Lionel has a good question:
“So, with the threat of international epidemics, anyone want to talk about transgender bathrooms?”
Plastic straws then? Plastic bags? Personal pronouns?
These are all things that don’t really matter. The coronavirus epidemic, he reckons, will re-focus our attention onto things that really matter, like life and death.
And I think he could be right – if this epidemic really does become a matter of life and death.
It’s perhaps that, in the absence of really serious threats, people become pre-occupied with unimportant and trivial pseudo-threats. When there are no matters of high priority to be dealt with, they are replaced by matters of low priority. Like plastic straws and plastic bags and personal pronouns.
It’s not just those things that don’t matter. Tobacco doesn’t matter either. It doesn’t really matter if people smoke tobacco. And carbon dioxide in the atmosphere doesn’t matter either.
And sugar doesn’t matter either. And salt doesn’t matter. And it doesn’t matter if people eat cheeseburgers or hot dogs or cream donuts. These things simply don’t matter.
It would matter if the world really is “on fire” like Greta Thunberg says it is. But the world is not on fire. It’s an exaggeration to say that it is. It’s maybe just slightly warmer than it was a century ago. And maybe not even that.
And there isn’t a “tobacco epidemic” like the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control claims. Tobacco is a plant, not a communicable disease. A field of wheat is not a “wheat epidemic.” A forest is not a “tree epidemic.”
It always requires exaggeration to make the unimportant seem more important than it really is.
It’s got so bad in recent years that I still don’t know whether this new coronavirus epidemic is really serious or not. After all, we have a long history of flu epidemics that never happened, and so they’re probably crying wolf again about this latest epidemic. Are the current 3831 deaths worldwide a lot? At what point does it become really serious? Ten thousand deaths? A hundred thousand deaths? A million deaths?
Or perhaps it only becomes serious when you start praying that you don’t get it too. And even more serious when you start praying that your family and friends and neighbours don’t get it. And maybe yet more serious when you pray out loud for absolutely everybody, all the time. A prayer is an intense wish or hope. Sometimes it’s so intense that it’s spoken or shouted aloud. To whom, or to what, are such prayers addressed? Perhaps God is simply whatever it is that prayers are addressed to. Perhaps God is implicit in every prayer, and people only start believing in God when they start praying.
I’ve never been on one, but you hear about planes where the passengers all burst into applause when the pilot lands it successfully at some airport on a stormy day. And that’s because they were all silently praying that he would manage it. Their applause was the expression of their relief when he succeeded. If they hadn’t been praying, they wouldn’t have applauded. And if they hadn’t been praying, it was because they fully expected the pilot to routinely land the plane.
In an unpredictable and uncertain world, people will be praying all the time for one thing or another. And people who are praying are addressing their prayers to Something. And if they’re all praying to God out loud together, they’ll find themselves in a church. So that’s maybe how churches come into existence. It’s not that people go to church and then start praying, but that they start praying and find themselves in a church surrounded by people saying the same prayers. Praying for a good harvest. Praying for rain. Praying for long life. It all starts with prayer. And the churches empty when people stop praying because life has become so predictable and certain and secure that there’s no need for prayer.
So if this new coronavirus epidemic becomes something really bad, people will all start praying. They’ll start praying even if they never go to church, and don’t believe in God. And once they’ve started praying, they’ll start to believe in God, and they’ll start going to church. So the coronavirus epidemic might well end up refilling our empty churches, if only in thanksgiving for having survived it.