by Jody Bennett
With the world melting down over Covid-19 and multiple countries in lockdown, there is one aspect of this whole situation which has not been pointed out in all the stories I've seen.
With the world melting down over Covid-19 and multiple countries in lockdown, people losing their jobs and memes about social isolation abounding, there is one aspect of this whole situation that I find both encouraging and very interesting, and which has not been pointed out in all the many stories, graphs and vlogs I've seen.
The reaction by almost every nation to the conundrum of:
"Do we save our economy or do we save our vulnerable?" has been "We save the people". Millions are out of work in order to save (at this stage) only tens of thousands from death, and less than two million from infection. People are losing their livelihoods, postponing major events and totally restricting their movements and lifestyles, all in the name of the common good.
Left to run amok, the virus would not kill most of us, although it might infect most. But, with isolation, it has already affected and inconvenienced almost everybody. Some people are significantly affected by the closure of their work places or their inability to travel for work.
Isolation is likely to cripple economies, yet when California lawyer Scott McMillan suggested that "the fundamental question is whether we are going to tank the economy to save 2.5% of the population which is (1) generally expensive to maintain, and (2) not productive", he got nine deaths threats within 48 hours and was called a 'ghoul' and a 'Nazi'.
Suggesting that money or most people's ability to carry on as usual comes first is met with outrage, but shouldn't that be the proper Darwinian, pragmatic approach?
This idea of protecting the weak and vulnerable at all costs to the economy is a decidedly unevolutionary instinct. This is not survival of the fittest. This is not people are all just sophisticated apes who have no more value than any other animal. This is not even socialism, where the good of the few is sacrificed for the good of the many – this is the good of the many being sacrificed for the good of the few(er).
In fact, it is a very Christian response. It is about loving our neighbour as we love ourselves and laying down our lives for our friends. It is an attitude that sees every life as worth saving. As an article by Lyman Stone on the website foreignpolicy.com1 points out, right from the beginning of Christianity, the followers of Jesus have stood out in times of plague and famine for the way they sacrificed their own health and safety in order to minister to the sick and provide for the needy. This was an outworking of their belief that every person was a precious soul made in the image of God.
Such an attitude went against the Roman hedonistic idea of pursuing pleasure and avoiding hardship, or the Greek Stoic fatalism. And it also flies in the face of secular Darwinian evolution. I think it proves how deeply our cultures have been affected by Christian teaching and philosophy. And it is interesting that this is true globally regardless of whether governments are socialist, communist or democratic.2
Because we all know that even if we ourselves are not among the weak and vulnerable, our parents, or our grandparents are, or our friend or colleague is.
Covid-19 has reminded us as we self-isolate, that we are all connected to one another by a thousand threads of relationship, and that our common enemy is death.
And while I thoroughly agree with this altruistic approach, I do wonder if while we are doing our level best to protect the old and those in ill-health, we might at some point be sacrificing our poor and mentally ill in order to do so. Extended isolation and business shut downs will have their own unintended consequences, as would economic collapse.
As David Mills from Newscorp Australia has pointed out: "The lockdown itself will be a massive problem for public health, if not a disaster in its own right. A recent American study showed social isolation was linked to a 50% increased risk of dementia, a 29% increased risk of heart disease and a 32% increased risk of stroke.
"The time spent inside will likely have detrimental health effects, the breadth and depth of which we cannot even fully countenance yet.
"Mental health will suffer. Alcohol abuse will go through the roof. Domestic violence and sexual abuse will no doubt increase. Some of what happens now will affect people for the rest of their lives."
It remains to be seen how deep this selfless care for others goes in our societies or whether it is just a thin veneer left over from some former Christian influence. Perhaps the fearful stockpiling and racist accusations are more indicative of what really drives us.
As more people die and quarantining drags on, I hope this crisis will make people question what they do indeed believe about the value of human life. I pray that millions, as they contemplate their own deaths and the uncertainty of the future, will realize that their need for meaning, security and eternal happiness can only be fulfilled by turning to the God of the Bible, for whom none of this has come as a surprise and who can use even this pandemic for good.•