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Posts Tagged ‘Corona virus’

Fear sells and those who market with it to sell their wares have no larger motivator than death to motivate consumers to purchase their goods. A casual perusal of commercials aimed at today’s consumers easily proves the point. Need to buy a car? Pay attention to those safety features! And make sure that insurance policy will take care of your loved ones once you are gone. In advertising it is called “fear appeal” or “fear appraisal” and is one of the recognized strategies used to motivate consumers. Food safety, personal beauty, body order, or just the fear of missing out on the next new shiny object has no competition when it comes to avoiding death.

The contemporary struggle against the Corona Virus pandemic raises fears to a new level. There is not only the fear of getting sick but the fear of dying is very real. The fear of causing someone else to die motivates individuals to stay home to prevent spreading disease and death. Everyday there is a new count of those who have tested positive for having the virus and a death count from complications from being sick with COVID-19. Thereby we are reminded that sickness and death are only around the corner seeking to devour us. Appealing to this fear is used by leaders and authorities to motivate the public to take actions that presumably protects public safety and preserves life saving resources.

The response to the Corona Virus and COVID-19 pushes leaders and the general public to put into place policies that often don’t make sense and even seem comically incongruous. You can walk on the public walking path but you cannot ride a bicycle. You cannot go to your local barber but your local pot shop selling marijuana is open for business. You cannot shop at your favorite independent clothing boutique or shoe store but you can shop all day long in a crowded WalMart or Target store. You cannot continue your construction business or job but you can shop all day long at Lowe’s or Home Depot or pick up items at the local plant nursery to get those home projects done.

Old Church in Sherman, Washington photo by Ron Almberg

Until a vaccine is created or there is a enough public exposure so that most people carry antibodies to the disease, we will continue in some limited freedom of movement and conducting business. Already many economists speak of the negative economic impact from this pandemic as being greater than anything we have experienced in modern history. Only time will tell if their prophesies will come true. What is true at this point is the rate of dying from exposure to this disease will remain constant until one of those things happens.

The public response to this news usually falls somewhere between two extremes. On one end are those who believe that all risk of any kind should be avoided and people should stay home and venture out only for emergencies until the experts find an answer through a vaccine or cure. On the other end are those who are willing to live and conduct business with a certain amount of risk and believe that everyone should conduct their own lives according to their comfort risk level. One set believes that everyone’s fears and vulnerabilities should be everyone else’s concern. The other set believes that everyone should take necessary precautions only as is necessary for their own personal safety. For one set, public health and safety is a communal concern and effort. For the other set, public health and safety is the concern and effort of individual actions and beliefs. On one end: Your health and safety is my responsibility. On the other end: You’re not the boss of me and cannot dictate how I live. Unfortunately, these two extremes only yell and scream at each other on today’s social media platforms and no one appears to be listening to each other.

Wauconda & Toroda Creek Rd, Ferry Co., Washington – photograph by Ron Almberg

Is the choice between paralyzing fear or a cavalier attitude? Or is there a healthy middle ground that provides balance in self-care and community-care? What can be the organizing moral principle that guides our social attitudes and behaviors? Because there does not seem to be any moral principle or belief that binds us together as a society today. In a pluralistic society is it possible to have one? Or are we to settle upon “every person doing what is right in their own eyes” to borrow a phrase of biblical judgment against a culture in moral chaos (Judges 17:6; 21:25).

Without moral clarity we will end up becoming something akin to George Orwell’s 1984 or William Golding’s Lord of the Flies. In times of stress a people’s true morality shines through their actions. Unfortunately for our day, the culture divide and tribalism propagated for the past several years has not helped create a cooperative atmosphere so that we can work together. Instead, we close ourselves into our chosen echo chambers and rail at the voices we cannot hear and will not listen to. So, perhaps, George Orwell got it right when he wrote in his book 1984, “The best books…are those that tell you what you know already.” At least those are the only ones we seem to like to read.

The Christian community, unfortunately, has failed to provide a cohesive voice in how to respond. This is probably just a reflection of its already fractured state as denominations and movements compete for consumers in the religious marketplace. Beyond the occasional call to reasonable and prayerful responses during the pandemic to “love thy neighbor,” the religious sphere seems to have grown silent. Perhaps it is because even the Christian community is hotly divided between left and right political spectrums and clergy persons are unwilling to risk alienating congregants and thus their livelihood. Whatever the case, without someone appealing to our better natures we seem destined to devolve into our most basic animal natures. It is a story as old as the Garden of Eden when the Lord God warned Cain that “If you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door, it desires to have you, but you must rule over it (Gen. 4:7)”. This is something that William Golding captured in The Lord of the Flies when one of the characters observes, “Maybe there is a beast…What I mean is, maybe it is only us.”

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The year 2020 will forever be defined by the Corona Virus and COVID-19. Widespread disease is not new to us. It seems to be something that regularly visits and threatens us. Take a short history tour of just the last 60 years and one discovers that the world has experienced many widespread disease outbreaks such as the Asian flu (H2N2) – ’57-’58, Hong Kong flu (H3N2) – ’68-’69, Ebola’76-present, Bird or Avian flu (H5N1) – ’04-’06, SARS (Covid) – ’02-’03, Swine flu (H1N1) – ’09-’10, MERS (Covid) – ’12-present, and the Zika virus’15-’16.

However, one has to go back to the “Spanish flu” pandemic of 1918-1920 to find something so devastating. Estimates assert the worldwide death toll was a minimum of 50 million people and could have been as high as 100 million or more. In the United States of America the death toll was estimated over 600,000 persons. Yet it remains a history largely forgotten today in American memory. Few lessons from that time remain to be remembered and applied to today’s pandemic. Once again, world leaders are fumbling in the dark to discover an adequate response.

While the the death toll is rising, national economies are tanking due to “stay at home” and “isolate in place” orders. Unlike 1918, the economies are much more globally tied together. As a result, the world economy suffers. It turns out that not only do “all ships rise together” but all ships can also sink together. National and state governments are not on the same emergency response page from whatever book or manual they are supposed to operate from when there is such a crisis. As a result, the applications of quarantining and isolation are applied unequally in cities, counties and states to businesses. Some stay open while others are required to remain closed. The outcome is that some businesses will close forever.

The driving motivation seems to be a fear of dying. The spectre of death has a long human history. Humans have done everything within their own power to avoid death and dream of defeating it and even living forever in eternal youth. We will kill one another, sacrifice each other and pay any amount of money to avoid entering into the death’s realm.

U.S. country music star Kenny Chesney wrote a song that captures the American sentiment about death and the afterlife. It is titled “Everyone Wants to Go to Heaven“. The catch in the song is that “but nobody wants go now.” Blues musician Albert King echoed the same words in “Everybody wants to go to heaven, but nobody wants to die.” In western culture, the “everyone is a winner” sentimentality also applies to eternal reward.

This alone, however, does not explain the desperate avoidance of death and suffering in the western culture. The rest of the world faces it everyday. Take a trip to the poorest parts of the poorest nations and death is an everyday occurance with cholera, typhoid, meningitis, yellow fever, malaria along with any other number of diseases. The rest of the world does not have the luxury of the choices the western world does when it comes to medical treatment and economic opportunities. And, yet, the western world seems willing to bankrupt both to avoid dying.

If you are a scientific materialist and do not believe any god exists and that this existence is all that there is, then, perhaps there may be reason to strive to grasp after every moment in this life before one’s light is snuffed out. On the other hand, from the same standpoint, to be gone from this world is also the end of suffering and struggle in this life’s meaningless existence. Afterall, shortly after one’s absence through death, this world will hardly remember one’s name. The choice seems to be epicureanism or nihilism.

On the other hand, if you believe in an afterlife then one hopes that it is much better than this existence. To be absent from this place of living means being present in the next better one. While no one would run to death with this view, you would think that one would not avoid embracing it at all costs either. One could waver between a stoicism or a need to embrace a faith that promises an eternal life that provides meaning to this one. Thus humankind’s universal search for meaning in a religion.

This may be where the Christian faith offers the best hope during Corona virus pandemic. The Bible is clear-eyed about the meaningless of life apart from a hope in an eternal life offered by God through his son, Jesus the Messiah. Jesus himself pointed out the futility of life when he illustrated the beautiful but temporary nature of the wild flowers of the field (Matthew 6:28-30).

The Psalmist in the Bible’s Old Testament also observed (Ps. 103:16) “As for man, his days are like grass—he blooms like a flower of the field; when the wind has passed over, it vanishes, and its place remembers it no more.” And the prophet Isaiah, later quoted by the Apostle Peter, proclaimed, “All flesh is grass, and all its beauty is like the flower of the field. The grass withers, the flower fades…surely the people are grass…but the word of our God will stand forever” (Isaiah 40:6-8; 1 Peter 1:24-25).

The two most pessimistic – if one chooses to view them that way – pieces of literature in the Bible are Job and Ecclesiastes. In the throes of incredible suffering, Job asserts “Mortals, born of woman, are of few days and full of trouble. They spring up like flowers and wither away; like fleeting shadows, they do not endure. A person’s days are determined; you have decreed the number of his months and have set limits he cannot exceed” (14:1-5). The Preacher of Ecclesiastes challenges any optimistic view of life apart from a relationship with God: “There is no remembrance of the former generations; neither shall there be any remembrance of the latter generations that are to come, among those that shall come after” (1:11).

Death comes to us all. Until a vaccine is discovered and administered to everyone on earth, the Corona virus remains a threat and death more imminent. Governments attempted to “flatten the curve” and slow down the sickness and death rate so that it is more manageable for our health care systems. But that doesn’t end the threat of death because, without a vaccine, sooner or later you will suffer the effects of it. As such, death is closer than ever – or at least a lengthy quarantine at home or hospital stay.

How does Jesus the Messiah change the human equation that ends in death? He does so in his resurrection. That event changed the world. If that singular historical event is true and factual, then it changes everything. There is no fear of death as the Apostle Paul declared (1 Corinthians 15:55-57). There is only the promise that this life is not the totality of our existence (John 3:16,17). In fact, the greater portion of our life lies beyond this one. Faith in and trust in God’s saving act in the resurrection of Jesus the Messiah undoes the curse and fear of death.

This is what has given Christians the power to run toward the sick and dying rather than away from it. During some of the worst plagues in Europe’s history it was often Christians who stayed to care for the sick and dying when cities and towns were being evacuated and abandoned. This attitude toward death and eternal life even caused some radical Christians, despite church leadership instructing and pleading against it, to act carelessly and even run to a martyr’s death.

The final result should be a Christian community that cares for those around them. It must result in actions that care for the suffering and dying. Never at any time in recent history has the worldwide church been given such an opportunity to show the love, mercy and grace of God that was revealed in Jesus the Messiah. We can risk the reach into a plague infected world to help and to heal because we do not fear death.

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