This week I watched a very informative documentary on the BBC: Horizon 2020 Coronavirus Special. In it, the scriptwriters acclaimed, several times, “Never has so much depended on science so urgently.” Totally. Absolutely. Yet I couldn’t help but feel the statement was missing something more significant.
I often feel like I inhabit two worlds. In one, I share my faith with colleagues and members of the catholic church, and in the other, my belief is considered, by close friends and family, as superstitious and odd at best, and dangerous and misguided at worse. I don’t blame people; organised religion often shoots itself in the foot – it can be arrogant and exclusive in its claims, much like the claim of ‘science’ in the Horizon special.
There have been all sorts of speculation about the origin of the coronavirus (biological warfare, aliens and 5G to name only a few). Our imaginations can come up with all sorts of conspiracies adept at avoiding the truth. However, the most commonly accepted one is that the virus mutated and spread through the wet markets of Wuhan City.
96% of the virus’ genetic code is shared with a similar virus found in populations of bats. Bats started it. (The blame has to lie somewhere). An interesting aside – bats do not get ill with it; it is thought their extremely high metabolism prevents this. (Note to self – start some cardio). Bats live in populations of 1000s enabling vast duplication of the genetic material, and basic knowledge of evolutionary theory will tell you, this increases the chances of a mutation that can occasionally pass to another species. In the case of coronavirus, the gentle pangolin is the suspect.
Here is where we (the human race) begin to reap what we sow. Pangolins, whose wild habitats are shared with the bats, are ‘trafficked’ in considerable numbers to wet markets in China where they are prized for their meat and the believed medicinal quality of their scales. Camera cut to the wet markets in Wuhan City. This is a vile place (ok, a judgement call, but I’ll own it) where live animals are kept in cramped, inhumane conditions, awaiting slaughter on the premises. Any disease is readily spread from animal to animal through the blood, urine and other bodily fluids of the animals there. In the documentary, the background shows groups of people shovelling food into their mouths. The message of greed, disrespect, cruelty, ingratitude and the lack of any sense of the sacred is visually obvious – but not mentioned in the documentary once. Perhaps a truth too hard to bear? Especially on a prime slot.
History has taught us that we can not treat the earth’s resources in this manner. Intensive farming, changes in land use and the keeping of animals in unsanitary (not to mention cruel) conditions are what caused bird and swine flu in the past. The risk of mutated diseases is multiplied when one species is forced into proximity in large numbers – inevitably, viruses mutate and spread up the food chain. But as is our wont, we are collectively deaf to these lessons from nature.
It is greed, arrogance and a lack of humility that are the real causes of this pandemic. The documentary’s scientist does nod at the need to change, but laments defeat: “There are no easy answers here. Farming and intensive land use produce the food we have become so accustomed to.” Seriously? How can you be so smart, yet so thick at the same time?
If our very existence is at stake, isn’t the answer easy and actually, quite obvious?
I am in real danger here of getting both my sandwich board and soapbox out. Of course, we need science. We are, to claim our true nature, co-creators with God. We were granted with intelligence to steward the earth – to help it flourish for the good of everything on it. To do this well, we require respect and humility for the whole creation, as well the special place we, as humans, have in it.
Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, and after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing the creeps on the earth.“Genesis 1:26
Please note, I am a champion of science and a champion of faith. I know I’m giving a scientific documentary a hard time, but religion isn’t exempt either. A religious interpretation of the above passage has given humankind an enormous head. The key to reading our unique place in creation is ‘in our image and likeness of God’ – e.g. divine. Not greedy gits, happy to plunder the earth, quickly and with the least effort, to create money for the few. And don’t tell me that intensive farming is about feeding everybody. If that were true, no one would be starving today.
So- Horizon – as you alluded to in your documentary, never has so much depended on science, but I wish you had added: ‘and the need for human beings to take their heads out of their backsides, gain some insight and eat a piece of humble pie’.
This is what nature is trying to tell us.
The good news is that it is in our power to make a change. I hope and pray (yes pray – don’t get me started on the science behind this as well) that when we come out of this, that is exactly what we do.
It starts with You and Me.