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Friday, March 6, 2020

Viruses Then and Now

Viruses Then and Now

Historian that I am, I like to view current crises—like the coronavirus—in perspective. Here is a piece from The Atlantic that looks at the last great epidemic, the 1918 flu virus that killed between 50 and 100 million worldwide. The subtitle gives the gist: “The differences between the global response to the Great Flu Pandemic and today’s COVID-19 outbreak could not be more striking.”
Lots has been written about the current crisis, and this one was more helpful for me than most. Apparently Microsoft founder Bill Gates predicted such an event in the pages of the New England Journal of Medicine back in 2015. The article also notes the liability of democracies at such times. We just don’t like our individual liberties curtailed, understandably so, and thus we’re reluctant to become too draconian in our response. The article also harkens back to 1918 and contrasts how Philadelphia and St. Louis responded and the difference it made in saved lives.
I tend to agree with the article’s conclusion but of course leave it to medical experts to determine what “strong leadership” should look like at any given moment:
In light of what we know—and acknowledging that our current information is still incomplete—our leaders must implement self-distancing policies now. While we must remain calm, the situation demands strong leadership and decisive action.
From Hate to Forgiveness
Here’s another pair of articles that complement one another. The first names what is at the core of our cultural divide, asking Why Do Americans Hate Each Other? We don’t like to think that hate infects our hearts, but I’ve been in too many conversations, with those on the left and the right, in which hate is the only word that does justice to what is being expressed (present company included): “intense hostility and aversion usually deriving from fear, anger, or sense of injury; extreme dislike or disgust.”
The author’s answer to hate is to note that, despite all the serious issues that divide us, “We are so lucky in myriad ways that our petty political disputes pale in comparison to our reasons to be grateful.”
A deeper response comes from Father Stephen Freeman, one of my favorite Orthodox writers. Forgiveness: The Hardest Love of All is not about our cultural divide, but it certainly includes it. He focuses on loving our enemies, and writes,
Of course, our experience of those who are truly enemies is that we do not want to forgive them. We do not trust them; the wound has been too deep; their offense is not against us but against someone we love who is particularly vulnerable. I could enlarge the list but we are all too familiar with it. The reasons we find it hard to forgive our enemies is endless.
But the commandment remains—not as a counsel of how to live a healthier, happier life—but with the added reminder that we will only find forgiveness as we forgive.
I don’t believe the relationship between our forgiveness of others and God’s forgiveness of us is a strict causal relationship—otherwise the gospel of grace will have become a gospel of works. I take it more along these lines: We won’t know and appreciate and experience how God has forgiven us—even before we repent—unless we get in the habit of forgiving others, taking the initiative even if they don’t apologize. Easier said than done, but then again, there is the power of grace to do the impossible.
What Religious Freedom?
I’m not trying to stir up hate against our president (!), but I think it only fair to note a significant disconnect regarding the administration’s record on religious freedom. Unfortunately, while Mr. Trump regularly announces how much it has done for religious freedom, his administration’s track record is mixed at best. So notes this report in CT, which focuses on “Trump’s Praise for Modi on India’s ‘Incredible’ Religious Freedom”—which is absurd in light of the facts on the ground in India. And scary for what it means for religious minorities going forward.
Add to that his administration’s refusal to welcome refugees who flee war-torn areas because of religious strife and persecution—well, let’s just say there’s a lot more we could do to help the least of these. To be an equal-opportunity offender, I wrote an editorial back in the day criticizing President Obama’s track record in this regard. It’s a bipartisan failure.
Dress for, Uh, Every Day
In honor of my wife’s upcoming trip to France to visit grandkids and go to Disneyland Paris—if the coronavirus doesn’t force a closure of the park!—here is a blast from the past: filmed street scenes from Paris in 1896, colorized and appropriately paced. Everyone dressed so well in those days!
Grace and peace,

Mark GalliMark Galli

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