The Inhumanity of Lockdown
I am well aware of the deep feeling that separates us on this matter of lockdown, and I do not expect everyone to agree with me in opposing this policy. But I think that, as Christians, we do need to think about this theologically and not merely imbibe the prevailing assumptions we receive via the media.
Lockdown is the expression of a philosophy of life. It is the practical outworking of a worldview. And since we, as Christians, have a radically different perspective on what the purpose of life is, and what it means to be human, then it should not be surprising that we might arrive at a different view on how to live and act at a time like this.
I say this because I believe that lockdown is inhumane, or anti-human. The Bible teaches us what it means to be human and shows us that our humanity cannot be lived out in its fullest sense apart from obedience to God’s commands. The two greatest commands, the ones that summarise the law of God and therefore teach us what it means to be human, are these: Love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength, and love your neighbour as yourself. Lockdown resists and opposes obedience to both of these commands and is therefore inhumane.
Consider, first, how lockdown opposes the command to love your neighbour. What is love of neighbour if it excludes community, conversation, contact, laughter, hospitality, and the myriad other ways that we are called to be affectionate and tender towards one another?
Some will say that limiting human interaction is the way we love others at a time like this by saving lives. If staying away from one another means more people survive, then surely lockdowns are loving? There are two big problems with this reasoning. The first problem is that we do not know that lockdowns work, and the picture internationally is not clear. It’s just as plausible, for example, that the slow-down over the summer can be explained not by the first lockdown but by the fact that coronaviruses are seasonal and respiratory illnesses always bounce back in the cold months. We simply do not know that the first lockdown achieved very much, besides a possible temporary delay in the spread of this invisible enemy. So, we are putting our faith in an experimental and speculative policy.
The second problem is that we do know the harm lockdowns cause, even if this is not as immediate or as in-your-face. These effects have to be weighed in the balance. Consider: (i) Lockdown will have a devastating effect on the global poor, as economies are being vandalised by this policy. That will, in time, lead to a massive increase in child poverty, sickness, and death, though these effects will be far removed from us who can collectively afford to take time off work by borrowing billions of pounds. This is a tragedy in the making. (ii) Lockdown will lead to a long-term economic slump that will affect the health of our nation. Consider the amount of money that has been spent on lockdown – the many hundreds of billions of pounds – and then consider how the loss of this money will affect our ability, long-term, to maintain a healthy nation. Social services, hospitals, welfare and many other public services will suffer for years, if not for decades. The effect is indirect and will be difficult to measure, but I have no doubt that future historians will get to work on demonstrating how lockdown ultimately led to shortened lifespans across the population for years to come. (iii) Lockdown is causing suffering and sickness right now. There has been a massive rise in deaths at home, undiagnosed cancers, untreated heart conditions, depression, and a lot more. Again, these effects will be delayed and indirect, but do not doubt that lockdown will cause all kinds of suffering for years to come. (iv) Lockdown stops us from loving one another in the ways that we need to be loved, which ultimately harms us all and tears apart the fabric of society.
These points are not speculation; they are rational and logical and factual. Considering the fact that there are alternate strategies on the table – such as that put forward in the Great Barrington Declaration – can we really justify the immense cost and long-term fallout of lockdown on a gamble that it might save lives? And all the while we are prevented from expressing our humanity in community, and so we are becoming less human.
Second, I believe that lockdown opposes the command to love God. Mankind was created to love and worship God, and we cannot be fully human without giving expression to our worship. When God made Adam and Eve, he tasked them to work and worship. Herman Bavinck expresses this dual calling in this way:
Work and rest, rule and service, earthly and heavenly vocation, civilisation and religion, culture and cultus, these pairs go together from the very beginning… Religion must be the principle which animates the whole of life and which sanctifies it into a service of God.
We should not be surprised when a secularised state imposes a law that prevents people from worshipping together in order to ‘save lives’. The operating philosophy of our age is built upon survival, the progress of humanity, and living life to the full in the here and now. There is no weight or consideration given to the eternal purposes of mankind; only the temporal. And so, it makes sense that we would panic and scrabble to preserve and prolong life, as though survival is our greatest need.
But a Christian whose mind is shaped and formed by the word of God will know that survival is not our greatest need; our greatest need is salvation. And to be prevented from gathering as God’s people before him in a humble expression of worship and adoration and prayer is to be prevented from expressing our humanity as God intended and seeking him as he desires.
Moreover, if you re-read the prophets you will discover that when disaster strikes a nation under the sovereign hand of God, his intention and purpose is to drive us to repentance. The salvation we need is in seeking him, and yet we are being prevented from gathering in his name.
Many will object and protest that we can worship at home or online. This is only partly true, since in Scripture there is no true devotion from God’s people without a gathered, embodied, corporate devotion. Yes, God sees and hears me in my room on my knees, but he also commands me to sing with his people for his glory and my good. The gathering of the saints is not an optional addition to the spiritual life; it is the beating heart of the life of worship.
I am not sure how much longer we, as Christians, can tolerate this policy that is built on a secular worldview and inhibits us from obeying God while stripping us of our humanity. We need to see that this policy is the natural outworking of a godless worldview, and an expression of corporate anxiety without eternal hope.