The nature and duration of the pandemic revealed much about human nature. Some rose to the challenge, contributed much, stood out from the crowd and earned respect and gratitude. Others ducked the challenges, ran for cover, said and did little and disappointed many who expected more of them.
National Health Service staff, Care Home workers and Home Visit carers acquitted themselves with honour as did paramedics and ambulance staff. Their own lives were placed at risk and some died. Shop assistants, delivery drivers, refuse collectors, police and others of similar occupations continued to interact with the public at risk to themselves. Sober, hard working vaccine research scientists produced workable vaccines saving countless lives and making a return to normality possible.
Boris Johnson made mistakes early in the pandemic costing many lives. However his foresight in appointing Kate Bingham to head the UK Vaccine Task Force, guaranteeing government funding for vaccine research and ordering large scale stocks has saved millions more. In Scotland Nicola Sturgeon was no less culpable in the initial stages of the emergency. She then adopted strategies formulated in London and tweaked them for Scotland to give them a touch of local identity for purely political reasons. Shameless lack of acknowledgement and gratitude for the UK based response to the pandemic typified her mean-spirited parochial ‘stair heid’ politics.
On the negative side also are the Educational Institute of Scotland, the Churches, those who as in times of war have profited disproportionately and pub and night time venue owners. Scarcely an evening went by in the months of lockdown when Larry Flanagan, General Secretary of the EIS appeared on TV with his morose hang dog face criticising everything and offering nothing by way of leadership, vision, hope or optimism. Never a smile crossed his lips. A Rev I M Jolly for his time, he was like the caricature of the Church of Scotland elder whose only qualification for his office was ‘I can aye object’. The impression given was that teachers were much more interested in their own safety than in the education and welfare of children.
Church leaders failed to offer any explanation for the pandemic from a Christian point of view. They failed to face up to the dichotomous problem that if God is good why does God allow such a destruction of life. They failed to relate lifestyles to consequences. They failed to counter the humanistic idolatry that presumed such a thing could never happen to us. They failed to question the alcohol fuelled fat filled idolatrous corruption of our society. They did not clearly offer the Christian hope of eternal life. They did not speak of God as a refuge and strength and as a present help and comfort in time of trouble. They kept quiet. They even closed the doors of churches. The Church of Scotland became state controlled obeying the most invasive of rules and regulations for worship. To this date Christians are not allowed to sing hymns. George Whyte, the Principal Clerk of the General Assembly proudly disassociated the Church of Scotland from the legal challenge by Christians which resulted in the closing of churches being judged to have been illegal.
Some have done very well out of the pandemic. Those with connections to government procurement, those with ministerial mobile phone numbers, those with businesses suitable for immediate transfer to PPE production and those who had entrepreneurial grasp of the opportunities available have enriched themselves. Some of this was essential, necessary and helpful. Some was not socially minded. Insider trading proliferated. People in power saw the chance to make money directly or indirectly for their families and friends. Connectability is a central part of business. It was used successfully and properly and it was used improperly for personal gain at cost to future generations.
‘I have not had a pint for a year’ said one visitor to an outdoor beer garden on TV on 26th April. ‘I have not sung a hymn in over a year’ I thought. That would not have been newsworthy. Pub culture and the night time economy suffered greatly and governments have been slow to relax their restrictions. It is the connection between alcohol consumption and irresponsible behaviour especially among young people that governments feared as opportunities for super spreading the virus. Are we become a drink and drug fuelled nation? Is this the best way of life? Can we stand on our own feet? Do we have an understanding and a vision of higher purpose of life? It seems not. Employment is important of course. Conviviality is human and always has been. But the prominence given to drink during the pandemic was wrong and those who make livings from the addictive frailties of human nature should reflect on their conduct.
Heroes and villains of the pandemic. There are many more on both sides. The pandemic has hurt countless and its degradations will continue for the foreseeable future. However, there was solidarity and community. Christian churches served their localities. Worship became virtual. God was not seen around very much though. Hidden as usual. In those whose decisions and in those whose skills proved to be life savers. In the minds of vaccine researchers. In the residual Christian cohesion of our democracy when tested.
If there is an intelligent ruthless adversary prowling around the globe seeking out wreckage, harm and danger for humanity, that power found a home in the hearts of those who have used the pandemic for their own aggrandisement and perhaps even more so in those who when faced with overwhelming difficulties, fled for cover in the undergrowth of our contemporary living.