As those locked within the walls of our ivory towers, tired of gazing upon all the insignificant and unnecessary things we have surrounded ourselves with over many years, it is worth considering our freedoms. COVID-19 has given our government cause to restrict our national freedoms. In a culture of individualism and entitlement, the authority of government to curtail our rights is one some people question and in some cases just flout with a high hand. The behaviour of private partiers, trespassers lying in parks or crossing the barriers for the surf has met with varying reactions. In fact the suspension of all church services is not without its detractors who complain that our doors are shut.
What might we say about the current lockdown, keep out, shut in, challenge to our civil liberties? There is no doubt that things like our religious freedom and freedom of assembly are being infringed. Should this concern us? Those infringements would be dangerous if they singled out one group over others. For example: to close churches but not sporting venues would certainly be an unacceptable infringement on religious freedom; to let people gather for church but prevent others assembling on the beach or for a party would equally be inappropriate. But how should we respond when everyone’s freedoms are equally infringed?
Well the context is significant. There is no doubt that COVID-19 poses a very real public health risk. The tragic death toll, and some of the high profile sufferers are reminders that this disease is no respecter of position or person. And the speed with which this virus has spread through places like the USA gives good cause for extreme caution and an exercise of powers to meet the challenge.
If we were offered an historical context for decisions, the figures surrounding the Spanish Flu in 1918-19 would urge vigilance. The National Museum’s records tell of 50 million people dying around the world. Even with the speed of quarantining measures, our nation saw 40% of the Australian population infected and some 15,000 Australians died. Such a context is not a time for a nation to scream for its rights but to surrender those rights to the much more important reality of responsibility.
The Easter behind us and the Anzac Day before us mark our national calendar with reminders of rights foregone and responsibilities accepted. Jesus laid down his life for people’s salvation. The Anzacs walked in Christ’s good example. Today, health workers, emergency service workers and political leaders claim nothing, but under the heaviest of responsibilities they risk life and submit their lives to the needs of others.
Context is everything. The national need is exceptional, the exemplary nature of those who serve us should be inspirational and as citizens of this nations we must bear our responsibilities without complaint, not trespassing on the safety of others.
In a nation that has seen a proliferation of laws to control an increasingly self-centred and entitled population, Jesus Christ offered only two commandments. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength and love your neighbour as you love yourself. These two commandments say nothing of our rights but address our responsibilities. Get these two commands right and even the worst of contexts has hope.
Apart from the few disgusting spitters, supermarket greedies and the generally irresponsible, is this what we are seeing in a nation that is pulling together – people who love their neighbours? I hope so! The alternative is that we are just accepting the infringements out of fear and doing so to look after the idolatrous, entitled self. If that’s the case, when this crisis is over we will be just as sick as we were before COVID-19 came along, perhaps sicker.