Of Children and Lockdowns

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In the heavy lockdown state in which I reside, the early stages of shutdown closed the outdoor playgrounds.  They closed the outdoor basketball courts.  To drive the point home that children were not welcome, the rims and nets were removed from the backboards—the worry must have been that some child might think of defying the governor’s orders.  I noticed at the time that golf courses remained open and were actively used, but I did not hear that many children frequented the fairways or the greens.

We all can agree that the lockdowns and closures of the Great Cessation are not pleasant.  There is a general wish that they would not have to happen.  There is a variety of views about how necessary this all has been.  I have not, though, heard anyone deny that children have been hurt the most.

Consider this partial catalog of harm to the children among us:

Education was abruptly interrupted.  Schools were closed.

  • In my major suburban county, government efforts to provide “virtual education” were repeatedly tried and failed and eventually abandoned.  The virtue remained elusive.
  • Education that requires group participation, such as music and arts, became unavailable.
  • Field trips were canceled. 
  • All school clubs’ and extracurricular activities—educationally valuable and greatly desired by children—ceased.
  • Personal belongings were quarantined in school lockers for months.
  • Public libraries were closed.
  • For the fall, the local governments repeatedly tried and failed, and eventually abandoned, efforts to reopen schools.  Children will be offered second class education at best.  That may work, to a limited degree, for well motivated children with consistent parental supervision.  Expect much less success for all the rest.

Social and recreational interaction was interrupted.

  • School sports were stopped, including practices, training, games, and facilities.  For many, that can include a whole year of skill development, performing, and advancement, a potential disaster for youth counting on a final year to demonstrate skills to help with college admissions.
  • School sponsored social events, such as dances, proms, plays, and other recreations were dropped.
  • School organized or sponsored service activities have been canceled.
  • Children were ordered to stay at home.  Enjoyment of friendships and development of camaraderie among peers were interrupted.  Usual exchanges with friends and neighbors, and the normal creative interactions, have been stifled.
  • The personal exposure to a variety of views and interests and backgrounds became limited.
  • Summer camps were closed and seasonal outings were taken off the table.
  • Recreational facilities were closed, including parks, sports venues, and pools.
  • Movie theaters and other entertainment offerings, such as concerts and spectator sports, became unavailable for warding off youthful ennui. 
  • Visits to extended family members declined.

Opportunities for character development have been curbed.

  • Churches were closed, including worship services, participation in sacred sacraments, associating in youth groups and instruction, joining in varieties of spiritual development activities, and involvement in service to the needy.
  • Similarly, the activities of service organizations are curbed, limiting youth participation and volunteer experiences.
  • Summer job opportunities became fewer, whether for wages or as summer internships.

Children’s health has been put at risk.

  • Regular doctor visits were for a time banned, and then later merely discouraged.
  • Routine treatments for chronic ailments were missed.
  • Vaccinations and other traditional child medical treatments have been skipped.
  • Dental visits were put off, as have been visits to the optometrist.
  • Medical attention has not been sought except for what was considered serious ailments or until they became serious ailments.
  • “Elective” procedures have been put off.

What do we offer the children in place of what has been closed to them?  As mentioned in this litany of childhood harm, local authorities ordered children to remain at home, but what kind of homes?  Not all children have the safe, comfortable, well provisioned and lovely homes we would wish or that officials envisioned.  Many habitations, rather than a haven and venue for learning, are without parental supervision, are dirty, uncomfortable, and unsafe, exposed to crime, drugs, and gang activity.  Children have looked to schools and other facilities, now closed to them by the lockdown, as places of refuge.  Lockdown policies can quarantine children into zones of hazard.

As summed up by a recent opinion piece from the American Institute for Economic Research, “Shockingly, it now appears that suicide rates among the young are on the increase, which is concerning since suicide is the leading cause of death for those under the age of 25.” (“CDC Has Become Centers for the Destruction of Childhood,” June 25, 2020)

What do we offer the children in place of what has been closed to them?

Children are the age group least vulnerable to the virus, the fewest to contract it, the quickest to heal, with by far the lowest mortality rate, and the tiniest record for contagion.  They have been covered in masks and fed on a daily feast of fear.  The irony is that the age group least affected by the virus is the group most deeply harmed by the lockdowns—against which they can do little to protect themselves.

Of Life and Creativity

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Our Heavenly Father gave us life, and He intends for us to be creative with it.  In so doing we find joy.  God wants us to have joy.  Facilitating our joy is what He does with His life.  It is His creativity.  In the process He gains a fulness of joy.

Let me illustrate from ancient scripture.  When Jesus Christ, shortly after His resurrection, visited His disciples in the ancient Americas, He bid the multitude to kneel.  Then Jesus knelt, and He prayed to God the Father for them.  This is from their record of that prayer:  “no one can conceive of the joy which filled our souls at the time we heard him pray for us unto the Father.”  (3 Nephi 17:17)  How would you feel if you heard Jesus Christ pray to Heavenly Father for you?  Could you find words to express your joy?  Neither could these disciples.

How did Jesus feel?  The account relates, Jesus said, “And now behold, my joy is full.”  What does it take to fill the capacity for joy of the Creator and Savior of the world?

Some days later, meeting with those whom Jesus had chosen to lead the ancient church in the Americas, the Savior promised them that because of their faithful service their “joy shall be full, even as the Father hath given me fulness of joy; and ye shall be even as I am, and I am even as the Father” (3 Nephi 28:10).

This was in keeping with what the Lord revealed through the prophet Lehi, some 600 years before, “men are that they might have joy.” (2 Nephi 2:25).

How does it happen?  Consider the difference between life and non-life, the difference between animate creatures and inanimate objects.  The distinctions are many, but for this discussion I would focus on the fact that those that have life are movers, actors.  They act upon the inanimate things around them.  I recall once complaining in frustration about my computer, when I was reminded that computers are stupid; they can only do what they are told to do.  Even the much vaunted “artificial intelligence” of computer programs is for all its sophistication still artificial; there is an artist behind it.

Every thing in the universe moves only as it is forced to.  The children of God are different.  In giving us life God gave to each of us the power to move, to initiate action, to create.  We can give (an endless power if used properly, whereas taking is always limited and has an end).

God created the earth (among an infinity of other works).  He organized the chaotic elements around Him and made something marvelously beautiful.  God “saw every thing that he had made” and He saw that “it was very good” (Genesis 1:31).  And then He gave it to us.  He did so that we might have something to work with as we learned to create.  God did not build the farms and the cities.  He left those for us, allowing us to participate in creation, and experience the joy of creation.

His creation is our example.  It is creation with a purpose, it is organizing the resources around us for greater joy.  The most meaningful form of creation is creation-giving, creating what we then pass on to others.  If you consider the commandments of God, they all have as their purpose to enhance our ability to create and then bless others with our creations, to receive more from God and each other that we might create more and share more, and in the process that we might learn so that we might go on creating forever.  Sin is what limits our creativity.

What we create and keep to ourselves has a way of becoming unsatisfying.  It has an end in us, and in that end the joy is lost; it might just as well have not been created at all.  When we give, when we create-give—and in return receive and give—this creation moves forward.  When the creation and the joy are passed on, as they are passed on, they have no end.  The creative work lasts forever and becomes more.  Man, by engaging in such creation experiences joy and creates joy.  That is what our Father sent us here to learn to do.  By so doing, we learn to become like Him, creatively joyful in turn.  We gain more life, we become more lively, until the Lord gives us all that He has, eternal life.

Of Religion and Liberty

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In recent days the Supreme Court of the United States, in two related decisions, gave a welcome reaffirmation of the constitutional protection of the free exercise of religion.  The cases involved practical application of the principle First Amendment right.  One case, Little Sisters of the Poor v. Pennsylvania, involved the Obamacare Act and contraceptive insurance coverage.  The other, Our Lady of Guadalupe School v. Morrissey-Berru, concerned religious schools and their employment policies.  Both cases were decided by strong 7-2 votes. 

Readers will look to other forums and formats for the specifics of these interesting decisions.  I raise them as noteworthy inasmuch as governments in the last few months have acted unkindly toward religion and its exercise, much to the harm of people and the  jeopardy of their other rights protected in the First Amendment.

Not only is freedom of religion and the exercise thereof found in the First Amendment to the Constitution, it is the first freedom mentioned.  Free speech, freedom of the press, freedom peaceably to assemble, and the right to petition the government follow next, in that order.  This is not necessarily a ranking of importance of these five freedoms.  All are essential, but I would suggest that the latter four are strengthened by freedom of religion and will be put at risk without a vigorous regard for that freedom.

This is not hypothetical.  As an experiment to deal with the unknown effects of the coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) many state governments (and the federal government to a lesser degree) engaged in an abrupt and progressive impairment of the constitutional rights of nearly all within their jurisdiction.  Of the five freedoms of the First Amendment, governments applied or tolerated the harshest limitations on religion and its practice.  Churches were closed, its members forbidden to meet together, even in small groups.  Administrations of religious rites considered sacred were blocked, even in application to the dying as well as the living.

In my congregation, in my church, we gather, we fellowship with one another, we sing together, we pray together, we teach each other, we provide service to one another, we follow the pattern of what Jesus Christ did and calls upon us to do in the practice of becoming kinder, more loving people.  Government restrictions have made that very hard to do, and are unable to replace it with anything.

One of the leaders of the church, David A. Bednar, an Apostle of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, lately said this in remarks on the importance of religious practice:

Latter-day Saints are hardly alone in this need to gather. . . Our Catholic, Orthodox, Protestant, and Evangelical friends gather for mass, baptisms, confirmations, sermons, and myriad other religious purposes.  Our Jewish friends gather for worship in their synagogues.  Our Muslim friends gather in their mosques.  Our friends in the Buddhist, Sikh, and other faith traditions likewise have sacred places to gather and worship together. And because gathering lies at the very heart of religion, the right to gather lies at the very heart of religious freedom.

In the United States and elsewhere, in this experiment into which we were rapidly immersed, people “throughout the free world,” as David Bednar reminded, “learned firsthand what it means for government to directly prohibit the free exercise of religion.”

Science, including the science of self government, requires us to learn from our experiments.  What have we seen in the social laboratory within which we have been living?  While freedom of religion has been curtailed, other liberties have eroded.  Freedom of speech has been restricted; people have become very careful about speaking their minds, avoiding certain words, even limiting their associations with neighbors, and they do not like it.  Communication even on social media has been censored. 

Press freedom is no longer robust.  Media broadcasters are careful to avoid use of newly minted proscriptions of this or that phrase or word, with correspondents and announcers disappearing from their jobs almost overnight for violation of some new taboo.  People have become increasingly mistrustful of “the news.”

Many assemblies are prohibited.  Where allowed, numerical limits have been imposed on how many people can assemble in the same place.  More nettlesome, as is the usual case with the violation of rights, restrictions are applied and enforced unevenly, some favored and others not.

Governments, especially local governments, turn deaf ears to constituents raising concerns with the application of restrictions.  Arrangements for schools run by local governments are in confusion. 

Overall, people feel isolated, alone, helpless, and, for too many, hopeless.  They look for and find temporary relief in acts of rebellion, minor or otherwise.

This is where freedom of religion can be seen as important to the other freedoms.  Churches have often in western societies been a counterweight to government tyranny, which is why the governments of Europe tried for centuries to control them.  As the Red Army imposed its Iron Curtain across Eastern Europe, persecution and control of religion were a priority. 

The first amendment prohibits government control of religion, specifically to preserve freedom of the churches, which in America has also worked to accommodate variety of religious practice.  All of the churches, together, need the first amendment to thrive, as do their members.  No other human organizations are as organized, enduring, and meaningful to people.  Without vigorous, free religions, people are left alone to defend their other rights, with alternative organizations that at best are anemic by comparison.

In the words of David Bednar, “With goodwill and a little creativity, ways can almost always be found to fulfill both society’s needs and the imperative to protect religious freedom. . . . Never again can we allow government officials to treat the exercise of religion as simply nonessential.”

Of Material and Spiritual

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Selfishness or selflessness?  Hard to find many defending selfishness or saying a word against selflessness.  Yet these two concepts are intertwined in thousands of years of philosophical debate over materialism and immaterialism.  While those two philosophical ideas appear as opposites, they each are, at most, half of reality.  Indulged in, each can lean toward a self-centered view of the world, the materialist surrounding himself with all that he can grasp, the immaterialist indulging in a cocoon of isolation from which he never emerges.

As most of us go about our daily lives, it may seem hard to conceive of the libraries of books filled with one side arguing that all that our senses constantly perceive is all that there is, while another school of thought just as vehemently asserts that it is all illusion, that the material is a false cloak covering spiritual reality.  Which is right, and which is wrong, and does it matter?  Can we bring the ideas together?

To shorten a very lengthy debate, materialists contend that the history of the progress of mankind is the story of overcoming physical obstacles and learning how to make the elements yield to our control, resulting in longer, healthier, more productive lives.  In similarly abbreviated fashion, the contention of immaterialists—sometimes referred to as spiritualists—is that at the end of the day all that physical “progress” means nothing, that its focus makes no one happy, that it chains people to an aggressive pursuit and struggle against one another that fails to bring lasting joy, instead feeding greed, covetousness, and hostility.  There is much more to the arguments, but that is their flavor.

To engage the debate on more practical terms, the materialist might argue that the spiritualist, by rejecting a very material world, is starving while living in a garden, dwelling in poverty amidst plenty.  The spiritualist might reply that the materialist may satisfy his appetites by feasting, but in the end he will still die, and by failing to transcend his surroundings he will die unhappy, having accomplished nothing lasting.

You may consider yourself partial to neither approach.  That would be understandable and proper, for man is by nature physical and spiritual.  The scholarly division is contrived, unnatural, isolating indivisible halves of existence.  The gospel of Jesus Christ, however, embraces the complete man.  When Jesus, as Creator, “saw every thing that he had made” of a very physical earth that included man and woman, He pronounced it all “very good” (Genesis 1:31).  Later, in our times, Jesus declared, “And it pleaseth God that he hath given all these things unto man; for unto this end were they made to be used . . .” (Doctrine and Covenants 59:20)  Furthermore, the scriptures teach, “there is a spirit in man” (Job 32:8).

The material is real; we are immersed in it.  As spirit children of a Heavenly Father, our challenge is to put our spirits in charge of the physical things, to control our environment as the Father does.  The physical is not here to slow us down or to bind our spirits.  Neither is it an instrument of penance for us to overcome and then be done with.  The material exists to facilitate our development and enhance our being.  We became more when our spirits united with our bodies.  The material is here to be used, first for learning and then for doing.  Joy comes in discovering how to use the physical well.  We are to subdue the earth, to become masters over the physical, not masters from the physical or to escape from the material.

The evil is when we shorten our vision, no longer employing the material for our growth and progression but becoming slaves to wanton appetites, food and drink devolving into our gods of gluttony and drunkenness, material things becoming objects of avarice instead of instruments of service.  We come to worship our tools, betraying our divine heritage as makers and wielders of tools.

The truth of the whole matter is found in the union of the spiritual with the material.  As children of God, it is our heritage to become like our Father.  Growing in the love of God, we govern our appetites and enlist our tools in the cause of ennobling one another.

The Master, Jesus Christ, explained it this way:

For man is spirit.  The elements are eternal, and spirit and element, inseparably connected receive a fulness of joy.  And when separated, man cannot receive a fulness of joy.  (Doctrine and Covenants 93:33, 34)

God created this very material world out of available elements, placed our spirits into physical bodies to learn how to control material things.  Christ was Himself born into a physical body that He also might enjoy the union of spirit and element.  Then He  willingly surrendered that union in death so that He might be resurrected from the dead, inseparably united as spirit and body, ensuring that for all of us the separation of spirit from body would be merely temporary while the unity of spirit with body, and the joy of that union, could last forever.

In so doing, Christ, and each of us, may receive the fulness of eternal joy that only our combined nature can achieve.

Of Defending Freedom and Divine Aid

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The story is told in The Book of Mormon of a kingdom rich in freedom, freedom from want, freedom from oppression, with much freedom of opportunity.  What could go wrong?

The generation that participated in building that freedom—it did not come free—yielded to a generation led by a dissolute king.  Under his leadership the society neglected the defense of that freedom.  That was a great danger.  The kingdom was encompassed and its people greatly outnumbered by enemies who nursed a centuries-deep hatred reinforced by an ideology of grievances of perceived victimhood.

Alluringly prosperous, the kingdom was a tempting honeypot to its much poorer neighbors, and yet for more than a generation it kept its enemies at bay.  That success stemmed from the intertwined combination of strenuous exertion and divine help from their faith in Christ.  Each time attacked—by overwhelming numbers—the people drew all of their might into the muster, on one occasion placing young and old into the ranks.  Appealing to and blessed by God, who strengthened their arms and demoralized their foes, the people of the kingdom repelled the invaders.

Their new king followed a different formula.  Governed by his appetites and the mirage of perpetual security, he taxed the people and he taxed his army, diverting resources to feed the wanton consumption of his court.  The people came to tolerate and then ape this corruption.  The generation that had deep faith in Christ and reliance upon that faith, passed on to one that at first kept up the forms of religious observance but without the spirituality in worship or soul.  Their focus shifted from heaven to the transient things of mortality.  They had plenty of reason to be unhappy with the king, from the escalation in taxes, to the perversion of the religious leadership, to the degradation in public morals, including the whoredoms and drunkenness.  Yet while there may have been dissatisfaction at first, the lavish public spending and the example of undisciplined revelry became popular, as it so often can.

The situation fit the pattern mentioned by Adam Smith in The Wealth of Nations, “What Dercyllidas said of the court of Persia may be applied to that of several European princes, that he saw there much splendour but little strength, and many servants but few soldiers.” (Adam Smith, The Wealth of Nations, Vol. I, p.392)

The enemies began to notice, too.  Overcoming years of intimidation from their inexplicable defeats, the very proximate hordes commenced a series of minor raids.  As the scripture record relates,

And it came to pass that [they] began to come in upon his people, upon small numbers, and to slay them in their fields, and while they were tending their flocks.  And [the] king . . . sent guards round about the land to keep them off; but he did not send a sufficient number, and [their enemies] came upon them and killed them, and . . . began to destroy them, and to exercise their hatred upon them.  (Mosiah 11:16, 17)

The king responded to the raiders by sending his army, which “drove them back for a time; therefore, they returned rejoicing . . . saying that their fifty could stand against thousands” (Mosiah 11:18, 19).  Their enemies took them up on the boast.  “And now behold, the forces of the king were small, having been reduced . . .” (Mosiah 19:2)  Their enemies, though, came with their thousands, and the fifty, indeed the king’s entire army, fled at his command; the people exchanged freedom for bondage and poverty.

The message is clear, as intended.  Freedom for the people and for the nation, any nation, resides in the people doing all that they can and should for their defense, and a reliance upon God to reinforce their efforts.  That has been the formula for the United States, from the Revolution to now.  It is the duty of each generation to take the handoff of the responsibility from the previous one and pass it on secure to the next.  Hubris for accomplishments in the past will little overcome provocative weakness.  Maintaining freedom is a gift from God, who will help us to the extent we seek His help and demonstrate that we will do what we can to help ourselves.

Of Freedom and Federals

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News Flash, Washington:  The national government sometimes gets it wrong.

Another News Flash, Elsewhere:  So do the States.

Of course, this is no news to anyone, rather old news to everyone.  We all know that the national government is neither perfectly right nor wrong.  The same is true for state governments.  All are staffed by human beings, like you and me, with the similar packages of wisdom and foolishness.

For nearly two decades I worked in the U.S. Senate for a very wise man.  I once heard him say that when he came to Washington he was frustrated at how little one person could get done.  He said he soon came to rejoice in the fact.  Yes, it is hard for one person to achieve the good that he envisions, but it is even harder for one person to impose on everyone else the good that he envisions.

The founders of the nation did not seek to perfect mankind.  They left that for God, as flawed humans cannot create perfect humans.  For now God has left governments to imperfect people (though He is willing to provide as much wisdom as people are willing to accept).  The wisdom of the founders, thousands of miles away from other nations, but drawing upon thousands of years of history, was to create a system of government that did not rest upon the wisdom and foolishness of one individual or even a small cadre of them.

The founders arrived at a system of government for the new nation that neither guaranteed nor expected officials to get it all right.  It was designed to make it harder for them all to get it all wrong.  Moreover, the founders worked to limit the field of that government, so that as much as possible of the getting things right and wrong was left to the people themselves in their myriad of daily activities, far too complex for a government to manage.

The arrangement divided governing responsibilities among many hands.  States have their responsibilities, which they share with local governments.  The national government has its share of duties and powers to be applied where appropriate for a national sphere.  Those powers are further divided among three interdependent branches, the executive, legislative, and judicial.  I say “interdependent,” because neither was given enough power to operate without involvement with the other two.

Impasse arises, frequently, because schemes for government to govern too much wreck upon the shoals of the diversity of our people and the multiplicity of their needs and preferences.  Such impasse is not a sign of inefficient government but of our system of government efficiently reminding us when it is trying to overreach, going beyond government’s competence.

The founders formed their plan as they realized that it was the only way to govern a nation so geographically broad, increasingly populous, and already socially diverse.  As the 13 states have become 50 from sea to sea, and the several million have become several hundred million, it is even truer today.  There are things that governments must do.  There are many more that need to be left to the governed.

In recent months we have witnessed waves of expanded government restrictions, probing the limits of government wisdom and power.  Space here will not allow an evaluation of the successes and failures, or the effect on individual freedom.

I rejoice in this federal system of government that allows for a diversity of approaches and accommodation of a diversity of conditions.  In my view, the governor where I live has gotten more wrong than right and is out of step with his state’s conditions.  I find the contrast of other examples a source of hope.  The purpose of dividing governmental power is to allow the exposure of mistakes and thereby preserve and promote individual freedom.

The division of error in our system offers hope of relief and recourse from error. It still leaves room, as well, for individuals to get it right and when they get it wrong to learn from the errors, with the freedom to try again and do better.

I will tattle, that the Senator for whom I worked for so long sometimes got it wrong.  Having been a college professor, he told us that we learned so much by working for him that we should pay tuition.  We did not agree.  He did not press the point.

Parting News Flash, New York:  The United Nations gets it wrong almost all the time.  Details, daily.

Of Models and Living

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My sons and I are modelers.  We love to build models.  We have spent many a pleasant time, creating very pleasant memories, building models together.  I prefer constructing models of buildings, houses, and bridges.  My sons make those, too, but their preference is for vehicles, especially airplanes.

Building models is beautiful and satisfying.  Models and making them stimulate creativity.  Modeling is a bridge between fantasy and reality.  With enough abstraction, you can model just about anything, real or imagined.

Models are not reality, though.  They are a thin representation of elements of reality, on a scale reduced from reality.

Modeling, by intent and purpose, is always a tremendous simplification from actual things, a focus on certain characteristics.  If we want the fullness of reality, we go to reality itself.  You cannot model life, for example, only aspects of it.  Doing so can help with our understanding of a particular aspect, which new idea we can take back to life to see how it fits.

The model itself, though, is not reality.  You cannot live there.  I am reminded of a story from The Twilight Zone.  As I recall, it goes something like this.  A man finds himself trapped inside of a child’s model village.  At first it looks quite real, until examined more closely.  He looks about him, and with increasing anxiety finds that things do not work, discovering an artificiality in all about him.  In despair he discovers how thin a replication of reality the model village is.  He struggles to make sense of it all, until he hears above him the laughing voice of the child who built the model.  He abandons hope as he finds no way out.

Sometimes we build model environments for fish or other pets or creatures to live in.  They never seem to be quite convinced, always trying to get out.  Even the ants in the ant farm work to get beyond the limits of the glass.

In recent months we have all been placed by our governments—especially by our state and local governments—in a model and forced to live there.  We are assured that, according to the models guiding them and us, this will all be for our own good, or at least for the good of someone even when we can see that it is for our direct harm (such as farmers and business owners and their employees, all put out of work).

With each day we see how far from reality these models are.  They are growing increasingly thin in meeting our social, economic, and health needs.  In this model we are separated from family, friends, and neighbors.  Virtual reality turns out to be very little reality at all, highly artificial and daily less satisfying, the virtue going out of it.  Economic buffers like savings erode.  Government relief plans, based on economic models, do not seem to work anywhere near as well as the real economy did.  Educational substitutes are a joke to the students and frustration to their teachers.  Many valuable healthcare treatments are put aside, postponed to some indefinitely promised day, governed by those who control the model in which we are living.

Back to reality, as a cause for rejoicing, which should be embraced and celebrated by all, the horrific models of the future used as justifications for the models imposed upon us by our governors, are turning out to be very thin, indeed wrong.  That is great!  That means that fewer than predicted are dying, fewer are getting sick.  We are thankfully learning each day that the actual numbers used to measure the extent and effect of the flu disease have been and remain a small portion of the overall population.

Policymakers need to make policy based on facts, with a view of and concern for the whole population.  The gap between the models and reality yawns wide.  Time to let us out.

Of the Spring of Relief and Re-Awakening

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We began this month with fasting and prayer “that the present pandemic may be controlled, caregivers protected, the economy strengthened, and life normalized.”  I see our prayers in the process of being received and answered, and I feel to rejoice that there is a God who hears and who receives our prayers of faith.  I have long known, from much personal experience, that He does.  I am seeing it yet again, as I believed that I would.  I expect that you, too, are seeing the signs of the Spring of Relief.

With each new set of hard data of what is really happening, the dire predictions from so many, that frightened so many, are revealing themselves to be well beyond the mark.  That is cause for general celebration (I do not understand why some are angered by it).  Sickness rates and mortality rates continue to decline, approaching levels consistent with seasonal experiences.  Those most vulnerable are becoming easier to identify and protect.

The realized effects of the pattern of the disease offer growing cause for relief and hope for the many, even while we join in sympathy for those most afflicted by this flu strain, just as our hearts sympathize for all who suffer from the numerous ailments and sicknesses that are part of mortality.  No one of us is left unaffected by sickness for ourselves and loved ones.

The reality of the epidemic has wonderfully been falling far short of the dire predictions, for which we are grateful.  On the other hand, the economic experience has been as bad or worse than predicted.  Here the real numbers are also coming in.  I recall one estimate from the first of the month, considered then by some to be high and exaggerated.  The anticipated dark cloud was that by May there would be 27 million Americans unemployed by the Great Cessation and other effects of the state-ordered shutdowns.  By Thursday, April 23, the number of Americans applying for unemployment had reached 26 million, a number that does not include those who remain employed but whose business and income are fractions of normal.  Of those who had work just a few weeks ago, today one in six do not.

No government in known history has ever done this to its own people.  As the Great Cessation was put in place by government action—not by the disease itself—it is an encouraging sign that government leaders are increasingly taking action to restrengthen the economy and to allow the most powerful engines of economic strength, the business operators and employees themselves, to begin the steps to return to the normal processes of enterprise.  This is only just beginning, and it needs to be encouraged.

Will Rogers is credited with saying, “If stupidity got us in this mess, how come it can’t get us out.”  Governments can block economic activity; they are poor at generating economic growth.  They lack expertise and incentives for it.  But they can repair some damage, and they can remove the barriers they erected, to which more government leaders—at local, state, and federal levels—are turning their attention.

These are all trends to celebrate, replacing anger and despair with gladness and hope, a Great Awakening for us in which to be engaged.  Bring it on.

Of Fasting and Relief

Photo by Bruno van der Kraan on Unsplash

To a physically empty room, but to a crowd of millions gathered electronically around the world, a prophet of God spoke reassuringly about times of turmoil.  Russell M. Nelson, Prophet and President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, was conducting a worldwide conference with the more than 16 million members of the Church.  Fewer than 10 people, presumably including the cameraman, were in the room, and all were practicing social distancing as urged by government officials.

President Nelson has refused, however, to engage in spiritual distancing.  Quite the contrary, his work is aimed at bringing the hearts of people together.  In keeping with the great commandments to love God and love our neighbor, President Nelson called for a worldwide fast this coming Friday, Good Friday.  “Good Friday would be the perfect day to have our Heavenly Father and His Son hear us!”  As part of the fast, he counseled that we pray “that the present pandemic may be controlled, caregivers protected, the economy strengthened, and life normalized.”

This call was extended not just to members of the Church.  President Nelson invited all to join in.  Who would not be in accord with the focus of these petitions?

This fast is well timed and well targeted.  Well timed, because during the Easter season, Christians from around the world are focused on the most important miracles that Jesus Christ performed on our behalf, His suffering and atonement for our sins—which no one else could do—and His resurrection from the grave, which no one had done before and because of which all of us will experience.  A worldwide devotional petition to the God of miracles for His help will at this Easter time give many, shut out from their houses of worship, a way to focus their faith on a very traditional Christian act, temporary self-denial of physical nourishment to emphasize spiritual nourishment and commitment to God and His work.  People may wish to do as latter-day saints normally do when fasting, take the money that would have been spent on the skipped meals and donate it to those in need, of which there are a lot more than there were a few weeks ago.

The fast is well targeted, because the call highlights the four most urgent areas in which we need divine help:  controlling the virus, blessing the caregivers, strengthening the economy, and returning life to normal.  I know of no one not acutely in need of one or more of these petitions.

The New Testament tells of when Jesus Christ was asked by a lawyer which commandment was greatest.  The ancient lawyer was hoping for an argument.  Instead, he received inspired teaching.  The Savior replied, love of God and love of our neighbors, explaining that from these two commandments come all of the others (Matthew 22:35-39).  In essence, all of the rest are commentary on these two.  This fast is all about those two commandments.

Consider joining us in this fast this Good Friday, to the extent that you can.  Let God our Father, who reminded us that He acts in accordance with the faith of His children, hear our prayers and witness our devotion.  He will surely welcome such a global expression on behalf of His children and their welfare.

Of the Great Cessation and Accountability

Photo by Remy Baudouin on Unsplash

The first Friday of the month is “Jobs Day” in the United States, when employment numbers for the previous month are released by the Labor Department.  A bit out of date for events moving quickly, the report—really for the first part of March when the data were collected—is that there was a net loss of 701,000 jobs.  More recent information from the Labor Department, gathered in the last two weeks of March, was that 9.9 million people filed unemployment insurance claims.

Those are firm, real, and disturbing numbers.  Perhaps you personally know someone tested positive for the virus or even made sick by it.  I feel more confident that you know someone who has lost his job, or whose business has closed, or one way or another is out of work.

Those people were not put out of work by the virus.  Up to this point the virus has reached but a small portion, some 240 thousand, of the 330 million Americans.  Those 9.9 million job losses were caused by government order and the fear spawned by government pronouncements and predictions of what may yet happen.

This unemployment is actual, not a forecast.  Each person of the 9.9 million has a very real story to tell, and it is not a happy one.  Many are tragic.  There are careers that have been disrupted, some only just started and some now ended.  There are businesses closed that will not reopen.  There are painful ongoing worries for people and families over what to do to cope.  None of us dismisses the sorrows involved with those who die, from whatever the cause.  I fear that the real, here and now unemployment wounds are too flippantly disregarded.

At some point, reasonable questions will need to be answered in a calm and deliberative way.  The actions taken and their consequences must be weighed, aside from professed intentions.  And the policies of policymakers will need to be evaluated in light of what they in practice wrought.  Among such questions might be these:

  • Did the realities of the Great Cessation—the sudden orders to stop activity and association, the practicalities of work lost, earnings gone, closed businesses, disrupted human interaction—caused by government decree, do more harm than good?
  • How many of those lost jobs are coming back?  How many of them are career-ending?  How many businesses are closed not to reopen?
  • Which actions ordered are unrelated to the health emergency but rather take opportunistic advantage of public fear and disruption?
  • What scars will remain on the body of our freedoms?

No doubt you also have important questions, calling for some explaining.

Involved officials might respond that the forecasts should not be unnoticed in the review.  Which forecasts?  Certainly good policymaking would rely upon future expectations.  Was a broad picture evaluated of what might likely occur?  How closely did policies applied align with appropriate and realistic forecasts (taken together)?  Which forecasts turned out nearest to what indeed happened?

Shall we go to the current forecasts?  Oxford Economics visualizes the loss of 27.9 million jobs in the U.S.  The most recent government estimates of U.S. virus deaths are between 100 thousand and 240 thousand.  For the full picture, we should include predictions of the fallout from prolonged social disruption and human isolation.  How much harm and how many deaths might those policies cause?  When we tally up the score to see whether it all is worth it, include all of that in the tally.

A deep recession caused by government order has never happened in our history.  Now it has and is part of our story.  Those who ordered it should, with due deference and full fairness, be called upon to justify it.

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