3 April, 2020
If you ask people what they think was the most important thing that ever happened in the world they’ll come up with some fascinating answers. Some will tell you it was the invention of the wheel. Others will plump for the telephone. Others perhaps the discovery of anaesthetics.
Few will acknowledge that the Gospel is not just a quaint story about the coming into the world of a Good Man, but that it’s actually the Incarnation – the ‘enfleshment’ – of God himself, and that its fulfilment is the Resurrection of that same Good Man thirty years later. God took our nature upon himself in order that we might be raised up to his divinity. Everything that ever happened before and all that has happened since is utterly dwarfed and transformed by that act of unimaginable generosity.
It has inspired so much that is good in civilization: grand architecture, noble paintings and statues, uplifting music, powerful and affecting written works, the Common Law itself, the ardent and fearless pursuit of justice and truth in its varied manifestations. People who deny the importance or even the fact of Christ’s coming may quarrel with these claims, but they are surely incontestable: could Bach’s cantatas have been as rich if he hadn’t had God to sing about? Could Shakespeare have come up with a Hamlet or a Lear in a world that had never heard of Christ? Could Michelangelo have carved his Pietà if he hadn’t really believed in it?
I used to lead an annual educational tour of Italy. I recall one man in my group refusing to enter a church to see a famous altarpiece: he said that he was ‘sick of churches’. The rest of us went in, but he stayed outside sulking. I said to him later that I would write to the President of Italy asking him to relocate all that nation’s art works so that decent people could see them without being offended. My somewhat heavy-handed sarcasm wasn’t entirely lost on him. He did come, though grudgingly, into the next church we visited. He was a nice man and I liked him, but he was blind to so much. I hope he’s seen the Light.
The news lately has been almost entirely dedicated to The Virus. This piece from a Francis Maier article offers another perspective:
‘Our current virus situation is both different from – and similar to – pandemics in the past. It’s different in its lethality. Coronavirus is a serious matter, with high risk for certain age and health groups, and very contagious. But the great majority of people who contract it will recover. Today’s pandemic is also different, and far more survivable, due to the ability of medical authorities to understand and respond to the crisis.
‘At the same time, today’s crisis is similar to the past in the shadow of mortality it casts over cultures that had grown fat for decades in self-confidence, distractions, and wealth. Everyone knows that he or she will one day die. But we’ve become very skilled at evading the thought it will actually happen to us. For rich nations and their elites, the party’s over. At least for a while.’
We wish you a joyful Easter season, in spite of the Virus – and its consequences. Stay well!
This article by Geoffrey Luck vigorously maintains that overreaction to The Virus will do us great harm in the long run.
More cogent, but taking the same line, is Logic, The First Casualty, by Aynsley Kellow, for its analysis of the opinions of epidemiologists, a class of specialists whose expertise has often been sidelined.
By contrast a reader researched the local paper in Bergamo, Italy, and came up with this:
13 March 2019, 3 pages of obituaries
13 March 2020, 10 pages of obituaries
22 March, 2019, 2 pages of obituaries
22 March, 2020, 11 pages of obituaries
Striking evidence of the heartbreaking impact of the Virus on one Italian region. Further statistics are available here.
24 March, 2020
On 4 May 1940 my father embarked on the first voyage of the Queen Mary, since her conversion to a troop ship, to sail to the Middle East to fight the Axis powers. On board were 5,000 other members of the AIF – the Australian Imperial Force. My mother, like many others, followed the ship in a small boat as far as the Sydney Heads, to wave farewell. Nobody then believed that the crisis would be over soon and that the boys would come home by Christmas: just getting there took several weeks and was fraught with danger.
My mother told me years later that most people were pessimistic about the prospect of victory. In the following year the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbour, sank the Prince of Wales and the Repulse, conquered Hong Kong and then Singapore. My father was gravely wounded at El Alamein and never fully recovered his fitness, but most of his comrades went on to fight in the Pacific War. The situation looked utterly dire, despite the huge injection of American power. Australia planned for a Japanese invasion, and on the other side of the world death rained down every day on cities like London.
The bravery of those who went to war and those who stayed behind fills us with awe. The more so when we consider that the First World War had ended just 22 years previously, and everybody recalled only too well how many of their dear ones had never come home.
We are now facing another crisis. It is right to take special measures, for our own sakes and for the good of those around us, to avoid infection. But it is also right to question whether the severity of the measures will be too costly for some people to bear. Lives may be saved, but many will lose their livelihoods in the inevitable recession that must ensue. The media feed this frenzy, whether in honest zeal for reporting the truth, or driven by a kind of lust for The Big Story. They love statistics, but they rarely provide a context by supplying comparative numbers.
Here’s a context. According to this source 56 million people died throughout the world in 2017. That’s about 160,000 every day. If it is trustworthy it’s a fine resource: you can search for causes of death, by percentage, nation by nation, over the whole period from 1970 almost to the present.
Heart failure and cancer are clearly the big killers everywhere, followed by a whole range of other bodily ailments. Deaths as a consequence of human activity come surprisingly far down the scale in the eight countries whose stats I examined: one of the biggest killers is suicide: the lowest rate I found was 0.51% in Nigeria, the highest 2.37 in Russia. Homicide varies enormously from 0.06 in Britain to 0.19 in Australia, 0.7 in the US and a horrifying 4.7 in Brazil. Everywhere the car can be lethal: 0.97 of Australian deaths were caused by road accidents, 1.55 in the US, and 3.43 in Brazil (Brazil’s not looking like a good place to be!).
Fatalities due to communicable diseases such as Corona Virus do not appear as a separate category but are no doubt masked and subsumed under such groupings as ‘respiratory diseases’, which accounted for 7% of the world’s deaths. I cannot forbear to mention that deaths due to climate change are off-scale, unless we believe that Russia’s decline from 0.88% to 0.55% in deaths from 1970 to 2017, in the category ‘Heat related – hot and cold exposure,’ means that fewer people died of cold.
Here’s another statistic. During last night’s SBS news, which was almost entirely given over to The Virus, a brief announcement by the Save the Children fund reported that 15,000 children ‘die needlessly’ every day.
So let’s try to keep things in proportion. First World governments that scramble to allocate 1% or less of their GDPs to foreign aid suddenly find that they can put their hands on billions and trillions of dollars to bail out those who will suffer in the economic backlash of the Virus. And so they should – I do not dispute that. But could they not stretch a point to help the world’s poorest? Hunger and thirst are far bigger killers, day-by-day and with no end in sight, than any of the bugs that we face during this period of high risk.
A member of our International Advisory Board, Prof Bob Kennedy, wrote a nice piece to complement my own recent remarks on Faith and Reason. With his permission I copy it here:
I am moved, while I have a moment, to offer a quick comment about faith and reason. Of course, the language we use, e.g., fides et ratio, is quite common. But it seems to me that it is misleading and concedes something to our opponents that we ought not to concede.
We hurry to say that faith and reason are not opposed but even this suggests that they are something quite different. In fact, one of the distinguishing marks of Catholicism is the conviction that, ultimately, faith is entirely reasonable; faith is another mode of knowing, not a non-reasonable way of thinking (whatever that might mean).
To borrow a thought from Benedict XVI, faith proceeds from the (reasonable) conviction that the Creator has acted in history and deliberately revealed himself to human communities. To deny, a priori, that such a thing is possible, as natural scientists are inclined to do, is not only unreasonable, it cripples reasoning by denying the possibility of immaterial reality. It is, as Benedict has said, as if our thinking is done inside a bunker without windows, deliberately shielded from aspects of reality we prefer not to address.
It seems to me that faith, as a gift, constitutes a received ability to see (with the ‘eyes’ of intellect) the evidence of the immaterial. To offer a poor analogy, to be unable to ‘see’ this evidence is like being color blind. The color blind person (my sons are severely color blind) thinks himself quite reasonable to assert that the world is largely gray and brown.
So, I think we should find some way of reclaiming the discourse, perhaps speaking of ‘faith and science,’ both of which are modes of reasonable thinking.
Prof Peter Kurti gave a splendid talk on the normally ill-omened Friday 13th (of March). Despite the omen we were fortunate indeed: two or three days later he would not have been allowed into Tasmania. We are posting a full voice recording of his talk, and we expect to make written copies of his paper available soon. Thank you Peter and Linda for your gracious company.
With best wishes to all,
This article by Matthew Walz pleads for a return to ‘Classical education’ which, as he argues, is deeply entwined with Christianity. He writes for an American context; here in Australia Victorians for Classical Education has similar goals. And here’s an intriguing article on the health-giving properties of classical architecture!
‘Stress Innoculation vs mollycoddling’ – a clever piece by Jonathan Haidt on taking risks and other ways to strengthen our immune systems.
Former Colloquium contributor Erik Peacock talks about living The Quiet Life in this podcast.
Apocalypse Now: Brendan O’Neill write, with his usual vigour, about governmental responses to the Virus.