The most popular song right now in the United States is Post Malone’s “Circles.” You can count me as a fan of the song as well.
I find Post Malone interesting, but sadly, I haven’t been able to find any other songs of his that I like. Mainly, I didn’t like the way he used the word “bitch” in so many of his other songs’ lyrics, because it struck me as misogynistic. I don’t think I would go so far as to say that Post Malone is misogynistic, though he may be, but from his lyrics it seems that he doesn’t understand women.
Now before you say that it is normal to not understand women, I will say that if a man wants to understand women, he will understand them, provided that his motives are noble and good. Provided his motives are noble and good, a man will understand women well enough. He’ll understand them well enough not to use the word “bitch” in his songs when referring to them.
But all of this isn’t what I was planning to say here. I brought up the song because it begins with the words “We couldn’t turn around ’til we were upside down.” I think that this phrase explains why God allows the coronavirus. He allows us to consider ourselves from another angle, as a way of asking us if we want to keep going the way we were going.
Now, I don’t presume to be the one charged with the responsibility of defending God, in the sense that I don’t want you to think that I see that as a role which I have exclusively. I think we are all supposed to try to understand God and try to empathize with him, as opposed to assuming that he’s big enough to take care of himself. I think we’re all part of God’s legal defence team.
God doesn’t want the suffering of humans, but sometimes he allows it because there’s no other way to stop something worse than earthly suffering. He has a broader view than we humans do. Our view is narrow and really quite short. We overemphasize the short term. God takes the long view, and the broader view. But don’t imagine that his view is so big that he can’t arrange things just for you. He is perfectly capable of making everything line up in such a way that you receive the messages / signals / signs / coincidences which you need in order to move towards doing the right thing. In other words, he can manage life for everyone all the time so that he controls the big picture while also looking out for you. God is big and small at the same time. It’s called a paradox. God is full of them, and if you like to read the writing of G.K. Chesterton, then you will agree with me that Chesterton was always pointing out paradoxes like that.
God doesn’t want the suffering of humans, so he didn’t make coronavirus to punish people. He loves people. He doesn’t want to see them suffer. What you can say though, is that he does sometimes allow things to go in a way which has, as one result, earthly suffering.
In the case of the virus, you can blame science. Don’t blame God or nature for making this disease. Don’t blame the innocent people selling or buying food at the markets in Wuhan or elsewhere. When the virus is over, I hope that we will all agree that not everything done in the name of science is acceptable. For too long, we have bowed at the altar of science, and looked to it for advice and solutions. But this pandemic is increasingly shining a light on science in general, and on what the Wuhan Institute of Virology was doing in particular. There are many similar problematic centres of science around the world, and they are doing what is immoral. (Thank God that the disease which is plaguing the world is only as powerful as it is. Half the people who get it have no symptoms. Many have mild symptoms, and many who have severe symptoms do not die. Young children are also safe.) Science must be regulated by sensible and honourable people to ensure that its aims are good. Too often scientists take advantage of the fact that the average person does not understand what is happening behind closed doors, and so they feel unaccountable for their choices. It is not necessary to have laboratories like Wuhan’s. You may say that they are necessary in order to study diseases, but I will say that the temptation to tinker and to do wrong is too great. People want power, in general, and the ability to spread disease is considered, by many very evil people, a nice power to have. Those who don’t have disease laboratories do other things to spread germs on purpose. Maybe you’ve seen the stories about that, about the groceries that needed to be discarded as a result. We view such people as despicable, yet at the same time, taxpayer funds are being given by powerful and prestigious people to other powerful and prestigious people who have similar aims: to cause human suffering or to increase their own power by being able to threaten human suffering.
In passing, did you not find it particularly creepy how Tedros Ghebreyesus, head of the World Health Organization, threatened that if President Trump did not want more body bags, then he should refrain from criticizing the World Health Organization? Trump has been an absolute disaster to watch, and part of that has been watching him try to find an enemy to blame for the abysmal American response to the virus. Nevertheless, I feel that in Ghebreyesus, he may have found someone deserving of blame. His “body bag” threat is creepy and he sounds like a bully.
I did not mean to mention Trump, particularly, but there you have it. I find that when I sit down to write a blog post, what comes out is not only what I meant to write about, but also a lot of other things that I’ve been thinking about.
What I primarily want to write about is this idea of turning around. The virus gives all of us a chance to reconsider everything about our lives. Some people will reconsider their life’s choices as they face the end of their life. And truly, as I write this, there are people dying, and many of them are wishing they had lived their lives differently. In that context, we must remember that the rest of us are given time, for now, to rethink things, as well as — and this is important — the opportunity to change things. This is a really big gift.
So this blog post is a sort of examination of conscience, you could say. For those who haven’t heard the expression “examination of conscience,” it’s a phrase which refers to the process of looking inward and asking yourself whether there is anything that nags on your conscience, or doesn’t sit well. What have you done wrong, according to your own conscience? An examination of conscience is about paying attention to “the little voice,” which has been telling you that you could be doing better. Please note that the voice of your conscience is not overly negative. It lists things, and identifies issues, but it doesn’t drag you down into the depths of despair and make you feel really worthless. That’s a different voice.
I say it’s “sort of” an examination of conscience, because I am planning to cover a wide range of topics, and I really don’t know how this will turn out. So perhaps a better name would be “Things to Think About.” Or even better, “Things to Think About While You’re Here.” And when I say, “While You’re Here,” I mean while you’re alive, not while you’re reading my blog. The blog post, after all, will end. It may not seem like it, but it will, eventually. Scroll down to see that what I say is true, if you don’t believe me. Mind you, your life will end too. So I guess they’re the same that way. But anyway…
THINGS TO THINK ABOUT WHILE YOU’RE HERE:
1. To make things easy, I will start big. Let’s talk about your choice of career. With the virus, we have divided careers into two groups: essential and non-essential. It’s not a bad starting point, but I suggest a different one: good and bad. There are some careers which are bad. I was initially going to use the word “immoral,” but the word “bad” is better, being a little less specific. You see, I wouldn’t call being a tattoo artist an immoral career, but I would call it bad. I would call it icky. We could go with that, actually: “Icky.” On the other hand, I see that it doesn’t work as well as “bad,” because there’s also the connotation with “gross” for the word “icky,” and many rather gross jobs are essential and therefore good. So let’s stick with “bad.” To get you started, I’ll name a few bad careers: thief, psychic, astrologist, tattoo artist, drug dealer, prostitute or Instagram-user posting bikini photos, abortionist, human trafficker. Some of you will say that if you didn’t engage in these things, then someone else would come along and do them. You are probably right, but I’m talking about you. God does not want YOU to be doing these things. If the others do not listen to his voice, then that is their responsibility. However, you must take responsibility for your own life and your own choices. Abandon careers which are bad.
2. Are you abusing your position? Sometimes people wrongly take advantage of their profession for selfish reasons, or they use the knowledge that they have gained through their profession to use it in twisted ways. For instance, it is not necessarily wrong to be a scientist, but if you use your position in order to cause harm, then you’ve changed your neutral or okay job into a bad one. Similarly, if you are a cosmetic surgeon, it is good to help restore people who have been disfigured by accident or fire, but it is not good to take advantage of people’s insecurity about their appearance or their narcissism to improve your finances. It is not wrong to be a politician, but you must use your power properly. The more power you have, the more careful you must be. However, even a person who has only a little bit of power must be careful with it. Sadly, I find that it is sometimes those with ‘small’ power who behave in the most petty and spiteful ways. Sometimes the ‘behind the scenes’ people want to prove that they actually control the universe. Thank God that they are not in charge of more than they are, because they are already acting like sick dictators, deliberately and capriciously inflicting pain just for their own amusement. So this is the second point: have you been using your role at work properly, or have been somehow abusing it, for example by using your status/position in order to put other people down? If you think that the temptation to continue to do wrong is too great, then it’s time to get out. Yes, other people will continue to abuse their position, but that’s not your concern. You must take responsibility for your own life and your own choices. Abandon careers which are bad for you.
3. Do you need to prioritize your children? Don’t blame your children for being “annoying.” They are not decorations or pets. They are just like you: human. And if you find them annoying, the problem is not that you are spending too much time with them now. The problem is that you did not spend enough time with them in the past. You don’t know each other well enough. You haven’t tried to know them well enough, and as a result, you find it difficult to empathize with them. You haven’t been there for them. You have been running away from them, finding other people to take care of them. You have been finding other people and objects to distract them so that you didn’t have to do the work of raising them. Stop treating them as “beneath” you, and don’t abuse your position, your control of the household or finances, or your larger size, because the truth is that you owe them more than they owe you. They deserve your love and your attention, no matter what. Furthermore, your children must take precedence over your community. It is not right for parents to value ‘saving the world’ above taking care of their own children. As a society, our praise always tends to go towards what is external and “manly,” doesn’t it? Who cares about the responsibilities or the sacrifices of the housewife? Not many. In any case, it is true that many of your friends aren’t prioritizing their children, but that is their responsibility. You must take responsibility for your own life and your own choices.
4. Do you need to homeschool your children? The virus has proven that much of what happens in school is nothing more than child care, and I use the word “care” in the most general sense. Many parents see now that they could homeschool their children, but the discussion should not really begin with the abilities of the parent. The discussion should begin with what your children need. Most, if not all, children are better off being taught at home. Public schooling is a failed social experiment. Despite the massive financial cost and despite the huge number of hours invested in it, the results in reading and writing (or math, though that doesn’t matter as much) are not impressive. Instead, the school system tends to foster listlessness, inaction, and an attitude of avoiding responsibility. You can do better than the teachers at school because you love your child, and you will be motivated to teach your child the basics, giving your child access to more advanced material when your child is ready for it. Yes, most parents don’t have a teaching degree, but in the first place, a teaching degree is not very practical or useful, and in the second place, you did not have or need a parenting degree before your child came into your life. You learned and adapted as the need arose, and the same would be true of home schooling; you will learn as you go. It is true that other people will send their children back to school, but that is not your concern. You must take responsibility for your own children, doing what is best for them.
5. Do you need to settle down? Maybe it’s time for you to stop partying and being promiscuous. What do you have to show for all the hours you spent partying? Is this how you want to continue? Is this the point of life? Nobody needs to go out every weekend. You can socialize in simpler, sober ways. Take a walk with your friend. Go to a cafe during the day. Enjoy the sunshine more, and the night lights less. You will meet enough people if you pursue an honest life of work and hobbies. You will make better choices of friends and partners if you take things more slowly and introduce your new friends to your family and your real life. Think about what you really want, and make the tough choices and sacrifices that will improve your chances. By this, I mean that if you want to find the love of your life, someone who is with you when both of you are old and surrounded by your children and grandchildren, then stop acting like all you want is a fling. Be intelligent. Have you seen those YouTube dating videos where people ask prospective partners some questions? I watched a fair number of them, and I was really amazed at how stupid the questions were. Who is making these questions? It’s crazy: you have twenty questions to narrow the field, and you’re wasting them asking about favourite places to go for a date? This is what you want to know:
1) Have you ever been married? 2) If yes, was your marriage annulled or did your former spouse die? 3) Do you have children? 4) If yes, who takes care of them? 5) Do you want children? 6) Are you religious/atheist/”agnostic”? 7) Explain. 8) How old are you? 9) What is your educational background? 10) What is your current occupation? 11) What do you want to change about your life? 12) Tell me about your family. 13) Has anyone ever accused you of being addicted to alcohol, drugs, gambling, etc.? That’s off the top of my head, as rather obvious things to find out. I would say those questions should be answered on the first or second date. Don’t you deserve to know? Life is short. If you have more time than that, you can ask some more questions: 14) What do you think of Trump, the Kardashians, Meghan Markle and Harry, Pope Francis? (There aren’t really any correct answers here; what you’re looking for is a thought process which impresses you on some level, as well as his/her ability to communicate these thoughts.) 15) What do you think about birth control, abortion, and euthanasia? 16) What do you think about immigration? 17) What do you think about women’s rights and feminism? 18) Tell me about your past relationships. 19) What are your life goals? 20) Are you in good (physical and mental) health? These questions aim to confront, or at least peek at, the big issues which will not disappear over time. You might as well know where the potential obstacles are if you are choosing a life partner. My point is that there is a proper way to proceed, and it is through conversation. Ideally, the conversation should take place in a public place during the daytime. You can clearly see each other, and you will both be safe. You will be able to hear each other. The current system, of choosing a partner over the internet, or in a crowded, dark, and noisy place, is not good. So if you want to settle down, change your practices to improve your odds of finding the right person. If you don’t want to settle down, then don’t be romantic with anyone, period. I can’t emphasize this enough. It is simply not acceptable to flirt or do anything of that kind when you are not looking for a spouse. It leads to problems and pain. If you’re not looking for commitment, stop looking.
6. Do you know what you want? Are you aimlessly looking for pleasure and distraction? You know that this is not how you are meant to spend your life. Life is a gift, and time is precious. If you don’t know what you want out of life, then I will start you off by saying that everyone is called, by God, to one of three different vocations: 1) married life, 2) religious life, 3) single life. Married life is for people who want to settle down with another person and raise a family. Religious life is for people who don’t want to get married, but would like to be part of a religious community to serve God, as a priest, brother or sister. Single life is for people who don’t want to get married, and don’t want to be part of a religious community, but want to help people. All of the vocations involve following God’s will, and all of them involve serving other people. It is unfortunate to see people choosing the wrong vocation. I have seen many instances, and the result is that the person really struggles. In any case, there are three different vocations, and it is important to think about these different types. God will generally give very large hints about your real vocation, and generally, the vocation which seems the most appealing is the one that is meant for you. So if you don’t feel that finding a life partner is the route you want to go, then perhaps the reason is because you were never meant to be married. Perhaps you are meant to be part of a religious community, as strange as that may seem to you right now. Or perhaps you are meant to devote yourself full-heartedly to politics or medicine or working with the poor. Most people are meant to be married, and if the thought of “never meant to be married” makes you feel kind of sad, then probably married life will be your way, but it’s not the right time for you yet, and you should focus on your education or work or hobbies and your friendships for a little longer. In the same way, some young men and women who are meant to later join a religious community cannot join just yet; they also should focus on their education or hobbies, etc for now. Ultimately, everyone is meant to spend life in a wholesome way which is pleasing to God. Don’t judge a life by how much attention it receives in the world of internet approval. Some of the very best lives are quite hidden. The key thing is that you should live an honest, wholesome life that is suited to the phase of life that you’re in. The good life of a mother isn’t going to look the same as the good life of a 10-year old boy or the good life of a retired grandfather or priest. So the goal is to live out your vocation honestly and properly, in such a way that when you are on your deathbed, you can say that you did your best.
7. Do you need to chase money or fame as much as you do? As a group, American celebrities have shown themselves in a very negative light during the pandemic. They have shown that they have very, very, little to offer. During a time of great anguish and suffering, far too many celebrities want only one thing: attention for themselves. Their selfishness and self-absorption was previously obscured, because hedonism was everywhere. Now, however, many people have lost family members or friends to the illness. People are also very frightened of becoming sick or losing their jobs, businesses or homes. Some have already lost these things. Many people are going to work even though they are scared of catching the virus. In a world of heightened suffering, the lives and concerns of the celebrities are pathetically out of touch with the reality of the majority. Even those celebrities who offer a donation (in an amount which sounds impressive, but which is a small fraction of their assets) to a worthy cause are generally not doing it selflessly; we hear about their donations in the media, sometimes through their own media feeds. The current situation also highlights how their success has depended on an apparatus of talented people around them. Most of them need the writers, the set designers, the agents, the publicists, the directors, the cameramen, the videographers, the make-up artists, the hairdressers, the producers, and the paparazzi, though they pretend to disdain the latter. Without these helpers, most of these celebrities lolling around in their homes are really quite boring. They cannot manage daily life as well as the rest of us. They cannot cook or clean for themselves or organize their day. They don’t know what to do with themselves, and they seem utterly lost. It’s because their spare time used to be filled with strategically socializing, dining in restaurants, and being photographed wearing the latest fashions. As a society, I hope that we can address our preoccupation with these famous people. They are not really adding anything to our lives, and for their sake, actually, they should not view their lives as worthy of so much attention. I am pessimistic that we will change in any significant way, because the habit of checking Instagram and Twitter and so on is very ingrained in us, but I’ll ask anyway: do you need to be following all of the celebrities and influencers that you follow? Are they making your life better? Will their influence on you, going forward, help make you a better person?
8. Do you need to worry about your appearance as much as you do? I am truly happy for the women of the world who are now rediscovering what it feels like to have that child-like disregard for personal beauty. We were headed in a crazy direction. Fake nails, fake hair, fake eyelashes, fake tans, uncomfortable undergarments, uncomfortable shoes, uncomfortable jewelry, dyed hair, plumped-up skin, layers upon layers of make-up — this is all a type of insanity, really. How much of this do you need? Do you want to continue like this? You will grow older without even knowing the colour of your own hair. Your natural appearance is part of who you are. You know, whenever I look at those before-and-after photographs, where the woman is covered with make up for the ‘after’ photo, I always, always, find that the ‘before’ photo is someone far more relatable, approachable, and sweet. The ‘After’ woman looks harsher and colder. Some women completely transform themselves into a different person. Is that how you want to live your life? Isn’t it difficult to maintain? You put yourself into a prison and a cycle when you alter your appearance like that. I would hope that women would allow themselves to be more natural. We don’t really need the beauty industry. They have so many devious ways to make us feel badly about our appearance; they have their scare tactics and they have their false promises. All they want is women’s hard-earned money. I hope that you can believe that you don’t need all of that. If you must, hang on to a little bit of lip colour and a cream or two, but stash away all of the other stuff, if you aren’t brave enough to just pitch it.
9. Are you communicating enough with those around you? As a society, we had moved, with astonishing speed, away from in-person interactions to virtual interactions. Now the virus has taken away what we were neglecting, the in-person interactions. This is interesting. The virtual interactions are different; they tend to be quick and quite shallow. For one thing, it’s easy to step away from a conversation which is getting more difficult. It’s easy to avoid answering that email or text. So is that how we want to live? Do we want to always skim the surface of our connections with other people? There are some really important conversations which aren’t happening, and we are becoming further apart, fooling ourselves into thinking we are connecting because we are always reachable through our phones. Maybe it’s time to see that we had things wrong, and I know that now many families and spouses are finally discovering that there have been massive gaps in communication. How well do you know the people in your own home? How long has it been since you’ve really been open with your spouse? Now is the time for honest dialogue: “I get frustrated when” “I am scared of” “I need” “I want” “I like” “I dislike” “Do you love me?” I hope we can experience the conversations and the sharing. For a while now, I have been saying, don’t delay. You see how some people are taken into hospital, and it’s really the end for them. They do not see their family members ever again, and when the cell phone rings, it will be unanswered. Isn’t now the time to say what we really should say? Or will we separate like this?
10. And what about prayer? Maybe the word itself, “prayer” seems foreign to you. Does it seem awkward? Maybe it does. That’s okay. Don’t let it stop you. Nobody has to know that you pray sometimes. You probably do other things that you wouldn’t want to have broadcast to the world. And it would be better to get a little practice on the praying front now, so that you’ll be ready when it’s your turn to go. Trust me, when it’s your time to go, prayer won’t seem like such a bad idea. So how about a meet-and-greet, just to get prepared? Think of Mary as your mother, or the mother you never had. This is the Hail Mary. It’s quite short: “Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou amongst women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen.” See? I could have substituted the “thou” (=you) and the “thy” (=your), but I’m used to it the old-fashioned way. And you already know the Our Father, right? “Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us. Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil. Amen.” But it doesn’t even have to be like that. You might feel uncomfortable or hypocritical to pray, even though you shouldn’t. So you can do something really simple, really casual. Go like this: “Hi God.” And you can insert an awkward pause, if you like. Then you can say, just really quickly, before you even have a chance to think about it too much: “Thank you for giving me another day to live. Please help me do better tomorrow.”