A commonly-repeated criticism since the beginning of 2020 has been that if you prioritise freedom over safety, you are being selfish. In many Christian circles, it is said to be “not loving your neighbour” if you vocally defend freedom. Such ideas continue to circulate, even as heavier lockdowns and curfews are imposed in Victoria, New South Wales and beyond.
But they mostly miss the point. Such criticisms assume that every measure that could be introduced to protect Australians against covid is by definition necessary and good. They seemingly deny the possibility that any cure could be worse than a disease, or that there is such a thing as going too far.
The executive director of the Menzies Research Centre Nick Cater has expressed sensible concerns about this. He argues that good public policy has been near-impossible to implement over this period because fear has overtaken reason in our risk assessments:
We are caught in a feedback loop, a vortex of fear, where politicians can no longer act sensibly because they have to respond to public fear. If they opened up now people would go berserk and say that it’s not safe to go outside…
I have come to the conclusion that the government has lost control. It has to obey this mantra of fear, and as a result of that it takes no risks whatsoever.
This reflects the broader culture of our times, not just in Australia but in the Western world more broadly. Nobody is prepared to put up with the slightest amount of risk. Wherever risk occurs the government has to deal with it.
Consider, for example, that while daily case numbers of covid reached into the hundreds this week in Australia, daily calls to suicide helplines reached into the thousands. Lifeline has had its three busiest days in history since Monday, with up to 3,500 people calling the helpline per day. And that’s just one of many such services available to distressed Australians.
Surely “loving your neighbour” also means being concerned — and indeed, speaking out — about government policies that are inflicting this level of distress. As Christians, we believe that people are not machines that merely require a certain set of material inputs to get through life. We are made in God’s image. We are relational creatures who survive and thrive through active involvement in our communities, and meaningful work and service to others.
Even the World Health Organization recognises this holistic view of health, or at least it did until recently. While we seem to have redefined ‘health’ to mean the absence of sickness, the WHO’s Constitution, drafted in the 1940s, pushed back against this reductionistic view:
Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity… Governments have a responsibility for the health of their peoples which can be fulfilled only by the provision of adequate health and social measures.
Of course, covid is deadly. But so are many things — including some of the measures our governments have implemented in the name of ‘health’. We have allowed fear to redefine our most basic understanding of what it means to live and function as a healthy human being.
To protect their health, Australians have been told to not talk to their neighbours, not to engage in outdoor recreation, not to attend church, not to watch sunsets, not to leave home for more than an hour a day. In all this time, we are yet to hear a single public health official or minister promote exercise, good diet, sunlight, weight loss or vitamin supplements. All of these simple, everyday strategies are important aspects of health, and are known to boost our immune systems and reduce our chances of suffering the most debilitating impacts of the virus.
Meanwhile, measurable deadly impacts are now linked to government lockdown policies. Australian data shows an 87 percent increase in couples separating and an 86 percent rise in the number of people seeking help for addiction. Stay at home orders saw NSW chart historic highs in homebound sexual assaults, and Victoria find that one in ten of its citizens contemplated ending their life.
Is this healthy? Is it “loving our neighbour” to stay quiet?
But this is only the beginning of the carnage. The ABC has reported on a “shadow pandemic” of domestic violence during lockdowns, and an uptick in anxiety among school children that has created a “wholly new group of school refusers”.
In the USA, 93,000 Americans died of drug overdoses under lockdowns, the highest level ever recorded. The BBC reported that five times more children died by suicide than from covid under the UK’s strict stay-at-home orders. Japan also recorded record numbers of suicides.
The horrendous list goes on and on. And we haven’t even considered the destruction of small businesses, the loss of income for families, the damage to education for our children, and the soaring national debt. All this and more will result in poorer health outcomes — and therefore, ultimately, more deaths in the long term that are yet to be measured.
And what about all of the politicians and celebrities who have been free to cross domestic and international borders and shirk quarantine, while regular Australians have been barred from the weddings and funerals of their loved ones?
This is why Australia has a parliamentary system. Historically, our laws have been good because they have had to pass muster through two chambers of parliament. Under our current emergency provisions, the rules we now follow are almost entirely the dictates of unelected health bureaucrats which a handful of top politicians simply give the nod to.
Even with the best of intentions, history shows that when leaders have too much power for too long, they become less accountable and more removed from the lives of ordinary people who daily reap the harvest of their rules. The fact that our state and federal ministers have collectively ignored every call for a cut to their six-figure salaries during lockdowns is proof positive of this.
So no, speaking up for freedom is not selfish or unloving. The freedoms long protected in the West are precisely why we have historically enjoyed good health, economic prosperity, strong communities, and all the benefits that flow from these blessings.
When you speak up for freedom and against government overreach, you’re not primarily benefitting yourself — in fact, it may come at quite a personal cost. Your voice matters to those who are suffering, and it can and will make a big difference in this difficult time.
So love your neighbour, and speak up for freedom.
[Photo by Claudia Wolff