I guess I am a prepper. When I started “prepping” 15 years ago they called it being a survivalist, but I think prepper is more apropos since the word survivalist suggests Rambo and anyone who knows me knows that’s not me. Over the past few months I became aware that prepping is gaining momentum again, like it did before Y2K when I first got involved. Some months back I stumbled on a YouTube channel and since then I have been making the rounds of the prepper sites. I have been really thankful to all of you preppers out there who have shared so many helpful tips about prepping, and for some time I’ve wanted to give back, but the question is what can I contribute—I have had a diverse past but my expertise is not in weapons or tactics or food storage, but in something that most people would not connect with the prepper movement, you see I am a member of the clergy with advance degrees in Sacred Theology.
Honestly, as a Catholic priest, I have often asked myself if there is a contradiction between my faith and my long term hobby which I now call prepping. I mean “wasting” my small stipend on putting away food and supplies when I could be donating it to charity, is that really what Jesus would have me do. After all, didn’t the Lord warn us against being overly concerned about the things of this world in the parable of the grower who builds larger barns to hold his crops only to die on the night his preparations were complete? In this question, that I have often asked myself I realized what I might offer to the prepping community. So I offer this treatment of a few of the moral and spiritual dynamics of prepping and post disaster survival.
As a Catholic priest my Faith teaches me to trust in the Lord for all my needs—and so at first glance prepping might seem an act of distrust. As I said, Jesus warns us about the man who hoards his wealth into ever bigger barns. However, while it is true that over and over again in sacred scriptures the Lord instructs us to trust in God and proves Himself trustworthy by repeatedly working so many mighty deeds despite our poverty and human weakness, one of the constant themes in the Bible is preparedness. I think is important to remember that the Lord always uses what supplies we bring to the table. Whether it’s the widow’s measure of grain and oil that feeds Elijah during the years of drought or the loaves and fish multiplied by Jesus or the one young man with a sling through which God routes the Philistines, as the Father’s of the Church were apt to note God will not save us without us. God wants us to cooperate with His Divine providence, and yes, while salvation is primarily about eternal life, physical life is also a gift, which helps us grow in holiness and love and which we should work with the help of God to protect and preserve.
It’s also worth noting that preparing for disaster is fundamentally about a realization of human weakness and of the reality of sin that causes disorder in the world and society. Many of us in the prepper movement feel God’s voice in our heart telling us that human vanity is once again likely to cause societal collapse, as it did at Babel, Sodom, and elsewhere throughout human history. Like Joseph in Egypt, we are being given an opportunity to prophetically prepare for the future, to ensure the survival of the chosen people—and thus, far from being selfish or greedy like the man who hoards grain into ever larger barns, prepping is not about profit but can be a work of charity. We prep because we love life; our own life (not a bad thing) and the lives of others, most particularly our families and friends. We want to be able to preserve life, culture, and civilization as much as possible when the false idol of modern civilization comes tumbling down. But how do we reconcile this concern for life with so many articles that we read about weapons, tactics, the use of lethal force, OPSEC, and “foraging” (aka theft)? The circumstances of a “without rule of law” (WROL) situation vastly change the way we as Christians apply the absolute moral principles God teaches us. Here an adequate Christian understanding of morals is useful.
Consider positive (man-made) laws for instance. In general, a Christian is required by God to obey all just laws—“render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s.” However, when laws become unjust or the rule of law breaks down, our duty to obey the law lessens or even disappears—and in the case of unjust laws we may even have a duty to oppose them. Two of the characteristics of just laws are their enforceability and the legitimacy of the authority issuing them. In a WROL situation both of these may be compromised and “law” may become more of a weapon to be defended against than a moral obligation to be obeyed—think of the anti-Jewish laws in Nazi Germany or the Jim Crow Laws in the South. I think this is an essential moral principle for Christians to apply when approaching prepping and a WROL situation.
Now just remember, a world without the rule of law doesn’t need to be lawless, if each of us keeps nature’s law in our heart. In the Christian ethical tradition beyond the positive laws that society creates Christian’s are also obliged to follow Divine laws, i.e. the Ten Commandments, which for the non-Christian correspond to self-evident natural laws. From my experience most preppers are decent God-fearing people who want to do what’s right, not just for their families but also unto others. Understanding the moral rationale of prepping and the ethics of a post-WROL reality is therefore essential for making the hard decisions that will be necessary for survival in a Stuff Hits the Fan situation. You see, much of morality is about habit; the problem is, in a WROL situation, the failure to make new habits that correspond to new situations will cause many to become paralyzed, unable to act when action is required. Worse, many others will simply cast aside morality accepting the utilitarian mantra: “the ends justify the means.” God’s moral law does not change and so the ends never justify unjust and immoral means, but what does change is the way we apply moral principles to a much different situation. This is what preppers must consider and prepare for.
The fifth commandment, for instance, often translated: “thou shalt not kill” in fact should be translated: “thou shalt not murder.” Throughout the Jewish and Christian tradition taking human life, while always a grave matter was not always considered murder. Self-defense has always been considered morally justified and it strikes me as particularly useful for the prepper to really understand this, and be willing to use even lethal force to defend himself or his family. While our Lord does instruct us to “turn the other cheek” in the Gospels this is primarily about being willing to forgive those who transgress against us, being willing to risk our other cheek in order to forgive, not about allowing them to threaten our lives. Especially in a situation where the lives of others are in your care you may have a moral duty, not just a right, to defend the weak against unjust aggressors. This may even mean the use of deadly force against those (e.g. thieves) who today we may not use deadly force against. In a WROL situation protecting your food supply becomes a matter of life and death as thieves can become just as deadly as axe murders during famines. I think most of us notionally are ready to defend ourselves, but in a world WROL taking personal responsibility for our own life and those entrusted to our care and becoming comfortable with this reality is essential.
Speaking of thieves, another frequent moral dilemma when speaking of a post-collapse or post disaster world is the commandment thou shalt not steal. Foraging or looting will most likely become a necessity in a WROL situation. What we need to remember about theft is that God created all things for the common good of humanity as a whole, and while he does allow us to “own” things privately, private property is still meant to be used for the common good. When we talk about stealing we are talking about taking unjustly things that rightfully belong to another. However, in a WROL situation theft must be understood with a certain nuance. The defense of life trumps the strictly legal claim of a person or corporation to foodstuffs and supplies which they are not using. Here I am not talking about robbing people of their supplies, but foraging (aka looting) stores and properties that have been abandoned by their owners. It truly is better and more just that people take supplies to preserve life rather than allowing them to spoil or be destroyed in the violence that will most likely follow a WROL situation. When the rule of law breaks down the legal claim absentee owners had to property vanishes and possession, as they say, becomes 9/10ths of the law, however if it makes you feel better an IOU or true intentions to repay the owner given the change would be in the best spirit of justice. [JWR Adds: I don’t anticipate a situation where a lawful owner or heir cannot be found unless we have gone through a huge die-off (such as in a pandemic), where more than 90% of the current population dies. Only then could someone justify “foraging.” Any property that has an owner or an heir cannot justifiably be taken.]
Taking what others are not using to preserve life isn’t necessarily stealing in a WROL situation; this moral nuance is predicated on the idea that the owners who are unable to use this property themselves have a moral duty to let you use these items. It’s important to remember, however, that this moral principle cuts both ways, our duty to be charitable is not negated by catastrophe. While other people’s unattended warehouses might be fair game, when starving people show up on your doorstep and you have enough that you could share, you might be morally guilty of theft, or even murder, for not “giving till it hurts.” As someone who desires to follow natural law a delicate balance between your family/groups future needs and the duty for individuals, not governments, to be charitable and protect life must be found. The Bible might offer a minimal suggestion for charitable giving in the principle of a Tithe. In the Book of Genesis Abraham gives a tenth of all his holdings in thanksgiving to the Lord for His providence, many Christians practice this today, and this might be a good habit for us to get into now and plan on as rule of thumb should the collapse come. I know it is a scary prospect, giving away food, when you are not sure when you might reasonably hope to resupply, or if you will be able to grow enough food to be self-sufficient, but love, the duty of Charity, always involves a risk and it is better to take that risk and save your humanity (and soul) than to survive and live the rest of your days on earth ashamed of how you survived. As the Scriptures note: “what profit is it if a man gains the whole world and loses his soul?”
In all things peace comes from knowing that you have done the best that you can, and then trusting in the God who has counted every hair on our head. As Job notes: “the Lord giveth, and the Lord taketh away, blessed be the name of the Lord.” Ultimately none of us can prep for everything, and even if we did, none of us can guarantee that natural disaster or human greed will not deprive us of our preparations in the hour of our need. Only God can keep us safe through all life’s difficulties and thus I believe that the most important preparation for TEOTWAWKI is spiritual preparation for the trials and tribulations that surely are ahead of us. As a priest I sit with many people who are going through traumatic situations: death and dying. Those with faith always fare better, that’s why I believe faith is as important a prep as water. It is necessary for the desperate situations that will follow a collapse. All of us must learn to trust in the reality that we are God’s children and our life is in His almighty hands. Do your part to prepare, realizing that in our weakness He is strong and then do your best to let go and let God. Let not your heart be troubled, because central to the Christian faith is the trust in the goodness of God expressed in Jesus’ prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane: “I pray that this cup might pass, but not my will but your will be done.”
“Ad Deum qui laetificat juventutem meam.” (“I will go in to the altar of God; to God, the joy of my youth.”)