Flat White

Coronavirus, climate change and C S Lewis

15 March 2020

7:45 AM

15 March 2020

7:45 AM

As I write this article I am about to board an almost deserted plane from Northern Thailand bound for Bangkok and then hopefully, later this evening, on to Sydney. There is, however, a palpable sense of uneasiness—and even dread—amongst the passengers. Nearly everyone is wearing facemasks, avoiding all physical touch, and everyone is constantly washing their hands with a strong alcohol foam.  

Considering the rapid global spread of the disease, as well as dire projections of even further contagion, those measures are not unreasonable. But it’s the level of existential fear that stands out the most. For what is becoming increasingly clear is that we are facing one of the greatest challenges to our politics, parliament and public administrations ever in the history of our nation. But that hasn’t stopped some on the Left from pouring hate on the Australian immigration minister, Peter Dutton, who has recently been diagnosed with the virus. 

It was only a few short weeks ago that the world was in the grip of climate hysteria, with Australia suffering one of the worst bushfire seasons on record. Many on the left took this as an opportunity to berate the Prime Minister for not adopting a more aggressive stance on the issue of climate change. Indeed, The Saturday Paper—those progressive champions of Leftism—is still trying to milk it politically for all it’s worth. 

But while not even the Greens have tried to blame ScoMo for this latest disaster, that hasn’t stopped others from making the tenuous link between the coronavirus and climate change. Ironically, no one seems to be holding the Chinese Communist Party accountable for censoring, imprisoning, and threatening Chinese nationals who spoke out about the outbreak before it was released by CCP-approved news outlets.  


Thankfully, nearly all of the fires have now been extinguished and people affected are starting to rebuild their lives, in no small part to the remarkable generosity of people from around the world. But it’s the imminent threat of contagion that has knocked the stuffing out of our arrogant Western pride. 

Back in 1948, C.S. Lewis—of The Chronicles of Narnia fame— wrote an essay titled, “On Living in an Atomic Age”. It can be found in the book, Present Concerns: Journalistic Essays. In it, he talks about the anxiety that the majority of people in his day had regarding the threat of nuclear war. Once again, it was a serious, legitimate concern. Lewis wrote:

In one way we think a great deal too much of the atomic bomb. “How are we to live in an atomic age?” I am tempted to reply: “Why, as you would have lived in the sixteenth century when the plague visited London almost every year, or as you would have lived in a Viking age when raiders from Scandinavia might land and cut your throat any night; or indeed, as you are already living in an age of cancer, an age of syphilis, an age of paralysis, an age of air raids, an age of railway accidents, an age of motor accidents.” 

In other words, do not let us begin by exaggerating the novelty of our situation. Believe me, dear sir or madam, you and all whom you love were already sentenced to death before the atomic bomb was invented: and quite a high percentage of us were going to die in unpleasant ways. We had, indeed, one very great advantage over our ancestors—anesthetics; but we have that still. It is perfectly ridiculous to go about whimpering and drawing long faces because the scientists have added one more chance of painful and premature death to a world which already bristled with such chances and in which death itself was not a chance at all, but a certainty. 

This is the first point to be made: and the first action to be taken is to pull ourselves together. If we are all going to be destroyed by an atomic bomb, let that bomb when it comes find us doing sensible and human things—praying, working, teaching, reading, listening to music, bathing the children, playing tennis, chatting to our friends over a pint and a game of darts—not huddled together like frightened sheep and thinking about bombs. They may break our bodies (a microbe can do that) but they need not dominate our minds. 

Without doubt the international community is facing a serious medical crisis. But it’s at times like this that the philosophical and spiritual foundations of our lives are exposed. As the great Protestant reformer, Martin Luther said in his tract, Whether One May Flee from a Deadly Plague, in 1527: 

First, one must admonish the people to attend church and listen to the sermon so that they learn through God’s Word how to live and how to die. 

Luther went on to outline many practical and pastoral responsibilities as to how Christians, in particular, should respond. (By the way, for an inspiring modern example of a Chinese pastor living at the epicentre of the pandemic, follow this link.) 

But it’s during times of imminent physical danger, that we realise that we are not as in control as we so often assume. For as Tom Hanks, Peter Dutton and the example of many others prove, the virus does not discriminate between rich and poor, East and West, or even male and… well everything in between. 

What has become clear is that all such disasters, whether it be bushfires, viruses, school shootings and the Chinese government, is that it’s always an opportunity for the left to blame prominent conservative leaders and political ideas. This is what Thomas Sowell refers to as arguments without arguments, attributing the evils of the world upon those who oppose their political agenda.  

It’s as sophisticated and socially constructive as fighting over toilet rolls. 

Mark Powell is the Associate Pastor of Cornerstone Presbyterian Church, Strathfield.

Illustration: Twitter.

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