Friends are forwarding to me — over and over — articles which claim to prove that the coronavirus crisis is a hoax. Once more, Global Research, Prison Planet and Peter Hitchens are taken as voices of authority. Once more, the approach of the fabled Anti-Christ is cited, bringing with him a dystopian dajjalic system imposed worldwide. Mistranslated scientists, wielding spurious and patently out-of-date statistics, completely overtaken by events, are held up as proof that it is all a storm in a tea cup, designed to deprive us of our liberty and herald a new world order.
So it is that we are led to believe that a government that has spent a decade slashing the welfare state and presiding over cuts in health and social care, is now trashing the economy, forcing millions into welfare dependency, while creating gigantic field hospitals in London, Birmingham, Manchester and Glasgow, on the basis of an underhand Machiavellian plot. Well anything is possible, I suppose.
Reality, I fear, is rather closer to home. Today at work I was supporting our end of life community health team with their preparations for the impending crisis. Fortunately my role is merely IT support, but our conversations were nevertheless extremely sobering. Not only are they making preparations for patients in their final moments, but also for their own demise, planning business continuity in the event that what is happening to nurses in Italy happens to them. Morbid conversations that cause me to respond to conspiratorial WhatsApp messages with increasing impatience. In the coming weeks, doctors and nurses will put their lives on the line, as our long underfunded, under-resourced and neglected healthcare system is stretched to its limits.
What is it that we are preparing for? Inigo Martincorena has been plotting the UK trajectory of cases and deaths against Italy for the past ten days. A week ago we seemed to be on an almost identical trajectory, just 14 days behind. We are now slightly below Italy, but not by far. It should be clear what this means: if we do not take drastic action, our own healthcare system will likely meet the same fate 14 days later: becoming overwhelmed by cases that far outstrip capacity. Hence the urgent creation of a 5,000 bed Nightingale field hospital in the East End of London, with another in Birmingham on its way.
I feel fortunate to count amongst my companions people of faith with a strong grounding in science, who allow data to keep them grounded in reality. Indeed, the world is fortunate to have men like Larry Brilliant, capable of balancing their role as a scientist with their personal professions of faith.
I just wish more people of faith would recognise the importance of such balance. Yes, I wish pious and well-meaning acquaintances would stop imbibing legends and make-believe into the realm of faith, making it unbelievable in the face of reality. Months ago I was being harassed by men intent on proving that the earth is flat, despite using mobiles phones capable of tracking their movement via a GPS chip communicating with satellites orbiting the earth every ninety minutes. For them too, the earth being roughly a sphere is also a hoax, perpetrated by evil, powerful and presumably omnipotent elites because, well, why not?
When I ponder on images of deep space, it strengthens my faith. When presented with calculations that the universe is 14 billion years old, I fall down in awe, my faith in God most certain. When I plant the tiniest seed in the garden and watch it evolve over weeks and months into a magnificent plant bearing fruit, I am often heard muttering praises of our creator. The universe, our earth, our ecosystems, our own immune systems, our own being — all of this — is far more wondrous and incredible than the legends we invent, which we plaster onto faith in our efforts to explain what we do not understand. I am growing weary of these legends.
True faith calls us to an honest engagement with the world. It calls us away from fantasies and superstitions, to reflect and meditate instead on the world as we find it, in order to recognise the One who sustains all life. There are great lessons in the events unfolding around us that we should truly reflect upon. The decree of your Lord is no hoax.