A New World?

The quarantine laws in most countries affect us all in different ways. Some become bored and depressed, which is expected when they live in small apartments and have no cultural life. In my house, there is a chapel, hundreds of books – both non-fiction and fiction and in French, English and a few other languages, a little pipe organ, a garden, workshops and a kitchen. Above all, we are in the country and live in a fairly spacious house. I feel eminently unqualified to speak for those who are in difficulty because of boredom or because they have run out of food and money.

For the first time, we have to realise that the “nanny state” is not going to help us beyond a few token financial aids to small businesses. Indeed, it is not imposing the lockdown to protect us from becoming ill. Only one thing matters: preventing the health system from becoming overloaded. If we realise that, we know that we are essentially on our own, and we have to grow up and take our own responsibilities. Perhaps this would be the greatest thing that could come out of this. The world doesn’t owe us a living. We are entitled to nothing.

Those who have specialist knowledge in politics and economy keep telling us about new models of how the future could be. Ideas range from conspiracies aimed at bringing about the full-blown Orwellian dystopia to radical environmentalism. I now notice an aeroplane flying over where I live, and there is every chance it is a freight carrier and not a passenger plane. The air is much cleaner and the level of traffic on the roads is down. The problem that has caused our world to fall sick seems to be our need to travel as well as mass-produce. It was mass travel and tourism that brought the virus to us from China.

Will we simply go back to life as it was just two months ago when the word comes from our governments shouting “All clear”? I don’t think there will be an all-clear, but rather that the virus will lurk in our midst, finding fewer people who have never caught it, as remain as an ominous threat. I am in no position to judge the current medical policies in the country where I live, but I do try to understand the science and the differing opinions coming from various experts in the matter. I tend to sympathise with the “rebels”, but the establishment might be right and not merely protecting the interests of “Big Pharma”? How can we know? In the end, we are looking at death in the eye, either from this virus or from some other cause. We face the same thing as those who lived through the two world wars and the Spanish Flu. There will be a new seriousness of life and less need for entertainment and diversion.

Airlines and airports will surely suffer, as will cruise ships. Perhaps I am biased by my distaste for both. I have never understood those who like crowds, security checks, cramped conditions, traffic jams, crowded trains, etc. My own tastes are known, as is my love for independence and space. I do suspect that people will take their holidays in much closer places and begin to appreciate the simple joy of going out to sea in a small boat, camping in a tent, hiking and exploring the natural habitat whilst leaving the smallest possible footprint.

I suspect that even when they let us out of our homes for more than the present restrictive reasons, we will be asked to wear masks and continue the policy of keeping two metres away from the next person, and refrain from usual gestures of courtesy of shaking hands or la bise. Psychologically and in time, friendships and solidarity between people may become more distant. Perhaps the contrary as adversity creates solidarity. I notice many of the traits associated with the plague in historical periods. So far, the infection and death rate is relatively low compared with other diseases – but the contagion is that much more acute.

I would hope that we could learn to be more independent as persons, not “herding” or following fashions, but seeking the best and the most beautiful. I refrain from the usual patronising thoughts of priests who anticipate something like a re-run of the 1950’s or even earlier. Some may return to religious practice, but I suspect that most nominal Christians who only went to church out of habit or social convention will not return. That would depend on the length of the lockdown time. In the face of death, our own or that of our loved ones, we might look to exoteric religion, or something much deeper.

Even in time of war, not everyone found God. As a musician, I have always been struck by the loss of faith in figures like Edward Elgar and Ralph Vaughan Williams because of their bitter experience of World War I and the Spanish Flu, the latter having been the son of a clergyman. It will always depend on how we deal with the problem of evil and suffering. Exoteric religion only has a weak answer for this, and the rest is easily dismissed as “bunk”. On the other hand, there were many cases of World War II soldiers becoming monks on being demobilised. It was variable from person to person.

There may be a return to formal church religion and the liturgy, maybe not. Maybe people will seek higher and elsewhere from the Church, other spiritual traditions. Many hard-line atheists will be comforted in their nihilism and materialism. What is happening to us today is what happened exactly a hundred years ago. The number of deaths is not yet the same, nor is the degree of financial ruin and economic depression. What is two, three or ten years down the road is not easily foreseeable.

I have already mentioned a book I have read: Alan Jakobs, The Year of Our Lord 1943, Christian Humanism in an Age of Crisis, published in 2018. Some aspire to a new 1950’s, but I would hope for much more. It is for each of us to become independent from the human collectivity and bring out the best from each of our personalities. That would be the ground on which the Kingdom of God could be sown anew.

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