First Things and Mask Wars

For the past few years, the editor of “First Things” has been R.R. Reno. Dr. Reno is a very intelligent man and a fine theologian. He is also a practicing Roman Catholic, converting to the Catholic faith from the Episcopal Church in 2004.

We have a great deal of respect for the work of Dr. Reno. Although we have not agreed with him on every single point he has ever made, he generally has been a balanced and thoughtful interlocutor over the years. Which is why his columns and his tweets (the oddest of them have since been deleted, but like everything ever posted on the internet, nothing really goes away once it is “out there”) on Twitter since te lockdown caused by the global pandemic COVID-19 have been all the more unusual and troubling.

Dr. Reno has called for a reopening of Churches since the beginning of the lockdown. That’s something that we wish would happen sooner than later, of course, while respecting the guidelines of the State of New York, the guidance of our Bishop and the Bishops of the State of New York, and medical professionals.

Dr. Reno has stated that the desire to save lives by urging people to stay home is mere sentimentalism and, in his truly odd rambling rumination “Coronavirus Diary, New York, May 12,” describes a rather unique experience:

“The last two weekends I have taken long rides with my regular cycling partner. On one Saturday, we undertook a trans-Queens expedition, traversing the borough from Breezy Point to Douglaston. Sunshine and warmth brought people out of the apartments. Sidewalk vendors were doing a brisk business on Utica Avenue south of Crown Heights Families pushed prams in Cunningham Park.

“Last weekend we ventured over to New Jersey, fighting our way against a stiff south wind to Bayonne. The clerk at Dunkin Donuts refused to serve me: I was not wearing a mask. But my friend was, so we refueled before pedaling over the Bayonne Bridge and onto Staten Island. Providentially, I found a mask in a gutter just before reaching the Staten Island Ferry, allowing me to board and steam back to Manhattan.

“In early May new and more reliable tests for COVID-19 antibodies were released. I went in to have my blood drawn. The lab report came the next day. I am positive for the antibodies, which indicates that I have already been infected by the virus. No surprise.

“Experts estimate that one-third of the residents of New York City have had the disease — a collective condition that makes it nearly impossible for an outbreak of significant magnitude to sweep through the city again. Yet we’re locked down, with no end in sight.”

Reno later went on, in a series of tweets now deleted from his Twitter account, and unequivocally described those who are wearing masks in public as “cowards.”

There has already been a dogpile of criticism on Dr. Reno the past few days for these comments from all perspectives. It’s better that we do not add to it. However, suffice to say, we do not agree with Dr. Reno’s perspective on this issue at all.

Don’t pick up used masks off the street and wear them. That’s just stupid and gross. If you are ill, stay home. If yo are out, wear a mask. It makes sense for now and it will not be forever.

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