Who’s right, who’s wrong, who hasn’t got a clue? Count me in that third category when it comes to the COVID-19 outbreak currently running its way through the population of most of the nations of the world. I have ideas, impressions, reactions, guesses, suspicions, and hopes; what I don’t have is solid answers. And I’m not alone, even among experts. Did I say experts? It’s a little difficult to cede that designation to anyone with great confidence, given the fact that even the most competent of researchers and physicians are still finding their way into the mysteries of this oddly behaving virus. Because of this, I have no interest in berating one side or the other regarding the best way to handle the political, medical, or economic challenges societies are facing.
By the time much of the trauma, recession, and finger-pointing have subsided, however, I do sincerely hope that we will have used the enforced “time-out” to do something of a reset. Simply the manner in which people have responded to the crisis and to the opinions of other people toward the crisis should tell us that something is askew. And while I write as a Christian, I believe the issues to be addressed are those with which anyone should be concerned. Simply stated, we should be well underway in the process of questioning our guiding principles, especially those that have been operating without our conscious permission. The questions involved are many, but they include these, at least: what is important to me and why; is what I declare to be important expressed in my reactions to events and statements about them; have my actions given testimony to the kind of person I want to be and profess to be; have I treated others fairly according to who they are as bearers of the divine image; do I need to reconsider some of those guiding principles?
The questions above are posed in the first person singular. While societies need to grapple with them on the larger scale, deferring personal responsibility for one’s own place in the world is not an option for successful living. That would leave us in the place the ancient Greek philosopher Socrates described as living the unexamined life–the one not worth living. The fact is that when most of the pandemic has subsided, one side or the other will have been proven to have had the best approach to handling the interactions among people. Maybe the tighter control will have been proven best; perhaps Sweden’s more subdued response will turn out better in the long run. Maybe it will happen that we could have done just as well with fewer restrictions. In any outcome, we will move forward. Will it be as better people, or will the toxic rhetoric simply continue with finger-pointing and shouting ruling the day? The former will only happen if we use the time in deliberate reflection, in the examination Socrates thought necessary for worthwhile living. For Christians, such reflection is an integral part of the renewing of the mind that transforms our lives.
Greek philosophy bequeathed to the west the categories of truth, goodness, and beauty. It was believed that by thinking upon these three that virtue would ensue and societies would prosper. The true, the good, and the beautiful, yielding the branches of philosophy we know as epistemology, ethics, aesthetics, would provide the grounding of our common life. Since the Enlightenment, however, confidence in the objectivity of these ideals has been slowly but surely eroding. First it was beauty that was questioned–it’s in the eye of the beholder, we have been told, not in any transcendent reality. Later, morality was subjected to the same fate; doesn’t everyone know that what’s good for you might not be good for me? More recently, truth itself has been called into question, such that everyone is said to be entitled their own “truth.” If these things be so, how can a society with various and mutually exclusive ideas of truth hope to succeed? What good will resets do if there is nowhere to land–other than in the story of those in power? So the warring parties contend for the right to dictate what will be regarded as true.
I said earlier that I write as a Christian. In this context, wherein I am espousing a serious, deliberate reset of our minds and actions, that cannot mean that we are best serving God or our fellow man by raising the pitch and volume of our voices with our understanding of the truth, hoping somehow it will be installed as the reigning story of the day. We are to be guided by virtues that transcend philosophies, even while being aware of what those are. We are called to the virtues of faith, hope, and love, none of which can be uprooted by any given philosophy or politics of the day. Nor should we become so attached to any philosophy or political vision that its demise will imply the falsehood of our belief in the reconciliation of all things through Christ. Our reset, then, is to measure the degree to which we have truly fixed our faith in the promise of the kingdom of God, our hope in its power to transform both the present and the future, and our love (God’s own love expressed through us by the power of the Holy Spirit) to both friend and foe. Where we find ourselves lacking–and we will–we resolve to encourage one another to press on. If we come out of the pandemic unchanged, we will have missed a wonderful opportunity. May it not be so.