Coronavirus has exposed a moral and spiritual vacuum. Who will fill it? – TheArticle

For those who are directly affected, the new wave of Covid-19 is a matter of life and death. For the majority who are not, however, it feels like business as usual. Most people are trying to live as normally as possible, under increasingly difficult circumstances. Yet all is not quite as it seems. We know, in our hearts, that life will never be quite the same again. The coronavirus pandemic has exposed a vacuum at the heart of our society. It is spiritual, moral, intellectual, existential. We can see it manifested in all kinds of ways.

Why, for example, are we allowing those who live in care homes to end their lives cut off from their loved ones? For those with dementia, which means more than two thirds of all these residents, such isolation is medically catastrophic and unutterably cruel. For their families and close friends, too, the loss of contact is a deprivation that compounds the tragedy of dementia. Patients have become prisoners, while the rights of those who love them most are set at naught.

Johns Campaign, which campaigns for the right of families to stay with dementia sufferers, is seeking a judicial review of the Governments harsh policy on access in care homes. Those who wish to contribute can do so here . Why, though, should it be necessary for the courts to force ministers to show compassion to the hundreds of thousands of families caught up in this predicament? Most carers hate the rules they are obliged to impose, but fear the legal consequences of tempering their rigour. But life expectancy in a care home is only between two and three years in normal times, so the loss of contact for more than six months is irreversible. The right to family life must be given more weight in the rules that govern dementia care to prevent this scandal from becoming even worse.

Another gaping hole in our humanity exposed by the pandemic is the plight of those who suffer from conditions other than Covid-19, whether physical or mental, but whose treatment has been postponed or cancelled by the NHS. Cases are coming to light already of cancer sufferers, for example, who would almost certainly have survived if their treatments had not been so brutally interrupted. There will be thousands more such people. Yet already we are hearing of cancellations because hospitals lack capacity. No doubt the NHS will handle this second wave of Covid-19 better than the first. But even those patients who do ultimately survive will have been put through dreadful anxiety while they wait in limbo, hoping that their conditions will not deteriorate beyond repair. None of this should be happening in a wealthy, humane country such as Britain. Those who run the NHS have shown a deplorable lack of empathy with the millions whose lives have been put on hold. Meanwhile the queues lengthen and the lack of face-to-face primary care consultations means that danger signals are less likely to be spotted.

The failures of our politicians are well-known and relentlessly scrutinised; less so those of our spiritual and intellectual leaders. Today, for example, the Archbishops of Canterbury and York, plus the Archbishops of Armagh and Wales and the most senior Scottish Episcopal bishop, have signed a letter in the Financial Times, protesting about the Internal Market Bill. They claim that this measure has enormous moral, as well as political and legal, consequences. They may, or may not, be right. Christians and non-Christians can and do disagree about Brexit, for which this Bill has become a proxy. As things stand, talks between the EU and the UK have been suspended and a No-Deal outcome is looking more likely. That would render the whole argument about the Bill irrelevant.

Is such a political debate, however important, what we expect our church leaders to pronounce on? If they wish to influence legislation, they can contribute to debates in the House of Lords, where the Established Church is heavily overrepresented. But when they speak to the nation, surely they should focus on matters for which they are qualified. The absence of spiritual and moral guidance on the pandemic has been acutely felt. Yet none of our senior clerics, whether Christian or from other faiths, has made much of a mark on the national consciousness during this ordeal.

Unprecedented as it has been in recent times, the pandemic is surely an opportunity for those whose mtier is morality to thunder from their pulpits. Even those of little faith or none are more likely to be open to comfort or consolation in this time of trial. The awful truth is dawning, however, that most bishops are merely ecclesiastical bureaucrats. They can preach about mundanities such as Brexit or Trump ad nauseam, but on matters that transcend this world, they have nothing to say.

Across the Channel, France has been traumatised by the beheading of a teacher by an Islamist fanatic for the crime of showing his pupils cartoons of Mohammed. Tough words by President Macron and a heartfelt show of solidarity by the country cannot disguise the stark reality: it is no longer safe to teach the French creed of secularism, lacit, to students whose parents may have extremist sympathies. Slowly but surely, the gap left by Judaeo-Christian decline is being filled by a version of Islam that seems incompatible with the official values of the French Republic.

In Germany, meanwhile, Chancellor Merkels appeal to the nation to stay at home and temporarily renounce social life outside the immediate family has been met with widespread indifference. Having failed to persuade regional leaders to tighten the rules, she has resorted to exhortation. Such a voluntary approach has worked well in some societies, notably Sweden, though its efficacy remains controversial. What is touching, though, about Angela Merkels address is that it is directed at her compatriots sense of moral obligation. Rather than threatening them with fines, she places the responsibility squarely where it belongs: How winter will be, how our Christmas will be, will be decided in the coming days and weeks. We all decide that through our actions. In this invocation of conscience by the daughter of a Protestant pastor, we hear the echo of Martin Luther: Here I stand. I can do no other.

As the priests sound like politicians, so the politicians are obliged to sound like priests. Neither, however, has been able to fill the hole in our hearts. We yearn for words and actions that will uplift us, at a time when we are more downcast than ever before. Whence will those words and actions come?

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Coronavirus has exposed a moral and spiritual vacuum. Who will fill it? - TheArticle

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