Most of us going through the lockdown will never have experienced a world event that so monumentally affected all our day-to-day lives as much as the current coronavirus lockdown. Events like 9/11 and the fall of the Berlin Wall defined eras and generations but didn’t stop so many from going to work, playing sports or attending church.
In her message to the nation, the Queen hinted at the closest point of comparison by looking back at her very first message, in 1940, to children being evacuated because of the Blitz. Just as those who lived through World War 2 rarely took their freedom for granted, it seems likely that those who are now experiencing lockdown will be different because of it.
Reality has been mediated
In an interesting article for Vox, writer Alissa Wilkinson and anthropologist Tom de Zengotita reflect on how the lockdown might change people’s mentality: No one can opt out of this pandemic. And that will change us forever [NB: contains occasional swearing].
The interview talks about responses to the coronavirus bearing in mind de Zengotita’s 2005 book Mediated: How the Media Shapes Your World and the Way You Live in It.
In the latter half of the twentieth century, the media – particularly television – played an increasing role in shaping people in Western societies’ understanding of reality. Increasing mechanisation and globalisation shifted our direct interaction with everyday things towards mediated experiences. Few of us would be involved in harvests, although we might see a five-minute news report telling us that local farmers are struggling due to drought or disease.
This mediated understanding of the world isn’t necessarily wrong – our access to knowledge is much greater than at any previous point in history – but it is increasingly second-hand. Even at a party, a baptism or a pop concert, people routinely hold up their phones to record events in their lives, meaning they experience them through the lens of a smartphone rather than with their own eyes.
As TV channels and media outlets multiplied and then the internet made near-infinite news sources possible, the mediation became options. Any breaking news story would be covered by diverse newspapers and magazines and you could choose which to believe. BBC, Channel 4, Sky News, RT, Al Jazeera, and many more. The Times, The Telegraph, The Guardian, The Mirror, the Mail, The Express and many more.
Coronavirus has no opt-out
With normal news events, each of these sources could provide extensive coverage that would adequately package up the whole story, tell each of us what to believe and allow us to get on with our everyday lives. But the coronavirus is not like that. It’s global in scale. It’s already infected millions and killed hundreds of thousands. Virologists, epidemiologists and other scientists are producing countless studies trying to understand the virus. Lockdown measures attempting to save lives have hit the economy hard, cancelled nearly all sports and entertainment.
The story is far too big for anyone to neatly package up into digestible form. And its impacts are so widespread that no one can ignore it or ‘opt out’ of its effects.
As significant as Brexit has been in the last four years, there was always the option for people who were tired of the debate to ignore it and get on with their lives. No such option exists for the coronavirus.
Media outlets will all have angles – whether the lockdown has been too little or too much, too early or too late, also considering what will have changed when ordinary life is resumed. But we are all impacted immediately by the virus and inevitably checking the claims of newspapers against what we are seeing with our own eyes. We are being pulled away from options and choices to the tangible reality of life.
Which brings us back to our main question – how will we have changed when the lockdown is over, when our working lives are more normal?
Back to life, back to reality
We are being pulled back to life, back to reality. As people of the Truth, Christians have much to rejoice in here. There’s nothing better than the Truth.
Many of those who stand against us on matters of public policy rely on ‘options’ and keeping truth at arm’s length in order to make their cases.
Most obviously, transgenderism flies in the face of reality. It asks us to believe in, and even privilege a person’s self-defined ‘identity’ over the obvious and straightforward truth: that they remain a man or a woman, just as God made them, and any change in appearance is merely cosmetic. Transgenderism has always required us to suspend our disbelief and to nod along as a big, bearded man earnestly tells us he’s a woman and needs access to female-only spaces. Devastatingly, it tells young children and teens that the answer to their gender confusion is to damage their God-given bodies, in an attempt to bring reality into line with their ‘true identity’. Will society be as ready to embrace these artificially constructed realities going forward?
Sexual identities, such as gay, lesbian and bisexual, are just as much constructed identities, as divorced from the truth as transgenderism – only more subtle, and more embedded in our culture. Someone could be said to ‘be gay’ in an objective sense – that they engage in homosexual activities. But nearly always, when someone says they are gay, they are claiming a whole identity – that they have always inevitably been that way and they always will be that way.
Despite genetics never backing up such claims, despite studies and repeated observations that people’s sexual attractions can change over time, gay-affirming culture continues to preach these untrue identities. Will the public, more rooted in reality, see through special interest claims these groups make?
The promotion of abortion depends on the lie that it merely removes a ‘clump of cells’, and that such destruction is a basic human right. We know that showing true pictures of unborn children opens the eyes of ordinary people to see the destruction of abortion as it really is. Will society be quicker to recognise that the humanity of the unborn child is no less precious than all those suffering through the coronavirus?
Because Christians are people of the Truth, all those who fight against Christ’s righteous rule as our true King (Psalm 2, Mat 28), are drawn into lies. Secular atheists construct a made-up, neutral reality where Jesus doesn’t reign. At its heart, Islam (including its political manifestations) tells lies about God’s identity and proclaims that Muhammad was a true prophet.
Whatever issue we care to name, those who oppose Christ oppose the truth.
As the lockdowns continue, Christians should rededicate ourselves to the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.
Return to Christ, the Truth
When restrictions are lifted, we’re going to appreciate the everyday things of life all the more. We’re going to be rebuilding the economy, making post-Brexit trade deals and learning lessons from this pandemic. It seems unlikely that niche self-interest groups will find it as easy to command the attention and sympathy of the public as they have in recent years.
Let’s pray that we return to reality, and return to Christ the Truth.
Throughout this article, I’ve taken the liberty to assume that we will return to normality sometime in the near future. But we cannot take even this for granted.
God could quite easily allow plague upon plague to run through our world. We surely deserve it.
So let’s turn away from our sins – from what we’ve done personally to our national and global atrocities.
And let’s turn to Christ, the Truth, for forgiveness, for protection and for transformation.