To those imagining Covid-19 signals the end of the world:
- No one has any guarantee that they will live in ‘good times.’ Someone had to live though the plagues of the past, someone had to live during World Wars, someone had to live during the Crusades. During famines. During the Ice Age! Etc. Etc.
- You have to get a sense of history. Plagues have attacked humans for thousands of years, and though these diseases have killed millions, they have only ever killed a fraction of the human race. The bubonic plague killed 1/3 of Medieval Europe, but a majority, 2/3, survived. The ’Spanish Flu’ of the early 20th century killed 50 million to 100 million (counting the dead was not reliable in many places in the world), but billions survived. Covid-19 may kill millions, but billions will survive. In major pandemics since the Spanish Flu, medical science saved us. And, unless this coronavirus simply dies off on its own, medical science will save us this time.
- Belief that the end of the world is imminent is also thousands of years old. In every single year of the calendar for thousands of years some people thought that year was the end. And course the end didn’t come. People were especially susceptible to belief in the ‘last days’ during crises and at the end of centuries (the years 800, 1000, 1500, 2000). The question to ask is, what is the psychology of believing the end comes in my lifetime? There’s a whole lot of vanity in that belief! I’m so special that the end comes in my life. Look, face it, no one of us is important enough to witness or cause the end of the world. Isn’t it enough that I will die one day? If I’m so anxious to see Jesus or Muhammad or the saints or my deceased mother, I can do so any day through the portal of death. I don’t need to drag the whole world with me in some horrible apocalyptic scenario. For all we know, the ‘end’ is in another 5000 years, or 10,000 years, or 100,000 years from now. Why should the end be in my/your lifetime? And maybe the only real ‘end of the world’ is when our sun goes supernova in another 5 billion years and gobbles up the earth.
- It’s probable that ‘the end of the world’ idea was not about ‘the end’ at all. It’s likely that the idea was advanced to speak not of the future but of the present, any present moment in time. The ‘end’ indicts and instructs the present for falling short of moral ideals. ‘Protology’ (religious theories about the beginning of things) and ‘eschatology’ (religious theories about the end of things) are not about the past or about the future; they are about the present. Stories of the beginning and stories about the end serve to ‘school’ the present moment.
- The notion that God punishes humanity with diseases is a very unflattering view of God! Let’s say God intends to punish the Chinese for persecuting Muslims (?!) but in doing so God manages to punish many millions of non-Chinese too? Isn’t that rather clumsy and unfair? And the actual Chinese persecutors of Muslims may not have gotten the virus at all. If there is a God, God certainly sat/sits idly by while pandemics ravage humanity (and extinctions ravage all animal species). This is not an indicator of God’s anger, but it does require some thought as to why an all powerful and all good God would permit such things to occur. We’re back to the ‘problem of evil’ challenge. We are back to the ‘problem’ that suffering poses for the notion of a good, powerful God. The ‘punishment’ reply to this problem is the least sophisticated and most naive rejoinder. It’s really juvenile. The angry dad is going to punish us? Really? What human father (a) punishes his children with a disease and death, and (b) what human father manages to punish the innocent along with the guilty, punish those who did not actually offend? Punishment is beneath serious consideration.
- If there is a God and if this virus is a test, what is the test? Is the virus a test of our medical scientists? Is it a test to see how cooperative humans can be? Is it to test young people to see if they have the moral fiber to practice social-distancing from other young people so that the older set doesn’t become infected? Florida Spring breakers failed that test, and some of them have tested positive for Covid-19.
- The fact that religious people fear death is interesting. I almost suspect that that is a sign of a deep unconscious disbelief—disbelief in the afterlife, disbelief in God, disbelief in the soul, disbelief in super-naturalism. Atheistic philosophers (and ordinary people in Scandinavia) have faced death with serenity. Why is that? Because they have come to terms with the annihilation of their being. Death is part of life. We come, we go. We arrive, we depart.
- And by the way, even if we do not survive our deaths and there is no afterlife for us personally, are we really going to say that the whole multi-billion-year universe story has no meaning, therefore? Why wouldn’t the universe story have ultimate meaning even if any one of us is only a temporary bit-player in the drama? It would be like a two-bit actor in a Shakespeare play—an actor perhaps with no lines and who just appears on stage for 60 seconds—saying, “Hamlet has no meaning at all because I had such a bit-part in the play.” Or what if even the actors who play Hamlet and his mother Gertrude say, “We enacted major roles in this play but the play is meaningless if we don’t get to continue enacting these roles forever”? That would be absurd.
Whatever pain it brings, Covid-19 is not the end of the world.
Featured image ‘Covid-19’ by Prachatai via Flickr