“Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul.” (Matthew 10:28)
Human beings were created to live in community. Indeed, I don’t believe it is possible to enjoy a full life unless you’re part of a good community – fellow human beings who you can call home.
This doesn’t seem to be the case for all of God’s creatures. Whenever we go away for the weekend, my beloved youngest daughter gets concerned about our pet bunny – how she’s going to cope without our company.
I do think bunny likes have us around. Even so, I don’t think she gets too stressed about being alone either, as even when we’re both at home she generally prefers to sit by herself. I, on the other hand, never like to sit by myself. Indeed, I never like to be too far away from my children, my partner, my friends, my community.
As a person of faith I see our communal nature as a reflection of the divine image within us (Genesis 1:27). “It is not good for man to be alone” (Genesis 2:18) is the first judgement made about the human condition in the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures, before any discussion of right and wrong and sin and death. We were born to live in community and our destiny is the Heavenly community. Why then do we allow our governments to destroy our communities and rob us of our humanity?
As human beings, we connect with one another through our four senses – sight, sound, touch and smell. We’re not always connecting through all four of these senses at the same time, and some are more important than others in different contexts. Even so, I believe that all four senses do need to be engaged in true human community, and what happens when we go into lockdown is that we are immediately robbed of at least two of the four.
Being in lockdown means we can’t touch each other. Yes, for the most part, we are still permitted to touch our sexual partners and our children – our nuclear family (if we have one) – but anyone outside of that tight circle has to be dealt with at an arms length (a 1.5 metre length, to be exact). We cannot touch them. We cannot embrace them. We cannot pat them on the back or put an arm around their shoulders or ruffle their hair, let alone box, wrestle or rumble with them.
I’ve been running a boxing club for more than 30 years and I’ve been using boxing as a form of therapy for young people (and older people) in difficult circumstances. I truly believe that an essential part of the healing that can take place through my sport comes from the physical contact we share with each other. Boxing is a very non-sexual way of embracing someone, and when it is done safely and respectfully, it can be a very healing experience.
Similarly, I spent some years leading weekly wrestling classes in a juvenile detention centre, and I had many powerful times there with young men whose only experience of getting physical with someone had been when they were being abused. Being able to wrestle with these guys in a way that was respectful and safe helped them tap back into the good memories of family and community that they had left behind, and, apparently, my wrestlers were soon the best behaved inmates in the prison!
Physical touch can be a healing force. If you believe what you read in the New Testament, you already know this full well. Healing comes through touching! It worked back then and touch, I believe, still has the power to heal. Conversely, withholding touch, and preventing people from being able to be physical with one another, has the power to kill!
I still remember in my university studies in psychology, reading of the fate of children brought up in orphanages where they weren’t hugged as babies. Early in the 20th century, some of the ‘foundling hospitals’ in the US and UK, where young women would quietly deposit their babies in order to avoid all the difficulties of being an ‘unwed mother’, had infant death rates of close to 100%. As has been said, these babies were left in a little box out the front of the building, but they might as well have been dropped down a garbage shoot!
Similarly terrible statistics came out of the so-called ’child gulags’ of Romania when they were discovered in 1990 after the fall of Communist dictator, Nicolae Ceaușescu. Once again, what had destroyed these poor children was not any shortage of food or medicine, but a simple lack of touch and affection.
Human beings need to touch each other. It is a sacred right, and I believe this wisdom is built into the Hebrew word for skin or flesh – ‘basar’. Our ‘basar’ is what makes us human because it allows us to connect with each other through touch. Conversely, we must ask, if we cannot touch each other, can we be fully human?
The lockdown laws vilify human touch. By touching each other we spread disease! If I touch you, I may infect you, and if you go and hug your Grandma, you may kill her! Let’s bang elbows and try to convince each other that’s it’s the same thing, or wave at each other, while keeping a ‘safe distance’ to ensure that we don’t infect one another. This is not human community!
The lockdown laws dehumanise us by preventing us from touching one another. They also force us to cover our faces when we see each other in public, and this likewise breaks down community.
Prior to the virus, my only memories of seeing people wearing facemasks was from the old Samurai movies. The ninja’s would wear masks over their mouths (as indeed they did, historically) and the reason they wore those masks was to prevent the Samurai from forming a human connection with them.
The ninja were assassins, and it’s much easier to assassinate someone you don’t know. The person who has no face has no name and no personality. They move in the shadows, retaining their anonymity, or at least they would retain their anonymity if they didn’t have to sign in with a QR code everywhere they went.
Yes, Big Brother knows exactly who we are and where we are, even if those standing next to us don’t have a clue! This is precisely the opposite of how things ought to be and, again, this is not just a social and political issue. It’s a fundamentally religious issue.
‘The face’ in the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures is seen as a key point of connection in relationships, perhaps reflected most obviously in its metaphorical use, referring to the ‘face of God’.
‘Seeing God’s face’ (Genesis 32:30) is a special privilege that means you really know God, and so the ancient Israelites would pray that God’s face would “shine upon them” (Numbers 6:25). Conversely, we hear the desperate cry of the Psalmist to God, “Hide not Your face from me” (Psalm 27:9) because to hide your face from someone is to break the relationship with them.
Showing someone your face, like telling them your name, is a way of connecting with someone and it implies trust and a level of intimacy. Again this is reflected in the metaphorical use of the term by Saint Paul – “now we see through a glass darkly, but then face to face” (1 Corinthians 13:12).
By forcing us to hide our faces from one another, the government again deprives us of something sacred and defiles a fundamental point of human connectivity by associating face-to-face contact, not with intimacy, but with illness!
And so we substitute virtual relationships for real relationships. We can no longer properly see each or touch each other, let alone smell each other! We have been sterilised, ostracised, and virtualised (if that’s a word). In short, we have been dehumanised.
“How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity”, says King David (Psalm 133:1), reflecting on his community when it was at its best.
I wonder what a psalm about today’s Australia would look like – a country where rabbits roam free while human beings stay locked in their homes. A psalm about happy bunnies would cheer my daughter, but my concern is for her and for all our children. What kind of society are we leaving them?