Do you remember January 2020? A U.S. airstrike on January 3 killed top Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani and others near Baghdad International Airport. Two weeks later, the House impeachment managers read aloud the impeachment articles against then President Trump.
It was also the month that the Covid-19 outbreak was first declared a public health emergency by the World Health Organization. Within a few months, our lives would be transformed, the death of George Floyd a few months later on May 25 dramatically compounding the national crisis.
The country went into lockdown, churches were forcibly closed, and more than six million Americans were out of work. Memorials to once-honored Americans were toppled across the country, and practically everything, from schools to libraries to museums to corporations to professional sports teams, was forced to reckon with so-called “institutional racism.” Once radical things such as racial reparations and drag queen story hours were decreed unquestionably good by the institutions that comprise our secular magisterium.
Orthodox. Faithful. Free.
Sign up to get Crisis articles delivered to your inbox daily
The consequences of all of this, especially on American Christians, cannot be easily overstated. According to data collected in April/May 2020, during the pandemic one-third of practicing Christians dropped out of church completely. Many houses of worship were shuttered forever. In 2020, church membership in the U.S. dropped below 50% for the first time since Gallup began collecting data on it in 1940. The share of regular churchgoers fell six points, and the share of secular Americans who have never or seldom attended religious services increased by seven points.
It would not be hyperbolic to say that the pandemic dramatically accelerated the de-Christianization of the United States. That’s especially the case for young adults, whose church attendance took a major hit, according to Christianity Today. One in three young adults say they go to church less than they did pre-pandemic, a larger portion than other groups. And the ensuing “racial reckoning” dramatically accelerated citizens’ distrust in our nation’s past. It would not be hyperbolic to say that the pandemic dramatically accelerated the de-Christianization of the United States. That’s especially the case for young adults, whose church attendance took a major hit.Tweet This
One person who saw this coming was Fr. Robert McTeigue, S.J., a philosophy and theology lecturer, host of the radio program The Catholic Current, and author of the new book, Christendom Lost and Found: Meditations for a Post Post-Christian Era.
The book is a journal, much of which he recorded during the pandemic. “The trauma and farce of the twenty-first century, perhaps best encapsulated by the notorious year 2020, has moved me to write, and to do so with a sense of urgency. We cannot continue for much longer down the present path,” he writes.
Soon after the country went into lockdown, McTeigue notes, “What shocks and pains and scandalizes me the most is that we have had almost no public worship—WORLDWIDE—since March! Holy Week, Easter: Gone. As if all the parishes and chapels in the world are under interdict.” He bemoans the “cult of the expert,” “politicians and bureaucrats ruling by decree,” “media pandering to power, promoting fear, acting deceptively, outright lying—even more than usual!”
It’s all especially remarkable in light of how much the same people who closed churches and businesses have washed their hands of guilt, even while observing the terrible, largely unnecessary effects of their decisions. “We Learned Our Lesson Last Year: Do Not Close Schools,” read a 2021 headline from the New York Times, which had earlier labeled advocates of keeping schools open as science-denying, heartless bigots.
Then there was CNN’s shamefully biased coverage of then-New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, who turned out to have lied to his constituents about Covid-related deaths in the state’s nursing homes.
A November 2022 article by the Washington Post in the very first paragraph dared to observe that China was encountering a huge spike in Covid-19 because its population lacked natural immunity. Two years earlier, the paper had told us all that natural immunity wouldn’t help us, and those resisting the “Fauci ouchie” were…wait for it…science-denying, heartless bigots. The Post even ran a hit piece against pandemic-skeptic Monsignor Charles Pope after he got Covid.
McTeigue’s axiom is, “Most institutions would rather die than admit that anyone ever made a mistake.” That just about sums up how the media, schools, and governments have told us to interpret what happened over the last three years. All of them thoroughly undermined their credibility, and yet who, besides a few fall-guys like Cuomo, have truly suffered consequences? Former Planned Parenthood president Leanna S. Wen, one of the most aggressive voices in favor of coercive pandemic measures, is today a celebrated columnist at the WaPo.
Then there was the rioting and impulsive destruction or desecration of objects of religious and civic veneration across the country, whose targets included churches and statues of Christ, Our Lady, and St. Juniperro Serra. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez even accused Fr. Damien of Molokai of representing white supremacism. Vandalism of churches skyrocketed.
McTeigue writes, “I strongly suspect that people who destroy so impulsively, so thoughtlessly, so gleefully, do not have much experience in building up.” Indeed, many spaces once inhabited by monuments remain empty. Whomever is venerated today risks being torn down tomorrow.
As McTeigue observes, the institutions “charged with the stewardship of civilization” failed America. Violent riots and attacks on the American way of life are “evidence of the failures of homes, churches, and schools.” We are a nation who does not see ourselves as blessed. Americans are “the devotees of the culture of consumption [who] see themselves with nothing and no one to give to the future. These are the people who do not echo the words of the Psalmist: ‘What shall I render to the LORD for all his bounty to me?’ (Ps 116:12). For such people, heedless both of God and the Church founded by the Christ of God, there is literally nothing and no one to look forward to. Living in a pastless present, they can only see a hopeless future—and then act accordingly.”
Thankfully, McTeigue’s journal is not all grim bereavement over the decline of American Christianity. It is a powerful testimony of hope. When the Goths sacked Rome, St. Augustine remarked, “No Goth takes what Christ keeps.”
Reflecting on that quotation, McTeigue observes, “I need to remind myself of that wonderful truth, as I see collapse, vandalism, decay, and betrayal. I must remind myself to be alert to God’s activities even in the dark times and places. Because I am prone to brooding and discouragement. I have to be careful not to infect others with my melancholy.”
As much as we should remember the egregious errors of 2020 that hastened the deleterious trends we observe today, we must not allow them to have the final word. Christ was sovereign over that miserable year, just as He is sovereign now. Even amid great loss, He builds His kingdom, as he He has for two millennia. We may be weak, but He is strong. Thankfully we have great priest like Fr. McTeigue to remind us of that wonderful, eternal truth.