There are some characters you meet online and never forget.
Such was the case with Wayne_in_Maine, who could come off as a sort of cranky or cantankerous old man and yet seemed (even then) to have a golden heart under the bluster. There is a way or an intuition I have, that can cut through the harshness on the surface. I can just know when someone is full of themselves and cruel despite their nice-sounding words or truly compassionate despite their surface-level unpleasantness.
Wayne was the latter kind.
The first thing notable about Wayne was that he was intelligent, he had been a nuclear engineer, could articulate his arguments well, and clearly was not going to be backed into a corner. The second thing was that he had a very unique journey and a different perspective from the other ethnic cultural inhabitants of the MennoDiscuss forum. He had gone from a hippy leftist to a conservative-minded neo-Anabaptist and could speak with authority on matters of science unlike the religiously indoctrinated parroting their fundamentalist teachers.
Initially, I saw him as a sort of threat to my worldview, another person compromised by secular influence trying to get Mennonites to shift to his views, and yet later his perspective would actually strengthen my faith when it faltered against the scientific evidence clearly pointing to the appearance of age in the universe.
Because of Wayne, I learned that young-Earth Creationism (or YEC) is not necessary to have a sincere and grounded faith in Jesus Christ.
In fact, it might actually be a liability and cause many to fall into a serious crisis of faith when they go to university, study biology or almost any science and find out the case for YEC is not as clear as it was presented. That Wayne, a rational mind and well-educated, could both reconcile modern scientific theory and his faith was more useful to me (a critical thinker) than some Hammy tourist attraction put there to feed the confirmation bias of fundamentalist midwits. I came around to his position and haven’t looked back.
I have long respected Wayne despite our sometimes clashing and my occasionally coming away feeling unappreciated by him.
He was a man a conviction. He gave up lucrative career paths, actually tried communal living, literally sold all from what I recall, and had come much further in developing his own perspective than most do.
However, despite my respect, Wayne’s version of Christianity didn’t appeal to me. He had, inadvertently, pushed a friend of mine away from Anabaptism with one of his responses. I still believe his take on the rich young ruler account misses the mark, where he read the response of Jesus as a sort of legalistic prescription rather the same as we understand Luke 14:26 where Jesus says if someone “does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple.”
I know, for a fact, that he did not take that literally. He came across, from my limited ability to see, as a very loving father and committed husband. I can’t imagine him hating his family to prove his commitment to Christ. Nevertheless, he was adamant about being completely Anabaptist in his perspective about wealth or warfare, an inconsistency of thought that bothers me about him and others of that fold. It did annoy me too when he characterized the Orthodox tradition as “smells and bells” as if worship was supposed to be something other than a beautiful or full sensory experience.
The Cancer and Change
After I heard about Wayne’s cancer diagnosis, none of our previous sparrings mattered much to me. Wayne, despite our differences, was a true friend and someone that mattered to me. It was especially important to me, given my mourning of Uriah, to talk to someone coming to terms with their poor prognosis and yet not giving up hope.
When I reached out on Facebook Messenger, mentioning Uriah and my desire to meet with him, he replied quickly and with more warmth than I had expected. There was no standoffishness, as had kind of been a feature of his personality, he reciprocated the desire to meet and we talked about various matters of faith.
I took a look at some of the MennoNet discussions he was involved in and got a laugh together about the various bad arguments being used. That’s one thing about him, his humor was dry and always fun, or at least fun when you were on the same side.
It was a sort of therapy, talking to this different side of the pragmatic engineer. Truly, it was special, the man that I saw emerge in this final trial was different. My own thought was that this was the Wayne that was always there under the snide comment and cynicism. Men can put up their walls, to not appear vulnerable, and that was no longer there. We were just two old keyboard warriors with nothing left to prove to the other.
And that’s not to take away from anything he said as far as the grace he was given to endure to the end. It was definitely something spiritual. His testimony of faith was clear. As a friend described him, in this transformed version, “It was like he became a totally different person. Happy, cheerful, optimistic.” He would not be defeated in death and I wanted to hear more about how a rational man, such as himself, given my own struggles, could continue in hope of the eternal.
I had to think of this Scriptural passage:
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls.
(1 Peter 1:3-9)
More important than all of his intellectual endeavors and Christian apologetics, theory or theology, is Wayne’s undying faith through trial is of the greatest comfort to those still in the fight. I never did get to have that face-to-face meeting that we had committed to upon his planned move to Pennsylvania to be closer to his daughter and grandchild. We had planned to meet in order to give us both something to look forward to when he did.
Now that meeting will have to change locations. Wayne took his final breaths yesterday evening, on August 12th, a couple of days after his 65 birthday. By God’s grace, in triumph, we’ll see each other on that other side.
I’m sad that Wayne remains a man that I’ve never met, in the flesh, despite our interactions over the years. However, in his terminal illness, there was also a man that I never met, that softer side, and feel blessed have finally met this man. I loved him and believe that he loved me too. I’ll remember our last interactions for much more fondly than our first. It was beautiful to see his golden heart revealed.
I’ll have to concede, I was wrong about face masks. Early in the pandemic, in January of 2020 while the corporate media ‘experts’ were saying that we should be more concerned about the seasonal flu. I was worried about this mystery virus in Wuhan and decided to get a box of N95 masks in case my fears were confirmed. I was ridiculed, at the time, for my warnings and telling people to be prepared.
Months later, as the “no human-to-human transmission” claim of WHO became too obviously false to ignore and the glib urgings of politicians for their constituents to visit China were replaced with terror, that confirmed my warnings. But now, with mask mandates and recommendations rolling out, many friends began to resist the idea. They weren’t going to wear a “face diaper” and ridiculed the idea that a bit of cloth would be effective against a virus.
Of course, they were a little right, cloth masks aren’t at all effective against stopping the spread of the virus and now the corporate media is finally conceding this. But still, based on laboratory experiments and filtration level, I believed my N95 masks were effective. However, laboratory conditions are not the real world and, eventually, even that became a question mark for me. Many countries also require facemasks with the masks because the masks are not adequate.
A few weeks ago, I may have overstated, I said that masks were completely ineffective at stopping the spread. Technically correct since the virus spread as much (or even more) in states with strict requirements and yet I’ve also ran into some convincing data that suggests the good masks, the N95’s with a decent seal, may make an 10% difference overall. So on this basis I’ll admit there could be marginal benefit.
The Wishy-washy Way To Truth
Many people, once they’ve made up their minds, never reconsider their stance. If they believe masks are stupid then they will use every excuse in the book not to wear one. I’ve heard them all. The fear about being dehumanized. That breathing carbon dioxide is dangerous. But then they’ll contradict by calling people who disagree “sheeple” and claiming that something that can stop carbon dioxide from leaving can’t stop a virus from entering, hmm?
This is called confirmation bias. People are emotionally invested in their ideas. It is not easy to admit being wrong after making strong statements one way or another. So, rather than be on an unbending quest for the truth, most people (including your’s truly) will seek out the information that ‘confirms’ an established position and ignore what does not. It takes much more effort to take an honest (and critical) look at the evidence and go wherever it leads. Few actually do.
Confirmation (or my side) bias is powerful because it is hidden under layers of fact and explanation that sounds rational. The position being guarded seems completely reasonable to the holder of the opinion, in their eyes they own the moral high ground, and those who disagree are simply ignorant, selfish or otherwise deficiencient. It is often this moral stake in the ground that makes it so hard to back off from an established opinion, we would rather continue in the righteous delusion than deal with the possibility the other side was right.
As the saying goes, “a man convinced against his will is of the same opinion still.” Even a mountain of evidence cannot uproot an established position. It is the same as a fortification on a hill that can hold off waves of an assault with few defenders. That hill being our ego, the banner flying our identity, and we cling to this ground because to lose it would cause us to question ourselves, ask the hard questions of if we are truly virtuous and good, if we are actually intelligent or fooled by our own desire to be right?
It is far easier to remain in the comfort of our own righteous delusion than to consider that the very foundation of our citadel of reason could be sand. We fear changing our perspective will mean we’re wishy-washy or, worse, might require us to examine the underpinnings of other long held beliefs and leave us with no bedrock to build on. Most of all, we fear the ridicule and abuse of our ideological enemies, we can’t let them win!
Powerful Propaganda to Innoculate the Masses
The point of propaganda is to build confirmation bias. The propagandist tries to encourage an emotional bond to an idea, often through appeals to popular prejudice, and yet not overtly or in a way that the targets know they’re being used. Almost every war is fought for the financial benefit of a few and yet sold as some righteous common cause.
For example, both sides of the American Civil War felt they were fighting for civil rights. Both sides used labor that was either property outright or treated like a rented mule. The Northern elites, for all their moralizing abolitionist hubris, depended on an industrial machine that exploited poor European immigrants, taking them right off the boat to send into dark mines, dangerous factory conditions or conscript them into the meat grinder of Lincoln’s war. The South, obviously, was fighting for the privilege of the slaveholding elites and yet convinced they were depending themselves from Northern tyranny and aggression.
Propaganda is about framing an issue in terms favorable to a particular side without ever appearing to be biased to the target audience. It is subversive by design, aims to overwhelm the true complexity of debatable mathers with simple sloganeering, refrains meant to be picked up by the midwits in media and then spread by the unsuspecting masses. The point is to convince the enforcers of the order, the common folk, that they are doing God’s work, being patriots, on the side of irrefutable science or what have you, when in reality they’re serving some undisclosed agenda.
Hitler did not rise to power by being the caricature of evil that we see him as on the other side of the conflict. No, rather, he had convinced enough of the German people that he was on the side of progress, that he would remove the causes of disease and suffering, then build their country back better than ever. The Nazis dressed up in a magnificent authoritarian style, it might look bad in retrospect, knowing where it was leading, yet was hope for a nation emerging from years of crisis.
The Safe and Effective Deception
As part of the propaganda campaign, to convince people to inject the controversial new vaccines, news articles repeated the “safe and effective” mantra over and over again. Both of those words are, of course, subjective. However, they are assuring and have a sort of sophisticated ring. Surely this sort of confident declaration is the result of rigorous science and more or less an unquestionable truth, right?
But the thing most egregious propaganda is not the downplaying and dismissal of the documented deaths or reasonable concerns of those who have studied history enough to know how quickly narratives change. They are simultaneously attacking treatment options, like Ivermectin, that are truly effective, cheap and present less of a risk than Tylenol. It is actually this that makes me distrust them as far as the vaccines. Why are they so adamantly against things that are actually safer than the vaccines and with a proven record?
Even as the new vaccines have proven to be ineffective as far as stopping the spread and preventing infection, despite the natural immunity of those who had the disease being up to thirteen times stronger than the vaccines, the current propaganda narrative continues that it is the unvaccinated are the real cause of the suffering. Nevermind that Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson all have financial ties to big media and make a windfall off of this new product.
Supposedly they’re completely trustworthy this time around?
Anyhow, each day I hear stories, that man a friend knew who faithfully wore a mask, had two shots, and then died after becoming sick from the Covid virus. We have the trickle of stories about vaccine related health complications, contaminated injections resulting in deaths and recalls of millions of doses, warnings from the very inventors of the mRNA technology, and yet told that we’re a conspiracy theorist to question. Those blinded by confirmation bias will never see.
The irony is that these moralizing finger-waggers, blinded by their arrogance like those self-righteous religious elites whom Jesus mocked in Matthew 23 (“If we had lived in the days of our ancestors, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood…”), are unwittingly aligning themselves with the modern variant of fascism. Their simple minds apparently cannot comprehend that the same evil, to avoid detection, can be dressed differently and that this time it is their turn to enable the tyrants and true fascists.
Real Fascists Please Stand Up
Fascism is a hard word to define, many dictionary definitions are insufficient or too narrow and do not give a sufficient description. The following quote (from an article, “What Is Fascism?”) gives a better picture of what the term is referring to and why some of us see this emerging in the current corporate and government institutional regime:
Mussolini coined the term “fascism” in 1919. The word “fascism” comes from the Italian “fascio,” meaning a bundle or group, and is considered a term for a militant brotherhood. The word “fasces” means an ax tightly bound with sticks, an image that became a symbol of the fascist movement, according to the History Department at King’s College in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania.
How is fascism defined? Robert Paxton, a professor emeritus of social science at Columbia University in New York, who is widely considered the father of fascism studies, told Live Science that fascism is “a form of political practice distinctive to the 20th century that arouses popular enthusiasm by sophisticated propaganda techniques.
Two common themes of fascism that Paxton lists “anti-liberalism, rejecting individual rights, civil liberties, free enterprise and democracy,” also “exclusion of certain groups, often through violence,” and I’ll add that fascists have tended to have an obsession with what they consider to be impurities. A particular German leader saw certain groups as being vectors of disease and thus justified their elimination.
So, the two primary elements of fascism, distilling this down, are this obsession with contaminates and the merger (or bundling) of power. The only real difference between fascism and Socialism is that the latter had been more concerned with class distinctions and the prior with racial difference. But, in the modern era, when the ‘Socialist’ left regularly uses skin color to divide people, and seem fine using corporate power to advance their social agenda, and are the masters of propaganda, it is basically a distinction without a difference.
Sure, they can call themselves “anti-fascists” or “Antifa” and claim that they’re only assaulting Nazis. But, come on people, a guy at the mall can wear a red suit, black boots, and call himself Santa—he’s still not going to come down your chimney with Christmas goodies. And look who is behind most of the violence across this country in the past few years.
Hint: It is not those individuals, totally unarmed, many of them military veterans, who entered the Capital Building on January 6th.
Not defending that either, they should be held accountable, but the difference is that these rioters do not have the corporate media shilling for them nor free reign of the college campus with their demands or sympathetic prosecutors who look the other way at their criminal behavior.
Like it or not, Trump supporters are not anti-democratic, not in the least, and simply wanted allegations of fraud and abuse to be heard. I mean, isn’t it is a little strange that the most well-armed part of our population would go into January 6th planning to take over the government and forget their entire arsenal at home? If it truly was an “insurrection,” as our totally fair and unbiased political establishment would have us believe, why did they not bring any weapons with them?
Night after night a Federal building, a court house, was attacked by far-leftists in Portland. In Seattle we had a whole section of the city taken over and declared an “autonomous zone” in defiance of the government. Over two billion dollars of damages, dozens murdered, in a summer of violence that our corporate media called “mostly peaceful protests” and yet we’re only talking about the wrongness of this one outburst? Propaganda much?
But I do digress.
Fascism is “anti-liberalism, rejecting individual rights, civil liberties, free enterprise and democracy,” and basically Marxism on steroids. In other words, fascism is authoritarian, collectivist, my tribe versus yours, willing to close private business (or churches) and undermine the democratic process to achieve their ends. So, ask yourself, who was asking for mail-in ballots that are an invitation for fraud banned in most countries? Who is asking for collective judgment (or pardon) of people based only on their skin color? Who was creating the dictatorial mandates, in name of keeping us pure of disease, at the expense of our freedom?
Those Who Defend “Papers Please” Are Fascists
My reason for writing this is the response to the meme below by some exceedingly ignorant people from my own Mennonite tribe:
The first response, a virtue signal about those dying in India, a total whataboutism, was completely insensitive to those suffering under the current nonsense. I’m pretty sure this smug individual won’t bother to watch this video nor ever question approved content they spew on social media. They can’t, they were raised in and remain in a religious cloister that taught them, “go along with the group” and “do as your told.” They might eventually drop the cultural costume some day, and yet they have not demonstrated any ability in our brief conversation to think independently or beyond the narrative being pushed.
So now that we’re talking about vaccine passports and literally forcing people to get an injection that has little or not value, that should not be necessary for those who have natural immunity through infection, and comes with the unknown long-term risks of any experimental new product, they still don’t see the problem?
I’m sorry, but only a fascist would be okay with this, because only a fascist is okay with “exclusion of certain groups” and take no heed of the individual rights or civil liberties of those who wish only to travel freely without harassment. To see the religious elites of the Mennonites not only tolerate, but enthusiastically endorse such policies, should send a chill up the spine of those moderate or apolitical in their ranks. These ‘educated’ nitwits don’t seem to get that the Nazi party came to power and won Germans over with the good they were doing—the Holocaust came later.
Part of my personal myth is that I was a “miracle baby,” spared from a very early demise by the medical intervention of nurses and physicians, including my uncle Elam, a pediatrician, who hand pumped air into my lungs while being transported to Geisinger Medical Center.
I had been born premature, suffered from a condition called Hyaline Membrane Disease due to my underdeveloped lungs, suffered a collapsed lung due to my hard breathing, and likely would have died without the advanced care that I received. I was a fighter, for sure, but my survival would depend on the skilled intervention of medical professionals.
My mother would tell me that story and also use it to remind me that God had a special purpose for my life. But what she didn’t tell me, until much later, is that my early trauma was actually caused by her doctor who induced labor.
My Medical Family
My mother had aspired to be a nurse. Even worked in a nursing home prior to marrying my dad. But life, including my sister and your’s truly, changed her plans.
However, as often is the case, these dreams of parents are sometimes fulfilled by the next generation and sometimes double. Both of my sisters are employed in the medical field and eventually even my mom found her way into a doctor’s office before eventually playing an instrumental role in the opening of Compassion Parochial Clinic.
My own role in all of this was to be my eldest sister Olivia’s first patient. Using her Fisher Price Medical Bag, she would check and treat my various imaginary ailments, and had her mind set on being a pediatrician like her well-respected uncle. And, after graduating high school, then acquiring a biology degree, she continued her education at Albert Einstein College of Medicine on Bronx, NY.
In fact, l feel that I may deserve a partial credit for having attended a lecture on the heart. Although, I may have missed the second half due to a terrible bout of drowsiness and was not the only one sleeping. Although, as a courtesy, I will not say whether or not my sister had succumbed.
Anyhow, my younger sister Lilian also picked a medical career, eventually became an RN, continued her education, and is now working on her licensing as a midwife. Her passion is welcoming babies into the world and is someone with a personality well suited for the job.
All of that to say that this exposure causes me to have deep respect those in this profession. One way to get on my bad list very quickly is to suggest that those in the medical field are only in it for the money and would deliberately keep people sick to cash in. Sure, there are bad eggs in every profession, some terrible doctors, but my sisters (like many of their colleagues) are there to help people get well.
That said, having family in medicine also removes some of the aura. My sisters are far more qualified to give opinions on medical issues than I am and yet they also are still human.
Doctors make mistakes, they’re fallible like the rest of us, with blindspots and bias. Plus they’re used to having totally ignorant people, who “did their own research,” challenge them on things they’ve spent years of their life studying, and can become tired of answering these inane statements—appear arrogant.
Physician: “Heal Thyself…”
People have very high expectations in regards to modern medicine. We’re supposed to go to the doctor and be completely healed.
But the reality is quite different from that. Once you get past the buzzing technology and laboratory developed chemical cures, the sterile well lit halls of institutions, our actual abilities are still quite primitive. Science may have given us better bandaid solutions than were available to our ancestors, yet there really aren’t that many miracles to be had.
My own expectations have lowered considerably after two injuries requiring expert examinations.
The first, diagnosed as Degenerative Disc Disease, brought me to the office of the renowned neurosurgeon, Dr. Rajjoub. I had terrible pain, loss of strength and feeling on my right side, my neck was really bad from what my family doctor saw on the MRI. My parents, after we waited what seemed hours, finally were escorted into the examination room and were full of anticipation.
Having done our own research, knowing the seriousness of my injury, it was quite certain that I would be under the knife soon. They would open things up, remove the bad, and fix me up better than new!
The physician strode into the room. He looked over the charts and images with intensity and then, without hesitation, “physical therapy” and started to turn towards the door. Stunned, my mom, speaking for the three of us, our mouths agape, “Wait, what?!?” It was as if he just told a blind man to rub mud in his eyes and was simply going to leave. He explained further, telling us about the risks of the procedures, how my neck movement would be limited after, and restated his recommendation.
Dr. Rajjoub was right. After weeks of therapy and further exercise at home, I was able to regain feeling and the use of my right arm. Sure, I occasionally have painful flare ups and may need the surgery some day, but the doctor had given me the right answer even if it was not the one that I wanted to hear at the time. Modern medicine has advanced, yet it is our body that still does most of the healing.
A Comical Contradiction
After tearing my ACL I met with an orthopedic surgeon to discuss the options available. Still active, I expressed my desire to get back in the game and he responded by recommending surgery. They grafted a part of my hamstring tendon in where the ACL had been and I spent the next few months becoming good friends with Rob and Bob at Keystone Care Physical Therapy and impressing the old folks there with my vertical leap.
Unfortunately, after a year of intense rehab, I was playing basketball and reinjured the repaired knee. So I went back to the orthopedic surgeon for a consultation and his advice? He suggested that maybe I slow down a bit, that I was no spring chicken anymore (a paraphrase) and should probably avoid strenuous activities. Excuse me?!? I had thought I went through the surgery and physical therapy so that I could actually use the limb, right???
But that’s typical of a doctor’s advice. He was trying to minimize the risk of my reinjuring my knee, to cover his own butt, and could I really expect him to say anything otherwise? To tell me to go full throttle again? I can understand why he would urge my caution. And still I can’t deny being disappointed. My thought had been that this surgery would allow me to pick up where I had left off and instead I got a cease and desist notice.
The Undiagnosed Nightmare
I’ve reconnected with an old school friend. I rode the bus with him for many years and we shared a first name.
It is quite astounding, actually, how we got reconnected. That being a story for another time. But one thing memorable about this old classmate is how he was always complaining about pain in his feet. At a younger age I had thought of him as being weak or a whiner. He had been diagnosed as being flat-footed.
However, it was a little clearer that there was something more seriously wrong when, in middle school, a fall, after a playful shove in the hall, resulted in a broken hip.
Anyhow, at our one-on-one reunion he would let me in on his the true source of his suffering and something that the medical professionals had missed. Something that doctors had initially told him was all in his head, that the genetic department of an area research hospital refused to even test, turned out to be Fabry’s Disease, a rare genetic disorder where the body is unable to produce a particular enzyme, which means the body is unable digest certain proteins, and is a death sentence if not properly treated.
He had gone through hell. A breeze on his skin felt like torture. They had treated him with addictive painkillers that basically turned him into a junkie. And his proper diagnosis came from an uncle who read a story about someone with similar symptoms, a revelation that prompted my friend to demand the diagnostic tests for the genetic disorder and only then did he finally receive the necessary treatment. The medical system had both failed and saved him.
The Miracle Hoped For…
Then there’s my cousin Uriah. Nothing, not the most advanced treatment in the world, could save him. The prognosis was never good, Synovial Sarcoma, but I held on to the hope that some new cure might come along, some miracle might happen, and he would survive.
It was hard to watch. First after one round of him taking poison, called chemotherapy and the only thing that will keep the corrupted human cells called cancer from growing, they decided that he would need to sacrifice his leg. This Uriah and his family did everything they could, he received top notch medical care at Walter Reed and elsewhere. But there was not much that could be done for him.
The limitations of modern medicine is a bitter pill. And those seeking ‘alternatives’ do not fare any better if diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer. I know many strong-willed individuals, in partial denial of the graveness of their condition, who traveled to places like Mexico for some kind of breakthrough treatment and suffered the same fate. Better technology may come along soon and yet disease and death is as natural as health and life.
There is a myth, popular in some circles, that if a person eats right and exercises they will be rewarded with long life. Uriah was one of the most fit and disciplined people I know, there was nothing he could have done better, he was dealt a bad card.
“In 2002 James lost his 19-year-old son after he collapsed while running. He had been diagnosed with a heart arrhythmia by a cardiologist a few weeks prior and was released from the hospital with instructions not to drive for 24 hours.
“His death certificate said he died of a heart arrhythmia,” he said, but my son really died as a result of “uninformed, careless, and unethical care by cardiologists.” He explained: “If you have a patient with heart arrhythmias of a certain level and low potassium, you need to replace the potassium, and they did not. And they didn’t tell him he shouldn’t go back to running.” Communication errors, he said, are “unfortunately very common.”
What is left out of this story is that a century ago he would have simply died from the arrhythmia.
In fact, only half a century ago my great-grandfather died, a middle-aged man, of a heart attack because there were no surgeries widely available.
So, truly, modern medicine is a victim of it’s own success, things have improved so much from the time when many people died of many diseases, even at a young age, that we now expect perfection. Our ancestors, not too long ago, would have no treatment options, whereas we demand answers when the treatment fails.
Those who expect too much will be the most sorely disappointed. Those who expect to be saved from suffering by science will some day be faced with a harsh reality and, likewise, those who believe that there’s a cure for cancer being withheld are equally delusional. This idea that we have complete control, that there should somehow be a cure for everything, is a product of our success in medicine and also ignorance of what this success actually means.
Sure, some of us, like my grandpa, may have died on multiple occasions had it not been for medical advancements like Penicillin, prostrate surgery and pacemakers. But, even now, with the great progress we’ve made, we’re still all eventually going to wear out. Our bodies have a shelf life and all the intervention in the world isn’t going to do much to change that. Eat healthy, exercise enough, avoid getting hit by a truck, and you might see eighty years, maybe more if you have good genetics. But we won’t live forever.
So, before we become too critical, rather than only dwell on the failures, we should look at the advancement and appreciate the success. Results will always be a mixed bag, even those who have received the very best care, men like Steve Jobs, do not live forever nor will you. Even Lazarus, brought back to life by Jesus, eventually died. And my friend, the one with the missed diagnosis, would long ago have joined Lazarus had it not been for modern medicine.
Recently, through the Freedom of Information Act, by request of Washington Post and BuzzFeed News, a trove of Dr. Fauci’s emails have been released and the revelations therein causing a great uproar online. On one side there’s the “I told you so” crowd doing their victory lap. While, on the other side, is the supposedly unbiased ‘fact-checkers’ and corporate media denial professionals trying to argue that there’s nothing to see here.
So, is Dr. Fauci a national hero, a seasoned expert who helped the nation navigate a crisis, or should his head be on a pike?
Let’s start with who Dr. Fauci is and why he is the focus of national attention…
Doctor in the Spotlight
Anthony S. Fauci, M.D., was born in Brooklyn, NY, on December 24, 1940, to parents who operated a pharmacy in the city, his grandparents were immigrants, he was raised Catholic and now considers himself to be a humanist. He was a standout basketball player in the private Jesuit high school he attended, went to Holy Cross University for pre-med, and then attended Cornell University’s Medical School. He married Christine Grady, in 1985, who is described as “an American nurse and bioethicist” in Wikipedia, and they have three daughters.
In early 2020 Fauci was selected to be part of the Trump administration’s White House Coronavirus Task Force (now serves as Biden’s chief medical advisor) and very quickly was singled out by the corporate media for his sometimes seemingly contrarian positions with the President. If anything, his elevated role and becoming the face of the pandemic response has more to do with partisan politics of those desirous use him as a foil against President Trump than it does with anything else. Even Fauci himself, in the emails, seemed confused about his new celebrity status.
There were many stories lauding Fauci. There is no indication that he wanted to become the public figure he has become. He did not have the power to tell states what to do. But now, because he was portrayed as this unquestionable expert, he has become symbolic of the shutdowns and mask mandates to many Americans. Fame, even if unasked for, is a two-edged sword. One can quickly transition from hero to heel once the spotlight begins to reveal their blemishes. By putting Fauci front and center of the Covid response, the partisans have given us ample reason to scrutinize just who he is.
I personally, as someone with a sister who is a medical doctor and another who is a nurse, I am also not comfortable with many of those trashing Fauci’s reputation. I’m equally opposed to demonizing him or trying him in the court of public opinion. That said, as one who has some life experience, I also understand the value of second opinions when it comes to medical interventions. Fauci’s opinion should have been considered one of many, as part of a task force, and should never have been positioned as a rival to the President. That was dirty politics, completely a media creation, and likely hurt the pandemic response.
The Politics of Pandemic
Ideally, in times of national crisis, where many lives are at risk, partisan politics would’ve been put aside and the nation would rally behind the leaders elected no matter their party affiliation. In that world, the President, informed by various economic and medical advisors, would make the executive decisions and government agencies would do their best to put these decisions to practice. However, in the current polarized hyper-partisan environment, and with a Presidential election looming in 2020, the pandemic was treated by many as simply another divisive political tool.
No world leader’s response to Covid-19 was perfect. For example, had European governments followed Trump’s lead and shut down travel from China early on in the pandemic we might have had more time to prepare. It is easy to forget, but before social distancing and shutdowns became vogue, many social elites were minimizing the threat and calling Trump a racist for warning the world about the virus. In Italy, for example, they were urging people to give hugs to Chinese people to prove their own virtue. Our Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, urged her constituents to visit the crowded streets of Chinatown in San Fransico.
Trump was criticized for urging calm and being a cheerleader once the danger of Covid was finally realized. And, before that, was criticized for shutting down travel from China and accused of fear-mongering for speaking out. He could not win. He was resisted at every turn while trying to take steps to prepare and then accused of literal murder for the deaths in this country as if the world was somehow doing better. Few here would know that the US death rate is actually lower than that of Europe, per capita, but the stories here would focus on death totals to build the image of Trump’s failure.
Fauci, on the other hand, was not allowed to be criticized. He was praised endlessly as a representative of science, as bold and unbiased, a source of all truth and wisdom. His word was to be treated as irrefutable, god-like, his perspectives treated as the only one that mattered, and Trump asked over and over again, “will you follow Dr. Fauci’s recommendations?” It was presented as this horrendous thing that Trump may not take this one man’s advice on how to respond, as if there weren’t teams of other advisors to be heard and other concerns to be considered.
Every smart patient knows to get a second opinion on serious matters. Even the best physicians, experts in their fields, can misdiagnose or prescribe the wrong treatment. And this idea that “following the science” means worshipping or never questioning, men like Fauci is pure ignorance. It is dangerous ignorance.
But, as ignorant, is holding Fauci to an impossible standard because others put him on a pedestal.
On one hand, I completely understand the resentment that some hold towards this man that has come to symbolize the economic destruction brought on by state governors following Federal guidelines. However, much of what is being said now, in wake of the released emails, is as unfair as the coverage of the previous administration. Those against mask mandates and economic shutdowns are doing the same thing to Fauci as the corporate media propagandists did to Trump. His comments, like Trump’s comments, are being ripped out of context by many commentators, without explanation, and that’s a problem.
Yes, some of the emails show that Fauci withheld certain ideas about the origin of the virus and was initially dismissive of masking, yet nothing I’ve seen so far is smoking-gun evidence of his wrongdoing. Of particular interest is his involvement in funding the Wuhan lab, during the Obama administration, and whether or not this may have been a conflict of interest. And then there is the ethical issue issue with “gain of function” research that must be explored. My goal is to give fair treatment to the man and offer my own perspective as far as the content of the emails.
To Mask or Not To Mask?
One of the most contentious issues of the pandemic was the mask mandates. These state level policies, following the recommendations of the Federal government, were viewed either as life saving and scientifically proven or as terrible infringements on liberty and pretty much totally ineffective.
My own leanings, as someone who purchased a box of N95 masks in January of 2020, is that masks offer a marginal protection, if the correct type and properly used, and yet the mandates were basically useless. First cloth masks don’t offer the level of filtration that is necessary to trap the water droplets carrying the virus. Second, some countries required both a face shield and mask because they determined that masks alone weren’t effective.
The typical mask you buy in the drug store is not really effective in keeping out virus, which is small enough to pass through the material. It might, however, provide some slight benefit in keep[ing] out gross droplets if someone coughs or sneezes on you. I do not recommend that you wear a mask, particularly since you are going to a very low risk location.
And also saying this:
Masks are really for infected people to prevent them from spreading infection to people who are not infected rather than protecting uninfected people from acquiring infection…
Now, I believe he’s right in both cases. Masks only offer minimal protection. Covid spread through factories where everyone wore masks and states with mask mandates really didn’t fare better than those that did not. I understand that urge people have to “do something” and there are several flawed studies that back up the idea that masking is beneficial. However, I really do not see evidence that it makes a significant difference. Real life doesn’t match up with laboratory conditions. And thus that was likely behind Fauci’s pragmatic first take.
What is a bit unfair about the criticism about this apparent reversal in opinion on masks is that we all change our minds all the time. Sometimes I may disagree with some of my colleagues on something, state my own perspective, and then later amend as new evidence comes in. However, what is disturbing is where Dr Fauci explains this flipflop as being protection of mask supply for medical professionals. In other words, he is basically admitting to having lied to the American people about the effectiveness of masks. If that is the case then he should not be given a free pass.
The ‘Debunked’ Lab Leak Theory
One of those banned topics on social media was the theory that Covid-19 may have come from the lab in Wuhan, China. It made sense, a deadly virus emerges at a market within walking distance of Wuhan Institute of Virology, why not put that laboratory on the list of suspects? But for some reason discussion of this possibility was forbidden until very recently when it was revealed, through US intelligence, that researchers at this lab had become ill shortly before the virus turned the surrounding city into a warzone.
The Fauci emails also reveal that this possibility, even that Covid showed signs of being engineered for “gain of function” research, were discussed. Now, frankly, this is just good forensic science. It would be more shocking had this never been considered at all. And the batting this idea around alone is not proof that this is what had actually happened.
However, that so many literally conspired, with a foreign entity, to suppress this hypothesis (Big Tech censorship stifling the online conversation, corporate media fact-checkers claiming it had been debunked, etc) should be a cause for global outrage.
Of course, the most laughable claim of media propagandists, at the time, was that it was racist to link the virus to the Chinese Communist Party. Nevermind this was from the same people who had no problem with taking aim at wet markets and bat soup. But somehow that criticism of Chinese eating habits wasn’t a problem while taking a closer look at a laboratory that was studying coronavirus and bats was inappropriate.
Anyhow, given that Fauci had come out in full support of gain of function research and also been a force behind funding the Wuhan lab. Could it be this history explains the private discussion, in emails, and simultaneous public denial? Possibly, yes. It is very clear there’s a conflict of interest. Of course there’s a reason for him to keep a lid on what could be proof of his culpability for millions of deaths worldwide.
The result of Fauci’s silence, and corporate media stupidity and bias, is that something that should have been thoroughly explored months ago is only now being openly discussed. This has given a totalitarian regime, known for deception, more than enough time to cover up the truth and their role. Precious time has been wasted on what could be the biggest crime against humanity in the history of humankind. We have experienced a death toll and economic damages greater than twenty nuclear bombs, countless innocent lives destroyed, and the likely culprit was protected by a web of denial, collusion between Big Tech, the corporate media and high ranking government officials—like Dr. Fauci.
If the January 6th fracas is worthy of consideration for a Congressional Commission, then we really should dig deeper and investigate the true cause of a global pandemic that killed millions. No, there’s no smoking gun in the Fauci emails, or least none that I could see, and yet there is more than enough reason to suspect that one of our leading experts had tried to keep a lid on the Wuhan lab theory because of his own ties to the research. And still our corporate media speaks glowingly of him, as if he could do no wrong, the fact-checkers scurrying to tell us there is no bombshell revelation in the emails.
Dr. Fauci: Authority or Arrogant?
One thing that the pandemic has revealed and the emails only further confirmed, is the complete arrogance of our institutions. For whatever reason Fauci and others felt it was okay to mislead the American people, to tell the so-called “noble lie,” and then they wonder why trust is waning amongst the people they’ve deliberately deceived? Meanwhile, those who should be holding their feet to the fire, our ‘journalists’ (who now also see themselves worthy to pick winners for us rather than simply report), embarrass themselves with their fauning praise.
Is Fauci the sole source of all real science and truth?
No, absolutely not!
Is he a total fraud unworthy of his position?
Well, that is something worthy of investigation and yet to be determined. Innocent until proven guilty is still the law of the land. And I do not believe in trials in the court of public opinion. Again, while there are questions of ethics and culpability to be answered, that our corporate media should be asking rather than singing his praises, nothing in the emails implicates him of a crime.
My own thought, knowing what is known, is that making Fauci the fall guy would be letting too many others off the hook. Sure, he represents an accountability problem with the political establishment and elites who are protected by their own interests at the expense of the American people. No, they don’t simply “follow the science” nor are they invulnerable to group think or free from all bias. They’re human, like us, they make mistakes, they have political agendas and hidden motivations too. It isn’t about secret conspiracies so much as it is a matter of human fallibility, in general, and arrogance.
Over the course of the past year Fauci’s name has become synonymous with authority and science. But much of that is smoke and mirrors. He is truly only one qualified voice of many and was only made the face of the pandemic as a way to undermine Trump. This is pretty much the only reason why he is loved by one side and loathed by the other. Politics. The politics of the pandemic cloud good judgment. And those caught in this political fray deserve better than to be torn up by the mob or raised up like saints.
Fauci, given the voting patterns of NYC and government lifers, is probably as Democrat as one could be. That could explain some of the looks of tension, and tedious corrections, when Trump used his layman’s terms during press conferences. But, unlike the media narrative that constantly pitted him against the President, the emails showed this conflict between the men was massively overblown.
In the end, Dr. Fauci has the swagger of a Brooklynite, cocky or confident depending on who you ask, and amazing stamina for a man his age. But he should have never been made a celebrity, never turned into this unquestioned authority on matters of science or used as a tool of partisan politics.
Being raised in a fundamentalist sect meant taking the Genesis accounts as being a historical narrative. I had been taught, and had for many years accepted without question, the idea that the veracity of the Gospel message hinged on the most ‘literal’ interpretation of the first book of the Biblical canon.
This understanding of this book had worked fine to get me through my school years. I gave my high school biology teacher, Mr. Toohey, an atheist who had once considered the priesthood, a headache debating the textbook claims about mutations, millions of years, and Macro Evolution. At this age, I thought this style of apologetics, debating science using the words of Scripture, was a key to securing the faithful against doubts and winning unbelievers.
Unfortunately, while this understanding may serve well those who do not venture too far from the Young-Earth Creationism intellectual ghetto, against what amounts to strawman versions of secularist arguments, it doesn’t hold up as nicely against a serious challenge and has left many religiously indoctrinated high and dry in their years in a university-level science program. There is a reason why many in my former religious tradition are terrified of higher education.
Even seminary was a synonym for cemetery to one of my childhood Bible-thumping pastors. It should make one wonder. If the foundation of faith is so flimsy that it can’t be tested, that it can only be sustained by ignorance, then what’s the point?
Sadly, it was a false choice, this dichotomy between science and religion, education and faith.
Getting the Cart Ahead of the Horse
The Biblical fundamentalists got everything exactly backward. The truth of Christ does not depend on proving the Scripture, word for word, is completely 100% historically accurate and scientifically verifiable. It is nice when those things do align, sure. And yet, no matter how many mundane parts of the Biblical narrative are established this way, the fantastic claims are never proven.
If a politician lists off ten facts and nine of them turn up true according to the fact-checkers, does that make the final most grandiose claim true?
No, no it does not.
One of the most persuasive tricks of liars is to hide their one falsehood amongst a long list of facts and true statements. And likewise, someone could prove 99.9% of Biblical claims and still not have touched anything of the miracles. The Bible is true because it says it is true might work for idiots and the indoctrinated, but it is always circular reasoning and there being a town of Bethlehem doesn’t mean Jesus walked on water nor establish His divinity and conquering of death.
No rational person believes that a prophet flew from Jerusalem to Mecca, on a half woman half horse with a tail of a peacock, because they read it in a book. I’m certainly not going to wear magical underwear because some dude, a few hundred years ago, claims he received golden tablets from the angel Gabriel. So why would any reasonable person expect someone to believe a book written thousands of years ago? Sorry, Ken Ham, I don’t care how many replica Arks you build, you’re not winning skeptical minds or hearts with this effort.
Human efforts fail.
When Sarai reasoned with Abram to produce an heir through her maidservant, how did that go for them?
We know it didn’t go too well and have the commentary of St. Paul:
Tell me, you who want to be under the law, are you not aware of what the law says? For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by the slave woman and the other by the free woman. His son by the slave woman was born according to the flesh, but his son by the free woman was born as the result of a divine promise. These things are being taken figuratively: The women represent two covenants. One covenant is from Mount Sinai and bears children who are to be slaves: This is Hagar. Now Hagar stands for Mount Sinai in Arabia and corresponds to the present city of Jerusalem, because she is in slavery with her children. But the Jerusalem that is above is free, and she is our mother. For it is written: “Be glad, barren woman, you who never bore a child; shout for joy and cry aloud, you who were never in labor; because more are the children of the desolate woman than of her who has a husband.” Now you, brothers and sisters, like Isaac, are children of promise. At that time the son born according to the flesh persecuted the son born by the power of the Spirit. It is the same now. But what does Scripture say? “Get rid of the slave woman and her son, for the slave woman’s son will never share in the inheritance with the free woman’s son.” Therefore, brothers and sisters, we are not children of the slave woman, but of the free woman.
(Galatians 4:21-31 NIV)
Here we see the contrast of human efforts “according to the flesh” and those of a spiritual and Divine origin. St. Paul emphasizes the “son” which is “born by the power of the Spirit” as an alternative to the “son” human reasoning that produced conflict and heartache.
It is amazing how many times St. Paul, and Jesus before him, encountered those who believed Scripture word for word and rejected Jesus as Lord. They, in many ways, had a stricter interpretation of the text than many of us do and did not face the strong headwind of modern science and philosophy either. And yet, even meeting Jesus in the flesh, seeing him with their own eyes, taking Scripture as literally as anyone, they saw Jesus as the imposter and rejected Him. So, how then can we be saved?
Fortunately, that question is answered many times over and over again, by St. Paul, and has next to nothing to do with the book of Genesis. The truth of Scripture is established on Christ, and His church, which established the canon of Scripture and does those “greater things” that Jesus promised would come through the power of the Spirit. Yes, we preach and teach, but only God can bring the increase. So, the apologetics industry starts us out on the wrong foot and doesn’t produce true faith in Christ.
Our salvation does not depend on our own understanding of a book. St. Paul, in Romans 9:16, states clearly, that our sonship depends on God’s mercy, not human desire or effort. Scripture is the cart, not the horse. We accept that the Bible is true because we believe in Christ, and His Church, not because we can establish it through our human reasoning or effort. Faith is a work of the Spirit, a gift from God, not a product of our knowledge or works. Those trying to ‘prove’ the Bible are on a fool’s errand. trying to save themselves, slaves to human reasoning, lost and confused.
What Does That Have to Do with Babel?
Hopefully, the Noah rode on a T-Rex crowd is too triggered with that intro, because now we shift to something they may find more agreeable and that being the even greater monument to human reasoning and effort.
But, first, the tower of Babel narrative:
Now the whole world had one language and a common speech. As people moved eastward, they found a plain in Shinar and settled there. They said to each other, “Come, let’s make bricks and bake them thoroughly.” They used brick instead of stone, and tar for mortar. Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves; otherwise we will be scattered over the face of the whole earth.” But the Lord came down to see the city and the tower the people were building. The Lord said, “If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them. Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other.” So the Lord scattered them from there over all the earth, and they stopped building the city. That is why it was called Babel—because there the Lord confused the language of the whole world. From there the Lord scattered them over the face of the whole earth.
(Genesis 11:1-9 NIV)
This story is likely the origin of the phrase, “men plan, God laughs.” Actual historical event, ancient myth or both, does not matter, the tower of Babel narrative is so much more. The account speaks to human limits and hubris, a true story told over and over again in history and a lesson repeated in different ways with each passing generation. The moment humans forget their place, begin to rely on their own cleverness and start to see themselves equal to their own Creator, the clock to destruction begins to tick.
These people, in the Biblical account, had somehow overcome the odds, they evidently were a resource-rich civilization, more powerful than external threats, and ready to cement their name in history. But just when heaven seemed within their grasp, the very thing that they had sought to avoid, being scattered, brought the entire endeavor grinding to a halt. Now Babel, the name a play on words that meant “to confuse,” is a synonym for colossal human failure. Sure, maybe it is an origin story for the diversity of language. But, undeniably, it is also a cautionary tale.
Other accounts tell us that this confusion of languages, by God, was to save humanity from the total destruction of another flood. In other words, it was an act of mercy to prevent an even greater calamity to end this project and scatter the people. But, more than that, it is a lesson about not leaving God out of the equation. What does that mean? Well, that means that we can’t see everything and, without humility to reign in our ambitions, we are an existential threat to ourselves. The proud fall because they cannot imagine the factors that they, in their overblown confidence, have missed.
Our Modern Towers of Human Arrogance
“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.”
(Isaiah 29:14 NIV)
History is replete with examples of bold declarations followed by catastrophe. Neville Chamberlain’s quip of having secured “peace in our time,” through a treaty with Adolf Hitler, comes to mind. Hillary Clinton was, according to the experts, most definitely going to win over Donald Trump.
But now it is time to tie all these threads together. The same thing that brought about the Protestant schism, also led to the Enlightenment, spread of Democracy, and, ultimately, the rejection of God.
This “age of reason” got off to a relatively good start, scientific discovery, development of technology, and representive government has enabled us to be more free and prosperous that many prior generations. However, as the tower of our knowledge and independent spirit rose, as we have made leaps in medicine, even landed a man on the moon, when American exceptionalism (the ultimate expression of Protestantism) finally conquered all, and our hegemony was nearly unchallenged, suddenly a day of reckoning seems to be upon us and this colossus, this oversized imagine of human endeavor, seems in danger of collapse.
A couple of decades ago it felt as if we were on the cusp of a new epoch. Racism vanquished, our old enemies irrelevant, the world connected as never before, the internet ready to put all knowledge at our fingertips and the stars seemingly within our reach. Secularism and science had triumphed over superstition and myth, we imagined no religion, nothing to kill or die for, as Coca-cola taught the world to sing. Former seminaries, our universities, forgetting God, became temples of human reason. “We didn’t need church or religion to be good people,” the atheists cried, while standing on the shoulders of theologians whom they dismissed, “in fact, we’ll go further without it!”
However, my own optimism has unravelled over the past decade or two.
Star Trek and the Jetsons still remains, firmly, in the realm of science fiction. The internet is a cesspool, filled with crackpot opinions, censored by billionaires bullies who pretend to be gatekeepers of truth while they spread misinformation, and nothing like a child of the 90s would’ve imagined. As church attendance slips, depression and drug usage has steadily increased—along with suicides and mass shootings.
Our universities, rather than continue to value free thought and expression, now have strict speech codes and safe spaces. The minds that once sought to improve the human experience, now only deconstruct tradition and erode the very ground that their institutional ivory towers were constructed upon, too drunk with nihilism to care. Even Coke brand, that once celebrated human diversity, has joined the graceless cult of woke in attacking “whiteness” and civilization itself—as if they have forgotten what has made their own comfortable ‘privileged’ life possible.
The government, “for the people,” that at least gestured towards the needs of the citizenry, now only serves global corporations, the powerful elites and special interests. The US flag, once a symbol of hope, the American ideal, and our unity as diverse people, something black athletes proudly wrapped themselves in less than a generation ago, has now been reimagined as a representation of oppression and hate. Our faith in our institutions is failing, the left decrying systemic racism, the right suspecting election fraud, nearly everyone feeling unheard.
We’re a civilization consuming itself and maybe it is because we’ve forgotten this:
You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.
(Galatians 5:13-15 NIV)
We don’t go to church anymore, a trend that started before the pandemic and has only been accelerated, and “love your neighbor” is now used as a guilt trip rather than a reason to change our own toxic attitudes or be involved on behalf of others. John Kennedy’s call to service, “And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country.” Those words, spoken today, would likely be derided as some kind of dangerous “ism” in today’s me-first, my tribe, my way or the highway, divisive identity driven, you’re literally a Nazi if you disagree, political environment.
Have we reached new heights only to implode?
What is really going on here?
Pride Cometh Before the Fall
Satan, we’re told, was the very best of the angels. His magnificent greatness eventually led him to believe that he was a rival to God. Jesus warned his disciples, having returned exuberant from working miracles, that he had seen Satan “fall like lightening from heaven” (Luke 10:18) and reminded them of their place before the Almighty.
Hubris is the downfall of many and the idea that we can find all of the answers for ourselves is that. With each success, with every innovation and breakthrough, there is a danger and risk of overconfidence.
In the past few centuries have seen our knowledge and abilities increase like no other time in recorded human history. The West threw off the authority of Rome, with the reasoning that every man was able to comprehend Scripture outside of the tradition of the church. Not long after, the authority of Scripture itself was called into question. Why do we need a book of myths written by those who lack our sophistication and understanding of the world? God was erased from our institutions, prayers only a ceremonial and many imagine themselves to be self-made or little gods. It is the height of ignorance:
You turn things upside down, as if the potter were thought to be like the clay! Shall what is formed say to the one who formed it, “You did not make me” Can the pot say to the potter, “You know nothing”?
(Isaiah 29:16 NIV)
But it isn’t only the cultural elites, the atheists, the politicians who only pay lip service or liberal theologians whittling away at morality until there’s nothing left. This spirit of self-reliance, and arrogance, permeates through the whole civilization. We are blinded by information, buried in jargon, tangled in complexity, yet think we’re englightened.
We should be pumping the brakes, as technology advances faster than our ability to comprehend the consequences, I see it even (or especially) in those emerging from sheltered religious cloisters. Sure, the are the reactionaries, afraid of all change or improvement, but then there are those who have a little education and embrace it all nof realizing the potential. Our brightest minds are working on things much more dangerous than nuclear weapons, creating biological agents, developing artificial intelligence, considering climate altering measures, all potentially having the possibility of irreversible side-effects, and truly playing with fire.
We believe we are in control but are most definitely not and, with our new power, are one or two mistakes from an unmitigated disaster.
Like the tower of Babel, which likely took years of planning and building layer upon layer, our modern civilization was built. Our confidence has grown and exponentially along with our accomplishments. We’re clever, we found cures for disease, invented means to travel to the ends of the earth and beyond. But the higher we ascend the easier it is to forget what we are and where we came from. We didn’t create ourselves nor do we know as much as we think we know and this should always keep us humble.
Thinking we are God or next thing to God will, inevitability, lead to chaos, confusion and ultimate collapse into disorder. The bigger our collective endeavor gets, the more we live on our own reasoning and strength rather than depend on faith, the less able we are to cooperate, we erode the very foundations of civilization and the destruction will be swift. God, in His mercy, will scatter us before we become too foolish, with our great knowledge, to be saved. Human reasoning is a dead end, we cannot transcend ourselves outside of God’s help. If we reject that help we will fall.
The other day I was filling out a survey and came to the questions about my race and gender. I paused for a second, “what am I today?” And decided to select what applied to me in that moment, which is the answer that I would typically use when asked those questions, and yet continued to ponder this question of identities.
I understand why these categories exist, we do have tendencies and traits as a part of a demographic group. Generalities and stereotypes certainly do have some basis in reality and I won’t deny that. However, what makes me bristle a bit is what this grouping too often does to relationships across category lines. It is divisive, it robs us our uniqueness as individuals and also puts us at odds with those deemed to be different from us.
It is too black and white. Too simplistic and encourages a distorted picture of reality in emphasizing that one similarity we share in common (or one difference we have) over everything else. The labels themselves are even dumb. I’m not actually white. My skin is a shade of brown. Furthermore, I probably only ever started identifying as white because someone told me to fill in that box as a child and I mindlessly complied.
The idea of “whiteness” is a social construct and has come to mean much more than it ever did before. Now some claim that everything from work ethic and politeness to mathematics is somehow a part of being white. Which is appalling ignorance, unexcusable, given the contributions of people of all skin shades and cultural backgrounds to civilization as we know it. All people should be offended by that nonsense.
I had a classmate, a Jamaican immigrant, brilliant at math, well-spoken, very polite, the son of an engineer or university professor as I recall. And, by the current color obsessed paradigm, he’s more ‘white’ than I am. It is a backhanded insult to the many, like him, who have natural talents that don’t fit within the narrow categories or grievance culture narratives of the racially prejudiced left.
Which is the crux of the matter. I hate these categories because they lie. As Mark Twain quipped, “there are lies, damn lies, and statistics.” Sure one color group may, collectively, produce more elite athletes, another more classical musicians, and another mathematicians. But those group statistics tell you absolutely nothing about individuals nor why some individuals achieved these outcomes.
Much being attributed to color is actually culture. In Europe, in Africa, in Asia, and America, there are as many cultures as their are shades of skin color. Some European regions are known for their industriousness and superior engineering, others for their laid-back attitude and art. The same is true of Asian cultures. The same is true of African people. So how do we know color has anything to do with these differences?
The two biggest lies of our time…
1) The myth that skin color is synonymous with culture.
2) The myth that group statistics determine individual outcomes.
Yes, there may be some statistical correlations between certain behaviors and skin color categories. But that doesn’t mean that what applies to one of a certain category applies to all. For example, many women love pink, but that doesn’t mean the most or even many women are fond of that color. My younger sister defies many of those sort of feminine associated things, she’s not afraid of any critter, has reptiles for pets, and that does not make her less of a woman than those who freak out at the sight of a spider.
It is a complete farce that a coal cracker kid, raised in rural West Virginia, is advantaged over a college educated “person of color” working as a Wall Street broker. Nah, I’ve been around, I know how the cultural elites sneer at ‘deplorables’ and work overtime to make sure that they know their place. Class privilege is often misidentified as color privilege and misidentified by the very people who benefit most from spreading out the blame for their own sins.
The son or daughter of an immigrant wage-slave has more in common with the ‘black’ category than the trust fund babies of any color pointing the crooked finger. This is what grates me the most. In the real world blacks and whites work together. Out on the road, hauling commodities for the man, I swung the sledgehammer as much as that ‘black’ fellow beside me.
So do I really need my prissy, Che Guevara T-shirt wearing sociology professor cousin, son of a doctor, who could somehow afford to travel the world taking photos while I worked for $7.50 an hour, lecturing me on things that I don’t understand as a white male?
No, no I do not!
Those who associate certain outcomes or behaviors with certain colors of skin, who only ever see skin color in their analysis, are the true racists. There is a stronger correlation between fatherless homes and negative outcomes than there is between skin color and negative outcomes. In other words, things commonly categorized as a color privilege is more strongly correlated with family structure.
Think about that when discussion of privilege comes up.
Unfortunately, there is not much to be gained as far as political power in a “the fatherless unite!” campaign. Racial division, by contrast, is an easy sell. Skin color, indeed, is the low hanging fruit of human difference. Tribalism comes naturally, all you need to do is convince people that they are somehow fundamentally different because of something superficial and their confirmation bias will do the rest of the work for you.
Breaking the Bonds of Designated Identities
I’m not going to minimize the importance of life experience and family inheritance in shaping our identities. I was born into a conservative Mennonite home and that identity was very important to me. In public school it made me a religious minority, subjected me to many inquiries, what would now be called micro-aggressions, and some bullying later in life too.
The strange part is that, while being the Mennonite kid amongst my school peers, I never really felt like I fit in with my ethic church peers either. After years of rejections, both in romantic endeavors and even as far as filling offices or missionary opportunities. Finding my place, complete acceptance, within the Mennonite culture had eventually become an obsession. I desperately wanted to be the good Mennonite for reasons that I can’t fully explain.
That pursuit came to an end with a young woman who declared, “I can’t love you the way that you want to be loved.”
Mercifully, over the same time, a truly fatherly figure, Fr. Anthony, an Antiochian priest and college professor, took me under his wing to help me through this collapse of my Mennonite identity that had left me with a meaningless existence and suicidal.
I had to break from my ethnic and religious identity because I had no other choice. It was not pleasant. I loved, and still do love, many parts of the Mennonite culture. My parents are wonderful. My church was not one of those Pharisaical nightmares all too common in that denomination. But, as Fr Anthony offered, maybe I had simply “outgrown” the tradition.
And, truly, in Christ, we are all called to a higher common identity:
So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.
(Galatians 3:26-29 NIV)
St. Paul, in the context of the tumultuous days of the early church, spent much time addressing the many competing identities within the church. He took on the religious elitists, bluntly telling them to castrate themselves in one letter, and spoke up for those being excluded on a class or ethnic basis. That’s what he’s doing in the passage above, emphasizing that in Christ we can all be “children of God” and share one identity together.
The astounding part is that the church then, like the church now, still struggles on this point. Even in the conservative Mennonite church, where we were basically all from the same ethic and cultural background, there were definitely tiers of acceptance. Some simply check more of the ‘right’ boxes, are more popular, find the beautiful adoring wife, have all the opportunities, work their way up the ranks quickly and others not so much. In short, the words to the Galatians are as relevant now as were then.
Christian Identity Makes Difference Beautiful
One of Mennonite cultural distinctives that I had rejected early on is that of uniformity as a part of Anabaptist non-conformity teaching. My own church wasn’t nearly as strict as some. But there is an undercurrent, undeniably, that if a girl talks more than average she’s a “flirt” or a motorhead guy with a nice car was somehow materialistic compared to a wealthy business owner with three farms. Pity the artistic types in those churches more traditional than mine.
By contrast, an Orthodox Christian friend, gave this wonderful description: The church is like a garden, full of different plants and plants, all watered by the same source.
That is the ideal.
Unity in Christ is not about erasing all differences. Galatians 3:28 is not turning us into an androgynous ‘multi-cultural’ blob of completely equal outcomes. Jesus was not a Communist. Having “all things in common” was not about forced wealth redistribution or reparations. Certainly not about getting mine. Rather it was about bringing our diversity of talents and abilities, bonded together as the body and blood of Christ, to the church.
Diversity can be a strength. Not talking about superficial skin deep token ‘diversity’ achieved through quotas either. Instead, what I love is those of many colors, many backgrounds and classes, working voluntarily towards a common goal, having found a shared identity that transcends all others and allows the entire group to reach full potential. Competing identities keep us in conflict, but through Christ we could create the most beautiful harmonies.
In the end we must free ourselves from identities that keep us at war with each other. However, that is not something we do ourselves. There are many misguided efforts. Many are embracing divisive political ideologies, like critical race theory, that will only produce more hate and mistrust. Condemning “whiteness” or heaping praise on “people of color” and otherwise playing favorites on those currently deemed to be victims is never going to do anything besides add to the confusion.
Only in Christ, in repentance, in faith, can our differences in gender, culture, color or class be something beautiful.
I’ll admit, it went through me when I heard that my brother had the clear symptoms of a Covid-19 infection. Sure, it was far enough along that the deadliness of the disease wasn’t so statistically foreboding anymore. But emotionally there was a certain significance that was given to this and a bit of dread as well. What if this loss of taste developed into serious respiratory issues? My brother or one of his family members, who had been at home with him during the shutdown, could die.
My brother is fine. He was never formally diagnosed with the virus, they would not test him given that his symptoms were not life-threatening or severe and he could ride it out at home. The probabilities were always in his favor as a relatively young person in good health. However, my own anxieties, despite my own understanding that the risk of him dying was not that much greater than it ever was for him or other members of my family, were something of interest to the more rational half of my consciousness. Why would I worry at all when the threat really wasn’t that great?
It is one of those quirks of human psychology, I suppose, that we can go from not knowing a person at all to being totally obsessed, wondering how we ever live our life without, “text me when you are home safe,” with them. Likewise, when something ‘novel’ comes into our lives, be it a new video game or an unknown virus, we can’t get our mind off of it. We are fascinated with this unknown commodity, whether we want to protect it (as in a new love interest) or protect ourselves from it, our thoughts will go there over and over again. It can be consuming, it can be blinding as well.
Fear of Covid-19 has much to do with availability heuristic or the tendency people have to judge the likelihood of an event based on how readily they can recall said event. This is what makes anecdotes so powerful. Some stories of young, otherwise healthy, people getting a disease and dying will feature far more prominently in our minds than the dozens lost in car accidents. I have a good friend who had a friend my age die and knows of another. The media has fed into this bias by highlighting the suffering of some. It feels likely enough and yet here’s the reality of the situation:
“To put things in perspective, the virus is now known to have an infection fatality rate for most people under 65 that is no more dangerous than driving 13 to 101 miles per day. Even by conservative estimates, the odds of COVID-19 death are roughly in line with existing baseline odds of dying in any given year.”
That is not to minimalize the threat. I know a couple of cases of people who have become seriously ill due to Covid-19 and, yes, many people have died who would’ve otherwise lived. The virus can be quite contagious in certain conditions, it can send a relatively young person to the hospital, I believe that many more will fall ill and some of them will die.
But, the thing is, our outsized focus on this virus is to minimize the many other risks equal or greater in consequence brought on by our response. It is deeply troubling to me that so many people seem so completely unable to comprehend the strong possibility that, with our saving people from the specter of Covid-19 and obsession on one risk out of many, we are ultimately killing more people by suicides, drug overdoses, neglected cancer screenings (along with other medical procedures being postponed) and starvation.
Why is it selfish for a young economically vulnerable person to work, to put food on their tables, and not selfish for you to order them home in a vain attempt to save grandma?
Furthermore, going back to my momentary fear of losing my brother, there was always a far greater risk to my brother’s life from him driving to come visit than from the infection. Why don’t I call him every fifteen minutes to make sure he’s wearing his seat belt? If physical safety was the only concern, then what would posses me to encourage him to take up flying years ago or to join him in the cockpit years later? It makes no logical sense for me to have a terrible fear of a virus that kills a small percentage of the infected while accepting or even encouraging more dangerous activities.
Rise of the Covid Crazed Karens
Many imagine a zombie apocalypse: The living dead, creatures of human flesh and yet no longer human anymore. Well, we are living in such times. The zombies are here and they are here to rob you of life with their devouring fears. And, unlike the fantasy horror movies, these are zombies that you aren’t allowed to shoot. But beware, if you decide not to comply with their screeching demands and choose to live as a free person, they may make real on their threat to shoot you.
Think I’m exaggerating?
Dr. Jennifer Rager-Kay, a gun control activist and school board member, not too far down the road from me. Decided that it was completely okay and rational to threaten to kill people for refusing to wear masks around her or her family. Dr Rager-Kay (aka “Karen”) was in such a lathered up panic about a virus that has a very low probability of death that she was actually willing to murder. Makes one think of the expression, “Physician, heal thyself.” This woman is obviously smart enough to make it through medical school, but seems woefully lacking in rationality and ability to keep things in perspective.
Now, in defense of Karens everywhere, most are content to only steal away your life by imposing their “new normal” and won’t actually shoot you.
However, they all have a sort of nurture gone bad, the assessment of their own importance that is shared by hall monitors everywhere. Possessed by their lack of contol or relative insignificance an a complex and unpredictable world, they wield their petty authority over their neighbors given to them by state snitch lines, wag their sanctimonious fingers at anyone who doesn’t meet their own standard, and are completely willing to imprison you for your own good. They stopped thinking months ago when their minds were reprogrammed, infected by fearful anecdotes, their cognitive function addled by scary projections, never considering new evidence, and they are now mindless zombies stuck on repeat, “Covid bad, must stop Covid!”
Of course, Covid Crazed Karens are not only women nor only the meddlesome troublemakers of memes, there are many man and people in positions of real political power who are willing to kill you for your own good and seem even to have some sort of sadistic satisfaction watching people squirm under their smoothering care. If only you would start thinking their way, sacrifice your all for their misguided public safety crusade, then everything would be just fine. You see, they think like a psychopath, that your suffering is only a result of your defiance against their wise council, that it would not be tyranny if you would simply submit to their lawless edicts.
You must be broken, like Winston in Orwell’s 1984, who after torture finally becomes a zombie to the cult of the totalitarian state:
“Years it had taken him to learn what kind of smile was hidden beneath the dark moustache. O cruel, needless misunderstanding! O stubborn, self-willed exile from the loving breast! Two gin-scented tears trickled down the sides of his nose. But it was all right, everything was all right, the struggle was finished. He had won the victory over himself. He loved Big Brother.”
George Orwell, 1984
We may not have Big Brother. But we do have Karen watching and her fear-driven lust for control over you won’t be satiated once Covid-19 has passed. No, you are already being conditioned, you will accept her “new normal” or you will die. And, if you don’t die from the virus be sure she will punish you severely for her being wrong. A Karen is never wrong, being wrong does not compute with her one track mind, and she will kill you, if need be, to prove the point. The zombie apocalypse is upon us and these privileged elites are out for the blood of you ignorant and unwashed common folk.
But Covid Karen is not the only threat, Denial Deranged Darnell, well he’ll tell you masks don’t work because he once had a fart that stained his underwear and, with pride, he will tell you how he survived his entire life never once wearing a seat belt, that he actually drives better drunk, and you can’t tell him ’nuffin! Watch out for him as well, he may not have the power of government on his side, but he has already killed a security guard in Detroit and wounded a Waffle House cook in Aurora, Colorado, for the “disrespect” of mask policies. He thinks carrying a firearm to a protest makes him tough. No wonder so many Karens think the masses need to be controlled!
False dichotomies pop up everywhere in the political discourse. You are either pro-life or you are a raging homicidal baby-killing feminist monster and, alternatively, you are either pro-choice or you are “at war with women” and would turn the world into “The Handmaid’s Tale” if ever given the chance. Of course, both sides of that dichotomy are grossly misrepresenting those on the other side. Some of the most vocal proponents of pro-life that I know are of the female gender, would rather not have their lives ruled by men or be treated like baby-making slaves. Likewise, many on the pro-choice side are intelligent and compassionate people who follow a different dogma as far as what does or does not constitute a separate human life.
Where you stand on the recent Covid-19 forced closures probably has much more to do with your politics than it does with your personal level of scientific sophistication. Sure, there are many, blinded by their own confirmation bias, who see everything they believe as being scientifically based and rational, but that is to be in denial of the role that their own emotions play in their judgment. The decision to shut down the economy due to the virus had has much to do with fear as fact. How do I know? Well, there weren’t a whole lot of reliable facts to go on when the decisions were being made. We had models, yes, but models are only as reliable as the data entered and the accuracy of the assumptions that they contain. Their predictions are not facts. What likely had a big influence is the scary stories coming from Italy and the lack of good information from China.
The Changing Understanding of Covid-19
I had been in favor of the shutdowns, initially, to give time to make a more accurate assessment of the actual threat and also to give time for our medical professionals to gear up amidst global shortages of personal protective equipment. Sure, many Americans are of the pigheaded mentality that they will drive eighty miles per hour into a blinding fog bank and then have massive pileups as a testament to their inability to slow down for anything. But it is only prudent to enter into a potentially deadly new situation, with many unknowns, with an abundance of caution. The arrival of Covid-19 onto the world scene was such a circumstance. The idea of social distancing to “flatten the curve” made sense at the time.
However, as a couple of weeks morphed into a month or more and the language of state politicians mysteriously shifted from slowing the spread (as we were told was the reason for the shutdowns) to trying to stop it entirely, while at the same time the there was growing evidence that the virus was not as deadly as first thought, was likely here earlier than had been previously known and may have actually reached the peak (unflattened before the shutdown measures had been implemented) in some places, I kept waiting for decision-makers to shift their policies according to the actual evidence. But they did not. Frozen by fear or too stubborn to revisit their previous decisions (or maybe even wanting to punish those opposed to their lockdowns and show who is boss, who knows?) there was no change. They were determined to plow ahead with their prior decision based on bad data, economic consequences be damned, so wear your masks, go to Walmart like good little citizens and shut up.
We all have an idealogical team we are pulling for, whether we realize it or not, and it can cloud our perspective of an issue. Sure, you might believe that your ignorance of virology is “common sense” (which, unfortunately, is probably common and yet good sense is not always common) and refuse to take reasonable precautions. Or you might think your own opinion (and that of the experts whom you agree with) is some kind of “scientific consensus” and an irrefutable fact. But the reality is that you might just be too arrogant (in your little knowledge or, rather, knowing just enough to be dangerous) to understand that there could be perspectives greater than your own. The frustrating part for me was always being caught between the false choices put out by those on either side of the political debate. Those calling the virus a hoax, dismissing the effectiveness of masks, and being generally ignorant only armed those pushing for control with a false moral imperative to double-down on their shutdown or die mantra.
Covid-19, while certainly deadly for many and even if those terrifying early estimates of a 2-4% death rate had held true, is nowhere near the Spanish flu. The real number, given growing evidence gathered by antibodies testing and from various ships where everyone was tested, shows a true death rate closer to 0.5% which isn’t too different from the seasonal flu over the course of an average year. Yes, it did certainly stretch our medical resources thin, and likely would’ve with or without the shutdowns, yet there is little evidence to show that our economic self-sabotage actually saved lives. No, if anything, we may have simply destroyed opportunity for those most vulnerable here and around the world for no real gain. It is quite possible, even probable, that more will die as a result of the forced shutdowns than were saved. In the end, the decision to shut down the economy was never a question of shut down or die. For many, it may very well be shut down and die.
False dichotomies are dangerous. They are lies. This polarization of our many choices can come with tragic results.
Economic Shutdowns Also Kill People
In my many discussions about Covid-19 I’ve run into many reoccurring and economically illiterate sentiments, like this one: “I’m sorry but I can’t believe I’m reading this. No compassion for human life and suffering?” That in response to a well-written article weighing the benefits against the costs of the economic shutdown. Apparently, in this person’s emotion soaked and one-dimensional brain, the only way you can show compassion for human life and suffering is to keep people caged in their homes and unable to feed themselves?
As a starting point, there was never a scenario where there could be zero deaths from Covid-19. That ship had sailed long ago, in China, when the authorities there continued to let people from the epicenter travel around the world (although not domestically) and sailed when many Western leaders were more concerned with things like “xenophobia” than the virus. Maybe had Europe joined the Trump administration in banning travel from the source of the outbreak there may have been a chance of containing it. But it was already too late by the time concern about the virus and death tolls had finally exceeded worries about political correctness and virtue signaling about race. Places like New York City and Los Angeles were going to see tens of thousands dead regardless of what was done at that juncture.
When the shutdowns began, in earnest, the virus was already deeply entrenched. The first verified case in France, for example, has been recently discovered to have been back in December already and much earlier than initially thought. It had likely spreading while some politicians here were still encouraging people to crowd the streets of Chinatown and was definitely being passed around while Italian leaders were telling people to hug Chinese people (from Wuhan, no less) in a misguided effort to prove they weren’t racist. The die had been cast and we were in for a wild ride.
But what we did have a choice over is how we responded to the threat. Certainly, the virus had not reached us all, and we could not know (without significant testing) if the peak of infections was a couple of weeks out or still months ahead. If the virus had reached relatively few of us and the death rates were already skyrocketing then the most desperate measures were completely justified even if it cost some lives. On the other hand, if the virus had already been in circulation for months and the hospitals weren’t already jampacked, there was very little to be gained and plenty to be lost from sweeping anti-economic measures. Those with strong social networks and a fat wallet, like the Hollywood celebrities urging us plebes to stay at home while they sip martinis in their hot tub, might not get it, but there are serious consequences to economic shutdowns even if you do not personally experience them.
For those who still think that there’s no harm done by shutting down (simply because they are amongst the privileged less affected and able to put food on their own tables), keep reading.
This idea that the economy is about Wall Street and stock portfolios is complete and utter nonsense. The concern many have about the shutdown has nothing to do with the fiction you hold of Scrooge McDuck swimming in his vault full of gold coins and perpetually worried about losing his wealth. Not at all. First, no billionaire (other than the Hollywood fantasy villain version) actually has moldy money, billionaires are billionaires because they make good investments and their investments are often in life-sustaining industries, like healthcare. Second, most of the economy is Y-O-U. The economy is, simply put, our transactions together, the labor we use to produce things of value to trade with others for our wants and basic necessities.
That out of the way…
Domestic Abuse, Drug Overdoses, and Suicide Rates
Shutdowns have consequences and the consequences are often much more devastating for those most vulnerable. I think often of my waitress and waiter friends, people in the restaurant industry, who have suddenly without warning had their entire income stream dry up by the executive fiat of someone who gets their paycheck via the state treasury or through an accumulation of assets. Sure, Trump and Congress have taken action to offset some of these losses by direct payments, unemployment compensation has been extended to many who might not otherwise qualify and yet that will do nothing for those permanently unemployed.
For many in the world, in the same way that Covid-19 is deadly to those with comorbidities, an economic shutdown is (or will be) that proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back. Sure, you can say that the guy devastated by the bills piling up and his bank account drying up, his business being shuttered, should see the bigger perspective. But that is no different from saying that we should not care about Covid-19 deaths because those most impacted were dying anyway and that their comorbidities actually killed them. The fact that not everyone is as financially healthy as you are or as emotionally able to weather the storm caused by the shutdown doesn’t undo the damage done to those who are more vulnerable.
The socio-economic cost of the shutdowns should be factored into the decision as much as the potential gain. Sure, there is a possibility (although it is not proven) that the shutdowns may spare a few that would otherwise have perished from the virus and accompanying complications. But there is definitely an uptick in things such as domestic violence and child abuse that comes with forcing weak and emotionally vulnerable people to stay confined together, away from their sources of stress relief and friends, for months. Believe it or not, not everyone shares your advantages in mental health, not everyone can keep doing their work via Zoom, we aren’t equal in this together as some will proclaim, some are isolated alone, and with only their suicidal ideations to keep them company for the duration.
And, for those of you looking down your noses in condemnation of the shutdown protestors at state capitals, thinking that your own rationality and compassion is what is guiding you, think again. True compassion would have some sympathy for those who are suffering from the economic consequences of the hasty and arbitrarily enforced shutdowns. Unlike you, they might not be able to afford to shelter in place for months at a time. The truth might be that you, in your fearful overreaction to Covid-19, simply do not care enough about their livelihoods being ripped out from under them and are too ignorant of the economic consequences, the increase in domestic abuse, drug overdoses, and suicides that accompany economically dire circumstances.
It is certainly no more dangerous to do a couple of laps around a state capital, than it is to go to Home Depot, Walmart, or the grocery store. I suspect the real issue some have has to do with political affiliations. It is a moral superiority contest between them and those who decided that the risk of government overreach and economic ruin is greater than the virus. Some would rather live in denial of the serious economic consequences they’ve imposed on others, ignore the evidence of the suffering caused by their selfish demands for safety at all costs (to their neighbors), and maintain their dangerous tunnel vision?
Of course, who knows, in the current political climate, maybe some would rather the protestors killed themselves than peacefully vent their pent up frustrations?
But this is far bigger than domestic politics…
Economic Downturns, Food Shortages, and Starvation
The most troubling and continuing consequences of the imposed shutdowns is the impact it is having on the agricultural industry and food supply chain. It was very early on when the stories started to cross my newsfeed about small farmers, in the Philippines, being forced to dump their produce. If one understood the labor that it took (most Americans can’t even imagine), that these farmers would give up their meager profits, it is hard to understand. But that is what happens when the market is closed down, there is no refrigerated warehouse to store their vegetables until things reopen again. And, sure, some of it is distributed to their neighbors, and yet the real demand comes from the cities. So the cities are cut off from their suppliers and the poor farmers from their buyers and only source of income.
I’ve realized recently that many people can’t understand logistics even at the most basic level and see the actions of agricultural producers here as being greedy or suspicious. When I mentioned how producers were culling herds due to processing plants being closed over Covid-19 concerns and the possibility of people starving, I had a guy respond with the following, “If we don’t want people to starve let’s start by distributing this food that is being wantonly destroyed by the factory farms.” His ‘solution’ may seem reasonable at first glance. I mean, why not? But then you have to considfer that these big producers would not just throw away their profits. They aren’t that stupid. And if they can’t process this protein then you can be 100% sure that government or anyone else is going to replace their production capacity. They are the specialists.
Sure, like in rural parts of the Philippines, the neighbors to these massive barns will get all the pork or poultry they will ever need. However, that’s nibbling around the edges of the problem. The real reason we have these “factory farms” is not to supply Union County and the surrounding communities. No, not at all! The real market for this meat is the big cities. So, while it is great that some rural neighbors get to fill their freezers at a below-market price, that is going to do very little for the needs of those downstream and cut off from their food source. A couple of “community gardens” in Brooklyn can’t offset the literal tons of beef, pork, and vegetables that are imported into that city every day. Don’t get me wrong, I love a ‘feel good’ story as much as the next guy, but this isn’t an issue that will be solved by a couple of generous farmers.
The abrupt shutdowns and closures are causing incredible bottlenecks that cannot be easily resolved overnight. Closing down schools and restaurants, for example, meant that all of the food in that pipeline, packaged for that kind of usage, was now jammed up. There are some grocery stores now selling meats that were originally intended for restaurants. But the retooling cannot happen like the flip of a switch. That is why some dairy processors, what specialized in supplying schools, had to dump their milk at the same time grocery shelves had run dry of the staple. That is why potatoes are piled up to rot in Idaho. When networks within the supply chain break down, when the market is majorly disrupted without warning, there are shortages in some places and over-supplies in other places.
Those big animal operations need to keep moving things along, the whole process can’t be held up for long before there are major problems, finished pigs need to be moved along or there is no room for the feeder pigs to go. Sure, they can change the feed to try to keep the finished pigs at a particular weight for a period of time. But eventually, something as to give. That is why there are piles of dead pigs a hundred feet long, going to waste, and soon enough the shelves will run empty as well. It will seem strange. Many won’t understand how it is possible, but it is happening and it is happening like a slow-motion train wreck.
That all said, I’m not afraid for myself or most Americans. We might miss out on a steak or pork chop. We will likely pay a little more for our food in the coming months. However, my real concern is for those in the many places around the world where people work hand to mouth. The rickshaw driver in Mumbai can’t afford to pay more for his family’s food and especially not after being locked in his own house for months. The person in a Manila slum, already living on “pagpag” (a Taglog term meaning “garbage chicken” or literally food pulled from the trash) will not do well when others are fighting over the disappearing scraps as food becomes scarce. Many in the world live on a very small ration, meat is a luxury to them, and now have been deprived of their income in a desperate fight against a virus that may not even be stopped by their sacrifice.
Making the Right Trade-offs…
There is no question about the seriousness of Covid-19. I have a close friend in NYC who lost two friends. They were both my age and died in their own homes. It is not a virus that should be laughed off or treated as no big deal. Tens of thousands have died and tens of thousands more will likely die and in a relatively short period of time. Sure, many of these people may have had comorbidities and yet they would very likely have been with us for many more years had they not had their encounter with this deadly virus.
It is possible that some could be saved from Covid-19 through the shutdowns. There is no solid evidence that this is the case. Nevertheless it is possible. That said, it is also possible that our efforts only prolonged or even worsen the pandemic by preventing “herd immunity” from ever happening, which means we could suffer more deaths from Covid-19 and also the experience the hardships of the economic shutdown.
Whatever the case, the “shut down or die” mythology needs to be confronted. Those looking for a perfect solution here are living in fantasy land. The hope that a vaccine will be developed quickly and then become widely available is (sorry, anti-vaxxer conspiracy theorists) basically a Hollywood fiction. We still don’t have a vaccine for SARS or MERS and may never have a vaccine for Covid-19. So, this idea that we can just hunker down and wait this out is not realistic. Sure, I would be glad to be proven wrong, it is possible, but there are also huge trade-offs to our waiting that need to be discussed.
Speaking of trade-offs: According to ASIRT, 1.35 million people die in car accidents every year (over 38,000 in the US) and an additional 20-50 million are injured (4.4 million US), some with permanent disabilities as a result. This, unlike Covid-19, is a ‘pandemic’ that disproportionally impacts the young and with no pre-existing health conditions. We could, quite easily, in the name of safety, ban all automobiles and save far more lives in a couple of years than the shutdowns ever would. Of course, we would never do that, we have valued the freedom of movement and economic advantages over the risk of serious injury or death. I suppose people feel more in control behind the wheel, but if we were really in control of the outcome of our trip then nobody would leave home knowing that they would get into a fatal car crash, would they?
Based on what we now know about the virus and death rates we should not have shut down the to the extent that we did. We may have saved a little on the front end, compared to Sweden who remained open, and yet will very likely end up in the same place as far as Covid-19 and far worse off in terms of the economic consequences. My fear is that many more will perish as a result of the shutdowns than from the virus. Millions of the world’s young and most vulnerable are suffering right now, as I write this, and could die of starvation. A good analysis must weigh all factors. We cannot be zoned in so much on one problem and only one solution that we cannot see any others. The virus from China is bad, but the panicky response of governments around the world may have made it many times worse.
There are many things largely forgotten to history, one of them a horrendous tragedy that took place on June 15th, 1904, near “Hell’s Gates” on the East River, which would forever change one ethnic community in New York City, and that being the General Slocum ferry disaster.
What had started as an annual church excursion of German-Americans, mostly women and children, from their community in the city’s East Village to Long Island, ended with terror and over 1000 deaths. The poorly maintained boat caught fire, while underway, fire fighting equipment failed and the wooden craft quickly became an inferno.
Helpless mothers, unable to swim themselves, especially not in the heavy clothing of the time, put life preservers on their children only to see them sink like rocks into the river as the cork in the flotation devices had degraded. The Captain, likely trying to avoid causing a more devastating fire on shore, decided to head for some islands, into the wind, which only made the wooden ferry into a blow torch before it felt apart.
The result of this hell on earth was the eventual dissolution of the German-American community in New York City and one can only imagine the personal torment this left for the survivors and the fathers and husbands left behind.
My worse nightmare is not being able to help those whom I love. I had, in casual conversation with a psychiatrist, been told that I showed symptoms of PTSD after the unexpected death of Saniyah and judging from my current awful feelings and tears right now, from writing this, I would guess that they were right in their analysis.
If only seeing someone I loved deeply wail the loss of their daughter could rip the fabric of my being to such an extent, I can’t even begin to imagine what seeing them roasted alive would do. Lord have mercy!
My Covid-19 Mini-Crisis
Being raised in an American culture that too often confuses health and prosperity with God’s favor, the idea that someone that I love could be felled by a virus seems obscene. But, faith, right? Shouldn’t faith prevent my family members and loved ones from dying prematurely from a virus?
But it seems that the truly Orthodox have no such delusion. True, Fr. Seraphim expressed his belief that one cannot become sick through their participation in the body of Christ. However, even still, that does not preclude the possibility of our becoming sick during the fellowship and interactions afterward, does it?
It is was in the contemplation of father’s words that I ran across the story of early Christians who, unlike their pagan neighbors who fled, deliberately went into harm’s way to attend to their plague suffering neighbors. They attended to the sick, taking the illness upon themselves in many cases and succumbing in as much agony as anyone else.
How could this be?
Did their faith mean anything at all?
My own thoughts continued an ongoing internal discussion about the evidence (or lack thereof) for a God that actually cares. In my American-tinted perspective, they should have been protected from disease to prove God’s sovereignty over all of creation and show the truth of their Christian testimony, that’s only logical, right?
I can’t claim to understand. All I know is that many of them died, yet the stories of their extraordinary faith spread throughout the Roman world and you can still read of their testimony even in Foreign Policy articles published in our time. They died and yet they also demonstrated an example of love that has lived on to this very day and have defied my own logic in that.
We have but one life to live, all people die eventually, yet it is said that all people have two deaths: The first death being their physical death, when their body is put into the grave. Then a second ‘death’ at some point in the future when their name is said for the last time. And, I would argue that, in that light, those who, in faith, sacrificed their lives for their neighbor’s sake have actually outlived those who fled in fear.
It turns out that the Christ of Christianity only ever promised a life of suffering for others to those who would follow him. The ‘faith’ of those seeking health and wealth is shallow and will fall apart in times of crisis. But true faith lives for the good of others, despite uncertainty and fear, the proof is not in their own health so much as their faithful and lasting impact on the world.
No, your faith will not spare you, but if you live in love you will find God waiting on the other side of your suffering.
How I Have Seen God At Work
This may be a strange way to make an announcement of sorts, but I’ve never professed to be anything other than strange. I mean, I’ve tried to act normal, yet it never seems to work out for me. And so I guess I work with what I’m given, right?
Anyhow, I mentioned a bhest in past blogs, including my last blog, and haven’t really explained what bhest really means.
Right now, on the opposite of the world from where I am currently writing, lives a beautiful flower, her name is Charlotte. I found her in a moment of great faith, when my life remained consumed in my Mennonite identity and struggle with the father of a young woman, and had agreed to participate in her life as only an encouragement. She had moved to Taiwan, from her mountain home in the Philippines, as a means to support her son and secure an annulment from the father of her son.
Given her marital situation (along with my Mennonite and purity culture priorities) and my continued faithful pursuit of the impossibility, I told her that our relationship would have to remain platonic (which is something she allowed without any protest) and offered to be her encouragement. My commitment was to show her that someone still cared about her life, despite her being separated from family and not having anyone else to turn to at the time. At the time I was also on the road, away from home, so I understood the loneliness that comes with separation from family and friends.
There was a bit of a pattern that developed. I would be her faithful wake up call, to wish her a wonderful day, but later (with the stress of a high-pressure work environment and conflicts with coworkers) she would come back online with the crying puppy emoticon, which was my signal to get to work, and I would make it my mission to cheer her up again. Soon, by whatever miracle, I would have her laughing and smiling again.
At some point, pretty early on, she asked me if it was okay if she would call me “bhest” and (after a momentary hesitation to consider the potential damage of letting her use a term of endearment in our context) I decided to give her permission. It is a term that I had no idea what it meant really then and still am not entirely sure. But, eventually, it felt dumb to let her be alone in using that term, there was no term and thus she too became my bhest.
Bhest, according to Charlotte, meant this: “the very best best person, who is my friend, who is always beside me, to pray for me, advise me, cheer me up and who really shows care for me.”
Bhest, best explained, is a word mystical in meaning, has become a sort of joint identity and not something my words can easily explain. But I do know that it stands for a commitment to care. And, when my own road reached an end in the Mennonite church, like hitting a brick wall, it was the hand of my bhest reaching through, telling me in a moment of suicidal darkness, “if you go, take me with you,” and demonstrated a level of commitment to me even greater than my mother. It was then that I decided to stay to serve this lost sheep that I had found and if only for her good.
Charlotte’s happiness, I decided, was worth my suffering through another day of this life. The seed of faith that I gave to her months before, in my pure concern for her, grew into a limb that I could hold onto until my own feet again. She was the one who told me to “be strong for her” and gave me the courage to walk through the doors of Holy Cross, in Williamsport, on the road to my Orthodox conversion. And it was Charlotte who finally gave me that reason to no longer be “thirty years old living in Milton” (as the faithless alternative explained) and compelled me, months later, to board a Boeing 747 headed for the other side of the world.
Bringing This to the Present
There is so much I could say about Charlotte and her son. So many moments, from profound moments of sadness together (after the murder of her uncle Roland) to those of our greatest joy and many others somewhere in between. Her family has embraced me, reposed uncle Roland especially, welcomed me with open arms, and made me feel right at home twelve timezones from my current residence. I honestly felt like I had experienced a taste of heaven in Baguio City and in our various excursions.
Now that country, like my own, is experiencing the same Covid-19 lockdown (albeit stricter than my own) and our hopes for the future are overshadowed with even greater uncertainty than before. But at least Charlotte is stranded, for once, with her son Y-dran, whom she loves deeply despite being separated from him for years. He’s a real handful, a biter when I met him (who learned quickly that, unlike his grandma and aunts, I bite back), and has since matured to a bright (while still completely energetic) eight-year-old. His wide smile always welcomed me and I’ve missed him since our first meeting.
More recently, due to his history of illness, and a recent bout with pneumonia (he’s still coughing), along with the spread of Covid-19 worldwide, along with my own struggles due to some history of my own mentioned earlier, it has been exceedingly difficult for me to rest easy and trust God in this moment of chaos.
In one of my silly, more romantic moments, after Charlotte watched one of my favorite movie classics, “The Last of the Mohicans,” I recited to her the words of Hawkeye, “You be strong, you survive! You stay alive, no matter what occurs, I will find you! No matter how long it takes, no matter how far, I will find you!” Which was a promise said with a little smile and laughter, nevertheless pretty accurately represents the commitment that I’ve made to her. I’ve nearly had to make real on that once when she called me after almost being abducted by two men, while in Taiwan, and our current situation has left me wondering what extreme measures might be necessary to bring her here to my side, with her son, our son, Y-dran?
As of today, upon the request of Y-dran (a shortened version of his full name, pronounced yid-run) himself, that I will begin to call Y-dran my son. I had worried a few months ago whether or not a young Igorot boy, with his own biological father, would ever accept this goofy overwrought religious refugee American. But we hardly even speak the same language yet (although he was actually using sign language today and will likely learn English far quicker than I learn Tagalog and his tribal tongue) and yet he has asked me if I could be his father. *gulp* I really didn’t know how to express all my excitement, he had completely pre-empted all of my preparations for the future where I would need to explain this, where I would have to walk gingerly to avoid undermining the man that is his biological father, and now I do not have to worry about that.
And, speaking of prayer, unprompted, Y-dran, after all that, requested that I lead the prayers before he went to bed. So, being as Orthodox Christian as I know to be, I gathered myself and my phone, we went to the prayer corner of my house and led in the Lord’s prayer before praying for our future together, that it may come quickly and that he can remain healthy until then.
Dreams and Prayers
I have big dreams of what to do as a father with his son. But I also have a fear that hangs over me. My own life has been full of hopes ripped away from me right at the time when I thought things were in the clear. Now, before I can have my happy and simple life, with a little broken and repaired family, there is this monster called Covid-19 lurking in the darkness. I have full awareness of the terrible tragedies that have cut down the faithful and heathen alike, sometimes on a bright sunny day, like that day those German-Americans boarded General Slocum before their final hellish terror.
However, come hell or high water, I am determined, as determined as I am to pursue impossibility in faith, to not live my life in fear. I believe that God exists and that God is good because I have not alternative. I believe in God because without God there is no good. Logic and reason cannot explain away the feelings I have for my precious bhest and her livewire son. Even if we are cruelly kept apart for many more years, due to legal nonsense or plague, I know we will be together again and someday soon.
May God have mercy on us!
Only will tell if my dreams for this life will ever come true. It is easier for me to predict a global pandemic than to know if my next few days, weeks, or years on this planet will be happy or harrowing. Maybe my battered faith will finally meet it’s match, in something awful yet to come, and my hopes finally drown in a seas of despair. Nevertheless, as long as I’m alive, let my hymn be this: “Let Thy mercy, O Lord, be upon us, as we have set our hope in Thee.” And, in the perilous days ahead, may I cling all the more to the words of St Paul:
“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written: “For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:35-39 NIV)
P.s., Y-dran, like his father, is also a fan of Dunkin donuts, which they do have in the Philippines, so the apple really doesn’t fall far from the tree!