Essays

Viral Sovereignty

In the face of COVID-19, we do not have the capacity to breathe, much less decide.

This relativizes politics into a realm that cannot penetrate or disturb the Christian’s faith or take away our salvation and our hope. This is why the real danger for the Christian is not just biopolitics, but also ideologies that provide an alternative salvation through false gods.

God doesn’t tell us to go out and face death unnecessarily. The Israelites put lamb’s blood on their doorposts, a sign of their trust that God loved them and would spare them. But they knew better than to leave home. That would not have been trusting God, it would have been flouting God’s warnings.

Thoreau’s asceticism was always also related to his hope for just economy – a way of life beyond slavery or exploitative capitalism. I am thus invested in thinking about Thoreau’s religion – his ascetic practice in the woods and the theological commitments that drove it – as deeply tied to his politics.

…seeing these responses through a Niebuhrian lens challenges me to acknowledge these actions for what they are—reactions to anxiety—and to confront what it is that I am actually afraid of and trying to avoid—facing the fragility of life and love.

Political leaders need a moral compass and scientific counsel to navigate the coronavirus waves to come.

How does one turn away from a Lenten desert, so profoundly illustrated in the wastelands of plastic filled beaches, and walk towards the resurrection hope of Easter? Perhaps by remembering that Easter is coming, but its only the middle of the story.

Thoreau’s generative ambivalence, the reason we keep returning to him, comes from a specific move he makes, over and over again. Thoreau does something very particular for us. He recasts problems of political economy as ethical questions about the conduct of life.

This biblical text—the “trial” and execution of Jesus—is a text that we who are Christians know so well we may be tempted to skim it. In the same way, we think we know and understand climate change—enough that we can skim the science.

When placed in the tradition of Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr., civil disobedience is premised on nonviolent resistance. But Thoreau understood that, under certain conditions, the protestor’s nonviolent resistance may lead to violence by the state.

We are a people once asleep, now waking to a new world, where our forms of life have done irreparable harm to our earth and helped to unleash a deadly pathogen on ourselves. We must ask, how will these bones live?