itself indicates a capacity to learn and a need to educate ourselves. Our capacity of speech implies we are created to speak with others, suggesting another human need, friendship.
Man possesses the power to discern good and evil, albeit in an imperfect way. This capacity, often named the conscience, entrusts man with a responsibility to choose what is right and then act on that choice.
That man’s existence is not completely material—that there is more to the human experience than food and self-preservation—suggests that something nonmaterial also exists beyond our world.
The mind of man, the speech of man, the conscience of man all point to some intelligent, relational, and good being. Christians believe that our human search for truth, love, and goodness converges in God and his son, Jesus Christ. Once discovered, humans are designed to worship this transcendent being.
Education, friendship, virtue, and worship all arise from our unique identity as humans. Since God created us this way, a flourishing human life must contain each of these facets.
Safety ought to act as a means toward human flourishing and not act as an end.
On the other hand, a needless disregard for safety is rightly called foolishness. How should leaders and citizens proceed in a dangerous world?
Prudence demands we consider our actions, both whether our goal is good and whether the means to that goal are possible and moral. Justice requires that “whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them.”
Thus, we should protect ourselves and others, especially those most vulnerable to this disease, but these precautions must not eliminate activities that constitute a distinctly human life. And we must realize that we cannot fully protect ourselves, our families, and others from sickness, storm, or suffering.
Unfortunately, human beings live in a fallen world that never will be safe. In “Learning in Wartime,” Christian apologist C.S. Lewis observes that “100 percent of us die, and the percentage cannot be increased.”
We can’t choose not to die, but we do choose how we live.
As responsible, rational creatures, we should consider safety but not enthrone it as the purpose of life.
Rather than ask what is safe, we should ask what is good.