“Perfect love casts out all fear” (1 John 4:18)
Once upon a time we would go to war, believing that it was worth sacrificing millions of lives, if necessary, to maintain our freedom. Now we do exactly the opposite. We sacrifice our freedom for the sake of preserving lives.
When I was entering my teens, the Vietnam war was still going. I assumed then that it would go on indefinitely and that when I turned eighteen my name would go into the lottery and I too might be called up. I dreaded the prospect, though, even then, I could understand the rationale of conscription and why my dad supported it so strongly. Our society had been built on democratic principles that enshrined fundamental human freedoms. Those freedoms were under threat from the godless ideology of Communism (or so we had been told) and so it was right and proper that we stand together to defend our country and protect those freedoms, even if it meant that countless numbers of our young men must die, perhaps including me!
Times have changed. I thank God that I did not have to go and fight in Vietnam, and I am now unequivocally opposed to the practice of conscription. That’s because I no longer believe the way our wars are sold to us – as noble causes. The ‘domino principle’ that was used to justify the stand in Vietnam turned out to be vacuous. We had no business being in Vietnam any more than we did in Iraq, Afghanistan or Syria. I no longer believe in conscription because I don’t trust the government. Even so, I accept the basic principle, that there are things worth dying for, and that we should be ready to pay a cost to defend our freedoms. So … what happened?
I remember when lockdowns were first announced, I posted a video on Facebook, expressing concern and suggesting that we should think about where we draw the line. If we accept social distancing and stay-at-home orders, is there a point where we draw a line? When we’re no longer allowed to embrace our children – is that where we draw the line?
I posted that in March 2020, and received an immediate call from my bishop, asking me to take it down. He said, “nobody is saying that we can’t embrace our children”, as if I had ventured into the absurd. I took the video down. Within a few weeks of that phone call I watched news footage of a man disembarking his plane in Darwin where his young son ran up to embrace him. Dad stepped back with his hands in the air. Lockdown rules had come into force while he had been in flight and, indeed, the man was forbidden to embrace his child.
Not long after that my position as parish priest was terminated – a position that I’d held for thirty years. At least that meant I could repost my video. Yes, I’ve been able to speak freely ever since, though no doubt many had hoped that by denying me a pulpit, I’d be left preaching into a void.
I have never accepted, and I do not accept now, that what is driving our government’s response to this ‘great pandemic’ is purely a concern for public health. That is largely because the statistics do not justify, and have never justified, the level of totalitarian response we have endured.
Yes, people have died. Indeed, a good friend of mine died from COVID 19. He died in Syria and not in Australia, but I don’t deny for a second that the virus is real and deadly. Even so, there are a lot of things in this world that can kill us, and of course governments should play some role in trying to protect us, but it’s a matter of balance.
The roads can be deadly. People die every day from car accidents but we don’t reduce the national speed limit to 40 km/hour, even though we know full well that this would save more than a thousand lives each year!
We know that by allowing families to build in-ground pools in their backyards that the number of domestic drownings will inevitably increase. We still let them do it.
We know that by banning the sale and consumption of alcohol, as the US did for a full thirteen years (between 1920 and 1933, road deaths would be reduced, domestic violence cases would decrease, and there would be way less brawling on the streets. Even so, not only do we not ban the sale of alcohol, but even in the most serious lockdowns, the sale of alcohol has been considered an essential service!
I simply do not believe that public health was ever the sole and sufficient reason for locking down huge numbers of healthy people, and if it were, surely more weight would have been given to the health cost of the lockdowns.
Lockdowns destroy small businesses and lose people their jobs, which in turn causes stress, poverty, depression and domestic tensions. Moreover, while lockdowns may only be a minor disruption for the well-to-do and the well-healed, for those who are on the edge, lockdowns threaten to push them over the edge.
As I mentioned, I have lost one friend to COVID. Even so, I know of seven who have died through suicide during these lockdowns. One of the boys in my boxing club told me one night of how he had gone to see his dad but got there to find that he had hanged himself. How do you recover from something like that?
I read that during the Melbourne lockdown, youth suicide rose by 180%. I’m surprised it’s not more.
I haven’t had paid employment myself since I lost my position in the church and I’ve been struggling. Lockdowns are suffocating. The universe no longer seems like a friendly place. Stopping the pain through self-destruction starts to look like a credible way forwards. It is not, of course. It never is. Even so, I have felt the pull from the abyss, and I weep for those for whom that pull has been just too great.
We used to think that freedom was worth dying for. What happened? Well … the narrative changed.
In today’s official narrative we are indeed at war, but the enemy is COVID and we are all standing together to fight against it.
Yes, we will all have to endure some hardship and, inevitably, some will have to sacrifice more than others, but once we have achieved victory over the virus enemy, all these hardships will soon be forgotten. The economy will bounce back, small businesses will thrive again, the government will relinquish all emergency powers, and electronic tracking and surveillance will be gone forever. Those who suicided will all be resurrected. and we won’t even remember what social distancing was as we’ll all be too busy embracing one another in celebration!
Does this sound about right?
The only thing that makes the official narrative look plausible is that the counter-narratives, most of which point to secret cabals plotting the destruction of the human race, look even less plausible. Personally, I don’t accept any of these narratives. Rather, I believe that what is driving the worldwide response to the virus are the same twin forces that drive just about everything else in this world – namely, the lust for power and money, both of which feed on fear.
Fear sells newspapers, fearful populations are easy to control, and, of course, in this extraordinarily litigious culture, both companies and governments are terrified of being sued should they be held responsible for someone’s death because they did not do enough to protect them!
The institutional church works exactly this way. I remember while I was still in seminary hearing a bishop warn us that we (the church) must be careful not to apologise to our Indigenous population lest we be sued like the church in Canada which was then looking like it might soon be insolvent! I said to the bishop then, “but shouldn’t we just do what is right and let the chips fall where they may?” I don’t think I received an answer.
With any large company or government or institution, the bottom line will always be the bottom line, and so the church can’t take the risk of allowing people to worship for the same reason we can’t take the risk of being honest about our history.
We cannot open the way for scores of litigants to come forward and say “my grandma would still be alive if you had only closed the doors of the church”. No! We must do whatever is necessary – close the doors, stop people singing, talking, embracing, deny the faith if we have to … just protect the bottom line!
There are alternate paths out of this mess.
For our leaders, we need them to be guided by love rather than by fear. As the Apostle John said, “perfect love casts out all fear”. (1 John 4:18), If love is too much to ask for, just a basic respect for human dignity will do.
For the rest of us, we need to be willing to take personal responsibility for our own health and leave the government to focus on their real job – protecting our freedoms!