What does it mean to be Catholic? I'm no longer sure, which is why I no longer identify as one. For me, it was in large part the church's systemic coverup of child abuse that drove me away. But I wouldn't want to be on the same team as one Matthew Walther, anyway.
Walther is the editor of the Catholic literary journal The Lamp, and a contributor to various conservative publications. In an article published Monday by The Atlantic, titled "Where I Live, No One Cares About COVID," he comes off as an unsaintly, misanthropic prick.
According to Walther, he, his wife, and pretty much everyone else in his community in "rural southwest Michigan" are acting like COVID-19 simply doesn't exist. He says that all the commotion about the deadly pandemic is driven by the "media and elite institutions," and sneers at those who are taking the pandemic seriously.
Walther is proud not have never heeded any of the warnings of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, to not know anything about booster shots or the different variants of the virus that causes COVID-19, and gloats that since the pandemic started he has "[taken] part in two weddings, traveled extensively, took family vacations with my children, spent hundreds of hours in bars and restaurants, all without wearing a mask."
In fact, Walther says he views masks as a sort of virtue signaling. "I came away from this experience with the impression that, whatever their value, masks long ago transcended public health and became a symbol, not unlike in this house we believe signs or MAGA hats," he says.
The church frowns upon sodomy, but Walther's head is completely up his own ass. "COVID is invisible to me except when I am reading the news, in which case it strikes me with all the force of reports about distant coups in Myanmar," he writes. But like the distant coup in Myanmar, COVID-19 is very real, and impacts people in Michigan. Its distance from Walther doesn't make it any less so. One would think a professional journalist would understand and appreciate how the power of the written word can make the abstract tangible. But not Walther, who seems to have found heaven on Earth in his blissful ignorance
And there are plenty of others like him.
"[O]utside the world inhabited by the professional and managerial classes in a handful of major metropolitan areas, many, if not most, Americans are leading their lives as if COVID is over, and they have been for a long while," Walther says.
Of course, this mentality is precisely why the virus is surging in Michigan, which now leads the nation in COVID-19 deaths. Walther doesn't say where exactly he lives, but The Washington Post notes that the COVID-19 data that Walther seemingly included at the behest of his editor at The Atlantic corresponds to St. Joseph County, which overwhelmingly voted for Donald Trump in 2020. That's a behavior seen elsewhere: according to The New York Times, COVID-19 deaths are now higher in conservative regions.
I can't resist interjecting here and pointing out that Walther's article is basically the same plot of Adam McKay's new satirical movie Don't Look Up, about how the discovery of a comet heading toward Earth sparks hopeless partisan bickering along the usual culture war fault lines. It's a thinly veiled allegory of the indifference to climate change, but it could also work for COVID-19. Life imitates art.
Anyway, Dr. Rob Davidson, an emergency physician in western Michigan, has been vocal on social media about how the COVID-19 patients filling his hospital beds are almost entirely anti-vaccination conservatives. Davidson's patience is wearing thin, as are the hospital's nurses, with one telling Davidson that she cries every day after her shift.
Yet the good doctor seems to have more empathy than Walther.
"I often feel full of trauma, guilt and despair," he wrote last week in an essay for The New York Times. "I'm mad at the Fox News personalities and the Republican politicians who downplay vaccination. I'm frustrated with people who aren't doing more to protect themselves and their loved ones. Sometimes, I'm just mad with a kind of seething aimless anger."
He adds, "But even on the hardest days I box my emotions and get back to the work of caring for patients because I made a commitment to heal people, not hold grudges."
Walther should take note. That seems like the Catholic thing to do.
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