2021 was a real shitshow. It started with the January 6th riot at the Capitol, an ill-conceived protest over the highly irregular 2020 election in which at least two Trump-supporters were killed by police (Ashli Babbit and Roseanne Boyland). We still don’t know the extent of federal foreknowledge or involvement in the event, nor have we seen the 14,000 hours of unreleased video footage. However, we have been repeatedly cautioned about the threat of “domestic extremism,” necessitating a domestic “War on Terror.”
Perhaps as evidence of this new direction, Attorney General Merrick Garland infamously instructed the FBI to investigate parents who complain too vociferously over the content of their children’s education at school board meetings. It’s not hard to discern the chilling effect these federal actions are intended to have on political dissent, much the same as the wall that remained around the U.S. Capitol for months after any danger had passed.
The litany of bad news continued with the collapse of Afghanistan, adding a refugee crisis on top of the existing border crisis, the Delta variant, supply-chain disruption, and runaway inflation. Even with the vaccines, more Americans died of COVID-19 in 2021 than in 2020.
Indeed, 2021 was objectively worse than 2020 in every way but one: society (and by extension, the economy) never completely shut down.
While I have objected to the majority of our mitigation measures (for example, cloth masks and plexiglass barriers that prevent air circulation and thus likely spread more disease), I have never dismissed COVID-19 as a significant threat. There is ample evidence that SARS-COV-2 was genetically manipulated to infect a variety of human tissues, causing organ damage on top of respiratory illness. The recent pandemic has reminded us that life is both precious and precarious, that we and/or our loved ones might be called away at any moment.
However, the biggest national story of 2021 — and the most disturbing, from my point of view — has been the politicization, polarization, and propagandizing surrounding the COVID-19 vaccines. After being told on the one hand that science is a process, constantly evolving in light of new evidence, we were told after a few short months that The Science was settled. The vaccines were “safe and effective.” Everybody — previously-infected or not, now as young as five — should get them, despite mounting safety signals and questions over efficacy. To question these conclusions, or to encourage a balanced consideration of risks and benefits, was to propagate “vaccine-hesitancy,” and thus grounds for censorship.
It would have been one thing if vaccines had merely divided people personally and socially (the impact on relationships has been catastrophic). But no — schools, employers, and even the federal government have imposed vaccine mandates, with very limited exceptions. Liberal cities in the U.S. have imposed vaccine passports. One must now show one’s papers in order to go to a play, attend a concert, or even eat indoors at Burger King. We have witnessed a system of segregation imposed in real time, one based not on skin color, but rather medical history. This has all been deeply and profoundly disturbing.
There are some promising signs the narrative is shifting, that the tide may in fact be turning. Omicron appears to have reshuffled the deck; unless, that is, it was always just a matter of time. How can the media keep up the narrative that the vaccines would spell the end of COVID, when so many vaccinated people keep getting and spreading it? With cases rising stubbornly in even liberal, highly-vaccinated areas, getting sick is no longer viewed as a moral failure (as it never should have been in the first place). Even some proponents of the Zero COVID crowd are suggesting we may just have to learn to live with the virus.
On the other hand, things could – and probably will – continue to get worse, at least at the national and global level. Countries like Australia have built quarantine camps, shipping people away from their communities without trial for weeks after simply being “exposed” to COVID. Austria and Germany have implemented blanket vaccine mandates to simply exist in society. Even anti-lockdown Sweden has pioneered implanted microchips to verify one’s vaccine status.
How much worse could it get? Imagine a social credit system like China’s, in which one’s every communication is monitored and every movement tracked. Special privileges are doled out for “good” behavior, while access to essential services are curtailed for “bad” decisions or non-compliance. Then factor in the possibility of a digital currency, in which one’s ability to engage in basic commerce is tied to a social credit score. It is not inconceivable that you might not be able to buy a tank of gas or a gallon of milk unless you are in compliance with the government’s latest medical dictates.
So, yeah… 2021 was bad, at least from a macro-perspective. What was left of my faith in humanity is pretty much gone. But at the micro-level, it has had its moments, and my faith in God has risen correspondingly.
The greatest joy of 2021 for me has been celebrating the arrival of new life on the part of friends and relatives. Many of these new mothers and fathers have no illusions about the current trajectory of the nation, or the world in general. In fact, they thoroughly expect things to get worse. With mounting restrictions already heaped upon the “unvaccinated,” the prospect of future persecution looms large. And yet – in an act of great faith, hope, and love – they have chosen this moment to follow God’s command to “be fruitful and multiply.”
2021 for me will forever be the year that I journeyed through the entire Bible, listening to the Bible in a Year podcast with Father Mike Schmitz. The Bible is filled with stories of parents, especially women, longing for children. Sarah wanted a son so badly that she (wrongly) offered her maid Hagar to her husband Abraham, resulting in the birth of Ishmael. God’s promise to Abraham involved land, yes, but more importantly descendants to populate it, starting with Isaac. Even God’s command to Abraham to circumcise himself and every subsequent male can be considered a reminder that God is the ultimate source of all life and that we should trust Him.
Jesus’ own parents – Mary and Joseph – brought Him into the world during a time of great danger. King Herod was so intent on killing the prophesied King of the Jews that he slaughtered every newborn in the vicinity of Bethlehem. And yet in this and so many other instances, trust in God was rewarded with divine protection.
How should I — how should we — approach 2022, a year that promises even more economic decline, more political instability, more social dysfunction, and more violations of human rights? Not with the naive optimism that the world will miraculously improve, but rather the faith, hope, and love exhibited most poignantly by new parents. We cannot know exactly where the path may lead, but we can simply take the next step, as did Abraham and Joseph: trusting in God that His will be done, hearts open and ready to receive His word.