10 I have come that they may have life, and may have it in all its fullness.
John 10:10 – REB
I’ve been a member of possibly the last ever generation to be brought up as Christian as a matter of course. Those responsible for my education as a boy would find that shocking; in the 1950s it was the perfectly natural way of things. Then, as I got older, I started picking up that some people thought that Science had overtaken God; that Science had made God unnecessary; that Modern Science had even killed God (as Vaclav Havel claimed). This was almost the default position of anyone who left school in the 1960s.
Reflecting on recent events, I’ve found myself wondering what we’ve learned from the events of the last few months, and how what we’ve learned may impact our worldview. It’s been a momentous period in all our lives, momentous enough surely for us to have learned something about ourselves and the world that will affect how we live our lives in the future?
You’ll have your own list, but for me these are some of the things that we’ve learned:
- Our world is defined by instant, global, communication. One side-effect of this seems to be that many people are now easily terrified and more prone to mass hysteria, in a way that previous generations would have struggled to understand.
- We’ve learned that not all ‘experts’ in their field can be relied on to put forward facts that have been peer reviewed and are universally accepted. At the same time, we’ve been starkly reminded that Science itself is not ‘fact’, but is open to interpretation, and sometimes yes, even to bias.
- We’ve learned that the majority of the Media now seem to view their responsibility as being not only to scare citizens, but also to soften them up for the loss of personal liberties, on a scale that would have stunned our ancestors. There’s been scarcely a murmur of dissent about this.
- We’ve learned that our news is now almost totally devoid of old-fashioned ‘investigative journalism’ – why do we still, for example, not know what obstructed our obtaining the PPE and tests that our health and care workers required, at the key moment in the crisis?
- Not only COVID, but also the Black Lives Matter protests, have taught us that our nation is now surprisingly susceptible to self-loathing.
- We’ve learned that our nation is still capable of great innovation. The mass production of ventilators and the creation of the Nightingale hospitals underline this.
- We’ve learned that views on television, radio and the Internet are so varied that it’s now almost impossible to separate facts from lies and fake news. This seems to be getting worse. We seem to live in a world where everyone is an expert at absolutely everything and humility (a Christian virtue) has evaporated as a result.
- The NHS, so often in recent years described as close to collapse from lack of money, has shown us that it’s far more resilient than we could ever have anticipated. It must be acknowledged that some of this has been caused by self-rationing by a terrified public, but it’s still good news.
- We’ve learned (surely?) that it’s very easy for governments to be scared into making wrong decisions – there have been several examples of this in the Education sector in particular. We’ve also learned that many governments (and some Police) can’t resist the temptation of removing liberties from citizens and sometimes behaving in a dictatorial way.
- We’ve learned that we’ve become very intolerant; no-one in government is allowed to make an honest mistake in an impossibly challenging situation; they must be lynched for the smallest error.
- We’ve learned that basic understanding of Mathematics, and the ability to interpret statistics, is very poor in much of the population and the media. Do people genuinely feel that there is no difference between an absolute number of deaths, and deaths per million head of population?
- We’ve learned, in a way that may be hugely beneficial in future, to be very wary of algorithms; we’ve been taught the hard way that they’re no more robust than someone’s opinion. We’ve learned that the more unknown aspects of a problem there are, the less reliable is the algorithm.
- We’ve learned that, however much we may in principle support trans-national organisations, when push comes to shove, countries will care for their own, at the expense, if necessary, of all others, even the weakest. We haven’t yet even begun to face up to what this global shutdown will mean for the poorest nations.
- We’ve learned that common sense can easily become a victim of fear.
Many of these lessons are negative. But above all, I think the best thing that we’ve been forced to accept, is how little we understand our own bodies and the world around us. We still, many weeks into this crisis, have little understanding of COVID, how it works, how it’s transmitted, how it has evolved, how to protect ourselves against it, how our bodies’ defences work in detail, and a whole host of other really important scientific and medical issues. This is positive if it spurs us on to a new age of research, discovery and understanding, as surely it must?
We’ve always known, but have had to learn all over again, that our mental health depends hugely on our own sense of hope and optimism and that we abandon Christian hope at our peril.
And I pray that in the process, we’ve also learned that God has not been killed by Modern Science. God wants us to enjoy life in its fullness, and that means that we need to reflect on how far we’ve come, how much we have to be grateful for, and how lucky we are that God has given us an opportunity to re-evaluate what the important things in life are. And we should also view it as positive that we have had to learn the hard way that we are not infallible. Amen.