Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category

Well Said

July 8, 2020

A succinct and well-stated summary of the absurdity of banning singing and chanting in worship services while sympathetic ears and blind eyes are turned towards riots and protests around the country. It is only unfortunate that it needs to be said at all.

Filtering

June 22, 2020

Thanks to Ken for sharing an article with me from the Wall Street Journal about Amazon’s discriminatory advertising practices. The article highlights something everyone should know but is easily forgotten – Internet companies like Amazon and Facebook and Google are just that, companies. They are not required to provide equal access to everyone. They are not required to sell every possible product that is available. And each one answers to shareholders and is very responsive to market forces.

Which means if you publish something that might be considered politically incorrect, you may not find your product listed or highlighted or advertised on these sites. Which means of course you’ll have a harder time making people aware of your work.

This brief reminder also highlights another level of censorship from some of these same companies – which materials are made available in electronic format for e-readers, and whether titles available today will be available in the future.

Both of which are reasons I love me a good used bookstore, and I’m fortunate to have several not too far away that can help me get my hands on all sorts of things that may increasingly become difficult to find through Amazon. And it’s why I prefer actual books to e-readers (I’ve never owned an e-reader, even though I love the convenience factor they provide). You never know when your copy of something may end up being one of the last copies in existence because of censorship.

Well That’s a Relief

June 11, 2020

It’s a relief to know that while there are still dire news stories about churches as essentially COVID-19 factories, nobody wants to impinge on the rights of people to have sex with pretty much anyone. It’s not unreasonable to deny Constitutional rights for months on end and only allow public worship to begin again with veiled threats that the rights could be withdrawn again without warning should some undefined person or group determine the public health risk is too great, but it’s downright silly to suggest people shouldn’t be hooking up for casual sex. Just be careful!

That’s the gist of this helpful guide from New York City. Be forewarned, it’s a pretty straightforward document that deals with a variety of sexual situations and possibilities and how to engage in them as safely as possible. Sure, people are encouraged to consider abstaining to one degree or another from sex with people they aren’t close to, but it’s certainly nowhere near the moratorium on public worship we just recently and very tentatively emerged from. Don’t be fooled, more and more sex is god in our culture.

Even during a pandemic.

Racism Is Sin

June 4, 2020

Earlier this week I sent a devotional to my congregation based on the Gospel reading for this Sunday, Matthew 28:16-20. I urged them in this season of unrest and disquiet and anger and fear to remember Jesus’ promise that whatever we face we will not face alone. I encouraged them to take these words to heart rather than allow the anger and demands of the culture around us to drive them to sin in terms of anger or fear. But after I sent that message I found myself asking the question why I didn’t write to them telling them to begin working for peace?  In the midst of chaos and hatred and confusion on a variety of levels  and fronts, shouldn’t this be the message of a pastor to his people?  Work for peace?  Demonstrate for peace?


This is the proper message, but demonstrations are not only in the streets.  Some are called to demonstrate in the streets, to exercise civil disobedience.  Never out of joy but always in the hopes of change.  Change as it inevitably is and must remain this side of heaven  – imperfect, fleeting at best, flawed more than not.  Sin must be called out for what it is and when confession and absolution are not enough, it must be dealt with through courts and penal systems.  Always with the prayer of repentance and forgiveness in Jesus for all involved, not simply the accused.  Some of you may well demonstrate for change and so long as you do so without hatred and malice this is your privilege first as a Christian and secondarily as an American.


Some of you will demonstrate for peace in other ways.  Quiet ways, by some  accounts.  With yourself.  With your spouse.  With your children and grandchildren.  With your neighbors.  We are called to be imperfect vessels  of peace to all people and at all times, even when retired or less mobile than we once were or would like to be.  Whether with our doctor or the grocery store clerk or the bank teller or the gardener, we should meet all people regardless of race or gender or creed with the love of Christ as Christ himself has welcomed us with his love.  There are no exceptions to this and no excuses for  refusing to follow it.  


You also demonstrate for peace when you refuse to allow yourself to be agitated or manipulated by the media or  various talking heads.  When you refuse to allow yourself or your faith to be  co-opted by others.  When you insist on spending your time in God’s Word and meditation on whatever is true or honorable  or just or pure or lovely or commendable or excellent.  When we refuse to allow ourselves  to be stirred to hatred on the pretext of righteousness we demonstrate for peace.  In your living room  or the driveway or at family reunions or in the quiet of your own heart.  


As we will hear in the Epistle lesson this Sunday, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.  That’s you and I and George Floyd and Derek Chauvin.  Christ died for all of us because we are all ungodly.   All have sinned and fallen short.  Justice should be pursued and in this sinful world that means sometimes criminal and penal systems must be brought to bear to punish those whose sins are more  egregious.  These systems are themselves comprised of broken human beings and therefore imperfect but they are what we must deal with until our Lord’s return.  We can and should work for reform and change where we identify it is necessary.  But we should always remember systems will never end sin and if we put less faith and trust in them we will be less shocked and outraged when we find that sin exists in even the  most well-intentioned systems and solutions. 

The cure to racism and all sin is not a system but a Savior.  

So yes, work for peace because I can guarantee you somewhere in your lives is a place where more peace is needed.  Advocate for those in your life who are ostracized.  Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.  Give thanks that forgiveness is available to anyone and everyone in Jesus  Christ, and look towards the horizon constantly for his  return.  Be skeptical of easy answers.  Ground yourself  not in slogans or platforms or bumper stickers but in the Word of God that alone brings us the Son of God in whom alone are we promised real and true and lasting peace in this life and in eternity to come.

Round 2

May 18, 2020

A massive spending proposal has passed the House of Representatives.  Intended to provide further financial assistance to individuals and businesses reeling  from COVID-19 restrictions and losses, the bill still has to pass the Senate and there is considerable uncertainty whether that can, will, or should happen.  The price tag is roughly $3 trillion dollars ($3,000,000,000,000,000) on top of our current national debt which is over $25 trillion dollars.  So this package would bump up our national debt by approximately 12%.

The legislation is over 1800 pages in length.  If you have the stomach and time for it, you can read through it here.

Which Way Forward?

May 11, 2020

Now two months into the COVID-19 lockdown, more and more people are beginning  to recognize we can’t continue like this forever.   You can see it in lots of ways.  There’s more traffic now than there was a month ago.  Yes, people are wearing masks and social distancing and giving each other the stink eye if they get too close, but people are out more and more.  There are also more official determinations that we have sheltered in place long enough.  Articles like this one show a growing determination that things need to begin shifting back to normal.

On a personal level, I agree it’s time to start reopening things.  I have little doubt that even when things open back up more fully, people are still going to keep their distance.  Perhaps those plexiglass shields in front of cash registers will remain for weeks or months or maybe they’ll never come down.  It’s hard to gauge the psychological impact of two solid months of fear.

I totally empathize both with small business owners as well as employees who understand keenly the need to get back to work or risk losing their businesses, homes, and who knows what else.  Very simple economic realities dictate whether or not businesses can remain shuttered indefinitely and people can cling to  unemployment perpetually.  The answer is pretty clearly no.  The question is how to deal with this reality.  Do we open things back up and let  people go to work again with reasonable precautions, or do we rely on the government to continue spending our nation into a hole to demonstrate how the State is our salvation?

But my issue is the church.  This is my vocation, my profession.  How do congregations determine what to do?  When to do it?  How to do it?  It’s a difficulty congregations and pastors and church leadership has been dealing with for two months now, and there is a range of responses.

I know some pastors who have continued to lead public worship on Sunday mornings.  Sometimes more  or less as they always have.  Sometimes in multiple, smaller services.  Some have opted for virtual church, streaming their services and providing online or telephone consecration of elements for Holy Communion in peoples’ homes.  Others offer drive-by Communion.  Some offer parking lot worship where people gather in their vehicles, and either bring their own bread and wine for Holy Communion or are provided individually packaged elements when they arrive.  They tune in on their cell phones or car radios to have church together.  Some, like me, provide devotional resources and teaching and sermon materials to their parishioners through e-mail or YouTube.

It’s a mixed bag.  Hard decisions.

I want to reopen church for worship.  But why do I want  to?  That’s the question I’ve grappled with for weeks.

Although I empathize with what the pastor in the opening article is doing, I don’t want to do that.  I won’t hold a press conference.  I won’t issue a press release.  I won’t agree to a television or radio interview.  I’m not making announcements to the general public, because this is not about the general public.  This is about my congregants.  Or at least it ought to be.  Publicity shouldn’t be my motivation.

Politics shouldn’t be our motivation either.  Church is inherently an anti-political institution.  Or perhaps an trans-political or ultra-political institution.  Christian churches – whether sprawling mega-churches or tiny little places – are places where the powers of this world are described for what they are.  Transient.  Temporary.  Blessings from God for the time being at best, the worst of sinful devils for the time being at worst.  Usually somewhere in between.  They are to be respected insofar as they keep the peace, but they are not to be looked to as saviors.  Psalm 146 offers a fair assessment of the powers and institutions of this world.

So I don’t feel it’s the work of the Church to pit itself for or against a particular political party or system or set of decrees.  As an American citizen I may seek to do that and rightfully so, if unfortunately.  But as a pastor and as a congregation, I am ultimately not concerned with these things.  My concern is the Gospel and helping my parishioners remain focused on the Gospel here and now, in this world, regardless of what political party is in power or what economic system is in place.  To help them see how their identity in Christ transcends and also transforms their lives as citizens of a particular geo-political entity.

And I don’t  want fear to drive a decision.  Either the fear of losing religious liberties or the fear of possible infection and sickness and death.  As a Christian my life is not to be characterized by fear, and as the Church we are to live out this to the best of our ability.  Whether the State takes away religious liberties or gives them is ultimately irrelevant as their decrees are not what for the basis of my identity in Christ or how that identity is lived out.  Ample examples throughout history and around the world remind us that Christians don’t disappear just because religious rights are curtailed or eliminated.  We might have to change how we do things, but the faith goes on, and that faith is inherently communal and will find ways to be so.

And fear of sickness and contagion should not keep the Church from being together.  Not  if there are precautions that can be taken and common sense to be implemented.  The Church cannot keep people safe or guarantee their lives any more than the State can.  Unlike the State, the Church can and should equip people to live their lives in the joy and freedom of Christ and not in fear of sickness or death, even as we employ our God-given minds to make choices that are reasonable and prudent.  It is not in my power as a pastor to ensure  that none of my  members get the Coronavirus.  At most, I can and should take reasonable measures to ensure that if and when they gather, we are minimizing that risk.

So if my congregation is to begin meeting again, I want to be as clear as possible in my own mind that this is not a political move.  It is not a move motivated by fears either political or financial or perhaps even theological.  It is not motivated by a desire for personal or congregational attention or notoriety.

Rather, it is only and always about Christ,  and when we make a decision to start meeting again it is because life in Christ is communal.  The talk of family and brothers and sisters and a heavenly Father is not simply metaphorical – it’s real and true even if we may not always experience it as such because of sin.  Church is essential, though it might be true Church is not essential economically or to the State (although I’d argue that the Church actually is essential).  When we begin meeting again it will  be to embrace our identities in Christ once again.  To celebrate his gifts of life and health that are only that, gifts.  Gifts we did not bring into existence on our own and which ultimately remain in his sovereign hands regardless of what measures we do or don’t take to ensure or longevity.

So I pray for all those pastors who wrestle with this issue, an issue that is not nearly as neatly and simply defined by government mandate as the State – or the Church – might be inclined to believe.  And I pray for the people of God around the world who must navigate this together as well, and pray they can be in open discussion and prayer with their religious leaders to try and find the best path forward for them, in their context.

Changing the Rules Mid-Game

April 28, 2020

When we began all of this COVID-19 panic the week of March 16th, 2020, the goal was fairly clear.  We need to take drastic measures to flatten the curve, or in other words, avoid the spike in serious cases that might overwhelm our hospitals and urgent care facilities as happened in Italy.  At the time, this seemed like a reasonable course of action.  We trade off some civil liberties temporarily in order to slow the spread of this new virus.  The idea was that it would be a short-term matter.  Stay at home.  Yes, you might lose your job.  Maybe your business won’t survive.  But the survival of humanity seemed to hang in the balance.

So we stayed at home.  We social distanced.  We washed our hands.  We treated each other like garbage as we fought and hoarded.  But, hey.  Everybody wants to live, don’t they?

Well, it worked.  We flattened the curve.  Or at least according to some sources we have.  Other sources vehemently deny this.  But regardless, even common sense can see that we are not being overwhelmed with massive caseloads of severely sick and dying people.  Although there are some hot spots where there have been more serious cases, even those places really haven’t been overwhelmed.  Although there are people at risk with this virus (as with any virus), that number seems drastically lower than we feared in mid-March.

At this point many people are beginning to say that given the situation, we should begin easing restrictions.

What they – and the rest of us – are going to find out is that it’s a lot easier to give up civil liberties than it is to reclaim them.

California Governor Gavin Newsom now insists that “We are not going back to normal until we get to immunity or a vaccine.”  That’s a much different demand than flattening the curve.  The fact that he has to state it this way demonstrates that we have indeed flattened the curve and now those inclined to keep a tight hold on the reins have to find other reasons to do so.

He’s also stated that for some organizations – including religious organizations – restrictions will not be eased for months.

That is not what we all somewhat begrudgingly or eagerly agreed to back in March.  It isn’t what we agreed to as over 25 million people filed for unemployment this month.  It isn’t what we agreed to in voluntarily suspending religious services.  It isn’t what we  agreed to, weighing the damage done to the indeterminate future through massive additions to our government debt and the destruction of many small and even medium or large sizes businesses – perhaps even industries.

Now citizens need to get up and start figuring out how to retrieve the civil liberties we so easily and fearfully gave up seven weeks ago because the longer we allow them to be suspended, the harder they’re going to be to get back.  If we ever get them back.  Because certainly there will be some new reason to extend states of emergency and other measures even if the COVID-19 pandemic plays itself out (as it obviously is doing all over the world).

The curve has flattened.  It’s time for leaders to put the people back in charge of determining how they remain safe while rebuilding their lives and businesses.

 

Giving and Taking Away

April 25, 2020

Last night as I checked my e-mail before bed I noticed a message from our county regarding sheltering in place restrictions.  Curiously, the title of the e-mail and the message is County Modifies Stay at Home Order: Municipal Golf Club Opens April 25.

It certainly sounds like good news!  It links (I hate when e-mails contain hyperlinks to resources but then you can’t actually click on them because the message is really an image rather than text so you have to manually type out the link in another window!) to this document.  The document mentions golf clubs in passing but it’s hardly the emphasis by any means.  The document explains an easing of stay safe at home orders and which businesses are now allowed to re-open given social distancing and other precautions.  It all sounds good, until you look through the attachments where the details are spelled out.

And really, the main thing that is spelled out has to do with faith-based services.  Faith-based services and golf courses are both included in Appendix A as allowed to open/meet, and both have the most detailed specifications on what they have to do in this regard.  Faith-based services are Appendix A, Item 19, subsections a, b and c.  Here, faith-based services are only allowed if they are either online or meet the following criteria:

  1. Are only outdoors
  2. Everyone stays in their cars (no more than five to a car, all from the same household)
  3. Six feet minimum  between cars
  4. Nobody leaves the vehicles they came in
  5. Nobody is allowed to use a restroom on site
  6. Nothing – including food items – can be transferred to vehicle occupants

Such restrictions are nowhere imposed on any of the other businesses and organizations listed.  Particularly galling to me is the specification about nothing being transferred to vehicle occupants, and food items being specifically mentioned.  I don’t know how else to interpret that other than a prohibition on Holy Communion.

I can walk into a McDonalds and maintain social distancing and they can hand me food to eat.  I can walk into a grocery store and pick up produce that has been passed by or even touched by perhaps countless other people.  Yet there is no provision that a church could meet the social distancing requirements as well as safe food handling requirements?

For the first time (at least locally) I feel as though the restrictions are being focused specifically on religious organizations.  Certainly many other places are also affected and I disagree with that as well.  However to curtail religious freedoms that are Constitutionally guaranteed when similar curtailments are not placed on other organizations seems blatantly discriminatory at best and illegal at worst.  To tout the freedom to golf while essentially denying the Constitutional freedom to worship is twisted.

Some may not see how these restrictions are discriminatory or a violation of Constitutionally protected freedoms.  Understandable, and I’m sure that there will be a diversity of opinions even among Christians on this interpretation.

It is forcing us to change how we worship.  I believe this is intentional, even if intended only for a temporary period of time (an indeterminate period of time, however).  It is is a recognition that worship, unlike grocery shopping, is a communal experience.  I may bump into someone I know at Trader Joe’s and stop for a chat.  But in worship I know I will  see other people I know and love and that is part of the intention.  While American Christianity has done much to disintegrate the communal nature of the faith through a lop-sided emphasis on Jesus-and-me theology and personal salvation, at its purest worship is the place where our righteousness through Christ before God the Father draws us  back into proper relationship with one another and this isn’t just a theoretical or theological speculation but something that is lived out.   It’s tangible.

Ironically one of the reading’s for next Sunday is from the end of Acts 2 and describes how the Christians lived in light of faith in Jesus as the Son of God raised from the dead for their sins.  It is a beautiful passage but also an inherently communal one.

And it is this communal nature of worship that is being gutted by the restrictions mentioned above.  And it is compounded with the absurd elevation of freedom to golf over freedom of religion.

I – and many other churches – have voluntarily suspended worship services.  I don’t believe the government either State or Federally has the right to force us to end our worship services.  I have voluntarily suspended them.  Voluntarily agreed to limit our Constitutional rights in the interest of public safety.  Our congregation has the space and the ability to meet the social distancing requirements imposed on other organizations.  We can provide the hand sanitizers and soap and water.  We can begin worshiping again while still agreeing to the questionably arbitrary demands of the State that we substantially modify how we worship.  And frankly, nearly all of my members are of an age where they may opt not to attend just yet – which is their freedom in the Gospel.

But it’s a Gospel freedom, not a State-controlled freedom.  And Christians throughout history and around the world have understood there is an important distinction between the two.  To prohibit us from worship and the Sacraments when we’re free to go to Burger King or the grocery store or the golf course is inexcusable, and it will be interesting to see how other religious leaders react to these mandates.

 

Which Court Is the Ball In?

April 15, 2020

The Los Angeles Times today ran an editorial by journalist Michael Hiltzik claiming consumers will be the ones to dictate when the US economy goes back to work from the Coronavirus shutdown.  The pace of any return to normality will be dictated by you and me – by consumers making their own judgments about when it will be safe to resume old habits, and business owners running cost-benefit analyses on when a flow of customers will warrant reopening.

It’s a very warm and fuzzy,  we’re-all-in-this-together kind of pro-America statement one might expect to find in newspapers, or perhaps newspapers of another era.  The irony however is that his statement is blatantly false – for now.  It is not consumers or business owners who are making these decisions but rather government officials – governors and mayors and other officials who direct law enforcement to enforce edicts on what businesses are essential and non-essential.

The photo above is what this looks like.  My favorite used bookstore had this posted on their window warning them to cease operations.  As with many small businesses, they were working to figure out how to honor social distancing and other recommendations.  They set up a system where people could order books and pick them up curbside.  They also offered a bag o’ books program where people could pay a set price for a random selection of books in a bag.  Apparently that’s not good enough.  What really matters is whether the State thinks you’re essential or not.  If you aren’t essential, it doesn’t matter whether you’re following best practices to keep your employees and customers healthy. The e-mail it came in indicated there were threats of large fines if they ignored the order to shut their doors.

(This whole topic is ironic,  in that I just re-watched last night one of my all-time Favorite The Twilight Zone episodes – the second season finale The Obsolete Man)

Ideally, it should be a matter of consumers and business owners figuring this stuff out.  If consumers don’t feel safe they won’t go shopping which will drive business owners to reduce hours and do other things to compensate.  But when the government is involved in the mix in terms of dictating  not only how to do business but whether your business is essential or not, things get complicated.  Fast.  And it derails the free-market principles that otherwise (at least imperfectly and impurely) work in our economic system.

One of the fish Hiltzik is trying to fry is Trump, of course.  Trump’s spat with state governors over who controls when the US returns to work or not.  Hintzik’s real issue is to argue against Trump’s claims.

But Hiltzik also envisions a US workplace very different than a month ago.  A workplace governed by social distancing and other factors.  Are these factors mandated by the government or dictated by the free market system?  Are consumers going to demand these changes and so employers will accommodate them?  He recognizes this will increase costs – but those increased costs may not enable businesses that were viable  a month ago to remain viable.  If you operate a restaurant – an example Hiltzik mentions – reducing your seating capacity and therefore the amount of business you can bring in may make your entire business model untenable.  Who is going to be driving those changes and the attendant business closures – the government, or the free market?

But the bigger fish than Trump Hiltzik’s dealing with is capitalism itself, chastising the US for not handling aid like many other countries in the world have – by funneling money to businesses so they won’t lay off their employees even though they can’t be open for business.  He cites our unemployment issue as an “American peculiarity” not  seen in other countries because in those countries, wages are socialized for the current crisis.  He doesn’t indicate or cite whether in those other countries wages were socialized to some extent before the crisis, though the short list of examples he cites certainly have a lot of socialist economies in them.  Certainly America’s response to the crisis will be peculiar because we are – or at least once were – very peculiar indeed.  A place where the well-being of our people was dictated by the people rather than the State, with according levels of risk and reward that more directly benefited the people taking the risks.  If you were willing to innovate to find out how to create a new business opportunity when nobody else was there was the hope you could benefit financially from your risk-taking.  Now, taking risks is much harder to do because the State dictates more of what can and can’t be done – all the way down to mandating which businesses are essential and which aren’t, even if risk mitigation efforts are put into place which are acceptable practices for essential businesses.

Hiltzik clearly favors a socialist approach to things, touting calls for guaranteed paychecks for all Americans until things return to normal.  He doesn’t indicate how that massive expenditure would be paid for.   Nor does he indicate how making such a demand integrates with a government imposed shutdown.  Our governor is working on plans on how to reopen the economy in our state, though his roadmap is so vague as to literally useless.  He cites six criteria that will guide his determination of when it’s safe to go back to work, and in what fashion.  And he’s bluntly stated that neither consumers nor business owners will have much say in that – if any.  Science, rather, is what he claims will guide his decisions as he positions himself for a future presidential run by loaning out the very medical equipment he cites as one of the six criteria that must be met before reopening the economy.

Hiltzik’s idea that consumers and business owner should drive decisions is right on – even if I don’t think he really believes that’s true.  As the ones facing the predominant economic and health risks in this entire crisis, it’s patently unfair to dictate to us how we must handle the situation and then stick us with the bill for paying for it – whether we wanted it or not.  It might be a plan that works in socialist economies, but it’s a poor and dishonest fit for the free market we ought to be proud of and which continues to draw people from around the world to make America their home so they might possibly benefit from it in ways then can’t in their own economies.

When the Emperor Tells You to Strip

April 13, 2020

You might be familiar with the Hans Christian Andersen fable The Emperor’s New Clothes.  In it an emperor is convinced he is wearing an amazing new suit of clothes that will be invisible to anyone who is stupid or unworthy of their position.  In fear of being seen as stupid, nobody around the Emperor wants to tell him he’s naked.  People play along with the Emperor’s whims rather than risk their social status or rank or public opinion.  A child is the only honest one, perhaps in part because the child has nothing to lose, but mostly because children are sometimes able to call a thing for what it is when nobody else will.

A cautionary tale about the dangers of power and the influence power has on the otherwise common sense of people.  But what if instead of just pretending to admire the Emperor’s clothes, you were commanded to strip naked as well?  What then?

It sure feels like that is what Americans – and perhaps most of the world – are being asked to do in fear of COVID-19.  We are being asked to sacrifice our personal economic well-being and the well-being of our families in order to stay physically safe from a terrifying and mysterious infection.  Numbers are paraded out unceasingly to show us how dangerous COVID-19 is.  But the numbers are often portrayed in isolation from any other numbers that would provide context for them.

For instance, headlines recently blared that America surpassed Italy’s COVID-19 death toll.  Since we all remember the headlines about Italy a few weeks ago when COVID-19 hit there, this sounds terrifying!  But it assumes that America was in a better position than Italy to deal with COVID-19, which I doubt is the case (or the case for much of any country), and it ignores the fact that the US has six times the population of Italy, so it seems only reasonable the number of deaths here would be higher.  It also ignores the fact that Italy currently is on a downward trend in terms of  number of infections and deaths.  Yet without any other information, the headlines just hype fear and worry.

But news half-stories are the basis driving our government officials to insist on forcing businesses to close and lay off people.  We are told it is worth destroying our economy, putting millions of people out of work and on unemployment, and destroying untold numbers of small, medium, and even a few large companies because the alternative is the danger of spreading COVID-19, which we are told is more contagious than the flu and more deadly as well.  Two trillion dollars has already been spent in the US on COVID-19 relief and far more actually has and will be spent in terms of state of emergency spending and other forms of government relief to citizens and businesses (oh, and don’t forget banks).

But let’s examine these claims.

In terms of contagiousness, we are daily given new statistics about continuing rates of infection of COVID-19.  Some sources say the rate of infections is slowing and other sources don’t.  But both are using numbers that are, charitably at best, inadequate or, at worst, wrong.  The numbers reported are newly confirmed cases.  Confirmed cases occur when someone tests positive for COVID-19, either alive or dead.  But not everyone with symptoms of COVID-19 is tested.  Despite repeated assurances of widespread testing being made available, testing is still reserved only for those with severe symptoms.  While I don’t know anyone diagnosed with COVID-19 (or anyone who knows anyone for that matter), I do know of at least one person who was refused testing because their symptoms weren’t acute enough to warrant testing.  I’m positive that person didn’t have COVID-19, but the fact that they weren’t tested is a reminder that testing is far from ubiquitous.  Tests are only for those who evidence the full-blown symptoms.

And tigers.

So the numbers being cited of infection rates can hardly be accurate since testing is so spotty and limited.  There are two conclusions we can draw from this.  One would be that we are incredibly good at visually identifying the tell-tale signs of COVID-19 and excluding by external observation cases that aren’t, so the infection rates being reported are essentially accurate because we’re actually testing most of the people who actually have it.  In which case, the more lethal nature of COVID-19 is substantiated because we’re likely identifying most of the actual cases of COVID-19.

Personally, I find that hard to believe.

The other conclusion has two versions.  One is that the reported rates of infection are representative and can be extrapolated out to  the entire population of the country/world.  This of course results in much higher levels of infection and much lower mortality rates.  Or, since we’re only testing extreme cases, the reported  rates of infection are not at all accurate and infection rates are much higher across the board, which drastically reduces the mortality rate associated with COVID-19.

And if COVID-19 isn’t nearly as lethal as it’s being portrayed, why are we destroying our entire economy and  Lord knows what else to contain the infection levels? Are there other options to shuttering an entire economy and trying to force people to stay home as Constitutional rights are violated?

Our county has – as of the 2010 census, roughly 424,000 people in it.  There have been 264 identified cases of COVID-19 as of yesterday.  Over 80% of the identified cases are either fully recovered or in recovery at home.  There have been two deaths in the county thus far.  Yet the entire county is supposed to shelter in place and embrace the drastic measures applied in much higher infection areas and cities.

Things just don’t add up.  I’m more than happy to be educated in why my assessment of this is wrong.  And certainly I know the issue is more threatening to people older than I am (though I’m snugly in the middle of the two age ranges with the highest reported rates of infection in my county).  I know in some more congested areas of the country things are worse – that only makes sense.  Yet the same precautions insisted upon in many of the hardest hit urban areas are expected from our county as well?  The people I know are out of work and hoping for unemployment for a localized rate of infection that is ridiculously small.  In the most recent data available (2017) there were 53 deaths in our county in one year from the flu and/or flu-like illnesses.  Nearly 30 times as many deaths in a single flu season than COVID-19 thus far.  Certainly more people could die of COVID-19, but still.  At this point, the flu is far more dangerous in our county than COVID-19.

It leads one to wonder how much of this is based simply on the novelty of COVID-19.  After all, the flu is no big deal.  It’s been around forever.  We’ve learned to live with it and we’re comfortable with the idea that a lot of people get sick every year  from it (~19 million nationwide) and a lot of people die from it (~24,000 nationwide).  There’s nothing we can do about it (apparently), so we just deal with it.  Oh, and get your flu shots, we’re told.  Even though the 24,000 fatalities expected this flu season are going to happen despite wide scale efforts to convince people to get their flu shots.

But COVID-19 comes along and it’s new and sexy and we can mount a massive effort to provide a vaccine for it, despite the fact we lost interest in creating vaccines for other Corona-family viruses like SARS and MERS.  Once the epidemic or pandemic subsides, there’s no money to be made in funding a vaccine effort, apparently.

I understand different people have different tolerances levels in terms of anxiety and fear and health-related issues.  But when the government demands we cease work and shutter our businesses because of a medical issue that might be scary because it spreads so quickly but is no more dangerous than the flu, that’s a lot like the emperor demanding everyone else strip naked.  At some point, somebody has to stand up and state the obvious.

This is overkill.  The economic and financial damage is going to be far greater, longer-reaching and harder to recover from than the physical health damage.  It’s time to start thinking how to best continue to protect those most vulnerable to this illness while allowing the rest of the country to get back to work.  It’s time for all of us – including our leaders – to put our clothes back on, acknowledging that perhaps we slowed the spread of the infection through these drastic measures, but that drastic measures can’t  be sustained indefinitely when the illness proves to be far less devastating than originally feared.