A number of weeks ago I wrote that maybe Dr. Anthony Fauci came to his current position of scientific leadership like Queen Esther came to leadership in the Old Testament to save her people. As time went by, I found that many people did not share my enthusiasm about the doctor—some called for his resignation and some claimed he was responsible for the economic failures on Wall Street. If one listens carefully to Dr. Fauci, he talks about relying on the systems or models provided by the scientific community. Some people read these systems with passivity, while others take them more seriously. Dr. Jerome Michael Adams, the United States Surgeon General, even predicted that Easter week would be “our Pearl Harbor Moment,” when America would experience its toughest, most fatal week as a result of the virus. We are happy that his prediction did not come true.
People use different models. The mantra of many people, including certain state governors, is that they are governed by saving lives versus saving livelihoods. Each governor is surrounded by scientists, economists, sociologists, and politicians. A good number of years ago, I was in a faculty meeting which went well beyond the planned time. At one point, the exasperated president told the faculty that dealing with us was like herding cats. The university was going through difficult financial times, but the faculty members did not want to hear about fundraising or negative balances. Just like the president of a university, state governors have to listen to multiple factors and then make a decision. Those decisions can cost a lot of money and sometimes, they cost peoples’ lives.
There are all kinds of systems—military systems, economic systems, political systems, and religious systems. Their proponents enthusiastically present them to people in their sphere of influence, and they are valid as long as they produce good results. People like good systems, but the story is quite different when we don’t achieve the promised results. There is little discussion of the weight or cost of our systems when they work and when they don’t. In one of his novels, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn told the story of a general who sent tens of thousands of soldiers into battle. The general followed the model, but it had a cost—after sending them to their deaths, he commits suicide.
When one reads the Old Testament, they can see that one military approach was for a king to bring so many legions of their army that they would be like the sand of the sea. When the teenage David wanted to go up against Goliath, King Saul had his system for one-on-one combat. The person fighting against Goliath had to be a man experienced in battle with the right military armor. But David had no experience, and he could not walk in the armor that Saul was used to fighting in. David discarded the armor, and defeated Goliath with a slingshot and some stones.
For many millennia, kings enjoyed a system of divine rule. The people they ruled over should accept their word without question because they were divine. Egyptian pharaohs and French and English kings claimed divinity and the right to rule for a lifetime. The people of the 18th century could not understand why George Washington did not want to be crowned as king, and why he did not want to serve as president for more than two terms (something that FDR wanted to change).
There are even systems to determine which beliefs we find to be legitimate. The lonely prophet Elijah faced 800 priests of Baal. These priests were well-fed at the table of Jezebel, even though there was famine in the land. Elijah challenged them to choose a god who would answer by fire and send rain during the drought. The priests had their rituals, and would call upon their gods to answer. Elijah would call upon the Lord and the god who answered and sent down fire and rain would be accepted as the authentic, real god. Jehovah sent down fire and rain, and the system of the prophets of Baal produced no results.
Karl Marx, Vladimir Lenin, Mao Zedong, and Fidel Castro all used the communist system to rule their nations. Russia, China, and Cuba are suffering even today as a result of these systems. Now there are people in the United States like Nancy Pelosi and philosopher Cornel West who tell us that Marxist systems were simply not done in the right way; they believe that everyone should be receiving a salary, whether they work or not. I do not know if the Speaker of the House and the professor would like the receive the average wage of the worker or if this distribution is only for others!
It seems like humanity has reacted differently when faced with other pandemics or crises throughout history. History tells us that people were willing to sacrifice during the two world wars—they made do with what they already had, and many were willing to lay down their lives to ensure the safety of others. But in 2020, we struggle with the conflict between lives and livelihood, what our neighbors need and what we want. We were shocked to discover how many rich corporations applied for help from the state and were granted it, as small businesses close in towns across America. Ultimately, we do not have the vaguest idea how this pandemic is going to end. Most likely, we will find out that our system of analysis was skewed in one way or another. Our choices as individuals, as communities, and as a nation will determine whether or not our models will work.