With the omicron variant stirring things up in new ways, we face the discouraging prospect of moving back into more restrictions as Year Two of the Coronavirus plods on into what may well be Year Three. Many people who have been quietly compliant, including many Christians, are now murmuring against the constraints and against the powers that be who impose them. Skepticism, even cynicism, beckons—about public health officials formerly accorded respect, about politicians formerly accorded cooperation, even about pharmaeutical companies and medical professionals formerly accorded admiration and gratitude.
What is a person, a citizen, and a Christian to make of what’s happened, what’s happening, and what’s to happen? Here are a few thoughts.
We should expect more ambiguity, ambivalence, and even contradiction from our experts. The science regarding COVID-19 has been complex from the beginning, with some facts taken for granted by everyone, other information seemingly reliable giving way to very different data, and many questions still not satisfactorily answered. That’s how science often works in real time.
For scientists to “flip-flop” may be a sign of stupidity. But it’s more likely a sign of humble recognition of an earlier understanding giving way to a later one as both information and interpretation improve. (Would we want scientists to stubbornly refuse to change their minds in the light of better evidence and ideas?)
Waiting until there is a firm consensus makes sense—if we can afford to wait. But if there are other considerations, such as public health mandates affecting livelihoods and life together, then the rational choice is to go with the expert consensus, however fallible and even fractured it might be. The alternative is the madness of everyone deciding for himself or herself.
We should expect more stumbling from our politicians. First, most politicians didn’t get into the offices they hold because they proved themselves to be astute at handling unprecedented crises. They were elected because they were good at fundraising, influence-peddling, deal-brokering, and speech-making, precisely none of which skills are helpful in handling a pandemic. So guess what? They’re not very good at handling a pandemic.
Second, who would be good at handling a pandemic? Every policy consideration is complicated in the extreme: schooling and day care, businesses large and small, transportation both personal and commercial, healthcare economics, the balance of civil liberties and public health worries, and more.
Third, politics in the real world is always awkward, always stumbling, always under- or over-reacting and never hitting the sweet spot of graceful competence. It is always an unfathomable ocean of crosscurrents, a bewildering matrix of conflicting agenda, mixed motives, contrasting interests, various forms of power, stupidity, and venality. What, seriously, do we expect of politicians and political systems that can barely keep the roads paved, the schools open, the hospitals supplied, and the borders safe at the best of times?
We should beware overreach from the powerful. Crises prompt elites to do more than they should, both because they can and because they often feel they must. The last couple of decades have seen Canadian courts, legislatures, universities, professional colleges, and other powerful institutions acknowledge civil rights, and particularly religious rights, as guaranteed by the Charter of Rights and Freedoms only to then set them aside in the name of some putative greater public good.
Yes, many Christians in Canada, as is true of our American cousins, whine about the loss of Christian prerogatives in our post-Christian societies. But many also rightly warn about an entrenched, growing, and unapologetic secularism that demonstrably discriminates against religious individuals and groups, abrogating conscience rights for physicians, nurses, and pharmacists in bioethical zones while making it steadily harder for Christian schools and charities to fulfill their distinctive missions. Everyone and everything, it seems, must conform to the ethical norms of the consensus of post-Christian Canadian progressives.Read the rest of this entry »