Back in 1963 famed historian, Richard Hofstadter produced a work of lasting significance called Anti-Intellectualism in American Life.
Though it won the Pulitzer Prize the year after its publication, Hofstadter’s book isn’t a page-turner. It’s a tome and requires a committed effort to read. (Or a tough teacher/professor who won’t take not reading it lightly.)
As its title suggests, Anti-Intellectualism chronicles the willingness of some in our society to “value spirit over intellectual rigor.” It is far more complicated than that simple statement suggests and summing it up in a line or two is difficult. But suffice it to say Hofstadter notes the tendency of our society to look askance at those we perceive as “intellectuals,” or smarter than the rest of us.
We talk of those people as being somehow separate from society, of living in “ivory towers” where reality seldom climbs the steps.
There are people in American life, who, after all, still don’t believe that humans walked on the moon. They believe vaccinations intended to protect their children from disease are instead threats to their health.
And they believe in all sorts of “deep state” conspiracy theories, including the incomprehensible notion that the coronavirus and COVID-19 are a hoax.
They tend to distrust science, which brings us to another reason to take pride in the Catholic Church. Despite some meanderings off course in early times, the church has for the most part walked hand-in-hand with those scientists who have sought to unravel the mysteries of the life God created for us.
The church has no problem with evolution, for instance. And it certainly realizes that COVID-19 is no hoax. Pope Francis has written that the crisis caused by the virus is very real, and represents “an alarm that leads to a reflection on where we sink the deepest roots that support all of us in a storm.”
The threat of COVID-19 — a threat that has already resulted in the deaths of more than 170,000 of our fellow Americans — should give us pause, the pope said. It has provided us, he wrote, the chance to “reflect on what is truly important and necessary and what is less important …”
But this crisis has also allowed us to recognize heroes in our midst, and as is often the case those heroes are people who we might have taken for granted in times past.
We all realize the heroic role doctors and researchers are playing in this battle against our unseen enemy. But we would be remiss if we didn’t acknowledge the remarkable part our health care system’s nurses are playing in the fight, too. Theirs is a task fraught with risk.
A Catholic writer, the late Brian Doyle, once published an essay lauding the place of nurses in society long before the cursed virus found its way to our shores.
“Nurses,” Doyle wrote, “are essentially angelic and gentle and witty and brilliant and holy beings who bring light and peace, even though I know they must have dark nights when they are weary and sad and thrashed by despair like a beach by a tide.”
Even without the knowledge of their heroic role in what has become the fight of our lifetimes, Doyle wrote of the strength, faith and courage of nurses he’d encountered.
“I have quietly gaped in awe at the sinewy courage and flinty strength and oceanic grace of nurses, and many times considered what our hospitals and hospices and clinics and schools and lives would be without them; which is to say starker and colder and more brittle and fearful.”
There are a great many heroic tales to be told about the Coronavirus War. But for now let’s focus on those “angelic and gentle” souls who face the virus every day, who stare it down to help save the rest of us.
Remember them in your prayers.
Record Editor Emeritus