What you feel is real

So we had an old college friend to stay, a female Anglican vicar… sorry, priest … who is the same age as us and not a young product of the woke educational system, though she did do her seminary training in the age of the Anglican Church as “The Labour Party at prayer.

Anyway, the conversation got round to COVID and masks, largely because it emerged that a well-known mask-dissident journalist is one of her congregation, exiled to a balcony because of his refusal to wear a face-covering.

That led to my discussing the total lack of good quality scientific support for community masking, and in particular the lack of a single decent study that shows the ubiquitous cloth masks to provide any protection at all, even when they are worn by people in government press-conferences and bear an NHS logo.

Our friend responded, “Well, I just feel safer wearing a mask in public spaces.”

Now, I guess all my regular readers will know why she feels safer – it is the direct result of two years of lying propaganda, though that propaganda capitalises on public ignorance of both the science and the elementary facts on virus particle sizes and mesh sizes. What is a non-scientist to do when even the wife of my former general practice partner argued that masks must do good because surgeons wear them?

Still, the truthful information has been easily available for anyone who was inquisitive enough to wonder why there seemed to be some kind of controversy over masks. Be that as it may, for our friend to conclude that her feelings of safety trump the scientific findings relayed to her by a doctor she has known for half a century, the underlying problem must not a lack of knowledge. Rather it is that enough post-modernism has permeated the public mind to make feelings the lodestone for living, and facts of secondary importance.

The trouble, of course, is that this is hugely dangerous, and has been so in this instance alone over the two years. You’ll remember that as soon as the mask-mandates came in, the “pensioners’ hours” in supermarkets were phased out – old people were now safe to mix. Vulnerable people stood closer to each other to hear what was said, feeling safe in a useless cloth mask or a useless visor. Aggressive policemen spat in the faces of lockdown-protesters as they bellowed, when the victim protested at their proximity, that it was OK as they were wearing a mask. But it wasn’t OK, and if the other official advice hadn’t been equally useless, many more people would have died because of the masks.

Even yesterday, when we ate out, an elderly couple followed that strange old custom of putting cloth masks on to walk to their table, and then breathing out whatever Omicron they possessed as aerosols for two hours until they left (without bothering with their masks, as it happens). No doubt everyone felt safer. But since they were not, they were in greater danger of infection than if they hadn’t felt safer and had stayed at home, or eaten fish and chips in the park.

The behaviour of highly educated priests now surely says something about the religion of mediaeval Christians about which we get so superior. Why didn’t the priests educate people that wearing amulets of the Virgin Mary was not a shortcut to divine protection? Why did they think that ringing church bells would ward off the Black Death? Why did even posh houses have black cats stuffed into chimneys to ward off evil spirits?

We need look no further than the Church of England, 2022: these things made them feel safer, so that was, as it is now, sufficient. Superstition still rules, OK? It doesn’t need to be pointed out that many people also felt safer if suspected witches were burned, just as many now would still feel safer if the unvaccinated were confined to their homes or forced to comply.

The Church of England is, of course, far from alone in prioritising feelings, though it seems now to be a pattern. It seems that nearly every Anglican church I see has replaced St Georges’s flag with a Ukrainian one (I suppose they must all come from Amazon.com, doing a roaring trade in the latest fashion as ever). Did a directive come down from Lambeth Palace saying that God was on one particular side in this distant war? Because for most of my life, I’ve heard bishops bemoaning the army chaplains in the two World Wars who, allegedly, assumed that God was on the British side in the conflicts. At least in those days the soldiers being addressed (if it actually happened that way), and the chaplains, were putting their own lives at risk in battle. Now churches just seem to be dancing to the tune of NATO propaganda: I never saw a single tower with an Afghan flag, or a Syrian one, or an Iraqi one, when those countries were bombed by us. No solidarity with the invaded governments or displaced civilians occurred in those cases. But the reporting in the present case is interested in evoking specific feelings, and public compliance is good.

Christians will have, and are entitled to have, different opinions on any contentious matters whatsoever. But it is the task of ministers, and of churches as communal entities, not to exclude COVID dissidents because they make others “feel” unsafe (ministers could always research whether the amulets actually do bring God’s protection and educate the masses when thery find out), nor to make parishioners who may have Russian connections personae non gratae because a majority have BBC-fed “feelings” about the rights and wrongs of that situation.

Most of all, the business of churches is, primarily, to teach and defend a specific series of propositional truths by which our bodies, minds and spirits may be saved from sin and dceath, and transformed into the image of Christ. Along the way, our feelings may well be transformed, and even intensified. But that is secondary to living by the truth. Feelings make wonderful servants, but oppressive masters.

Living by feelings was a hippy idea that sounded good at the time. But now that it controls society (and now the feelings are controlled by psychologically canny corporations whom one suspects to lack the common feelings of humanity) we are beginning to see just how destructive it actually is. Would that the churches were the first, rather than the last, to realise this.

Meanwhile, here’s the opposite case made feelingly. what’s wrong with that, eh?

John and Beverly Martyn/ New Day

About Jon Garvey

Training in medicine (which was my career), social psychology and theology. Interests in most things, but especially the science-faith interface. The rest of my time, though, is spent writing, playing and recording music.
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