What Would Jesus Do?

Go get a fresh haircut and a mani-pedi, then assemble the masses ASAP for the latest sermon. Get sick? No worries: I’ll heal you. And if that doesn’t work?

 Lord, suffer me first to go and bury my father. But Jesus said unto him, Follow me; and let the dead bury their dead.

Return of the Repressed

If we were immersed in a classic Hollywood horror movie, Corona would have been crushed, or chased away, or it would have mysteriously disappeared. Then, after everyone had stopped thinking and talking about it, Corona would have come roaring back, wreaking havoc and leaving destruction in its wake.

But we’ve been given a different script. Corona has fought off the resistance. It’s not gone away or been rendered impotent. It’s still here, as potent as ever and gaining strength. The villagers know it’s still here but they’re acting as if it’s not, resuming business as usual, exposing themselves daily to the horror in their midst.

Is this the repression, this inner conflict waged against the conscious awareness of horror? It’s not gone; it’s just gone underground. There in its exile it festers and grows, probing for weakened defenses, gathering its forces…

Epitaph

Coronavirus is already receding into the past. Sometimes a crisis resolves itself not by going away but by stabilizing into a chronic condition. The new normal doesn’t stay new for long; it’s just normal. It’s getting hard to remember when it wasn’t boring, wasn’t already dead.

 

Body Count in Perspective

Over the past month of national lockdown the US coronavirus body count has plateaued at around 2,000 per day. The newly updated CDC model projects that, by the beginning of June, the daily count will jump to 3,000. “It’s simple logic,” CNN’s senior medical correspondent Elizabeth Cohen said. “When you tell people, ‘Hey, you can go to bars, you can get your nails done, you can go to a restaurant,’ those numbers are going to go up.”

The mortality rate for covid is around 0.6 percent. The virus will continue to spread until it reaches and overshoots herd immunity, infecting at least 80 percent of the population. Based on the CDC projections, it should take about 16 months to reach that number

There are 330 million Americans; 1.6 million of them will die from the virus by next September.

In 2018, 2.8 million Americans died from all causes.

Sunday Sermon

“It’s my right to go wherever I want, whenever I want.”

“It’s my responsibility not to go wherever I want, whenever I want.

The Trolley Problem can be subjected to countless mutations by tinkering with the parameters. Here’s a version I cooked up as a flash fan fiction during an earlier iteration of this website. In every variant of Trolley World you’re the driver confronting a moral dilemma:

Should I run over this person in order to save someone else, someone perhaps more worthy of living? Does killing someone with intent incur the same level of responsibility as allowing someone to die?

These are dilemmas of responsibility. It’s possible to imagine an alternative set of Trolley scenarios:

You’re driving the trolley and you see a group of Nazis gathered on the track ahead. Is it your responsibility to run them over, even if you could warn them or switch the trolley to a sidetrack? Is it your right to do so?

When I was back there in seminary school, I wrote a master’s thesis titled Rights versus Duties: Reciprocity Orientation in Moral Judgment. In the research I found that people who tend to resolve conflict by “moving toward” others in a cooperative gesture were significantly more likely to frame moral decisions in terms of conflicting responsibilities. In contrast, “moving away” people, who resolve conflict via confrontation, tended to regard moral dilemmas as a matter of conflicting rights.

Are rights-oriented people more aggressive and assertive, whereas duty-oriented people are more passive and reactive? Not necessarily. Soldiers do their duty; so do ICU medics.

After the service y’all are invited to join us for food fun and fellowship via Zoom. Before we close in prayer, let’s all join in on the corona hymn:

 

Holding the Gains

Over the past month the US lockdown has succeeded in sustaining a steady rate of contagion and death. However, projected decreases have yet to materialize, and it’s becoming evident that they never will. Some countries have done it, have brought the epidemic to a standstill  — South Korea and Australia offer prime examples. Some, like Germany and Czech, are in the process of doing it.

The US hasn’t and isn’t.

Americans have been encouraged to adopt social distancing measures as a temporary measure against a short-lived crisis, rather than as a long-term adaptation to an altered environment. So too with economic measures: increased compensation for the newly unemployed and underemployed is scheduled to sunset at the end of July, while actual payout of those benefits has been shamefully slow in coming. Right-wing agitators are getting militant as national and local politicians assure the public that the worst is over, despite an abundance of evidence to the contrary. Ready or not, things are opening up again.

Not ready.

It’s becoming increasingly apparent that no systematic widespread coordinated efforts will be made to contain the epidemic once shelter-in-place restrictions are lifted. There aren’t enough diagnostic tests to identify and quarantine contagious cases until they’re so sick they’re already home-bound. Findings from most antibody tests are so inaccurate that false positives exceed actual positives. Most locales don’t have nearly enough case trackers to isolate contagious individuals and to identify others with whom they’ve been in contact.

Full church pews and Fourth of July parades and miracle cures and the worst is behind us — public clarions of optimism are beginning to sound shrill and hollow even to true believers. Herd immunity, conspiracy theory, the intrinsic ADHD of the American character — rationales are being trotted out as post-hoc excuses for imminent failure.

It seems foolish to hope that the status quo, bad as it is, can persist for long before taking a sharp turn for the worse. At the present rate, maybe 85 million Americans — a quarter of the population — will have been infected by the end of the year, accompanied by a death toll of maybe half a million. That’s still a long way from herd immunity. But maintaining the steady rate of infection keeps the medical system from being overwhelmed any more than it already is. And if the news from Oxford U. and AstraZeneca comes from reliable sources, then a vaccine could be widely available in early 2021. So there’s motivation to hold a steady course.

Surprisingly, maybe the best hope for avoiding a spike relies less on governmental  mandate than on a decentralized array of everyday interpersonal transactions. Schools and meatpacking plants and nursing homes don’t want to fling their doors open if it means exposing their workers and customers to infection. They’d lose revenues, and they’d incur higher operating costs — a lose-lose situation for return on investment. Put infrared thermometers at all the entrances; wear masks; maintain social distancing; send sick workers home with pay. Diagnostic testing and contact tracing? They’re essential if the goal is to bring infections to a halt, but it’s become clear that the supply will never catch up with the demand imposed by the virus itself. If instead the goal is the more modest one of sustaining the plateau until the vaccine shows up, then any and every useful resource should thrown into the fray.