Governments should be servants of the truth; but what happens when truth is sacrificed? The coronavirus is an object lesson – for governments and individuals alike.
Coronavirus and the Chinese Communist Party
I want to talk about the issue of coronavirus and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). I want to find out what this disease and the way in which its outbreak was handled tells us about the CCP; but more importantly, I want to see what it shows us about truth.
Note that when I say “China”, I’m not referring to Chinese people in general. I’m talking about the government: the Chinese Communist Party.
China first admitted to the World Health Organization that they had several cases of COVID-19 on 31 December. It was identified as a new coronavirus on 7 January, and the first death was reported on 9 January.
By the end of January, coronavirus cases had been reported in Thailand, Japan, South Korea, Singapore, USA, Australia, France, Malaysia, Canada, Nepal, Cambodia, Germany, Sri Lanka, the United Arab Emirates, the Philippines, India, the UK, Russia, Sweden and Spain. The World Health Organization declared a public health emergency of international concern on 30 January, about a month later than the initial report.
And China’s role during that time, and indeed subsequently, has been predictable in many ways. It’s sort of been ‘communist playbook 101’.
Dr Li Wenliang, for example, has become the figurehead of a group of about eight doctors who were called by the Chinese government ‘rumourmongers’. These doctors blew the whistle on the new disease before the authorities actually went to the World Health Organization.
But police from the Wuhan Public Security Bureau interrogated Dr Li on 3 January, giving him a warning notice and censuring him for making false comments on the internet via a WeChat group in which he and his colleagues were sharing information.
Li was made to sign a letter of admonition and promise not to do it again. And the police warned him that if he failed to abide by the admonition terms, he would be prosecuted.
Shortly afterwards, on 8 January, Dr Li actually contracted the virus himself. He passed away from the infection on 7 February. He was 33 years old, and tragically left behind his pregnant wife and young son.
Interestingly, as a side note, Dr Li was a Christian.
Now, it’s understood that Dr Li was not the first person in the medical community to raise concerns, nor to be targeted by the Chinese government. And others are, no doubt, too fearful to speak.
Speaking of cover ups, the South China Morning Post has now reported that the Chinese government under-reported coronavirus cases by 43,000, meaning that 81,600 reported cases is, in reality, more like 120,000. These 43,000 extra cases are people who actually tested positive for coronavirus, but didn’t show obvious symptoms. Because they were asymptomatic, they were not included in the official tally.
Now, that under-reporting actually meant that the World Health Organization assumed at first that so-called ‘silent carriers’ – that is, people who are asymptomatic but have the disease – weren’t a big problem.
But scientists around the world are now discovering that nothing could be further from the truth.
So not only did the CCP very likely prevent the timely discovery and reporting of the existence of COVID-19; it also contributed to a very serious misunderstanding of how it spreads through communities.
Why did this happen?
It happened because the CCP does not rank truth as a high value. For communists, there is no higher authority than the state. And when you’re in that situation, you wind up with a couple of things.
You wind up, firstly, with atheism as the preferred, if not the enforced, religion; and you wind up with a situation in which the state is no longer the servant of truth, but, as the ultimate authority, becomes an author of ‘truth’.
The state actually decides what is ‘true’.
I was reminded about this in relation to the Chernobyl Nuclear Disaster in 1986. In that situation, the Soviet Union’s response was initially flat-footed and denialist, because their position was that a nuclear disaster wasn’t possible in the Soviet Union. If that was their position, it could not happen.
But of course, under those circumstances, as we see in China right now, another concern quickly started to overtake, which was the prospect of embarrassment under the scrutiny of the world.
And so, something was done. But not before lives were spent; not before those first crucial actions in response to the problem in the earliest moments after the disaster were compromised.
And it has also been the case in China, in the early days when this disease was first coming to light.
Dr Li and others were silenced by the authorities for ‘spreading rumours’… or, in other words, for speaking truth. It wasn’t true according to the state; couldn’t be true according to the state; it was a truth that the state had decided was impossible.
And it wasn’t until they realised that they had to tell the World Health Organization for fear of global shame that these matters were actually taken seriously. And by that time, the disease had most likely already spread outside China.
But what’s the point of all of this?
There are three ideas that I want to draw out of all of this.
First, I have painted that picture because I believe that in Australia and, to a lesser extent, the West at large, we face something of a moral crisis in our relationship with China.
We’re a little bit blind to the realities of that regime, and how dangerous those realities are; because, for anyone who is a little bit blind, whether wilfully or genuinely, there is such opportunity.
There are promises of endless economic growth if you throw your lot in with China. There are promises of ludicrous wealth… bags of money for people who will go all the way with China. And you know, some people are prepared to look past the lies, the fruits of those lies, and the dreadful corruption of this regime.
And this is just scratching the surface.
Now, Australia is in a position where we’re very nearly the most prosperous country on earth. And the reason for that, in many ways, comes down to one word: China.
But this is a dangerous regime, upon which we depend at our peril. And it may end up being a great Achilles’ heel for Australia, a nation that’s historically been preserved from so much trouble.
If China gets too powerful, we might rue the day that we went all in with China.
Maybe that’s a bit strong; maybe we’re not “all in with China”. But I fear that as politicians rank economic prosperity as the highest priority, we’ll continue to turn a blind eye to just how dangerous this regime can be.
Second, I want to make a point about God and government.
In the West we once believed earnestly that the highest authority was Almighty God, with the state as His servant. In fact, that’s why the phrase “Almighty God” actually appears in the preamble to our Australian constitution: “humbly relying on the blessing of Almighty God”. We once believed in God and Caesar and we honoured both in their proper places. The state was a servant of God. That’s Romans 13 language.
We still have government ‘ministers’, right? Minister for Finance, and Minister for Health, and Minister for Education… that’s because of biblical language.
But you know, as godlessness, atheism or lack of understanding God as the highest and greatest being rises in the West, so too will the state. And beware the state that has no higher authority.
We are contributing to this. We look to the state, the government, to solve everything from toilet paper, to family breakdown, to bushfire season, to our own mental health. We look to them to give us rights, and to make us happy.
They ought not to have the power to do these things.
As Christians, we too often look to the government to love our neighbour for us; to provide for all our welfare needs. Well, no. It’s your obligation first. Don’t forget this.
And let me say again, beware the state that has no higher authority, where government is placed in that position of greatness, because you risk this: it’s no longer a servant of truth, but may in fact creep towards being an author of ‘truth’.
That is a bad road to go down. We should be concerned in the West as we see governments’ hypertrophy grow out of proportion.
Finally, and really, this is the biggest deal for me: sometimes we encounter moments that serve as powerful object lessons. This is one of those moments.
It’s a powerful object lesson that tells us just how important truth is.
We live in a day when truth is not highly valued. But we let the idea that truth isn’t to be treasured rub off on us at our peril. There is in fact nothing more important than truth. Without truth, we’re all doomed.
There’s a great quote I heard the other day which makes this point very powerfully. It’s this: “Every time we tell a lie, we incur a debt to the truth. Sooner or later, that debt must be repaid.”
In the context of what I’ve been saying, two huge debts would be COVID-19 and Chernobyl, right? Those are shocking and staggering debts to pay, off the back of lies that led to the bitter fruits of those lies. If the truth had been told, how much sooner could these disasters have been contained and solved?
But you know, this doesn’t just relate to geopolitics. This relates to those sweet lies that we hold on to every day of our lives, in our own personal lives, for ourselves, that we want to believe.
If you do this, the pain will come.
If you do not live consistently with what is true, you’re not living consistently with what is right and good, and the pain will come.
It doesn’t matter how you justify ignoring the truth. It doesn’t matter how good you feel ignoring the truth. It doesn’t matter how important your feelings might seem to be in the face of the truth. It doesn’t matter when you make your own truth, and it doesn’t matter whether you just don’t care about pursuing truth that doesn’t interest you. I’m here to tell you, the pain will come if you are believing lies; the pain will come if you are racking up a debt to the truth, because the truth has a way of making itself known.
Romans 1 says that the problem with people in a society like ours is that they “suppress the truth in unrighteousness”. That’s what this is all about. It’s just saying, “Well, I don’t care what’s true.” It’s not seeking truth and it’s not letting it shape us. It’s not valuing and prizing truth.
And then what happens? “They receive in themselves the due penalty for their error”. It comes back to bite hard, and it destroys.
You know, it’s high time that truth was fashionable again.
So, seek truth with all your mind. There is nothing more important, and we lose sight of that at our personal and societal peril.
And sadly, that was the truth about coronavirus and the Chinese Communist Party.