Freedom and the virus

“Unless there is some unpredictable change in human nature, liberty and efficiency must pull in opposite directions” George Orwell, Poetry Quarterly Winter 1945

Here’s a story when efficiency won over freedom.

As we drove the few kilometres to the next town, there was a menacing plume of smoke. “Too far away to be a danger,” I thought and did not mention it. But after lunch, the road back was closed. A huge bushfire had arrived, and we sheltered in the local RSL.

When we got back to our village hours later, it was surrounded by a black sea. It had only survived because Queensland fireys were at one end of our street, and Central West fireys were at the other.

Rescuers had come hundreds of kilometres away. That night spot fires still burned on the other side of the lagoon.

Perhaps you could say that the police blocking the road that afternoon took away our freedom to go back to the house. But it was a time for efficiency, not freedom. One daughter drew a graphic picture that afternoon of what the house would look like in flames as we sheltered at the RS, so I was glad we were not at our house. It turned out that we lost no houses in our town, but five in the neighbouring town were gone.

At the freedom end of the spectrum, consider Eternity, which can only thrive in a free speech society. One Eternity contrubtor has already sufferred a penalty from his professional tribunal for something we have published.

As Orwell pointed out, human nature will have people in tension along an efficiency and freedom spectrum.

One can see it in Orwell’s own life. World War 2 was almost over, and George Orwell had just published Animal Farm – a satire that promotes freedom and warns against tyranny – which was not yet famous, when he made the quote at the top of this story. Yet Orwell had endured rationing and conscription; the freedoms lost to win the war – and yet I can’t find him complaining about them in his collected works.

This brings us to Covid and the path out of lockdown.

Australians have endured lockdowns remarkably quietly. Our patience is fraying, but only after months of “iso”. But setting out on the path out of lockdown transiting to vaccination as the main weapon in the covid war has caused a new set of divisions.

In our churches, human nature means people will have different views regarding efficiency (getting as many people vaccinated as possible) and freedom (I want to disagree for whatever reason).

(Here we are not discussing the issue of whether one should be vaccinated– Eternity has taken the line of asking for peer-reviewed science on our website – but on treating people well.)

In some states’ roadmaps, churches have been allowed to open, either with vaxxed only or to wait a few weeks until all can come. Other stages are yet to fill in the details.

In one version of the tug between efficiency and freedom, some churches will open earlier – at the first possible time. Many others – and it may be the majority – will open when the unvaxxed can join in.

This is a time for peace and gentleness in the church

Most of us won’t be the ones to make the decision. That means a timetable to reopen, which we disagree with, will face many of us.

This gives us, as Christians, a chance to not insist things are done our way but to rejoice in what others can enjoy. We should not be angry with each other, no matter what our particular church does. We should not feel left out but rather be happy at meeting others’ needs being met.

An unvaxxed person might get the opportunity to say to the vaxxed. “Please go back to church as soon as you can. I will join you online and look forward to joining you in person in a few weeks. I am glad you get to go back so soon.”

A vaxxed person might say, “We don’t want to have in-person church before you can come. We will wait for you. Cheerfully”

And then there’s the third group, the vulnerable, some of whom will have medical contra-indications for vaccination. Both vaxxed and unvaxxed may say, “we’ll set up the church in special ways to look after you, make sure ventilation is top-notch for you, maybe hold separate services to protect you.”

This is a time for peace and gentleness in the church, which will come from putting others need before our “rights”. Unless you believe that your church opening at a specific stage is somehow core doctrine, and few of us will believe that – our task is to be generous, humble and pitch in to help.



Some prayer points to help

Pray for vaxxed and unvaxxed Christians to act with care and gentleness to each other.