Recently, someone posed an interesting question to me. They asked whether I was going to interject discussions about the COVID-19 pandemic into the theology classroom. I was quick to answer, “yes.” Then I went home and thought about how.

When it comes to any crisis, the questions we ask are just as important as the answers we find. We can ask, “Why would God allow this to happen?” or we can ask, “Since this has happened, where have we seen God act?” Personally, I pick the latter. Although it might be difficult to see God’s hand these last few months, it was surely present in all our front-line workers. 

I might add a third question: “How has God’s presence in our culture — or the lack thereof — affected the world around us lately?” I’ve discussed this with my students before. Our actions — in fact, our culture’s actions — are but symptoms of what’s going on inside us. That’s what Jesus told his disciples.

One of my many fine professors at Sacred Heart Major Seminary once proposed that everyone is “religious,” even atheists and agnostics. If we do not adhere to the religion of God, we are destined to embrace that of the world, or of science. And all are capable of leading to despotism if left unchecked. 

The fervor of our “religious beliefs” affects us, whether we admit it or not. It influences the way we live, perceive and act. If our religion is Christ-centered, it leads us to life. If not, it stumbles to the failings of human nature. And if we don’t believe in God, we’re left to believe in something else that offers us a sense of security, however false it might be. 

I’ve had many conversations with students about how choices have consequences, and the ramifications of God-centeredness versus God-absence in each of our lives. Those consequences leaven our culture in the same way. Gone are the days where a parent — or a theology teacher — could count on society to reinforce our values. Now, our kids are swimming upstream, navigating the perils of a culture continually steering them toward trend rather than truth. In many of our higher learning institutions, even the very discussion of Christian truth is summarily dismissed. Now, as we navigate these uncertain times, we are witnessing a symptom of a society whose religion is no longer of God. 

As human beings, we are drawn to religion. The question is, which one? 

As we prepare to return to our Catholic school classrooms, I’m thankful for the direction given by the Archdiocese of Detroit, and that we’re being led by facts, not fear. Our administrators have worked tirelessly to ensure students’ and teachers’ safety. We need to be prudent. But we also need to be aware of how these conflicting “religions” are driving our media’s narratives. 

I am proud to be connected to a Church that has always stood up for those on the fringes. I pray we might continue to be guided by shepherds unafraid to remind us all of the importance of our personal integrity and holiness. We must change ourselves before we can ever hope to safely navigate our culture. Then we can work on transforming it back to the light.

Paul Stuligross is a retired police officer. He currently teaches theology at St. Mary’s Preparatory High School, and is an adjunct instructor at SS. Cyril & Methodius Seminary in Orchard Lake.