Without sending my atheist and militantly agnostic readers into a tizzy wondering if I’ve gone full Old Testament, I want to pick up where my last post ended off.
Which was to wonder whether Covid-19 is God engaging in a little biblical smiting.
I imagine I wouldn’t even think to put it in those terms had my father not dragged me to church Every. Single. Sunday. of my childhood. It was the hour of the week that I dreaded most, because a United Church service in those days was (for this kid, anyway) the pinnacle of boredom. Hard pews that forced you to sit up straight. Widows scowling disapprovingly — it was nothing personal; they did that to all the children. A droning minister. And the pervading sense that the biggest sin in the United Church was being in any way comfortable. The Biblical tales of God wiping out almost all life on Earth in a giant flood, destroying Sodom and Gomorrah, smiting the Egyptians, and abandoning his Chosen People repeatedly Because They Were Bad resonated with me because (a) misery loves company, and (b) Sunday felt like punishment.
So, about this God thing…
Faith has lost its middle ground, at least in the public square. These days — publicly, at any rate — one either professes oneself to be a follower of right-wing religious extremism in which God is a man, only certain men can interpret God to the rest of us, women and minorities are second class citizens and no questions are permitted; or one declares oneself a full-patch atheist, rejecting any possibility of there being any higher power than (usually, sadly) a man making his own way through life.
Let me put this question to both groups. Do you really believe God — or your own awesomeness — gave you a brain with which to think and reason and ponder so that you would swallow Absolutism hook, line and sinker?
Both faith extremes are easy-answer religions: accept either as Absolute Truth, and you no longer have to think. Atheism tells me I can do what I want. Religious extremism says I must do what I’m told. In neither case do I have to contemplate the rightness or wrongness of my actions, because either I have total sovereignty or everything’s out of my hands.
And that’s a problem. Because if you think you’re the ultimate power in the universe, then there is nothing to stop you from acting in your own self-interest to the detriment of others. And if you buy into the cliche that “Christians aren’t perfect, just forgiven”, there is also nothing to stop you from acting in your own self-interest to the detriment of others.
So, about that smiting thing…
I don’t subscribe to the personification of God as the glowering, bearded old white dude sitting on his throne in the clouds, passing judgement on each and all of us. I do subscribe to the notion of a higher power, much, much bigger than us. And also within each and all of us, all life forms, the whole earth, and the universe. I don’t mind what name you give it — whatever the word for God is in your faith; a higher power; the Creator; quantum physics; Mother Nature; or the Force — they’re just different names for the same thing, the thing that binds everything together and keeps it all going. And will keep it all going, whether or not we survive.
Back in the 80s, plenty of evangelical preachers crafted a story of the bearded old white dude in the clouds targeting sinners with a virus. The virus was HIV and the sin was homosexuality. And they were really onto something for awhile there, until it turned out that HIV was almost exclusively infecting heterosexuals in countries outside North America and Europe.
That’s the thing about viruses. They don’t discriminate. But this virus, Covid-19, by sending much of humanity on the planet into lockdown, has given us the time and space to contemplate the consequences of both our actions and our inaction.
So while it may or may not constitute smiting in the Biblical fashion, I think the thing-that-binds-everything-together-and-keeps-it-all-going is sending us a message.
To the Boomers, get over yourselves. You are not immortal, so stop trying to live forever and start learning to live for today. That means letting go. You’ve had your time at the wheel. Move over, take in the scenery from the passenger seat, and let the kids drive. It’s their turn.
To humanity generally: see how quickly nature returns when humans disappear. You are not really the dominant life form on Earth, you just think you are. Just as life on Earth went on after the dinosaurs died out and after the other Great Extinctions, life will go on after this Great Extinction that you’ve been in the midst of causing. Your kind just won’t be part of it.
In a way, I’m reminded of something the angel Clarence said to George Bailey in “It’s a Wonderful Life.” “You’ve been given a great gift, George: a chance to see what the world would be like without you.”
We are being given the chance to not return to normal when the pandemic subsides and the restrictions lift. It’s a chance we must take.