Stop Basking in the “I would have done things differently and we’d all be better off now” COVID-19 Delusion

I have found a variation of the “Hanlon’s razor” aphorism helpful in calming my inner cynic these last months: “Never attribute to conspiracy that which can be explained by incompetence.” We’ve all been living in the unknown and there are still no COVID-19 experts, there are only people gaining expertise. That means we are all various shades of incompetent in dealing with COVID-19.

Nobody knows FOR SURE what does/doesn’t work or what will/won’t work. I’m willing to follow the lead of our leaders so long as mandates and bylaws are equitably applied. I am encouraged by the attentiveness, responsiveness, and desire to get back to “normal” that I’ve seen to this point and I am confident that will continue (here in Ontario anyway).

Here are some thoughts on an article you can find here:

Making face masks mandatory is not backed by science or law

There is some good, solid thinking here… and some oddly cynical/paranoid musings.

Quote 1 – good question
“The curve is flat, and has been for months. COVID-19 deaths peaked in March or April (depending on which jurisdiction) and now continue to decline, even while increased testing exposes more “cases.” If masks were not required to flatten the curve, why should they be required now?”

Quote 2 – good point
“Masks impair communication, harshly impacting vulnerable people with mental-health disorders and developmental disabilities; the deaf and hard of hearing; those with cognitive impairments; and children. Dangerous miscommunications can result when those who suffer from hearing loss are not able to hear someone who is wearing a mask. These risks are even greater in multicultural settings, where a person often needs to see the speaker’s mouth and face to fully understand what is being said.”

Quote 3 – excellent point
“In Alberta and other jurisdictions, the average age of death from COVID is higher than the average life expectancy; COVID has little if any impact on life expectancy.”

Quote 4 – encouragement for those who are paranoid?
“What is “unprecedented” in 2020 is not COVID but a new social and political experiment of locking up an entire population of millions of healthy people…”

I do not understand the impulse of so many who are convinced that their government is conspiring against them. If that’s you, you need to put yourself in their shoes for the last 5 months. Imagine yourself making life-and-death decisions for millions of people with no playbook to consult. Leaders were, for the most part, working with the same partial and conflicting information the rest of us were.

It’s wonderful for those who are not leading to bask in the “I would have done things differently and we’d all be better off now” delusion while comfortably seated in the peanut gallery.

Every election cycle there are many opportunities to get involved by volunteering or running for office if you think you know better than our current elected officials. And I’m not saying that you don’t know better – so go for it!

Points of Interest (2020-06-17)

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George Floyd and Me / Privilege Matters, Part 1 / Stop Preparing For The Last Disaster / Defund the Thought Police / Invisible insulation

Shai Linne – George Floyd and Me (The Gospel Coalition)

“So when I watch a video like George Floyd’s, it represents for me the fresh reopening of a deep wound and the reliving of layers of trauma that get exponentially compounded each time a well-meaning white friend says, ‘All lives matter.’ Of course they do, but in this country, black lives have been treated like they don’t matter for centuries and present inequities in criminal justice, income, housing, health care, education, etc. show that all lives don’t actually matter like they should.”

“For me, ‘life as usual’ means recognizing some people perceive me as a threat based solely on the color of my skin. For me, ‘life as usual’ means preparing my sons for the coming time when they’re no longer perceived as cute little boys, but teenage ‘thugs.’ Long after George Floyd disappears from the headlines, I will still be a black man in America.”

Rut Etheridge III – Privilege Matters, Part 1 (Gentle Reformation)

“’Black lives matter!’ is, in itself, not only an innocuous claim but a statement of absolute, ontological, moral truth. It is a claim implicitly made on page one – page one! – of God’s holy word (Genesis 1:26-27). The foundation upon which this value claim properly rests and rises, that every human being bears God’s image, is stressed throughout Scripture (Genesis 9, Exodus 20, James 2 and 3). So what does it tell us when, as Bible believers, our first or strongest response to the statement is defensiveness, reacting as if we or other kinds of people have been insulted or excluded?”

Stop Preparing For The Last Disaster (Farnam Street)

“After a particularly trying event, most people prepare for a repeat of whatever challenge they just faced. From the micro level to the macro level, we succumb to the availability bias and get ready to fight a war we’ve already fought. We learn that one lesson, but we don’t generalize that knowledge or expand it to other areas. Nor do we necessarily let the fact that a disaster happened teach us that disasters do, as a rule, tend to happen. Because we focus on the particulars, we don’t extrapolate what we learn to identifying what we can better do to prepare for adversity in general.”

“In the aftermath of a disaster, we want to be reassured of future safety. We lived through it, and we don’t want to do so again. By focusing on the particulars of a single event, however, we miss identifying the changes that will improve our chances of better outcomes next time. Yes, we don’t want any more planes to fly into buildings. But preparing for the last disaster leaves us just as underprepared for the next one.”

Doug Wilson – Defund the Thought Police (Blog & Mablog)

“And so it is not whether we will have police, but rather which police we will have. Not whether certain actions and words will be policed, but rather which actions and words will be policed. The choice is between a police that is generally accountable to elected leaders, who in turn are accountable to voters, or a police force who are accountable to no one except themselves and their own disordered ideology.”

Seth Godin – Invisible insulation

“It’s almost impossible to make a list of all the things I didn’t have to worry about yesterday. We need to work overtime to make that true for more people.”

Have your say:

Points of Interest (2020-06-10)

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Unmasking Racism, Starting with Me / Is physical distancing over? It sure seems to be / The Treason of Epidemiologists

Gene Joo – Unmasking Racism, Starting with Me (The Gospel Coalition)

“We’ve learned in the past few months that COVID-19 is such a formidable threat precisely because it so efficiently spread through asymptomatic hosts. Similarly, racism, under the cover of plausible deniability, makes it that much more difficult to definitively identify and eradicate. What does it take for any person to admit that he’s a racist, when he compares himself to the obvious culprits from the antebellum South or Jim Crow America? How many people today will honestly see themselves as perpetrators of racial injustice?”

Rex Murphy – Is physical distancing over? It sure seems to be (National Post)

“The paradox here is not without poignancy. Civil authorities have kept people from their closest loved ones in times of the greatest emotional stress. You cannot visit. There are limits placed on funeral visitations. Daughter has not been able to visit mother, and forced to lip-speak through a window — and even that pathetic gesture has been frowned upon (Ottawa briefly banned it altogether). All in the name, I note again, of a greater good. We must not spread the virus, and if that means real pain for individual people, we’re sorry for it, but it must be the case. But protest marches fall outside these rigours?”

“This is certainly no condemnation of protests, but the logic behind the authorities who blithely and silently simply dumped or ignored their own rules. If they have a reason for doing so, let us hear it. Explain the different treatment. Justify the departure from the rules…. Is the pandemic over? Or, does its rage stop when people gather for a noble cause?”

Jonah Goldberg – The Treason of Epidemiologists (The Dispatch)

“We spent the last couple of months being hectored by public health experts and earnestly righteous media personalities who insisted that easing lockdown policies was immoral, that refusing to social distance or wear masks was nigh upon murderous. They even suggested that protests were somehow profane. But now that the George Floyd protests are serving as some kind of Great Awokening, many of the same are saying “never mind” about all of that. Protests aren’t profane, they’re glorious and essential—if they agree with what you’re protesting about.”

Have your say:

Points of Interest (2020-06-03)

My Expert Opinion / The Law of Unintended Consequences: Shakespeare, Cobra Breeding, and a Tower in Pisa / What Are God’s Purposes in a Recession? / Preaching under the smile and the smiting rod / Coming undone: What COVID-19 pandemic policies have done to our psyche

Alan Jacobs – My Expert Opinion (Snakes and Ladders)

“Americans have never more desperately needed reliable knowledge than we do now; also, Americans have never been less inclined to trust experts, who are by definition the people supposed to possess the reliable knowledge.”

“My suggestion to journalists, then, is simple: Never use the word ‘expert.’ If you are tempted to say ‘We talked to an expert,’ say instead that you talked to an immunologist, or an epidemiologist — and then take a moment to explain what an immunologist or epidemiologist actually is.”

The Law of Unintended Consequences: Shakespeare, Cobra Breeding, and a Tower in Pisa (Farnam Street Blog)

“Many people who experience a rodent infestation will stop feeding their cats, assuming that this will encourage them to hunt more. The opposite occurs: well-fed cats are better hunters than hungry ones. When the British government offered financial rewards for people who killed and turned in cobras in India, people, reacting to incentives, began breeding the snakes. Once the reward program was scrapped, the population of cobras in India rose as people released the ones they had raised. The same thing occurred in Vietnam with rats…”

John Piper – What Are God’s Purposes in a Recession? (Desiring God)

“God is sovereign, which is why you can speak in terms of purposes. God is sovereign over these things. He foresees them all. He causes or permits them all. And when he foresees and he causes or permits, it is always by design. So, whatever comes to pass comes to pass by God’s design, however it comes to pass.”

Andrew Roycroft – Preaching under the smile and the smiting rod (Thinking Pastorally)

“Have we forfeited the opportunity of silence in our pulpits by becoming new heroes of the story in an online realm? Ought we not to have cried out to God to show us what he would have us do in our souls, before we called in technology to show us how to run our services? Have we rushed to solutions when our first note ought to have been sorrow?… Shall we leave lockdown more technically competent, and no more spiritually sensitive?”

Sharon Kirkey – Coming undone: What COVID-19 pandemic policies have done to our psyche (National Post)

“According to the survey, one-quarter of Canadians are experiencing moderate to severe levels of anxiety. A similar proportion felt lonely occasionally, or most of the time, in the past week; 20 per cent reported feeling depressed. Women, parents with children at home and younger adults, the 18- to 39-year-olds, are faring worse than others. Nearly one-quarter of the 1,005 people surveyed between May 8 and 12 reported binge-drinking in the past week. Significant numbers reported feeling nervous and edgy, or having trouble relaxing. We’re feeling easily annoyed and irritable, the survey tells us. We’ve spent an unhealthy number of days over the past two weeks worrying ‘something awful might happen.’”

Have your say:

Points of Interest (2020-05-20)

The Map Is Not the Territory / Pastor, You Were Made for This / Beyond ‘Plandemic’: A Christian Response to Conspiracies / No, COVID-19 Is Not a ‘Disaster for Feminism’

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The Map Is Not the Territory (Farnam Street Blog)

This blog is quickly becoming a favourite of mine. I have not yet looked deeply into its background, but I like what I’m seeing. For example…

“Maps are necessary, but flawed. (By maps, we mean any abstraction of reality, including descriptions, theories, models, etc.) The problem with a map is not simply that it is an abstraction; we need abstraction… To solve this problem, the mind creates maps of reality in order to understand it, because the only way we can process the complexity of reality is through abstraction. But frequently, we don’t understand our maps or their limits. In fact, we are so reliant on abstraction that we will frequently use an incorrect model simply because we feel any model is preferable to no model.”

Jared C. Wilson – Pastor, You Were Made for This (The Gospel Coalition)

“Christianity was not launched in a world of comfort, and it was not designed to flourish in a world of comfort. If the Lord is doing anything in overseeing this season, perhaps it is a refining, a sifting. Things are going to get weirder, more difficult, more trying. Maybe the true church will rise to the surface. And with her, the true pastors.”

Deborah Haarsma, Jim Stump and David Buller – Beyond ‘Plandemic’: A Christian Response to Conspiracies – (BioLogos)

“Christians seem disproportionately susceptible to misinformation and conspiracies about COVID-19. That is due, undoubtedly, to the way ideas are packaged in the culture wars in our country. Scientists and their expertise have been lumped together with other academics and left-leaning causes. And all of us are hard-wired to find affinity with the groups we identify with.”

“As we steward the power of our influence through every Facebook post and every retweet, we should remember that we’re not following Jesus’ command to be “wise as serpents” if we’re swayed by the emotional manipulation of a conspiracy theory or a slickly-produced video. And we’re not “harmless as doves” if we spread misinformation or sow confusion in the midst of a global health emergency.”

Marilyn Simon – No, COVID-19 Is Not a ‘Disaster for Feminism’ (Quillette)

“Why would anyone find a family unit taking care of its members a “disaster” for feminism? How childish—and frankly un-feminine—has feminism become that it must see childrearing and nurturing a family unit as a step down during a time of crisis? A step down from what? It often seems like it’s mostly feminists who disparage female work and praise so highly the world of corporate and professional success.”

Is COVID-19 an Obstacle to Overcome or an Opportunity to Embrace?

In this time of suffering and uncertainty, are we primarily concerned with the preservation of our lives or the proliferation of the gospel?

You’ve never seen a river that runs in a perfectly strait line from beginning to end – not a naturally occurring river anyway. Why is that? It’s because as it flows it meets obstacles, and at every obstacle it collects until it either goes over the obstacle or finds another low spot to the left or the right and then it continues its journey. If one avenue is blocked, it will find another.

In Phil. 1:12 Paul writes,I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel…” What had happened to him? We read of what Paul knew would, and did actually, happen to him in Acts 20:22-23: “And now, behold, I am going to Jerusalem, constrained by the Spirit, not knowing what will happen to me there, except that the Holy Spirit testifies to me in every city that imprisonment and afflictions await me.” He went to Jerusalem, got arrested, stood before the council, and evaded an assassination plot. He eventually ended up in prison in Rome, which is where he wrote his letter to the church at Philippi. 

Paul knows that it is God’s will for him to go and to suffer, and one of the clearest points of Paul’s beautiful testimony to the church then and today is this: He is not primarily concerned with the preservation of his life, but with the proliferation of the gospel.

The Persistence of the Gospel

You might assume, as some did, that what happened to Paul would delay or even stop the spread of the gospel. But no, Paul says, quite the opposite. Despite what seem to be intimidating obstacles, the gospel is making unexpected progress! What has happened to him has actually, by God’s providence and grace, created a new avenue by which the gospel could advance.

Rivers make winding progress. They flow, they go around obstacles. Rivers are persistent, and the gospel is persistent in the same way. If you put a barrier in the pathway of the gospel it always finds a way to go over or around.

The chief obstacle for Paul was his imprisonment, but he saw this as no obstacle at all. In fact, he saw this as opportunity. By way of this opportunity the gospel is advancing in new areas. The message of the gospel cannot be stopped because it is the message of a God who cannot be stopped. It is futile to try to contain it; it cannot be contained. So Paul says, ”You might think this has set me back. But actually, it has put the gospel forward.”

Not An Obstacle to Overcome But An Opportunity to Embrace

Paul knew that many types of affliction would come, but he was confident that God would be at work in it all. He sees it as his assignment to be a willing vessel of affliction and to see that God’s plan is accomplished not despite his affliction – this wasn’t an obstacle to overcome – but because of his affliction – this was an opportunity to embrace.

As Paul writes this letter he sits in prison. He is suffering, and by way of his suffering the gospel is advancing. Long after Paul’s letter was written, Elisabeth Elliot said something that I’m sure Paul would have agreed with: “The will of God is never exactly what you expect it to be. It may seem much worse, but in the end it’s going to be a lot better and a lot bigger.”

It’s safe to say we’re in the “much worse” phase of God’s will right now. But we can look forward with hope and trust that in the end this will work out for our good and God’s glory. And the gospel will advance by way of this affliction if we see COVID-19 not as an obstacle to overcome but an opportunity to embrace.

Have your say:

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Points of Interest (2020-05-12)

Why Conservatives and Liberals Are Not Experiencing the Same PandemicThe Case for a Mandatory COVID-19 AppCOVID-19 Conspiracists and Their DiscontentsWhy We Focus on Trivial ThingsWhy Canadians should wish Sweden well in its no-lockdown approach to COVID-19

Some snippets of what I’ve read this week. These are the highlights but I encourage you to go and read these posts in their entirety.

Luke Conway – Why Conservatives and Liberals Are Not Experiencing the Same Pandemic – (Heterodox Academy)

“Conservatives oppose the government telling them when they can or cannot leave their homes; liberals support such policies. Because a threatening disease might validate government interventions that conservatives dislike, conservatives appear motivated to downplay the severity. Or conversely, because a threatening disease might validate government interventions that liberals do like, liberals seem motivated to magnify the threat.”

Sean Welsh – The Case for a Mandatory COVID-19 App (Quillette)

“COVID-19 offers governments no attractive policy options. Those in power are in a no-win situation. The choice is not between good and bad, nor even between bad and worse, but between grim and catastrophic. On one hand, there is the “butcher’s bill” of death that results from inaction or inadequate action in the face of the virus. On the other, there is the “banker’s bill” of bail-out and bankruptcy that results from quarantine measures. The “butcher’s bill” that results from delay or inaction in the face of the virus is grim.”

“The butcher bills fortnightly. Two weeks of inaction or delay in the face of COVID-19 can kill thousands. The banker moves at a more leisurely pace, billing quarterly. Most businesses can survive without revenue for a fortnight. Fewer can survive one quarter let alone three or four without income.”

Michael Shermer – COVID-19 Conspiracists and Their Discontents (Quillette)

“Conspiracism always flourishes when people are faced with uncertain, open-ended sources of suffering or evil. The mind abhors a vacuum of explanation. So when gaps in knowledge open up, the empty spaces are filled with available explanations that, however implausible, seem morally compelling. Usually, conspiracists target the suspected evildoers they had their eye on anyway.”

Why We Focus on Trivial Things (Farnam Street blog)

“The Law of Triviality states that the amount of time spent discussing an issue in an organization is inversely correlated to its actual importance in the scheme of things. Major, complex issues get the least discussion while simple, minor ones get the most discussion.”

“The key is to recognize that the available input on an issue doesn’t all need considering. The most informed opinions are most relevant. This is one reason why big meetings with lots of people present, most of whom don’t need to be there, are such a waste of time in organizations. Everyone wants to participate, but not everyone has anything meaningful to contribute.”

Chris Selley – Why Canadians should wish Sweden well in its no-lockdown approach to COVID-19 (National Post)

“When we postmortem this pandemic, we will hear about sexual and domestic assaults, suicides and other isolation-related harms. They will need to be weighed against the risks inherent in a less draconian approach.”

Is the Gospel Under Assault in Aylmer, Ontario?

Is the gospel under assault right now in Aylmer, Ontario? Are we Christians being persecuted? Should we be doing something different than we’re doing right now? What does it look like for us to “speak the word without fear”?

Related post: Should This Aylmer Pastor Be Breaking the Law?

One result of Paul’s frequent imprisonments was that other Christians were emboldened, they were energized by his witness of suffering for the sake of Christ (Phil. 1:14). That’s the exact opposite result some would expect. Paul was being punished for speaking the truth of the gospel and the intent on the part of those punishing him was to make clear to others what they could expect if they tried the same thing.

But this doesn’t reduce gospel preaching, it increases it. People who are committed to God and captivated by his word are stirred to speak whenever the gospel is under assault. When you tell Christians not to speak of Christ, as the apostles were in Acts 6, you can be assured that they will speak of Christ at the next opportunity.

Types of Boldness

Bold Christians inspire and energize other Christians, but there are two types of boldness. One leads to good results and the other does not. Bold confident Christians who are wise can inspire other Christians to step out boldly in wisdom. But bold confident Christians who are foolish can inspire other Christians to step out boldly in foolishness.

The small town where I live and pastor a church has been in the national news these last weeks because of a local church that has been disobeying the police by meeting in their cars in their parking lot for worship services on Sunday mornings. The pastor of this church is bold and is attempting to energize his flock to step out boldly. 

Making the Case

What should we think of this? We are Christians who count ourselves as people who are bold and confident in the gospel, just as Paul was, just as those who were inspired by Paul were. And we would certainly defend the gospel if it was under assault. 

The issue in this case, in our town is being framed by this pastor with three biblical stories: David and Goliath, Daniel and Nebuchadnezzar, and the Apostles before the Council

So, is the gospel under assault right now in Aylmer, Ontario? Are we Christians being persecuted? Should we be doing something different than we’re doing right now? What does it look like for us to “speak the word without fear”? 

Is the Gospel Under Assault?

The first thing we need to understand clearly from scripture is that we may not like or agree with decisions that are made, but unless the authorities are compelling us to sin then we are not free to disobey. We are free to challenge but we are not free to disobey.

The questions we must answer, then, are these: 

  • Is the government, in prohibiting us from meeting together – even if we stay in our cars – compelling us to sin?
  • Are they mocking us as the Philistines mocked Israel before David slew Goliath?
  • Are they commanding us not to pray, as Nebuchadnezzar did Daniel? 
  • Are they commanding us, even metaphorically, to bow down to an idol, to pledge our sole allegiance to a false God?
  • Are they commanding us not to speak the name of Jesus, as the council did to the apostles?

The answer to all those questions is no. To mock us in this situation would be to allow other large groups to gather in this way for corporate events but not Christians. That’s not happening. We have not been commanded to stop preaching or praying or worshiping. In fact, we are still doing all those things. We have not been asked to bow to any sort of idol that would cause us to betray our allegiance to God. We have not been forbidden to speak the name of Jesus. We’re free to do that all we want. 

The Conditions For Disobedience 

The conditions for disobedience have not been met, so to disobey the authorities at this point would be for us to sin.

One more possibility that might justify disobedience: Are they compelling us to sin by causing us to ignore the command to meet together that we find in the book of Hebrews? Again, no, because there is a greater command, which is to love God and love your neighbour. And to love our neighbours in this time is to abide by the the rules of those who have been placed in authority over us.

We will continue to obey these orders unless it becomes obvious that Christians are being specifically targeted by them. Until that time, we will obey and we will advocate for a reasonable way forward, as we are doing here.

Have your say:

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