Hope, Optimism and the Pandemic

In addition to the four cardinal virtues (cf. Ethical Musings’ Cardinal virtues and the Covid-19 pandemic), Aquinas also identified three theological virtues: faith, hope and love. The virtue of faith is vital because through faith a person relates to God. Love points to our need to care for our neighbor as we care for self (cf. Ethical Musings’ Vaccination as a sacramental act). This post discusses the virtue of hope in the context of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Hope is not synonymous with optimism. An optimist, in familiar images, tends to view a glass as half-full rather than half-empty. Whose contrasting descriptions lack any specific reason(s) for adopting one perspective instead of the other. Optimism requires no logical or evidentiary basis. Many gamblers are perpetual optimists even though the mathematical odds remained stacked against the gambler winning.

Hope, unlike optimism, requires a foundation or basis in logic, mathematics, science, experience, etc.

I am optimistic that the Covid-19 pandemic will end. More importantly, I am hopeful that the Covid-19 pandemic will end. Among reasons for my hope are:

  1. All known prior pandemics have ended. Consequently, any pandemic is more likely to end than to wipe out all human life.
  2. Several Covid-19 vaccines are now available with more in development. These vaccines have been demonstrably safe, effective in varying degrees and generally offer some protection against Covid-19 variants (in some instances protection appears to be greater against a variant than against the original virus). The rapid development and testing of these vaccines suggest that scientists will continue to be able to develop safe and effective vaccines to protect against future Covid-19 variants when those variants appear.
  3. The vaccines when they fail to protect a person from developing Covid-19 frequently prevent the person from developing a sever case and from requiring hospitalization.
  4. Vaccinating a population also with social distancing, mask wearing and proper sanitization measures has repeatedly reduced the rate of Covid-19 spreading, deaths caused by the virus and allowed the resumption of pre-pandemic activities.

My hope the pandemic will end does not depend upon the opinion of other people. Regardless of whether or not hopeful about the pandemic ending, behaving in ways to incarnate love for one’s neighbor – sacramental acts that include being vaccinated, social distancing, mask wearing, etc. – is a moral responsibility. The degree to which persons collectively engage in these sacramental acts may slow or speed the pandemic’s end but will not blcok the pandemic’s inevitable end.

Furthermore, I suspect that as the number of vaccinated increases (1) pressure will increase on the un-vaccinated to become vaccinated, (2) resistance to being vaccinated will diminish as the un-vaccinated see that no harm came to the vaccinated, (3) indeed, the vaccinated will catch the virus less often, get less sick, rarely be hospitalized and (almost) never die from the virus, and (4) scientific evidence will continue to accumulate demonstrating that the vaccine is safe and effective.

Too often, people – religious and non-religious – wrongly believe that either science or religion is true. For example, I recently learned of a physician who both refuses to receive the vaccine and to wear a mask. This doctor rejects science in favor of religion. I would not seek healthcare from that doctor unless that physician was literally the only way to save life or limb. Nor would I seek religious guidance from that doctor.

The New Yorker has a great article on evangelicalism and intellectual thought (https://www.newyorker.com/news/daily-comment/the-wasting-of-the-evangelical-mind?utm_source=onsite-share&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=onsite-share&utm_brand=the-new-yorker). The author quotes historian and evangelical Mark Noll: “The style of the most popular and influential pastors tend to correlate with shallowness: charisma trumps expertise; scientific authority is often viewed with suspicion.”

Thoughtful religious people need to step forward and assertively defend science and evidence-based medicine on the one hand and reasonable, examined religious thought on the other hand. Science and religion are two different sources of knowledge. At best, they offer complementary rather than competitive views about what is true.


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