The world has been utterly paralyzed by an unseen enemy, a tiny virus in the corona family. Restaurants, bars, and schools have been shuttered by government edict. Public parks have been closed. Borders have been closed (it’s almost humorous how the longer this crisis lasts, the more leaders around the world start sounding like Donald Trump). Schools have been closed.
One airline has already gone under, and the rest of them collectively are asking for $50 billion to bail them out of their trouble. Groups of more than 10 people have been banned. The church we attend is now forbidden from holding worship services, so our pastor recorded a sermon in an empty sanctuary which was then streamed on Sunday. (I texted the pastor afterward, commended him for the job he did expositing Galatians 2, then added, “You know, I’ve heard of a man preaching for an audience of one, but I never heard of a man preaching for an audience of none.” He admitted as to how it was kind of weird.
San Francisco has gone so far as to quarantine everybody, regardless of age or health, in their own homes, as if everyone is equally vulnerable.
Now there is no question that the coronavirus must be treated seriously. It has killed 60 people in America, so we know it can be lethal. But we seem to have lost all sense of proportion here. The regular, old seasonal flu killed over 80,000 people last year in America, and this year’s version has added over 20,000 to its toll. But nobody freaked, nobody panicked, nothing was shut down.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, who is taking point in the government’s response to coronavirus, said that it is ten times more lethal than the regular seasonal virus, which means about one percent of the people who get it will die. Ebola and swine flu were in the 9-10% range. He also thinks we need to shut down - yes, his words - the entire country for a minimum of two months.
To an objective, neutral observer, the government's heavy-handed reaction seems extreme and almost ludicrous, like swatting a fly with a hammer. Far more damage has been done to our economy by the panic than by the virus.
The virus discriminates in favor of the young and healthy and against the elderly and infirm. The average age of those who have died of coronavirus in Italy is 81. The reality is that for everyone under the age of 70 the risk of infection is low and the risk of dying from it even lower. We know that the most susceptible group in America is people over 70 with an underlying pre-existing condition that weakens their immune system.
Steve Hilton suggested on Fox that, since the virus is quite selective in the people it targets, our plan to protect targets from the virus likewise should be quite selective. Rather than quarantining the entire country in their own homes, as even the president briefly entertained this week, the elderly should be quarantined for their own protection, with visitors being screened for fevers and coughs. Everyone else should be allowed to resume normal behavior while taking ordinary precautions (washing their hands, not going to work when they’re sick, etc.)
I read somewhere that the words “fear not” occur 365 times in the Bible, one for every day in the year. The opposite of fear is faith. And my favorite definition of faith is the refusal to panic. That’s the kind of faith we’re called on to have here. We need to be reasonable, rational, sober, and non-hysterical; in other words, we are to “fear not.”
A faithful listener sent me this timeless wisdom from CS Lewis, from 72 years ago. He was writing about the atomic bomb, but he might as well have been writing about coronavirus.
In one way we think a great deal too much of the atomic bomb [or the coronavirus]. “How are we to live in an atomic age?” I am tempted to reply: “Why, as you would have lived in the sixteenth century when the plague visited London almost every year, or as you would have lived in a Viking age when raiders from Scandinavia might land and cut your throat any night; or indeed, as you are already living in an age of cancer, an age of syphilis, an age of paralysis, an age of air raids, an age of railway accidents, an age of motor accidents.”
In other words, do not let us begin by exaggerating the novelty of our situation. Believe me, dear sir or madam, you and all whom you love were already sentenced to death before the atomic bomb was invented: and quite a high percentage of us were going to die in unpleasant ways. We had, indeed, one very great advantage over our ancestors—anesthetics; but we have that still. It is perfectly ridiculous to go about whimpering and drawing long faces because the scientists have added one more chance of painful and premature death to a world which already bristled with such chances and in which death itself was not a chance at all, but a certainty.
This is the first point to be made: and the first action to be taken is to pull ourselves together. If we are all going to be destroyed by an atomic bomb, let that bomb when it comes find us doing sensible and human things—praying, working, teaching, reading, listening to music, bathing the children, playing tennis, chatting to our friends over a pint and a game of darts—not huddled together like frightened sheep and thinking about bombs. They may break our bodies [a microbe can do that] but they need not dominate our minds.
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