When I first told my grandmother Audrey)that I was going to emigrate to Australia from England she told me that, when she was a younger woman, many friends and family members in her community followed the same path that I was to undertake. Though sad that she would see me perhaps less often (I lived a few hours’ drive from her as it was), Audrey was very pragmatic that the world had changed so much in the intervening decades.
She recalled that in these earlier emigrations, those who were leaving to board the ship to Australia would hold a wake before leaving. A wake. This was because it was accepted that it would be very likely that they would not return either in their own lifetime, or in the lifetime of their older friends and relatives. The parties were often raucous, but always tinged with the sadness that this goodbye was a permanent farewell.
When I emigrated, it was in a different world; air travel was affordable and readily available, I even had a choice as to which city was most convenient to fly in and out of. In recent years I have been making the trip to England at least twice per year, if anything I saw more of my family than I had done in the years before I emigrated. But in 2020 all of that stopped.
The Covid pandemic is not a matter to be taken lightly. It has been devastating both with regards to the effects of the illness and the response of authorities across the world. Australia has adopted an untenable position: one case is completely unacceptable. I think that this is immoral when weighed against the harm done by this approach. I understand why politicians in Australia are taking such a course of action, it would seem that it is an electoral trump card to lock everybody down, instil them with terror, restrict their freedoms, and then dole them out like dog biscuits as though freedom is owned by government rather than a divine birthright.
As a priest, the reality that people tend to prefer safety with restrictions rather than the risks associated with freedom is of no surprise. In the Old Testament, the Israelites led by Moses, having been liberated from slavery to Pharoah, dreamt of the meat-pots of Egypt whilst wandering in the freedom of the desert, seeking the Promised Land and being fed with manna from heaven. They described the freedom and sustenance provided by God as ‘worthless food’ preferring enslavement for the sake of a safe food supply.
Such a position is not virtue. Risk-aversion is cowardice. The political capital to be gained in feeding fear for votes has drawn us all into a collective cowardice enforced by the rule of law. This has reached new heights in the absurd decision to attempt to criminalise Australians for daring to enter their own country, this is morally disgraceful. Our lawmakers are elected to do the right thing, not the electable thing. Electors may prefer a Pharoah in a crisis, but we need a Moses.
With the right systems in place, quarantines, vaccines, testing, dare I say, ‘common sense’ there are no reasons to restrict the freedom of association across international borders that ordinary people have enjoyed for decades. The current system allows only the modern-day aristocrats: sportsmen, politicians, rich people to travel; us plebs have no voice and no chance. So much for the classless society Australia promotes to Poms.
The Covid response has shown that the shift from a faith-based society to a peculiar form of ‘scientism’ has increased superstition and subverted the scientific method altogether. This philosophy has permeated every authority in the land and is dragging all of us into a prisoner mentality that eschews freedom, the a priori principle that gives life purpose.
Audrey turns 95 on Sunday, I may never see her again in this life because somebody else has decided to manage my risk, and my example is trivial compared to many Australians both here and abroad who are separated by force of law.
Perhaps we ought to have a wake, to mark the death of freedom for Australian citizens, but I’m hopeful that a Moses may yet appear to lead us out of this madness.
Fr Chris Yates is a priest of the Catholic Apostolic Church in Australia (ICAB)
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