The bad news is all around us. The stock market is in free fall, the government may further shut down, and if there is a kind of cure (there is not really a “cure” for viruses) out there, I’m not hearing about it. At this point, the story is not so much the illness as it is the economic impact of trying to prevent it from getting out of control. Entire industries are on the line and, worse, the paycheck-to-paycheck way of life that the consumerist West has embraced for too long is about to be seriously exposed. No one saves for a rainy day, including our federal government, and the weather outside is not looking good.
That’s the bad news. There are other long-term considerations. As a pastor whose life revolves around a particularly community of people, I am thinking about the impact this will have on personal interactions for years to come, maybe for the rest of my life. If you thought people were loathe to drink from water fountains before, or if you thought the ubiquitous smell of scented hand sanitizer was annoying before, well, you are in for significant changes.
Here is the weird reality of the Coronavirus: we may never look at a handshake the same way again. That is how bad and how weird things may get. Many will not take communion without considering the possible consequences. This whole 4 feet of recommended distance will stay with us long after the virus. “Huggers” may become the most dangerous people you know. The normal kinds of affection and tokens of friendship may disappear, and the numbers of those who find they wish to continue their self-quarantining may increase.
We are also going to learn where technology works and how it fails. Music events, worship services and lectures are now being streamed. Some of those events work fine. Some, not so much. I suspect that we are going to learn that offices, for example, are more optional than they once were. One wonders if a whole lot of real estate is about to become superfluous and that is the market’s answer to absurdly high real estate prices in major cities. Then again, we may find that, no, we were right all along. Maybe all these conference calls and virtual meetings will convince us we need to be in the same room when we work together.
I hope that being deprived of community is going to remind us we are built for community. We are enlivened and encouraged when we are in the presence of our church, friends, and family, and live-streaming is a pretty poor substitute most of the time. Perhaps this is when we realize that “bowling alone” is actually dreadful, and we should restart the bowling league. Or, insert here any of the dead or dying community groups that we have phased out in lieu of technology, binge-watching Netflix, etc: quilting clubs and bridge games anyone? Relying only on podcasts may be convenient, but to passively consume information is no comparison to a group class and discussion at your local church, library, etc.
Like taking away a toy from a child reminds him just how much he loves it, I suspect this time of “social distancing” will remind us just how precious our time in community is. That is the highest possible upside of this virus I see for now, and I hope I am right. We may see a reversal in the trend of social distancing we were seeing before this because when it is forced upon us, we will finally decline the temptation to be alone.
This virus also reminds me of our national hypocrisy. While I applaud efforts to save and protect life, our inconsistency regarding the protection of life is glaring. Here is a disease that seems to inflict the most harm on the elderly, but so long as euthanasia is seen as a viable alternative to life, the most vulnerable will be the elderly and the medically expensive. The more government is involved in health care and the less money our government has, the more likely life-saving procedures and medicines will be excluded from our medical options. So on the one hand, we are taking extreme measures that are unheard of in multiple generations to avoid getting grandma sick. But should we have any confidence that a procedure that grandma really needs will be covered by Medicare as it faces bankruptcy?
Likewise, whenever I speak with college students about abortion, I’ll often ask them if they believe it is odd that we will take extreme measures and spend hundreds of thousands of dollars saving a premature baby’s life while down the road that same baby can be aborted? Other than the many ministries, individuals, and non-profits doing yeoman’s work of fighting abortion at the grassroots level, there has never been a concentrated effort at the national level to end abortion. Pro-life representatives refused to abolish it or even bring it up for a debate. And yet, our entire economy has come to a crashing halt to stop the spread of a virus. A bad virus yes, and a potentially deadly virus, yes, and a highly communicable virus, yes. But a virus, nonetheless, that is far preferable to getting than doing nothing while human lives are not only “at risk”, but are being eliminated with no defense.
To be a conservative in America is often to be double-minded. Am I a patriot? You bet. This nation is home to perhaps the greatest political experiment in history that really did protect human dignity and inherent rights through its constitution. Not only that, but we are a highly productive people, capable of winning wars when we put our mind to it or even shutting down to stop the spread of a disease. Our strength and resilience is unique in world history.
And yet, we look the other way when it comes to defending human life in situations that do not involve cancer, COVID-19, pneumonia, etc. We protect the whales, environment, owls, and National Parks, but we are a nation divided by an inconsistent application of protecting life.
What this social shutdown tells me is that when we want to fight a pernicious problem, we have the will and the means to do so. But what we consider pernicious is not what I would consider pernicious. My hope, then, is that we get back to normal life soon, but as we do so, we also increase in consistency in whose lives we truly value.
Photo Credit- UNC Health Talk