To say that we are living in strange times would be an understatement. But truth be told, there have been multiple times throughout history that have been as tumultuous or even much worse than what we are facing today. And I think it is past time that we all come to grips with our situation.
Yes, we are living through a global pandemic, the result of which has caused societal changes that are unprecedented in our lifetime. We have had to face near-economic collapse, disruption of heretofore stable services, and alterations to our customary lifestyle while concerning ourselves with what has been ubiquitously called “the deadly coronavirus.” It is a contagion that indeed has proved deadly to many thousands throughout the world and the U.S., though nowhere near as deadly as the health wizards originally predicted and affecting almost exclusively individuals with pre-existing health issues.
It seems to me that what we have observed over the past several months is that we should be far less concerned about the virus itself than about the fear it has engendered. Such is not to say that the virus is not to be taken seriously (it has been shown quite obviously to be potentially devastating to individuals who fall within certain health parameters), nor am I writing what follows as a judgment against anyone. Certain observations and thoughts have come to mind, however, as we have wended our weary way through these unsettling times.
I suppose the first question that should be asked is whether the fear we’re seeing is justified. As someone who is well into his sixth decade, I must say that I think not. While comprehending fully the concern of those in a high-risk category, I cannot recall any time in history when so many — regardless of current health status — have evinced such abject fear about daily life. A recent survey, for instance, revealed that the population that is most fearful of Covid-19 consists of those between 18 and 34 years of age — the age group that in reality is among the least likely to be seriously affected with the virus, even if they catch it (latest data suggests that only 1% of Americans have caught the disease, and for those who are otherwise healthy there is a 99.96% chance of surviving it, even if caught).
So why the fear? I believe part of the fear is a result of our educational system’s negligence in teaching history. Mankind, and even Americans specifically, have faced serious epidemics and pandemics in the past, some of which have killed up to 75% (or even in rare cases up to 95%) of a given population. And while reasonable precautions during these times is certainly prudent, there is a very big difference between taking precautions and cowering in a corner, as some seem wont to do today. (I actually saw a woman at the post office a few weeks ago who did not even stand on the “social distancing” X on the floor while in line but instead hid behind a card display until it was her turn to go to the window.) Humans have faced far worse things in the past, and yet all life did not cease. Almost within our own lifetimes we could point to the so-called Spanish flu pandemic of 1918-20 which took exponentially more lives than Covid-19 has, but life continued ... not entirely as usual because certain precautions were taken, but society functioned sufficiently enough that the pandemic was not even once mentioned in any public address by the president at that time.
And admittedly part of the fear today is that not only has the current pandemic been talked about incessantly by the politicians, it is also being discussed ad nauseam by the media. It pervades every possible medium these days, even areas of society that normally would serve as escapes from world events. And whether the intention is political or simply a result of over-zealousness by certain health professionals, the disease has been hyped far beyond what any other disease in the history of our nation has ever been. Not only is the topic of the virus inescapable and being discussed in terms that seem to be deliberately fomenting fear in and of itself, the fact that from day to day we are given contradictory information about its spread and prevention also contributes to a heightened fear of the disease.
But I believe what troubles me most is the reaction we have observed among some fellow Christians. Of all the people facing this pandemic and the societal changes it has engendered, we should be the ones setting the proper example in how to respond. While strictly observing the precautionary measures prescribed by our bishops and clergy, we ought also to be exhibiting a certain dispassion about this illness, particularly as concerns our own well-being. By this I do not mean to imply an indifference to the disease or a thoughtless abandon in our daily lives, but rather an acceptance of our situation and a willingness, if necessary, to suffer on behalf of others. For most of us this would mean little more than following the recommended hygienic guidelines offered by those in authority, especially those given by our bishops or clergy. This is part of our obedience. But it also means the willingness to forget self and assist others as if we were assisting Christ Himself.
I cannot help but think of the examples the early Christians gave us when, during a time in which they were themselves suffering horrendous persecution from their own government, they nevertheless cared for even their unbelieving neighbors during the terrible Antonine plague of the second century and the Cyprian plague of the third. Throughout these plagues, Christians were recorded as having rescued and cared for numerous sufferers — many of whom had been abandoned and even cast into the streets — saving countless lives in the process. Even while the nobles and physicians fled the cities to escape the plagues, the Christians stayed in order to tend to those left to die, often succumbing to the plague themselves.
It troubles me that I see some health-care organizations (some, not all) reflecting more the behavior of the Roman physicians who fled to the countryside to escape contagion, than that of the Christians who stayed to help. When I hear that physicians are not allowed to treat “sick people” (i.e., those with fevers or respiratory illnesses), this disturbs me greatly. But those are directives that are out of my hands.
Also troubling is the degree to which we are instilling irrational fears in our children. Again, it is entirely appropriate to help them understand reasonable precautions and to practice good hygiene, but in many places children (and adults) are being denied — even forbidden — aspects of daily behavior that make life livable. Just yesterday I read posts by elementary-school music teachers who are no longer allowed to let their children sing or play recorders (and by extension I would suppose any wind instrument) for fear of spreading disease. Sporting events of all kinds are being curtailed or eliminated. Even basic human contact is being severely limited among all age groups. In some states religious services are being forbidden, concerts cancelled, and theaters shuttered. All these are things that enrich lives, and it is sad that too many “administrators” are focusing on only one thing (the virus) and not seeing the whole of life in the process, how that taking away all of these life-enriching activities can have a devastating effect, especially on children.
For how long have we listened to secularists argue the case for physician-assisted suicide when a patient has reached a point at which they no longer have what is deemed “quality of life”? And yet now it would seem that the principal focus is on maintaining a heartbeat and respiration in an otherwise empty life devoid of any spiritual or artistic content and without human contact.
Life is meant to be lived. And for the Christian, it is meant to be lived joyfully and with contentment (Phil. 4:4, 11). We are not called to live in fear (Is. 41:10, Matt. 10:28, and II Tim. 1:7). Nor are we called to rush into a wildfire unprotected, as reasonable precautions to preserve our health and that of others is entirely correct. But cowering in a corner is the equivalent of hiding a light under a basket (Lk. 11:33). Instead the light of Christ should shine in us brightly, and it should be visible to all for His greater glory. If we are waiting until all danger is past, we will never come out into the world again. (Not to mention that statistically people are more likely to die from an accident at home than from Covid-19.)
Had the Christians of the 2nd and 3rd centuries behaved like some of us and cloistered themselves or fled to the hills instead of remaining behind to help the sick and the dying, Christianity likely would today be only a footnote to later Roman history. Instead it was largely by the example of courage and compassion these early Christians exhibited that led countless thousands to embrace their “strange cult,” as it was seen by the Roman authorities.
Perhaps we will not be called upon to rescue abandoned sick people from the gutters in the streets, or perhaps we will not even be privileged to sit by the bedside of sufferers and offer comfort and consolation (most facilities prohibit that these days); but we may nevertheless show the world a spirit of peace that does not fear sickness or death, confident in the knowledge that Christ has conquered death and has given to us eternal life (I John 5:11).
Copyright © 2020 by Oswin Craton.
The above text may be freely copied and distributed, provided no alterations to the text are performed.
Philippians 4:4 — Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, rejoice!
Philippians 4:11 — Not that I speak in regard to need, for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content.
Isaiah 41:10 — Fear not, for I am with you; / Be not dismayed, for I am your God. / I will strengthen you, / Yes, I will help you / I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.
Matthew 10:28 — And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.
II Timothy 1:7 — For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.
Luke 11:33 — No one, when he has lit a lamp, puts it in a secret place or under a basket, but on a lampstand, that those who come in may see the light.
I John 5:11 — And this is the testimony: that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son.
All statistics are from the CDC as of 12 July 2020.
Return to Index