There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity under the heavens:
From the beginning of the pandemic many people have been wondering what the event may have taught us regarding long term issues such as climate change, resource depletion and biosphere destruction. I started a set of posts on the topic; the first one was published on April Fools day, April 1st 2020.
The writing of these posts is obviously a work in progress. There are more posts to come, and, with the passage of time, I might reach different conclusions from what is written in the earlier posts. Still, they provide a snapshot as to what we were thinking at different stages of the pandemic.
Listed below are the posts that have been published to date, along with a brief summary of their content. (Note: these posts are at a different site; its title is New City of God.)
The New Normal (1) — Community
My first reaction was that the pandemic will encourage us — even force us — to develop local communities and shorter supply chains.
The New Normal (2) — No Debt
One consequence of the Great Depression was that debt was seen as something to avoid. Indeed, in this post I mention my grandparents who treated the idea of debt as being not just wrong, but immoral. I wonder if we will see a similar reaction to today’s economic slump.
Related to the idea of avoiding debt (see previous post) are the concepts of thrift and frugality. I found various definitions for the those words; in this post I will use them as follows.
Someone is thrifty is they do not spend more money than they earn. They live within their means.
Someone is frugal if they spend significantly less money than they earn. They save money and buy something only when they have sufficient cash to purchase it. Frugality may involve some degree of sacrifice, as during the Lenten season.
The distress, anxiety and economic devastation created by this pandemic provides an opportunity for the church to provide leadership. As we will discuss in future posts, science and technology seem to have met their nemesis – a new type of leadership and way of living is called for. But it is also interesting to see how the pandemic has affected the church in just a few short weeks, and to think about what the church of the future may look like.
Introduced in 1958, the Boeing 707 ushered in the jet age. Air travel was no longer a prerogative of the rich. Families and businesspeople could now routinely travel to distant locations at a reasonable cost. But we have also learned in the intervening years that air traffic is a major contributor toward environmental problems, particularly climate change and noise pollution. We have also learned during this pandemic that we actually don’t need mass air travel — any more than we needed it prior to the introduction of the Boeing 707. Business people have learned that they can conduct much of their work remotely, and families have learned that overseas vacations are something that are nice to have, but far from essential.
What will happen to air travel once the pandemic is brought under control? Will we return to the old ways? We know that airplanes are a major contributor toward climate change — can we take this opportunity to permanently cut back on air travel, and return the industry to where it was before the Boeing 707 and other airplanes created the situation we had immediately prior to the pandemic? We don’t know the future course of the pandemic. But we do know that it would be an enormous shame, even tragedy, if we cannot use this opportunity to live a reduced lifestyle, including less use of air travel.
One of my favorite Bible readings is from 1 Corinthians in which the Apostle Paul says,
For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.
The picture shows a fogged-up window. At first all that we see is a blur. But, on closer inspection, we see that there are railings, a river and hills in the distance. We cannot see the details but we can see an outline — and the harder we look the more we see. So it is with our view of the future in an Age of Limits. We cannot predict what will happen in detail, and specific predictions are often (usually) wrong. But we have a general sense as where we may be heading. (Modern translations of the Bible suggest that the word ‘mirror’ would be a better choice than ‘glass’. In Paul’s day most mirrors distorted the reflection. But the conclusion is the same. We can see an outline, but the details are blurred.)
About 500 years ago Galileo Galilei pointed his newly invented telescope to the night sky. He declared that the moon and the planets are made of the same material as the Earth — there is no celestial heaven or music of the spheres. Since that time there has been rivalry between religion and science as to which can best explain the physical world in which we live.
Science has generally “won” this competition — and, in the form of technology, it has greatly improved the human condition. Religion has been confined to the role of “mere” spirituality and an advisor of souls. However, science and technology have led us into the predicaments discussed at this blog.
Here is the ‘Old Normal’.
The chart shows membership in the Episcopalian church in recent years. The trend line is remarkably steady, with very little scatter. If extrapolated, it suggests that the church will have no members at all by the year 2045, just 25 years from now. In fact, the line will have an asymptote or hockey-stick shape toward the end. But the message is clear: the ‘Old Normal’ is not working, therefore we need to look for a ‘New Normal’. We also need to understand that the pandemic has not created this situation — the decline is a long-term trend.
The pandemic has, in fact, opened up new possibilities.
The following quotation from Fr. Rock Higgins is taken from the June 16, 2020 weekly newsletter of St. James the Less church in Ashland, Virginia.
Both our Sunday and Wednesday Morning Prayers average attendance is TRIPLE those who come when we were doing church in our space face-to-face. What is God doing? We will have to wait and see. Something big is happening. Our Noonday Prayer service was non-existent before this and now averages 67 people a day! I was telling a friend, “I now have a ministry that I did not know I had!” Thanks be to God!
For years, decades actually, environmental activists have been preaching the message that we need to radically cut back on our use of fossil fuels. This message has been widely ignored and has had little impact. The concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere has risen quite smoothly, as we see in the chart.
But suddenly, in a just a few short months, we have witnessed:
The collapse of international tourism and its associated airplane flights;
The demise of the cruise line industry;
The end of the shale oil industry;
A drastic reduction in the amount of commuting;
An enormous cut back in airline travel; and
An equally drastic reduction in the restaurant business.
These are just the sort of actions for which we have been looking for all these years. And it all took place in just a few weeks.
To summarize: a virus that is 100,000 times smaller than a human hair or the period/full stop at the end of this sentence has done far more to mitigate climate change than any number of exhortations and sermons.