Brendan Hoban: Luke and Sam – good cop, bad cop…

Gospel of Luke and Sam worth listening to

Western People 2.3.21

The ‘good cop/bad cop’ routine is a well-known psychological tactic used in policing, whereby a team of two interrogators take apparently opposing attitudes: one, robust and uncompromising in approach; the other more sympathetic and understanding. Sometimes it’s a pose but sometimes not.

Take the bevy of immunologists, epidemiologists and professors who have descended in droves on the media coverage of the present pandemic. (Who would have thought there were so many of them?) Some adopt a strict and stern approach, like Sam McConkey, who always seems to have bad news, and who, wagging an invisible finger, tends to lecture us about the seriousness of the situation. Luke O’Neill, on the other hand, tends to look on the bright side. If Sam was in a band, I suspect he would be playing a bass drum. Luke, who is in a band, plays a guitar – predictably. Sam doesn’t smile that much – Luke does, a lot.

Tone matters. And we pick it up, depending on our own personalities. A friend of mine actually believes that a particular weather person on television has a more agreeable forecast, regardless of the content. Even if the prediction was for snow, rain and wind, invariably his adjudication is that ‘it wasn’t that bad, considering’. Another friend has stopped listening to the chairman of Nphet, Philip Nolan, though he can’t give any sensible reason why. Another can’t take the often set-upon Stephen Donnelly.

It’s not about them, of course, admirable people that they are, bearing the weight of such huge responsibility. It’s about us. We’re all experts now. A week in hospital and we know not just what’s wrong with the health system but how to sort it. Despite the experts around us, we can over-estimate our own expertise, even though we may be spectacularly unqualified to offer an opinion. Impressions, reactions, even the look of someone’s gib are sufficient to ground an alternative theory, which doesn’t have to make sense to anyone but ourselves.

The result is that sometimes, left to our own devices, we can get things exactly wrong.

An instance of this is the present outbreak of conspiracy theories, that run counter to reason and common sense. For example, some believe that there’s no COVID virus at all, and that it’s being used as part of a great conspiracy by Bill Gates and others to establish a New World Order and to put in place a totalitarian world government! You’d imagine that with over 4,000 dead from COVID in Ireland, thousands contracting it every week and hundreds in ICU, that arguing about its non-existence takes some explaining. But people believe what they want to believe – part of the Trump legacy – even when it’s obvious to almost everyone that it’s not true.

Another example is the pressure on Nphet and the government by a variety of organisations and individuals to relax the present lockdown to suit their particular agendas. An instance was a recent meeting of An Taoiseach with the Irish Catholic archbishops who ‘expressed a strong desire that people might gather safely this year for the important ceremonies of Holy Week’.

Looking at the evidence, I’m afraid that the request seems particularly unwise and unreasonable. Unlike with the Christmas acceptance of public Masses, a decision to have public services during Holy Week and Easter, now has to allow for a number of ‘Knowns’ that question its wisdom: (a) the serious fall-out in terms of the number of deaths and the numbers contracting the virus after the concessions made at Christmas; (b) the evidence of the virus mutating into a variety of forms; (c) the limited take-up of available places by parishioners at Christmas; (c) the evidence that priests and parishioners overwhelmingly don’t want/won‘t attend services; and (d) the logistical problems around delivering a series of five ceremonies in eight days when the health and lives of worshippers are a paramount concern and parish resources are depleted, not least the availability of volunteers.

These considerations prompt the question as to whether in view of what we now know – about the virus and ourselves – is it wise and sensible, to request a special exception for the Holy Week ceremonies.

An even more pertinent question is, whether in present circumstances, it is an adequate or acceptable moral and ethical response in respect to a central focus in Catholic teaching – the common good.

And another consideration is whether, in the season of Lent when we place a clear emphasis on the centrality of self-denial in the life of Christians, maybe it would be better to encourage Catholics to offer up the loss of the traditional public ceremonies of Holy Week and Easter for one year for a greater good – the protection of human life, another central focus in Catholicism. Because important as the ceremonies are, and regardless of how they will be missed, they are not as important as keeping people alive.

This is a key point. The mistake, as now most people accept, of ‘giving people a Christmas to celebrate’ – it is generally estimated – cost 1,000 lives. Why even discuss a possibility that might encourage anyone to move in that direction?

Would it not make more sense to challenge Catholics to accept that ­– in the interests of the health and safety of our people, the protection of human life and the common good of society – for this year to decide not to open our churches and to make do with participating in one of the many Holy Week ceremonies available on webcam, radio and television.

It won’t be the same, of course. It isn’t the real thing. Indeed for many, the loss will be deeply felt. But it ticks a lot of important boxes: saving lives; the common good; and, not least, encouraging reasonable and responsible attitudes rather than legitimising the pursuance of sectional interests.

Better, in the end, to listen to Sam and Luke.













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One Comment

  1. Eddie Finnegan says:

    Now, if Francis had had access to a good translation of the Book of Samuel (McConkey) or the Gospel of Luke (O’Neill), rather than the obiter dicta of Eamon, Dermot, Michael and Kieran with an Taoiseach, would he have ever set off the superspreader at Baghdad Airport & Presidential Palace, Ur of the Chaldees, Erbil and Mosul that may well produce more Christian and Muslim martyrs in the next fortnight or so than Al-Qaeda and Isil combined managed over the past two decades? Just wondering about the efficacy of prayer versus vaccines, or plain socially distanced common sense.

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