Flat White

How 2020 became the year of the New Pharisees

31 December 2020

5:00 AM

31 December 2020

5:00 AM

One of Australias great singer/songwriters, Paul Kelly, has a very insightful song titled, Little Kings. Its about how everywhere the little kings are getting away with murder. Its a none-too-subtle take-down of all those who love wielding power in their own little spheres of influence to the detriment of others. While I have always shared PKs distain for these tiny tyrants, I had thought he was being a bit melodramatic, or at least hyperbolic, with the whole murder thing. You see, most of the time, these petty Pincochets, these mini Maos, are simply an annoyance to those of us endeavouring to go about our lives unencumbered by their ever-advancing legions of legislation. But tragically, in 2020 it seems to me that these little kings are indeed getting away with murder.      

In the Christian story, the Pharisees are the bad guys. They get a bad rap given that they (mostly) tried to do the right thing. But the trouble was that they became, well, pharisaic. They loved loading up the people with rules and regulations that went far beyond what was required by God himself. In 2020, I cant help but think that a pharisaic spirit has taken hold in my country — and probably yours — through these insidious lockdowns and restrictions that I cant help but feel are more about keeping up appearances than actually protecting people, and that Im convinced are doing more harm than good.  

OK, there is a new bug stalking the globe that has the potential to tip people from this life into the next. Overwhelmingly, these people are close to the end of their lives or are otherwise unwell – the average age of death of people with the virus is almost identical to the average age at death of the general population. So, lets be honest — if youre relatively healthy, you dont need a bunch of new rules, regulations and restrictions to protect you from this novel threat.  

Every day we engage in death-defying behaviour like driving a car or swimming at the beach. Its called life. Its risky, and it (generally) results in death. Humans die. Its what we do. In fact, 440 Aussies die every day. It was never part of Gods plan, but death is tragically now part of the human condition this side of Eden. So given that well over 99% of people who get this virus will recover from it, theres really no good reason for you to stop going about your life and cancel Christmas and New Year’s Eve. Thus, to COVID19 I say: So, you think youre deadly? Well, join the club, mate. You think theres a chance you could take me out, or maybe someone I love? Well, take a number and wait in line!”  

Of course, be sensible. We absolutely should be sensitive to the vulnerable folk around us — do unto others and all that (see Matt 7:12). No argument there. But lets keep things in perspective. Which brings me back to those Pharisees 


Of far greater concern than the virus itself should be the Orwellian behaviour of all those authoritiesand expertsthat we have allowed ourselves to be subject to this year. My fundamental objection to this new legislative environment we find ourselves in is that it so massively disproportionate to the threat that it is intended to see off.

Then theres the question of whether or not these new bolshie bureaucratic burdens really work anyway given the fact that in many jurisdictions the number of infections peaked prior to lockdowns even being enacted as people took appropriate action themselves without needing big brother to tell them how to look out for themselves and for each other.

Grown-ups taking responsibility for their actions as well as for their community used to be a thing — theres a subtle but very profound danger in our unwitting jettisoning of this fundamental building block of western democracy. 

And its not as if this pharisaic agenda doesnt come with a massive price tag for us all. Theres the obvious risk to mental health that comes with unemployment or separation from other people, particularly loved ones, as well as the scandalous hobbling of small businesses (the big guys seem to be doing quite OK, thank you very much). And then theres the king-hit to our collective bottom line. At 46, Ill likely be retired by the time we pay off the debt we have so needlessly accrued as a nation.

So, if you happen to run into your local MP, tell them to please stop loading our children up with debt in order to save their short-term political hide. Tell them we elected them to make decisions regarding societys holistic well-being, and that their (our) public service apparatchiks dont get to shut down businesses, pubs and clubs, the footy, the cricket, theatres or churches en masse without a compelling reason to do so — if you take a look down through history youll see it doesnt tend to end well. Lets not head down that dangerous path.  

And there’s more. Apart from the public policy debate, I also believe theres a subtle undermining of community underway as we allow ourselves to become fearful of other people. In our highly individualistic generation, already glued to our individual screens, leading people to think that others are a threat is the last thing we need. For social animals such as ourselves, encouraging people to be suspicious of each other is really insidious and dangerous stuff on a number of levels.  

Jesus said he came to bring us life to the full — life in all of its abundance (see John 10:10). So lets graciously resist the little kingswell-meaning endeavours to burden us all with more rules, regulations and procedures.

Lets stop buying into the panic-porn being pushed into our homes via the high priests of project fear. Turn it off.

Repent of the idolatry of safetyism that seems to have colonised so much of our modern world, and live.

Peter Chapman is a Minister in the Uniting Church of Australia.

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