Just the Facts Ma’am
It was Sergeant Friday who coined the phrase “Just the Facts Ma’am”. It stuck in our minds as something that should be quite obvious to anyone. If you just produce the facts, then the truth easily becomes “incontrovertible”, as Churchill would add. To be sure Postmodernism (which has been with us for quite some time now), has questioned the possibility of truth outside of a given community’s interpretation thereof (identity groups). Thus in the modern world, where we once upon a time could actually “know” things, we have now long lived inside a world whose ethos is that “truth is relative” and merely a shade of grey in the eye of the beholder; unless of course your particular community now says it isn’t. So to be sure, Sergeant Friday would have a tough time around these parts and would have surely turned in his badge and gun to open up a cleaners or something. Anything pray tell, but “pose” as someone who could ascertain something once called truth, or ever be on the right side of it.
COVID-19’s true death toll, cure rate and classification as a true pandemic that could be the undoing of us all fits quite nicely into this reality of relativism gone amuck (irony of ironies). The “party of science” is sure we’re just one sandwich shy of a domestic terrorism picnic, calling any such questioning of their data as a conspiracy theorist dreams. The “anti-science” party of Donald Trump (dumbasses to be sure) “tweets” before it ponders, and in the oppositions’ eyes, the mere questioning of their talking points are now labeled conveniently in the realm of “hate speech,” and thus are “de-platformed” and thrown into the dustbin of those who rightly now deserve “zero” runway in the marketplace of ideas. Yet, it seems quite apparent to many inquiring minds that the conspiracy theories that used to be called into question have now become a higher modicum of truth “not” so easily found on anybody’s favorite evening news?
It was the late Francis Schaeffer, who in his book written in the 1970’s called “How Should We Then Live”, sounded an alarm, at least from a “so-called” Christian West perspective, that he said would be the one thing that would ultimately do us all in before we even knew what hit us. He rightly reminded us that the values of “personal peace and affluence” and not “In God We Trust” were the real faith and doctrines that we held dear, and that once those values were threatened, coupled with a culture now bereft of anything called “right or wrong”, in his words; in order to keep both, we would gladly render ourselves as willing slaves to whomever promised the continual primrose path.
In the height of the COVID-19 pandemonium, with a church virtually shut down (numerous puns intended), and vast industries of economic significance to the people who have not yet survived its new restrictions on their “inalienable rights”, it still seems as if Francis is speaking to us about a day still not yet in front of us. However, it does appear as though it is one whose surety seems as real as death and taxes for us all. For at least for now; like 9-11, the economic downturn of 2008 and the likes of the COVID-19 crisis, at least some of America’s more middle- and upper-class population have bypassed yet again the opportunity to see if what Francis said is indeed true and taken to its logical outworking in our country. All the while vast markets and myriads of unseen people disappear from our masked view and find their places among the trash heap of economic Darwinism and under the bridges where they now settle in for the night. Tsk, tsk. Meanwhile, those leading us commend us to “masking” and “vaccing” this inconvenience to our personal peace and affluence out of our lives and have resigned to “tipping” the American populace by direct deposit, while simultaneously bankrupting us and our children into oblivion. They are our pied pipers who have now called the tune, bidding us to simply sing in unison with the added refrain, “Thank you sir, can I have another”.
Masks of Slavery, Fear or Business as Usual?
To say that the majority of people we pass on the street or see in our favorite stores from week to week “masked-up” are in any way taking these things quite as serious as I am is to affirm the obvious. They are not by and large. My brief observation about the predicament as it relates to the vast American populace is simply that the mask itself is representative of a couple of things. First of all, the mask now hides what the average Joe and Mary were hiding along: who they really are behind their face façade, behind their wall of privatization and their desire to simply get what they need and move on without human engagement. Secondly, for the church at least, despite decades of mass irrelevance and with nothing to say worth listening to from a majority, those we pass in our favorite stores with bumper stickers that show “fish” and “God is my copilot” have equivalently shown that they are just as scared of dying as the rest of us. They are also those who can continue to shuffle in and out of their virtual sanctuaries (occasionally), or after a year now, are found shuffling in (properly social distanced and masked of course) to the beat of the same predictable “church as services only” drum (3 songs, prayer, announcement, sermon, prayer and we’re done). And the world spins madly on.
What are actual Christians supposed to do?
But the real question for all of us who are attempting to get back up on the narrow path day after day and to at least give a “college try” to this thing called the Christian life is: What is our response to be as image bearers in light of this challenge? One thing is for sure, as Christians in a country that at least used to ensure “inalienable rights” for the collective whole, if the bible is any record of how we might then live in response, the answer to this looming question is something we should consider with deeply. This takes real work to be sure. Yet some overarching themes for our consideration are at least striving to live authentically before God and others (possibly without masks); real thoughts around how the church has biblically and historically responded to crises such as these; and additionally, as characteristically prophetic people “pushing back” on the pervasive narrative that our culture is selling us ad nauseum. In addition, speaking authentically and Christianly as a “free” citizenry to the power brokers of the world and the church who now seem to be cooperatively asking us to become chameleons, blending in with whatever the latest cultural talking point is, rather than as those who called to be “salt and light”. Those who will speak prophetic truthfulness regularly as our posture in an increasingly nauseating and tasteless world that will predictively have an autopilot gag reflex to most everything we are saying. At least then we’d again be known for obeying God rather than men when it actually counts, in the anomaly of a free Republic; with a voice of reason and salvific counterpropositions amidst a noisy and insubstantial public square. A square that has surely now become mere tales told by a mass of village idiots, full of sound and fury, all the while signifying absolutely nothing!