Wednesday, March 17, 2021

The Facelessness of Tyranny, and the Tyranny of Facelessness

Christian Anthropology, Mask Mandates, and V is for Vendetta

In yesterday’s post, I described how in the oldest forms of traditional sacred art, which conform to the iconographic tradition, Christ and the Saints are always represented full-faced or in three-quarter profile, so that two eyes are visible. This is because looking at people face-to-face is the mark of loving interaction and characterizes Christian interpersonal relationships. The less of a full face we reveal to others, and the less receptive we are to those who wish to reveal themselves to us, the less loving we are.

A wise priest once described to me the difference between friendship and romantic love. Friendship, he said, can be likened to people in each other’s company enjoying and sharing together the experience of looking in wonder at the same sunset.
Romantic love incorporates friendship, of course, but in addition, lovers are fascinated by each other. This would be characterized by two people staring into each other’s eyes.

When we stand in front of an icon of Our Lord, for example, who looks us in the eye, it is inviting us to look back at Him and receive Him in a love that is greater than both friendship and romantic love. These lesser loves participate in the fullest expression of love, which is between the persons of the Trinity, a love into which we enter through Christ.
In sacred art, those who are not saints, for example, the devil are shown hiding an aspect of themselves from us through facelessness. They are painted in profile or with distorted or obscured facial features, and even trying to hide the faces of saints.
Scripture tells us that in heaven we will see God’s face. For example, in his famous passage on love (so often read at marriages), St Paul says, “At present, we are looking at a confused reflection in a mirror; then we shall see face to face; now I have only a glimpse of knowledge; then, I shall recognize God as he has recognized me.” (1 Cor. 13, 12-13)
This, then, is why wearing masks when we deal with people is profoundly damaging to our personal relationships and destroys loving interaction. To impose the use of masks, therefore, compromises human freedom and undermines the human spirit, the highest aspect of the soul, and our connection to the source of our capacity to love, God. When our spirit is undermined, we are cast adrift spiritually, and become malleable and manipulable by the forces of evil, for we are miserable and detached from the love that supports and binds us to God and others. This ultimately has additional on our mental and physical health, and introduces a greater risk of inappropriate authoritarian rule or even tyranny in society from “faceless” bureaucrats.

Very often, the spiritual dimension of man is not taken into account in the current debate about face-mask mandates and their impact on our health. Those who do not believe in a spiritual soul or understand or accept Christian anthropology are always likely to focus on the reduced risk of contracting physical illness by mask-wearing (putting aside for a moment the debate as to whether there really is any benefit) at the expense of the spiritual costs to the human person and to society as a whole.
It is no surprise therefore that the political left, generally more in harmony with the neo-Marxist worldview and anthropology, which is atheist and materialist in its premises, is more enthusiastic about masks than the political right in the current Covid situation. I am not suggesting that the goal of all left-leaning people is tyranny, or that they are unconcerned for the well-being of the people. Rather, that it is that their reduced view of man means that they cannot bring into their consideration the well-being of the whole person into public policy.
It is not as simple as saying that all mask-wearing causes more harm than good. But it is saying that in every human interaction the capacity to love has been severely curtailed by the use of masks. No centrally imposed policy that mandates mask-wearing can possibly anticipate what any pair of people ought to do, balancing bodily and spiritual needs, in a given interaction in accordance with the common good. So, mask mandates will inevitably fail to serve society.

Furthermore, in my opinion, those who promote mask mandates do not sufficiently recognize the importance of human freedom as an essential component to love. Freedom is a necessary component of love, and without love, there is only disharmony, fracture of society and personal degradation. So I say, give people the information and trust them to decide if mask-wearing is good or bad in each situation they face.
On a similar theme, the film V is for Vendetta, which was made in 2005, is becoming popular on streaming services at the moment. It portrays a totalitarian regime in a future Britain that, took control by taking advantage of the restrictions of freedom introduced in response to a pandemic (sound familiar?) It culminates in the overthrow of the regime by mass protest inspired by support for an anonymous figure who wears a mask and costume, and threatens to blow up the Houses of Parliament, which represents in this scenario, the seat of tyranny. In order to protect themselves, the masses wear masks so that their identities cannot be ascertained by the authorities. On the face of it, it is a story of ordinary people asserting their freedom against authoritarian, unelected figures of state. The freedom of the masses is finally established not by the occupation of Parliament Square, but when they subsequently remove their masks to watch Parliament go up in flames. So far so good, I suppose.

However, there is a problem. The film inverts and distorts the idea of good and evil, freedom and tyranny, through its imagery and narrative. The forces of evil, as portrayed in the film, are totalitarian Christians and it is secular non-believers who overthrow them to obtain freedom. There is a clear message contained in the film, that the values and beliefs of Christianity are the cause of tyranny. The destruction of the old order of the West - symbolized by the blowing up of Parliament, the mother of all parliaments - is portrayed as a good thing. This is the opposite of the truth. It is the Judeo-Christian values originating in Scripture and Greek philosophy, and preserved by the Church, that create free societies. We should be seeking to preserve the institutions of the West in order to preserve freedom and faith. Tyranny always seeks to overthrow and distort truth not so much by misrepresenting facts, but by representing evil as good. It is perhaps a Freudian (or maybe Marxist) slip that has our hero as a faceless figure who seeks to destroy faith.

The greatest success of the devil is to convince us that he doesn’t exist, with the result that we confuse good and evil. “Do good and avoid evil” is a basic ordering principle of a happy and virtuous life, but if we do not know what is good and what is evil, we cannot even begin to live well. In blurring the line between good and evil, in the story of what seems to be a heroic fight for freedom, it is in fact promoting devilry and the very tyranny that it ostensibly despises. History has shown this to be true...
The burning of the Reichstag, 1933, Berlin. The Nazi Party used the fire as a pretext to claim that communists were plotting against the German government, which made this a pivotal event in the establishment of their control of Germany. In 1605, King James I of England used the foiling of a plot to blow up Parliament while in session on the part of a group of Catholics led by the mercenary Guy Falkes (who inspired the faux-17th-century look of V in the film), to persecute Catholics more widely. Plus ça change...
I propose St Marina of Antioch as the patron of a quick and peaceful transition from lockdown to a freedom that promotes the health of the whole person: body, soul, and spirit.

More recent articles:

For more articles, see the NLM archives: