Tag Archives: COVID

COVID-19: Fulfillment of “Men’s hearts failing them for fear” (Luke 21:26, KJV)?

One thing does seem sure at this point. Two, and perhaps three, of our major “authorities” have lost credibility in this fight. One is the news media. By vigorously promoting the lockdowns and then doing an about face and supporting public gatherings to protest, the news media shifted in many eyes from a fact-based entity to an advocacy role. While advocacy is an important function in a free society, we do not generally look to the news media for advocacy, we look for sound information and objective reporting of what is going on in the world. Advocacy can skew how one views events and also how one weights which events are worthy of the news cycle. The news media’s credibility as an “honest broker” has taken a severe hit. I am not blaming journalists as a class. It is the “advocates” on all sides that make money online, not objective fact-checkers. So you can blame the internet, at least in part. But journalists could all be more careful to put their opinions in abeyance while weighing the evidence. Even Bible scholars struggle more with that than they used to.

A second major authority to lose credibility in the public eye is the scientific community. The one thing everyone seems to agree on today is that it doesn’t hurt to wash your hands, wear a mask, and watch your distance from others. But we were told at the beginning that wearing a mask made no difference, so save them for health-care workers (but why do that if it makes no difference?). Now they make a difference. It seems this virus caught even the scientific community off guard and media reporting has made the “science” seem a bit chaotic and contradictory. While great hope is placed in a vaccine, there is doubt whether such a vaccine would be more than 50% effective. And increasing numbers of people are not trusting in the whole concept of vaccination. So science has lost some of its credibility in the eyes of the public, except where current scientific opinion supports a prevailing narrative. Again, I am not blaming scientists as such, we demanded answers from the start and they were feeling their way along, doing the best they could to answer us.

The third “authority” to take a credibility hit during this crisis is government. And I say this as apolitically as I can. The federal government’s handling of this has seemed all over the map. Part of this due to relentless, knee-jerk reactions from the news media and the party out of power. At the other end of the political spectrum, there is a recall drive (the provincial level equivalent of impeachment) in California against the left-wing administration there. So no government seems to have come off well in this matter, except perhaps a few countries where the people are willing to submit to draconian measures to defeat the virus. But there is a heavy price to pay in accepting coercive government in exchange for temporary safety and peace. While the virus is a very serious matter, in the long run I suspect the loss of credibility in entities we once trusted may prove more dangerous than the virus itself.

While COVID-19 may be a far cry from the Black Plague as a threat to human life, it is very serious for those deeply affected by it. At the same time there seems to be a growing sense of psychological dis-ease (sic) from the lockdowns, the racial unrest, and the breathless electioneering. I note then that Luke 21:25-26 offers distress, perplexity, fear and foreboding as accompanying the end-time. While these are not a measurable sign of the End in themselves, we are getting a taste of what those days might be like psychologically and emotionally. The internet and social media lend themselves to hype and over-statement. So we are constantly bombarded with messages designed to get attention by arousing the emotional brain rather than the rational brain. What some have called “professional outrage peddlers” draw out worst-case scenarios which seem inevitable yet rarely turn out as bad as predicted. When simple things like kneeling during the national anthem or refusing to wear a mask take on apocalyptic proportions, it is no wonder so many feel exhausted and depressed. Even though our eyes in most instances tell us differently at the local level, the international hype-train overtakes our rational brain and we feel overwhelmed. The “fight or flight” mechanism takes over, with serious consequences for our physical, mental and emotional health.

Here are five things I have learned that help keep me and my family sane.

1) Be open to evidence on both (all) sides of an issue. Outrage peddlers make a living on manipulating some evidence and ignoring other evidence so that their “truth” seems irrefutable. Don’t examine viewpoints solely through the eyes of opponents. Listen to both sides of the argument. The truth is likely to be somewhere between the extremes.

2) Limit your diet of news and social media to manageable doses. Suspend judgment on any particular claim until you have had a chance to examine a larger body of evidence. Take a deep breath and change the subject when you feel overwhelmed.

3) Much of the stress and anxiety we feel we do to ourselves. As we focus on the negatives and buy-in to the outrage, we are strengthening the amygdala (at the center of the brain), the emotional brain. As it gains strength, the emotional brain drowns out the logical brain (the frontal lobes). Instead of seeing the beauty in the present, we brood on the past or worry about the future. As noted above, this fight or flight mindset has serious consequences.

4) Protect the children as far as possible from the overwhelming media messages. Even innocent cartoons contain dramatic elements of peril and fear that stimulate and strengthen the amygdala. When they become teen-agers, the emotions rage and the ability to control is weakened. A “sheltered life” in the early years (harder and harder to do) protects and strengthens the logical brain for the heavy lifting needed in adulthood.

5) Repeat the words of Jesus over and over in your mind: “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.” John 14:27, ESV. The disciples of Jesus were about to face the most distressing reality possible. The Son of God was soon to leave their physical presence for good. But He wasn’t taking his “peace” with Him. He was giving them the tools to cope with His physical absence. “Perfect love casts out fear.” 1 John 4:18. The antidote to the hype train is to spend more time with Jesus and the gospel. It is my prayer that my blogs and web sites will help point you in that direction every day.

COVID-19: How My Mind Has Changed or Stayed the Same II

In my earlier blogs on the COVID-19 virus I expressed concern that the virus could mutate into something much worse. I stated at the time that it wasn’t likely, so I hedged my bets. And, in fact, so far there is no evidence of such a mutation. Instead, there seems to be a gradual weakening of the virus, as noted above. My greater concern in March, however, was the economic fallout of the lockdowns. I feared that the widespread shutdown of business activity could result in another Great Depression. I was right about the economic fallout of the lockdowns, but the economic depression I feared has not arrived. Instead of 25% unemployment, the US topped out at less than 15% and is now closer to 10%, a depression to those who lost their job, but not an imminent end to the whole economic order. So the economy has fared better than I expected.

I was also concerned in March that a combination of the virus, the lockdowns and the economic disruption could lead to looting and rioting. A major reason for this concern was the breakdown of the social order in a post-Christian culture. I didn’t think American society had the resilience it used to have when Protestant faith was a common cultural heritage. This projection has turned out to be quite prescient, in fact, it has been much more widespread than even I could have expected. But I certainly missed that the rioting and looting would be over issues of race. Certainly, no one could have predicted the specific George Floyd incident or how it would impact the whole country. But the three things (fear of COVID, economic disruption and racial tensions) have combined with a fractious election season to keep everyone just a little on edge.

I made a number of other projections back in March. I suggested that the COVID crisis might be the end of higher education as we knew it. Until now, it has been a general perception that face to face education with expert teachers is the gold standard. But the coronavirus forced even the Harvards and Yales of this world to move to online education, blurring the difference between top-quality education and for-profit schooling. Why would students pay top dollar to study at home when they could cover many of the same subjects for much less online? The jury is still out on this one, but so far most students have stuck with the tradition powerhouse schools even though the teaching is in “Zoom” format. Why settle for second best when you can “dance with the stars”?

I made two other projections in March. First, I suggested that there would be a long-term decline in tourism and international travel. So far this has been on target. I recently visited the grandkids in Hawaii and my guess is that domestic air travel is operating at about 20% right now. International travel is even less and most travel seems to be for business or family events. Tourism for tourism’s sake (as in cruise ships and adventure travel) has not come back. It will probably be a long time before tourism reaches levels we took for granted before. Second, I predicted a major decline in the restaurant industry and in-person retail. Both of these have occurred. Some restaurants and retail chains are not coming back. But the discovery that you don’t generally pass the virus with food has enabled many “take-out” establishments to survive and some even to thrive. And many of us miss strolling through the aisles of our favorite mall or department store. So all may not be lost in this area.

All in all I think I got more right than wrong. But then a stopped clock gets it right at least twice a day also, perhaps I was just lucky. Having said that, “Day ain’t over yet!” We’ll see where this adventure leads us. In the final blog of this trilogy I will talk about the heavy impact this crisis has had on us and offer a bit of biblical advice.

COVID-19: How My Mind Has Changed or Stayed the Same

I plan to continue my series of blogs on Sunday Laws and Bible Prophecy. But the current situation with COVID-19, lockdowns, racial tensions, and frantic election messages call for some comment, which I will offer in three blogs this week. I am not an expert on the science and psychology of contagious disease. But for more than two decades I have been teaching people how to evaluate truth claims on the internet. So sharing a bit of my current mindset may be helpful to you in dealing with the challenges we face. I am open to correction in the following, it is a work in progress.

Back at the beginning of the coronavirus crisis I made a number of statements as to what was going on and where it might lead us. I thought it would be interesting to review some of my comments and assess where I was right and where I was wrong. A good journalist doesn’t just focus on successful projections, but seeks to learn from mistaken assessments and faulty predictions.

One of the things I predicted was that, like most viruses, it would weaken in the warmer weather, giving us a respite from its malevolence. That turned out to be completely wrong. If anything, it seemed to become more contagious in the northern summer. I should have paid more attention to the early surge of cases in Singapore, which has hot and humid weather all year long. If the virus could thrive there, summer was not likely to help us much in the temperate zone. But while there was a major surge of virus cases in the southern and western states of the USA in June and July, the number of deaths relative to cases was much lower than it had been in the northern spring. One reason could be a weakening of the virus (see below), which is a normal occurrence. But it also may reflect a larger percentage of younger people being infected. In the spring a high percentage of cases were in nursing homes, in the summer it was hitting younger and healthier populations.

I noted early on that viruses tend to weaken over time. That is a prediction that seems to be fulfilling itself at this time. Doctor friends are telling me that the cases they are seeing are not as severe as they were in spring. The reason viruses weaken over time is because they, like us, want to live. It doesn’t serve them well to kill their hosts, as they will likely die with the host. So the more deadly strains of a virus “kill themselves off” and the less deadly ones survive, as a result, over time viruses become less deadly. It is too early to be sure, but some weakening of the virus seems to be occurring as I write. While cases continue to spike in various place, death rates appear to be dropping nearly everywhere.

One thing we didn’t know at the beginning was that it would turn out to be rare that someone get infected by the coronavirus while out of doors. We were afraid every time we left the house. But exercise out of doors has not proved to be very dangerous. While even asymptomatic people can pass on the virus for a time, I understand that it requires prolonged exposure to become infected. While large crowds gathered to protest in early June, the virus spike at that time was almost nationwide, it was not confined to the places where large numbers of people gathered to protest. So the degree to which large outdoor gatherings contributed to the spike in infections in June and July is not clear. The greater danger seems to be even small gatherings of strangers indoors (as in restaurants, movie theaters, casinos, and yes, church services). It is people, not food, that enables the virus to move from one host to another.

I predicted at the beginning that the lockdowns and strong measures would prove to be an over-reaction. I think “the jury is still out” on that one. One issue is that we still don’t know how widespread COVID-19 is and was. Recent anti-body studies suggest two interesting things. 1) Perhaps ten times as many people have been exposed to the virus as the number of known cases would indicate. 2) The virus was in the western USA in the Fall of 2019 already. If both are true, the virus would be far less deadly than we thought, and we might be closer to “herd immunity” (where enough people have been exposed to halt the wide spread of a contagious disease) than we think. That would not make it any less of a tragedy for those severely affected and for those who lost loved ones, but it would mean the virus is not as severe a public health threat as we had feared. Having said that, the lockdowns made perfect sense back in March, given what little we knew at the time. It is not clear what to make of the difference between the numbers we get from testing and the numbers that turn up from anti-body studies, so the jury is still out on whether the lockdowns were necessary or were an over-reaction. We may never know for sure.