Happy Anniversary of Two Weeks to Flatten the Curve! (A Defense of Christians’ COVID Response)

The Question

Yesterday was the one year anniversary of “Two Weeks to Flatten the Curve!” On the same day, a friend of a friend was asked, essentially, why are so many Christians “disbelieving the science” and are “so brazenly uncooperative with mask-wearing, social distancing, et al.?” That’s a good question, one that the public needs to hear an answer to. Because the “Christian view” is worth elaborating, and defending.

Some People’s Kids

I put the “Christian view” in scare quotes because it’s impossible for me here to write about THE Christian view, because there is no one Christian view. But I can describe the view of many Christians. And I don’t know who or what this friend of a friend has observed, but I can guess. So let’s just get out of the way that plenty of Christians fail. This person may have seen Christians violating their own Word, and acting arrogantly, and carelessly. THAT is not available to us. The Old Testament law that required building a parapet around the roof of a house (Deut. 22:8) compels us, in love, to live in a proactively careful way with our neighbor.

But it’s very possible this person has been offended by watching Christians operating on the very principle of love. It’s possible this friend of a friend has observed Christians who are compelled by proactive, careful love for their neighbor. Let me explain.

First, Principles

First, note that many Christians are driven by two beliefs in the area of science. First, the belief that God is real and, in some ways, understandable. He made Himself most real and understandable in His Son, who came as a man, like us, for us. Thus, in the area of science, we believe that whatever science says is true can be verified, eventually, because its claims will correspond with something that is, you know, true.

But secondly, man is not perfect. Man is fallen. Christians expect that science will proceed not in a straight line, but “one death at a time” – not the death of people, but of hypotheses and theorems.1 One hypothesis is accepted by everyone, sometimes for a long time, until it’s weighed and shown to be false, and then it dies. Looking at you, medieval church, regarding Galileo.

Thus Christians have an allergy to “Gnosticism”, in all its forms. Gnosticism is an ancient form of religion that ignores the fallenness of man, and instead requires blind faith in “anointed” people who claim to have a “higher knowledge” – visions that cannot be weighed and verified. The only way you can understand this anointed “higher knowledge” is if you too have become “enlightened.” Gnosticism is precisely what our culture’s COVID response has come to resemble – a pseudo-religion where the populace blindly puts its faith in those “anointed saviors” with a “higher” knowledge that is so often incomprehensible, and therefore disconnected from the true and the real.2 This is not science – it’s “scientism”: the bastard child from the illegitimate mating of science and politics. To this, Christians recoil. Especially when the anointed ones’ “higher knowledge” so often just happens to agree with their political tendencies, towards incoherent, oppressive governmental control.

The Wisdom of Steve Martin

To repeat, for clarity: Christians very much believe in “science,” but many are skeptical when someone talks about “the” science. Whenever I hear that definite article, it reminds me of an old SNL skit, with Steve Martin playing Theodoric of York, Medieval Barber:

Joan (enters with her sick daughter – played by the late Gilda Radner): Hello, Theodoric, Barber of York.

Theodoric of York: Hello, Joan, Wife of Simkin the Miller. Well, how’s my little patient doing?

Joan: Not so well, I fear. We followed all your instructions – I mixed powder of staghorn, gum of arabic with sheep’s urine, and applied it in a poultice to her face.

Theodoric of York: And did you bury her up to her neck in the marsh and leave her overnight?

Joan: Oh, yes. But she still feels as listless as ever, if not more.

Theodoric of York: Well, let’s give her another bloodletting. Broom Gilda!

Broom Gilda: Yes, Theodoric.

Theodoric of York: Take two pints.

Broom Gilda: Yes, Theodoric.

Joan: Will she be alright?

Theodoric of York: Well, I’ll do everything humanly possible. Unfortunately, we barbers aren’t gods. You know, medicine is not an exact science, but we are learning all the time. Why, just fifty years ago, they thought a disease like your daughter’s was caused by demonic possession or witchcraft. But nowadays we know that Isabelle is suffering from an imbalance of bodily humors, perhaps caused by a toad or a small dwarf living in her stomach.

Joan: Well, I’m glad she’s in such good hands.3

Christians don’t assume that we are “in such good hands,” because we know that what “we know” is not necessarily, well, what we know.

On the other hand, we also know that governmental authorities are given by God for our good. Where their response to the coronavirus has been courageous and sober, we are thankful. We understand that they have had to learn and adjust, as we all have, as they’ve gone along. This we know, and it does not detract from our gratitude for the lives that our government’s intervention has saved.

And yet, on the other hoof, we can have that gratitude, and still ask, like kids on a playground, Why?, and Who says? These are questions drawn right from a biblical worldview, and they happen to be really wise – they keep us from becoming Joan’s under the knives of governmental Theodoric’s. And there have been plenty “Theodoric” moments in our government’s response to COVID.

Out of Thin Air

For instance, it is now clear that the six-foot distancing rule came out of thin air. Well, that’s not entirely true – it came from a high school science fair project.4 And much of our government’s messaging has come directly from the climate change doom-mongering playbook. Turns out that the “Little Boy Who Cried Wolf” story had some wisdom to it. And thus many Christians have walked with understandable suspicion for the usefulness of the government’s rules.

But, Love!

But all of this still leaves the pesky question of whether a Christian is loving their neighbor, by allowing too much possibility for spreading the virus. After all, it’s indisputable that the virus has a “fat tail” – one infection can lead to many other infections. Thus it’s different from a bad vaccine – in that case, it’s just the person who got jabbed who dies or suffers from complications.

But to this question, many Christians will simply point out that it’s not that they are not loving their neighbor. In reality, they are simultaneously accounting for a complex assortment of factors that affect their neighbor, and how they love their neighbor:

  • How to carefully “build the parapet” for our friends and loved ones
  • While accounting for the very low rate of mortality of the virus
  • While accounting for the inanity and relative uselessness of many of the government’s emergency rules (not to mention the number of politicians who do not abide by their own rules)
  • While accounting for the reality of fallenness
  • While accounting for the destruction that the government’s “course of treatment” has had on the “patient”. We can’t just say, “Well, it can’t hurt!”, because, in love, we see that it actually does hurt.
  • While accounting for the freedom, under certain circumstances, that the Bible gives Christians to disregard government’s orders (I discuss this here)

I hope you can see that, in all of this, the Christian is crafting their love for neighbor with a fairly sophisticated level of thinking. Yet at bottom we simply want better for our town and its people. It’s a great town. We want our neighbors to be safe, but also to live in that biblically-informed ideal of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Thus love compels us, to protect and live carefully with our neighbor, while at the same time not just going with the flow. Only dead wood floats downstream.

Thus the Christian hates it when she sees teachers and parents and students hamstrung by decisions made by politicians and unions from a distance – like an artillery shell fired from miles away, the ancillary damage of which the gunner has no knowledge of. The present “school reopening” decisions are completely out of touch with common sense and real life. But the distance allows those bureaucrats plausible deniability, and the ability to lie and say that schools are “opening.” Yet all the while they take significant decisions out of the hands of those with the most at stake. The Christian sees this and hates it – out of love for parents, children and teachers.

In the same way, the Christian loves the guy who sells him his fish tacos, and thus hates it when he sees his business going under.

The Christian loves his friend the soccer club organizer, and the kids he serves, and thus he hates it when he sees inane, ridiculous restrictions on whether it’s safe to kick a soccer ball in a park.

And yes, the Christian – out of love – hates the pain and suffering experienced by so many people who have had COVID. There is no escape from love and hate. It’s not whether, but which – which thing you love, and which thing you hate.

Big Hate, Because Big Love

But what gospel Christians hate most of all is that people would resolve their fears by putting faith in a president (red or blue) or a governor (or his recall) or a vaccine (or avoiding the vaccine) or scientists (or scientism), all the while forgetting that, whatever happens, every doctor eventually loses 100% of his patients. Every person that Jesus healed in the Bible still eventually died. The real question is not whether you die, or even how you die. The real question is what you will have, after you die.

The Christian worldview, in the end, is not about who’s getting COVID “just right” – because nobody is, perfectly. The Christian worldview does, however, offer a wise and sophisticated way of dealing with COVID, because it draws from the deepest wisdom: how to deal with our greatest enemy – death. Because at the center of our worldview is a real person, who really walked the earth, who really died in our place, for the forgiveness of our sins, and who was really raised from the dead – that we may share in his power and life.

In the end, Christians’ response to COVID is a sign of hope – that abundant, unending life, victory over our greatest fear, can be found. A living, unbreakable hope – that can sustain us through every fear, right up through our last moments. The Christian worldview is wise, because it is founded on Wisdom itself. By faith, in Jesus, risen from the dead. When you look at a Christian, you just might be seeing, not a brazen display of arrogance, but a strong hope at work. I pray God would show you that hope. Because that Christian, and their church, is a sign, that soon, the only question that will matter will be whether you have the resurrection life of Christ – or not.

1 Max Planck: “A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it.”2 Albert Einstein: “Blind obedience to authority is the greatest enemy of the truth.” To Swiss teacher Jost Winteler, with whom he boarded while attending school in Aarau, complaining about a professor who would accept no criticism, July 8, 1901. CPAE, Vol. 1 Doc 115

3 https://snltranscripts.jt.org/77/77rtheodoric.phtml4 https://www.nytimes.com/2021/03/16/health/coronavirus-schools-social-distance.html