Love in the Time of Coronavirus
"Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends."
In the past six months, I have learned a lot about communitarianism.
I have learned it from unexpected places. I have learned it from thoughtful people on twitter. I have learned it from video games. I have learned it from politics and protests. Most of all, I have learned it from my weird little art group of people who care enough about each other to help each other.
This learning has been slow. As an individualistic oddball in what is probably the most individualistic society in the history of human civilization, it came as a shock to me several years ago to learn that our hyperindividualism is a cultural construct, nothing more. There are many other cultures that prioritize community need over individual need. But here in 21st century America, we are told to follow our bliss, forge our own path, do whatever is best for us, no matter who we leave in the dust.
What is this way of life doing to us?
The coronavirus epidemic is revealing the cracks in our society. It suddenly becomes clear how each of our choices affects those around us. Health organizations are begging us to make sacrifices and practice social distancing, even if we're not the ones in danger. It's not about self-preservation here. It's about the health of the community as a whole.
But the reality is, we are always this interconnected. We usually just can't see it.
"And the Lord called his people Zion, because they were of one heart and one mind, and dwelt in righteousness; and there was no poor among them."
Community is extremely important in Mormonism. Families, wards, assigned ministering, bishop's storehouses, missionary funds. But I wonder—should it be even moreso? I am deeply disturbed by the violent divisions I see among Latter-Day Saints online. "Progmos" and "DezNats" clashing like the Pekes and the Pollicles. Do we think this is virtuous? Clamoring to be right, no matter the cost? Do we really think that when Christ comes, he'll give one faction of keyboard warriors a pat on the head and cast the other down to hell? Or do you think his heart is broken at his children who are at each other's throats?
The truth is, the whole human family is deeply, doctrinally bound together. "Exaltation is a family affair," Ezra Taft Benson said. We are not on an individual quest to exaltation. That would defeat the point. The human family is to be saved together, or not at all.
That is the promise of the sealing ordinance. The book of life, filled up with our names, all of us going home together.
The sealing ordinance is the glue behind the radical Mormon theology of the unification of all things. Light and darkness, health and sickness, pleasure and pain. It's the Holy Hell that subsumes difference and allows us to be One. It's a paradox, and one I don't yet understand.
Do we still talk about things this way? This theology of unification was the pinnacle of Joseph Smith's teachings before he died. I was struck by the wording of this passage that I originally encountered in an article about gnosticism:
At Nauvoo by the summer of 1844...[Joseph Smith] had established a theology of the conjunction—the unification—of the living and the dead, of men and women, of material and spiritual, of secular and sacred, all united in a "new and everlasting covenant"... In these circumstances the conventional boundary between purity and danger, right and wrong, law and revolution, simply melted away.... In effect the greater Mormon emergence can be visualized as meta-alchemical experience running from opposition to union.
-John L. Brooke, The Refiner's Fire: The Making of Mormon Cosmology, 1644-1844 (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1994).
Of course we are one. Everything is connected. Human beings most of all.
My dear friend Gnome expressed this sentiment on twitter several months ago and he was torn apart for it. But I agree with him. Every person that distances themselves from our community makes us less. "The loss of even one voice diminishes every other singer in this great mortal choir of ours, including the loss of those who feel they are on the margins of society or the margins of the Church," Jeffrey R. Holland said. I understand that there are many reasons that people leave the church, and many times it is for their own health & well-being. I do not expect anyone to stay in a situation that is harmful to them. But it breaks my heart that we were unable to create a community where they could thrive. That we have created divisions between the children of God.
Last week I went to Mass at the basilica in Santa Fe. I did not know until that day that Catholics do not see communion as a way to receive forgiveness and atonement like Mormons do. They see partaking it as a way to become one with each other and one with Christ.
I think about our Mormon sacrament, the bread and water, the humblest common denomination of food and drink. We are all deeply related and involved with each other. That's the purpose, and that's the plan. When all is said and done, I hope all our names are written in the book of life, and that it will say we each gave of ourselves to raise the whole.
So please. Stay inside for the next few weeks.