A few weeks ago, the government started a new campaign designed to shame and point fingers at people who disagree with lockdown. Apparently, invading our lives and homes, declaring war on our liberties and turning us against each other wasn’t enough. They’ve now upgraded their strategy to emotional blackmail because fines and treating regular people like criminals and murderers wasn’t enough either. They’ve spread divisive and inappropriate messages on billboards throughout the nation, as well as on Twitter and Facebook. Messages that shame you for valuing your happiness over the health of others. They even dare to shame people for needing to work. Take a look:
In the next few paragraphs, I will attempt to redefine selfishness. I will argue that you and I have every right to be selfish and not want to sacrifice things we value. I will argue that our obligation to other people has a clear beginning and an end, and what has been asked of us this past year is just way above our pay grade.
It is not your duty to make sacrifices for others
Abraham, the Bible tells us, was convinced that he needed to kill his beloved son to prove his loyalty to God. God demanded this sacrifice to see what was more important to Abraham – his son or God. Abraham chose to sacrifice his son. He dragged him to the desert and prepared to stab him to swear his alliance with God. But God only wanted to see if Abraham had it in him to give up his own son, so at the last minute he stopped him and said it was all a test. God demanded his follower to choose between two things he valued the most – his son and God.
Most sacrifices we make don’t involve killing anyone. They involve giving up something important such us time, plans, dreams, health, career, our principles often to gain something of equal or greater importance, but something that does not replace what we are giving up. Making sacrifices for others is a different story and we aren’t always prepared or willing to do it without evaluating the circumstances.
Do you remember the last time you sacrificed something? Did you do it for yourself or for someone else? What was your relationship with that person?
You may have, for example, given up unhealthy food and your social life to get in a better shape. Or you gave up your dream job because it started to consume too much of the time you’d like to spend with your family. Or maybe you agreed to move away from all your family because your husband got a promotion that required relocation and was just too good to reject. Whatever it was, you gave up something you valued at the time for another thing and the two couldn’t coexist. Sacrifice usually carries the burden of discomfort and unease, unlike curtesy.
Can you think of people who, if in need, would deserve a small favour (curtesy) but not sacrifice?
Chances are, you would consider making a sacrifice for a close friend or a family member but not a total stranger or even a colleague. Keep this in mind as you read on, please.
This leads us to obligation, which is defined as an act to which a person is morally or legally bound, a duty or commitment.
In context of sacrifice and courtesy and how they relate to the people you interact with, I hope you can now recognise your commitment to them. Your obligation to others has a more or less defined beginning and an end. That’s why you give a homeless man £2 even though it only pays for a hot drink and doesn’t solve his problems and you don’t invite him to stay with you so he can get his life back together. If, however, a stranger needed an immediate help, say, he collapsed on the street, you would possibly call an ambulance even if it meant you’d miss a train or be late for work.
Having said that, a study has shown that people who are running late are less likely to help someone in that situation than those who have plenty of time to their appointment. The name of the study escapes me now, but in summary, a group of students were sent across the campus for a scheduled appointment. Half of them were told they could take their time and the other half were told they were going to be late unless they hurried. The former group were more likely to stop and assist a collapsed stranger who unbeknownst to them was an actor. The latter group of students were more likely to ignore the stranger even though they had to step over him. This shows that we are willing to break our moral commitment when it clashes with our tight schedule or other obligations.
In contrast, if your sister needed a place to stay for a few weeks, you would possibly offer her to move in with you even if it weren’t ideal for you. You would not simply give her £2 to buy herself a hot drink. This is because you recognise your obligation to others and what level of discomfort you are willing to suffer for them, and that level is dictated by your relationship. You’d also cancel your meetings or even a holiday if your son collapsed on the street and was taken into hospital.
This brings us to selfishness, which is defined as the lack of consideration for others, but why not call it what it really is? It is looking after your own needs because nobody else will. It is the unwillingness to give up what’s important to you for something that’s important to someone else. It is prioritizing your own happiness, goals, health and prosperity over the needs of others.
If you are not selfish, who will look after your needs and wants? Who will make you happy? Who will make your rich if that’s your goal?
If you gave that homeless man £200, sacrificing your rent this month, would he return the favour? Would your landlord understand and tell you not to worry about it? No. Your obligation to yourself and the contract with your landlord override your generosity.
If you sacrifice your time, opportunities, health, relationship or career prospects, personal growth or happiness, who will compensate you for them? Your obligations to others do not have to override your own needs. If you don’t do it for yourself, nobody will.
Hopefully, you can see the relationships formed here. Your obligation to others doesn’t always require a sacrifice and not fulfilling your obligation (if it requires a sacrifice) doesn’t make you selfish (as most people define it).
For example, let’s say your friend asks you to help him build a shed on Sunday, but you are training for a marathon. Sunday is the only day you can run longer distances as part of your training. You have an obligation to help your friend, but his need clashes with yours and requires you to give up something that is important to you. You know that if you agree, your training will suffer a setback you can’t afford. Your friend can’t physically give you back what he is asking you to give up. This is not to say that you should always get the same thing back in return, but when you’re asked to give up something you value, that is impossible to reconstruct or compensate for, you have every right to not want to make that transaction. It is, therefore, not wrong to decline your friend’s request. It’s wrong of him to ask you to forget about your training that day and help him instead.
But how does building sheds, helping a homeless man or your sister relate to coronavirus? I believe that too much has been demanded of us in the past year. We have been asked to give up the very ingredients that make life happy, and month after month more ingredients have been removed turning our once meaningful life into a tasteless existence. Three weeks, they said. We agreed. It was a curtesy, a small favour that has since become a life destroying sacrifice.
I get accused of being selfish a lot when I express my anti – lockdown views. For some reason, strangers on the internet seem to think that calling me selfish ends the argument and declares them the winners. It doesn’t.
The idea of sacrifice and obligation came to me when I walked past a homeless man outside Tesco. ‘Any spare change?’, he asked as I dismissively avoided eye contact and mumbled generic “sorry mate” before he even had a chance to finish his sentence. Then I paused and remembered that I actually had some change from my recent trip to the shop. I gave him £2 – just enough to buy himself a hot drink, which is around 0.2% of my monthly income. If you consider how often I feel generous towards homeless people throughout the year, you’ll see that it becomes even less than that. I spend probably ten times more on energy drinks.
I bet you can relate to that. Both you and I try to justify our unkindness, lack of generosity and our selfishness. How can we be so selfish and not invite this poor man to sleep on our sofa for as long as it takes him to get his life back on track? How can we not offer him our life savings so he can have a fresh start? How can we not even go to the nearest cash machine and take out £200 and give it to him? Are we selfish for not even considering any of it?
Let’s now imagine that our sister calls us late in the evening. She lives miles away and just caught her fiancé cheating. She’s in a café and doesn’t want to go home. She has no friends in the area because they have just moved there for his work. The café closes in 1 hour. It’s cold outside and she doesn’t drive and has no more money. Let’s say you want to help as much as possible. What do you do? Do you pick her up even though you hoped for an early night? Do you send an Uber to pick her up no matter the cost? Do you transfer her money for a hotel room even though you know she shouldn’t be alone, but it makes it easier for you? Or perhaps you transfer her just enough money for her to buy herself a hot drink?
Both, your sister and the homeless man need your help. They both have nowhere to stay. Their problems will not be solved with a hot drink. Why is it not acceptable to just transfer your sister £10 so she can get one, hang up the phone and go to sleep, but it is acceptable to walk past a homeless man and, more often than not, give him nothing at all? We all know the answer – we just don’t care about him that much. We are willing to give things up for those we do care about, but we are not willing to make the same sacrifices for a total stranger, even a homeless man who we know is suffering. He is right in front of us – miserable, hungry and cold, embarrassed, unseen and ignored by everyone. But, giving him £200 would cause us too much discomfort – even if we knew he wouldn’t spend it all on sweets. We can’t. We want to help him, but we don’t want to suffer ourselves. We don’t want to invite him to sleep on our sofa because it’s risky, it’s uncomfortable and feels wrong. We don’t want our efforts to cause any inconvenience to us. That is why we give him whatever change we have available, but usually we don’t even acknowledge him at all. We don’t owe him anything. He is not our responsibility.
It’s not because we are “selfish”. It is because we know where our obligations to others begin and where they end. We have our hierarchy composed of our family at the top, our friends below them, colleagues, and strangers. Strangers are then divided into subgroups of those who need immediate help, such us emergencies, and strangers experiencing regular difficulties which don’t require our help or consideration. Based on that hierarchy, we know our obligations to others. They then dictate the level of discomfort we’re willing to suffer for the people we cross paths with. We will suffer the most inconvenience for those we love, especially close family. Caring for those we love, especially our blood relatives is hardwired in our genes. It is the subconscious need to ensure survival of our bloodline. That’s why, as harsh and as heartless as it might sound, children are more valuable than the elderly. That’s why women and children were the first to be rescued from the Titanic. The year 2020 showed us that people are willing to pretend this isn’t so, that we can trick our intuition, instincts and nature and sacrifice the young to save the elderly.
When it comes to friends and strangers, there is a different mechanism at work. If you have kids, you know what lengths a parent can go to provide for their family. For example, a father might work long hours at a job he hates to provide a better life for his family. The wellbeing of his kids is more important to him than career fulfilment.
We already know that we protect our children and make sacrifices for them because we want them to survive and live a good life. We don’t expect anything in return. What we have with our friends is the unwritten contract of never-ending exchange of favours of similar value. For example, if you borrow money from your friend, you should be prepared to lend him a similar amount at some point in the future or give him another favour – as long as his needs don’t clash with yours. Helping friends is, therefore, more of an investment than sacrifice.
Strangers are part of the collective entity. We are all connected through transactions and unwritten rules of manners. We are only willing to do as much as it takes to stay out of trouble. So, we hold the door for the person behind us, we queue up in Tesco, and we respect people’s privacy, their rights, space and property. Anything extra is uncomfortable and inconvenient. We will call the police if we witness a crime, but we will not take it upon ourselves to fight crime by becoming a masked vigilante. Similarly, we will avoid littering, but we will not put rubber gloves on and go litter picking. Is it wrong of us to not want to do it? Of course not. We fulfil our contract with society with effortless deeds, but litter picking and war on crime interfere with our life, even if all we want to do is binge watch Breaking Bad. Average person avoids inconvenience and discomfort and does the minimum if it happens to be just enough for “the collective”.
The truth is, most people, myself included, won’t donate as little as 0.2% of our monthly income to save starving children in Africa, but as soon as too many old people die too close to home, we crush the entire economy and shame everyone who isn’t on board with that. The difference between me and most people is that, I don’t go around tapping myself on the back for staying home and pretend this makes me a good personLukasz Kwiatkowski
The Side Effects of lockdown
But in the past ten months we have suffered more than a simple inconvenience. Three weeks to flatten the curve – that was inconvenient, but manageable. Ten months of financial and emotional rollercoaster that has resulted and will continue to result in unemployment and suicides – that’s a big sacrifice. So, I am here to argue that yes – wanting one’s life back is selfish, but there is nothing wrong with it. I am here to argue that what has been asked of us was never our obligation or responsibility and that our very lives have been sacrificed against our will to prevent potential COVID19 deaths and protect the NHS. I strongly believe that neither of these is worth the price and I am angry that I have to keep paying it.
Back in March 2020, we were persuaded that a three – week lockdown was needed to achieve both of these goals. Most people were by then convinced that it was necessary. Then that three – week lockdown was extended again and again and never really ended. I work as a Fitness Instructor and gyms didn’t open until late July, which means I was out of work for over four months. With a baby on the way, trying to find a bigger place it wasn’t ideal because nobody wanted to rent to us, and being furloughed made it impossible to save any money. My resentment towards the government grew and I simply could not find myself agreeing with the intrusive restrictions implemented by them. I talk about it more in The Dark Side of The Greater Good – Deserts of Mars (thedesertsofmars.com), where I explain the roots of my noncompliance and anger.
The trolley dilemma is a decades old philosophical thought experiment first put forward by the British philosopher, Phillipa Foot. It has since taken many forms, but the idea remains the same since the late 1960s. As summarised by Thoughtco.com:
A tram is running down a track and is out control. If it continues on its course unchecked and undiverted, it will run over five people who have been tied to the tracks. You have the chance to divert it onto another track simply by pulling a lever. If you do this, though, the tram will kill a man who happens to be standing on this other track. What should you do?
Most people, of course, pull the lever and kill one person to save five. Today, however, we are all taking part in this experiment and we are all tied to the tracks. The government pull the lever to kill five people through destruction of our businesses, medical neglect, isolation and promoting unhealthy lifestyle. The five sacrifices represent all the lives that will be lost in the coming months and years BECAUSE of lockdown. We want to live, but we are tied up. We call for help and scream that we don’t want to die, but in response, the lever pulling government, media and the public tell us to be quiet and watch Netflix.
When the first lockdown ended, many restrictions remained. There was no real resistance to it then, either. Protests only started gaining pace and attention late Summer when people got fed up with the government’s boot on their faces. Then another pointless lockdown came. It was supposed to save Christmas, but instead angered more people and did not save Christmas or lives. We’ve made a full circle and are back where we started – another pointless, life destroying lockdown.
We’ve been kept hostage by our government for the better part of the last twelve months. I have only been allowed to work for six of them. That’s six months I have been unable to be financially independent and fulfil my OBLIGATION to my FAMILY. Six months I’ve been forced to rely on the state. And you know what? They aren’t paying me enough to continue taking this shit. Still, I am one of the lucky ones. I know some people who, for the most part, have had no help and in the end lost most of their clients.
People love to pretend that we’re just asked to sit at home and watch Netflix. They often dismiss our anxiety, rebellion or worries by bringing up the Blitz and how back then people just did the right thing. But I am pretty sure when bombs explode all around you, nobody needs to tell you what the right thing is. But people didn’t sleep on the platforms of the London Underground to protect the elderly or save the NHS. They did it for themselves. Not the same crisis at all.
People also love to dismiss us by pretending we are just frustrated about the mandatory face coverings, but that’s not true. They call us anti this and anti that, COVID deniers and conspiracy theorists. All so they never have to relate to our concerns, engage with us on the human level and understand our pain. The very real and obvious side effects of lockdown never get addressed by those who support it. They almost always go straight to calling people selfish, accusing them of murdering grannies by intentionally spreading the virus, and they dare to tell us that we don’t care about the people who are dying.
I believe that ALL of the measures and restrictions we’ve been burdened with destroy our lives and compromise our physical health and mental wellbeing, while promising to do very little in return. Everything we’ve done and given up to protect “the vulnerable” puts US in a vulnerable position to many other threats. And even though I disagree with them, for the most part I have no choice but to exist within these restrictions and rules.
Lockdown, with all its sinister and intrusive measures, is a controlled demolition of our lives, liberties and livelihoods. When the dust settles and bodies are bagged, what will emerge in our place? Our lives, our marriages and relationships, our health and fitness will be just the shadows of what they used to be.
One of the most obvious side effects is the neglect of thousands of cancer patients. Many of them, including those simply concerned about suspicious and sudden headaches or lumps on their bodies, just didn’t want to trouble the doctors during the pandemic. Others, especially those at risk of suffering from coronavirus, didn’t want to be anywhere near the hospitals. Those delays and cancellations will have caused hundreds of thousands of deaths. The lever has been pulled, declaring their lives unimportant.
Why shouldn’t those cancer patients who have been denied the lifesaving treatment be selfish? Is it wrong to value your own life and health over that of others? Is it your obligation to make that sacrifice?
Whenever there is an anti – lockdown protest, the mainstream media outlets release condescending articles, helping regular people completely dismiss people’s individual reasons for protesting. All so they don’t have to relate to their pain, anger and humanity and to avoid the uncomfortable conversations within themselves. People in Italy, Denmark, The Netherlands, Canada, Germany, Poland, Australia and many other countries have taken to the streets and demanded their lives back. Each time these people gathered, they were more desperate, angry and upset. Why? They are business owners who have lost everything they worked for their entire lives. They are fathers who haven’t seen their kids for months. They are people whose parents have been sentenced to death in a lonely room of a care home. They are young men and women whose education has been put on hold and future destroyed. They are boyfriends and girlfriends who haven’t been able to see each other without feeling like Bonnie and Clyde. They are people who have lost friends and family to suicide and cancer. They are working people whose jobs, professions or entire industries may never reopen and return. Yet again, the lever has been pulled, declaring them unimportant.
Is it wrong of them to fight for things they value? Things that, without their consent, have been sacrificed?
Some of these men and women don’t mind wearing a mask. Some are in the risk group themselves. They just want to see their family. They accept the risk. They want to go back to work and give their life meaning and purpose again. Some don’t mind taking the vaccine when it’s their turn, but they also want to enjoy retirement by living like every day may be their last. Sure, some people believe the world is flat, the queen is a lizard, but also want to live in a country where police won’t chase them out of the park for having a picnic. The anti – lockdown crowd, whether gathered in Hyde Park or on Twitter, is very diverse, indeed. We all have our reasons to be here and all those reasons are valid, and the only way to preserve them is through selfishness. After lockdown has claimed everything we love and treasure, our lives will not be returned to us in the same condition as they were taken. Our jobs will be gone, relationships will be over, savings spent, children anti – social, fat and lazy. Who will reverse that?
Selfishness IS required. It IS essential. None of those people calling us COVIDIOTS will be there when you’ve lost everything. None of them will pause and reflect on the reasons for your misery and misfortune. As soon as they are allowed, they will be travelling to Dubai pretending they are someone they’re not.
Gyms are closed. People aren’t moving as much as they used to. Our bodies are made to move, to work – not to sit down the entire day. People will get fat and unhealthy which will put them in a COVID risk group and lead to other life-threatening conditions. Not to mention chronic pain that will result from almost an entire year of being largely inactive. Our options to maintain physical health are limited. With outdoor gyms closed off, it seems like the only legal types of exercise are running and walking – none of which will make up for our new inactive lifestyle that’s been forced upon us.
Most people will simply lack motivation to do any type of exercise right now. They will lack knowledge and experience to make their exercise intense enough to make up for sitting the rest of the day. They will not be spending money on running gear or weights to use at home (if they are lucky to have enough space). Most people will not invest in these because they simply don’t care enough. Not to mention that right now, as in previous lockdowns, fitness equipment is mostly sold out or hugely overpriced because of such big demand. Everyone will just collapse into their sofas doing what they are told and paid to do – getting more unhealthy, more unfit, more miserable, unhappy with themselves, or as some put it – sitting at home and watching Netflix. The lever has been pulled again.
As a Fitness Instructor and a former fat guy, I know that getting fit is much more than just deciding to do it. A person has to find motivation, have a goal in mind that often is accompanied by a deadline in the form of a life event such as a wedding. But most of all, he or she needs to ENJOY the exercise. Gym provides that variety allowing trainees to pursue their goals without sticking to one boring exercise or routine.
What about people who don’t want to end up obese, who want to maintain their healthy lifestyle, but can’t adapt because they lack motivation or purpose? Is it wrong of them to demand that gyms reopen? That lives resume? A few months ago, an elderly lady, Ann, came to the gym asking me to show her our treadmills. She was in her 70s, overweight and asthmatic. She said she hated walking outdoors, but she needed to exercise after shielding for several months and didn’t mind using the treadmill. What if she doesn’t find the motivation to adapt to the current circumstances and instead gives up on exercise all together putting herself at an even greater risk?
Right now, people like Ann don’t even have the right to look after their own health and boost their immune system. Ann realises that staying home “might” save her from coronavirus but walking on the treadmill will save her from heart disease and other serious threats. She took responsibility because she knew that nobody else could get on that treadmill for her. I applaud people like Ann. Unfortunately, she has been sacrificed. The lever was pulled once again, declaring Ann unimportant and her needs nonessential.
Nobody will reverse what’s been done to your mental health because of lockdown. Nobody will pay your debt or reconstruct your business, save your marriage and turn back time so you don’t have that abortion you had because you were worried about the future. Nobody will buy you more time when you are given six months to live because your cancer was discovered too late. Nobody will resurrect you when you’ve taken your own life because you’ve lost everything. None of these people who dismiss you as a selfish COVIDIOT will be there when you fall. None of them. They do, however, demand that you give all that up, sacrifice your own happiness, stability and health to protect others yet nobody is willing to protect you from the misery caused by your sacrifice. They don’t think it’s their responsibility, but demand that you take responsibility for them.
My theory is that this lust for lockdowns is based on the short sighted imagination of lockdown supporters and our ancient instinct to prioritise immediate rewards and avoid immediate threats. This primitive voice dictates to people that, sure, lockdowns will cause hundreds of thousands of cancer deaths, but they won’t be immediate and will be spread out over a longer period of time. Same with suicides caused by unemployment and loneliness. Same with obesity which can take months to become a problem and years to contribute to poor health. It doesn’t make it less heartless, to use one of their words, to sacrifice these people to save, or to postpone a few deaths today. It doesn’t make it less selfish, to betray the people who will die in a year from now to save a few lives today. It is, however, part of the human nature. This is why many people struggle to save money and instead buy things they want on credit even if it costs them more in the long term. But, just because this is in our nature, doesn’t mean we can’t be aware of it and make conscious decisions even if our subconsciousness disagrees.
For the lockdown strategy to be considered successful nobody’s health, happiness, freedom and wellbeing should be neglected. No lever should ever be pulled if it resulted in sacrificing some lives to save others. Especially when the measures imposed on us restrict our access to healthcare, to prosperity, happiness, privacy, family and love life, the right to form relationships and fall in love, start a family and enjoy a free and uninterrupted life. Lockdown does not meet any of this criteria and fails to deliver its promise of slowing the spread of coronavirus.
The common criticism of that approach is the “you don’t have the right to infect others with the virus” argument. People seem to have forgotten that their health is their responsibility, not others. They have forgotten that we CATCH viruses, not spread them. Yes, viruses spread through us, but there is very little we can do to stop that unless we are prepared to spend the rest of our lives living like prisoners, and even then there would be no light at the end of the tunnel for people with underlying health conditions and weakened immune system. The reality is, a virus may travel through ten different hosts before it reaches a vulnerable person, so it should always be her and her immediate family’s job to take responsible measures to “stay safe” not only now, but during every flu season. The question, however, is, what of that granny who thinks meeting her new born grandchild is worth it even if it exposes her to the threat of COVID19? If she doesn’t want to be safe, but instead happy for her remaining time on earth, no amount of self sacrifice I do will save her life and in the end, I will be the one who suffers. This is why it makes perfect sense for people to voluntarily protect themselves instead of everyone being forced to protect others through harsh and often irreversible self sacrifice.
The bottom line is this. If you support further lockdown, isolation and assault of our freedoms, you’re contributing to more death and misery than you pretend you’re preventing. Others like me recognise the long-term side effects of these restrictions. We know that we are the only ones responsible for our own wellbeing. We understand that we are the only ones who can defend ourselves against illness and physical and mental threats, but in the last ten months, we have been told to give up our guns. You think that the health of your loved ones depends on restrictions imposed on others. Restrictions that take their ability to maintain good physical and mental health. This is where you and I disagree. I know I am responsible for myself, but right now everything that gives me strength has been taken away from me because you think I should be responsible for you.
So, tell me, friend, when me and my family end up on the street because of lockdown, will you acknowledge us at all? Will you give up your job, your savings or your salary for us? Tell me, will you save us, or will you give us enough to buy a hot drink?
- Lockdowns Do Not Control the Coronavirus: The Evidence – AIER
- Every month delayed in cancer treatment can raise risk of death by around 10% | LSHTM
- The Impact of COVID‐19 Stay‐At‐Home Orders on Health Behaviors in Adults (wiley.com)
- Suicide – Lockdown Resistance (endlockdowns.org)
- Trolley Dilemma: Kill One Person to Save Five? (thoughtco.com)
If you feel it, it must be true
In the mid – 2009, as a twenty-two-year-old atheist, I joined a local church. It wasn’t just any church. It was the Pentecostal Church, often condescendingly described as “happy – clappy”. I had been an atheist for a number of years by then. I denounced my faith in God when I was a teenager. This wasn’t what many teenagers did in Catholic Poland, where I grew up. Church had, and still has, a big influence on the way we lived and how we were supposed to view the world. There were four big rituals meant to confirm your subscription to the Church and your relationship with God. By the time you were a teenager you’d participated in three of them.
First, your family gather in the local church to witness your parents sacrifice you to God in the form of Baptism, our first ritual. Then, around seven years later comes the Holy Communion. It is almost like graduation. You spend months practicing, attending lessons in church, memorising prayers and songs. Your parents invest in a nice suit or a white dress for girls, and you get a haircut before the big day. You also must be pure of sin for this occasion, so you are made to memorise a template of the Holy Confession and confess your sins to the Priest. I remember desperately trying to make my sins realistic, but what could a seven-year-old possibly be guilty of? Not tidying his room? This was the first and last time I confessed, and it made me a bad boy among my peer group who kneeled and asked for forgiveness on regular, even weekly, basis. On the day of the ceremony, you are old enough to accept the body of Christ. Your whole family gather again to witness the renewal of your subscription to Catholicism. This is such a big deal that nobody comes empty handed. Everyone gives you more money than a seven-year-old knows what to do with.
Third ritual, called Confirmation, comes when you’re a teenager. It also requires effort, such as spending your Saturday mornings with a church group preparing to “confirm” your ongoing membership with the Faith. Failing to do so prevents you from completing your fourth assignment – getting married in the presence of God. I skipped the Confirmation and therefore freed myself of the obligation to participate in any further rituals, including a big, glamourous wedding in a church.
The education system was also infected with Catholicism. We had math, geography, history and biology, all coexisting with religion. Religion class didn’t teach us about the history of religions, different faiths or even the origins of Catholicism or Christianity as a whole. It was pretty much reading the gospel, praying and being indoctrinated. I had one teacher in the later years, who didn’t practice what he preached. He frequently sent me to the bookies to place football bets for him. Not only was gambling a sin, illegal for under 18’s, but sending me across town when I was supposed to be under his supervision was irresponsible. Maybe he calculated the risks and liked those odds.
Poland also gave the Catholic world John Paul II, who served as the head of the Catholic Church for twenty-seven years – the second longest time spent in the Vatican by any pope. He was worshipped by everyone and his death devastated Polish Catholics like the Queen’s death will, without a doubt, devastate the UK one day. You can imagine, I bet, that escaping a nationwide cult, as described above, was not the easiest thing to do. But I made it.
Apart from feeling liberated to think freely, leaving Christianity didn’t affect me that much. For the first time, I was able to question the world around me without the fear of punishment and go with my mind to places no god-fearing man ever dared. In my early twenties, I became what people called a militant atheist, meaning I would gladly debate any religious person and attempt to convince them that God, most likely, didn’t exist.
Around that time, I became good friends with a Hungarian girl at work who was the exact opposite of me. She was super religious and was a member of the Pentecostal church I mentioned at the beginning. One day, after many discussions she invited me to “see it for myself” and come to the church.
That Sunday I went to the service. It was composed of two parts – Bite Size, attended by families with kids, and the main, more intense service during which kids usually stayed in the play area. The full service took around four hours and I stayed for all of it. I went out the night before and my phone had died and failed to charge overnight. Still, by some mysterious force, I managed to wake up right on time. The session was very strange to me. Catholics, while wearing their Sunday best to every service, tend to be modest, quiet and moderate in the way they worship. This was a whole new experience to me. The group was singing, dancing and at some point a man collapsed to the floor and started mumbling in a made-up language. Speaking in tongues, they called it. It’s when you want to express your love and admiration for God, but you simply know not the right words that can capture your feelings. When you speak in tongues, it is believed you are composing a superior message that is intimate between you and God. I witnessed it on many occasions because I went to that church every Sunday for six months without missing a single service. One night, after a couple of weeks, I had a dream. The devil himself paid me a visit. I was in my bed and he was standing over me holding me down like I belonged to him. I never told anyone about it, because I knew they’d believe this to be a sign or a warning of some kind, while in reality, it was most likely just my brain making sense of the recent events.
By the second or third week, everyone knew my name and that I was a non-believer. They welcomed me with open arms and hearts hoping I would find God with their guidance. They didn’t know my true intentions. I was there to investigate, to understand, to educate myself, to research and, when possible, ask tough questions and point out flaws in their beliefs. I even attended Alpha Course – a ten-week program where we studied various lessons from the Bible which were relevant to the teachings of the Pentecostal Church. It was hosted by Trevor and Helen and I intended to ask them questions that would make them doubt their beliefs. Trevor was a scientist with a very Nobel goal of one day finding a cure for cancer. He was a runner who believed that when we die we get brand-new bodies. He believed, just like everyone else in the group, that the only way to get to heaven was through accepting Jesus and having a personal relationship with him.
As much as I wanted to ask hard questions about their beliefs, I realised soon enough that there was no converting anyone. I carried on going mainly because it felt good. I suddenly had a lot of friends, I was invited to birthdays, Christmas and New Year’s Eve celebrations.
Although I didn’t ask those questions, I found the answers I was looking for. Every Sunday, I showed up, but I didn’t participate. I dressed casually, I didn’t dance, didn’t sing, I did not clap once. I most certainly did not speak in tongues. I remained true to my convictions even when I was surrounded by people who knew in their hearts, not only that God was real, but that their way of communicating with Him was the only way. I did not compress my personality to fit the group who tolerated me, considered a friend, but never accepted as their own, because as soon as I stopped attending the church, the ties I’d had with anyone began to loosen. There were, of course, plenty of opportunities for me to try to blend in, do what everyone else was did and be accepted. I’d, by now, be married to one of the good-looking girls who were part of the group. I am now happily married and just became a father, but I’m just saying, there were incentives of singing up for the full membership. I, however, had seen enough and moved on with my life.
I remember Trevor’s face light up when he spoke of his relationship with Jesus Christ, even as he tirelessly worked on destroying cancer – one of his creations. He played the guitar in the church band by night and wore a white lab coat by day. With the guitar in his arms, infecting everyone with the melody of worship, he needed no evidence for his beliefs. He felt it in his heart and no amount of reason and logical thinking would convince him that what he felt was most likely not real. In the lab, however, he had to arm himself with scepticism and critical thinking, there was no room for feelings. Trevor, wherever he is now, was happy. The relationship with God made him happy. It brought him joy I did not understand and he didn’t need anything else. This is true of all truly religious people I’ve met over the years – they are genuinely happy. They don’t need approval, they have it, they feel it inside. Who was I to ever think I had the right to debunk that?
Isn’t it interesting that people can pick up the same book and conclude different, even contradictory, things from it? Trevor might have never read the Bible in its entirety. All he needed was a feeling inside his heart and a voice inside his head to be confident that God was real and that he knew exactly what God wanted. I asked Trevor once, why Catholics had a different path to God. I asked him why thousands of different denominations of Christianity existed, and all claimed they knew the one and only true way to reach the Kingdom of God. For example, The Pope has absolutely no authority for Trevor and the Pentecostal Church, but is the most important person in the Catholic hierarchy. Mary, the mother of Jesus, is another example. To millions of Catholics around the world, she is holy and has the power to listen and to answer prayers. When I asked Trevor about it, he said he believed Mary was just a woman who gave birth to Jesus and was, therefore, not qualified to answer prayers. He couldn’t answer why millions of people, reading from the same book, believed she was. To many different faiths within Christianity, in fact, believing Mary has all these powers is not only wrong, but blasphemous. Blasphemy is probably the biggest sin one can commit in all religions. But how can millions of people be both right and wrong at the same time? They are reading from the same book but come up with different recipes. Trevor wouldn’t admit it, but he believed that over one billion Catholics were simply wrong and that they would only get to heaven if they had a personal relationship with Jesus, much like the one he claimed to have. Trevor knew that those who didn’t accept Jesus would burn in hell. Somehow that never stopped him from believing that he would be truly happy by God’s side knowing that some of his friends and loved ones were burning in hell because they didn’t get the memo. Trevor also believed that no matter what bad things you had done, as long as you accepted Jesus as your lord and saviour, you’d go to Heaven. Still others, more casual believers, would say that all you needed was to be a good person and all bad people ended up in hell regardless of their beliefs.
Some Churches, like Westborough Baptist Church for example, preach that God hates homosexuals and many others also believe that homosexuals, as well as other sinners and nonbelievers, are directly responsible for God’s wrath. The wrath that manifests itself as earthquakes, tsunamis and hurricanes. This is another characteristic of a cult – blaming the outsiders for God’s anger and disappointment. Then there are other Christians who think this is not in God’s nature and he loves us all no matter who we are attracted to. The contradictions are endless.
In the end, if God does exist and prefers one form of worship over other, then millions of Christians are screwed because of their misinterpretation of the Bible. If, however, God doesn’t really care, everyone who is a good person and/or calls themselves a Christian will go to heaven. The problem is that all these Churches claim they got it right and others are wrong.
I’ve often been accused of being stubborn. I left Catholicism and I wasn’t seduced by the happy – clappy Pentecostals despite being a part of their community for six months. In both cases I was presented with convincing evidence and personal experiences. Enormous churches in Poland, indoctrination from early age, participation of entire families and the whole country. Then ten years ago, a small church where the Pentecostals held their Sunday ritual, where everyone swore they felt God was real and that he loved them. Is it stubborn to remain yourself and stick to your values and beliefs even, or especially, when everyone around you is under the same spell?
Everyone has a compelling story
Gary was one of the first people who introduced themselves to me that Sunday I attended the service. He was immediately able to pronounce my name correctly and said he had visited Poland many times. He was in early twenties, but looked a little older and had a lot of tattoos. I made an assumption that we both had the same taste in music and that we were both the outsiders at the church, so we talked during the tea break between Bite Size and the main service. He told me that day that he had lived a selfish and careless life, abusing drugs and alcohol until he got to know Jesus. “Jesus saved me”, he said to me. Before he knew Jesus, he had spent his life pursuing short term pleasures and following false prophets, he said. “I now know the meaning of the true happiness and love that I didn’t know before”, he admitted.
To many people, Gary’s success story was a powerful evidence of the glory of God. Gary’s feelings and affirmations were enough to convince him that what he believed was real and nothing would ever contradict his beliefs. A reasonable person would suggest that perhaps the actual thing that saved him from drug abuse was the support of the group and the feeling and sense of belonging they provided. I’ll admit, I felt that too. After all, I joined them every Sunday for six months. I enjoyed being part of something bigger than myself too, but I recognised it as being nothing more than a community. After all these years, even though I don’t believe his feelings were the accurate representation of the reality, I am glad that Gary found a way out of darkness and I hope, wherever he is now, he is still as happy as I remember him.
Gary’s story is not unique. People who survive car crashes often speak of their near-death experiences. I say “often”, but it is only an illusion because we never hear from people who have no such experiences to report. Those who do, however, always seem to describe seeing the god that happens to be worshipped by those around them. That’s why in Catholic Poland people tend to see Mother Mary in their visions and not Zeus. There is a very little chance that I, as a non-believer, would ever, on my deathbed, convert to Islam. I would, in the moment of uncertainty and weakness, possibly, accept Jesus into my heart just to be safe. It wouldn’t prove Christianity to be right, just like Trevor’s feelings and Gary’s beliefs don’t. It would only prove that out of fear of the unknown, a person might accept the God they’ve been exposed to the most.
Can they all be wrong?
In 2020, I found myself in a similar situation. A spell of fear has been cast on the entire population who, without question, submitted to the demands of COVID – the new deity and his prophets – the world leaders. This god of 2020 demanded lockdowns, separating families, suspending education of the next generation of fathers, lawyers, scientists and politicians. He spoke only through his prophets who swore they and only they knew how to please him.
The majority of people were thankful for the politicians who were able to guide them through the process of understanding the demands of COVID. It was the “stubborn” and “selfish” few who took a step back, distanced themselves from the fear and looked at it all with a sober eye and said they didn’t believe this was right. I was among those few and I have been this whole time. Not seduced by the propaganda, not pressured by the majority we said that what was demanded of us was too much and that COVID wasn’t as big and powerful as his spokesmen had introduced him to be.
Moses went up the mountain, so the story goes, and spoke to the burning bush. He returned to his people with the list of ten rules for humanity to obey to please God. The Ten Commandments were thus created. Some of these laws were based on already existing laws of human nature. Respect your parents, don’t kill, don’t steal, don’t cheat – these more or less predate Moses and his Commandments. It is easy to follow rules that you already follow voluntarily because they reflect your nature. Sure, those were violent times, but people understood that stealing or murdering felt wrong and was wrong for one reason or another.
Boris Johnson, back in March 2020, didn’t speak to a burning bush on the top of a mountain, but that didn’t stop him from claiming the higher ground and presenting us with his list of Commandments and saying we “must” obey them. Some of them were pretty easy to follow because they were things we had always done already like hand washing or staying away from sick people and staying home when feeling ill if possible. As the first lockdown continued, the list of Johnson’s Commandments expanded to more intrusive rules. Rules that went against our nature. We were told that seeing our family, sitting alone on a bench, holding hands with our partner displeased our great deity, COVID. The Corona Police force was deployed onto our streets and parks to make sure everyone was obeying Prime Minister’s laws. He banned families from meeting, people from protesting, Christians from celebrating Christmas, and suspended young people’s education and cancelled their plans for the possible future and careers. And what was the majority of people’s response? They asked for more restrictions. They still believed COVID was displeased with people’s actions and selfishness and demanded more sacrifices and restrictions on the infidels and heretics.
Here we have a perfect example of another cult like behaviour, blaming others – in this case the non – cult – members, non – followers of its rules and COVID deniers – for angering and disappointing their deity. Or to put it in simpler terms, blaming them for the rising cases and delay in returning to normality – whatever that means anymore. Just like various religions blame the sinners for the humanity’s misery and God’s anger, Covidians blame the non – mask – wearer or a grandma who, against all odds and risks, decides to witness her grandchildren grow. The fault always lies with the “others”. Sound familiar?
Meanwhile, other world leaders also locked down their citizens. “How can all the world leaders and their experts be wrong?”, say the supporters of lockdown and haters of freedom and personal responsibility. We have already seen earlier that a large number of people believing the same thing can still be wrong. It is important to note that, although many countries implemented a lockdown of their population, they did so with many different measures. To name a few examples, in Poland, Spain and in Melbourne, Australia facemasks have, at one stage or another, been mandatory outside, but that’s never been the case in the UK. During the most recent lockdown in Greece, people had to send a text to their local authorities before leaving home, but Poles, Germans or the British never had to do it in their countries. In part of Australia, people weren’t allowed to leave their house for any reason, even to walk their dog or to exercise for a whole week. Such strict measures were never introduced in the UK. So, while the world leaders had the same initial goal, they had a different idea of how to get there. Why, for example, is it safe (for now) to go outside without a facemask in London, but in Madrid you risk being fined or arrested for doing so?
It’s the Pentecostal beliefs VS Catholic beliefs all over again. They both believe in the same God, but they both believe he expects different things from us. Ultimately, both of them believe the other ones are wasting their time. The same way the Spanish authorities might look at Boris Johnson and think he is never going to please COVID, unless he mandates facemasks outside. Boris, on the other hand, follows the words of SAGE – his burning bush – and thinks facemasks outside are nonsensical. Greek leaders salute Australians for enforcing a very strict lockdown, but think they are missing one crucial element – the text the authorities part of the equation. How can Brits feel safe from COVID’s wrath knowing that all these different measures exist elsewhere, but not in the UK?
Can they all be wrong? In my opinion, they can. And by the looks of it, COVID is never truly satisfied. Peruvians have lived under the world’s strictest lockdowns and suffered the highest death rate. Melbourne was on lockdown for months, with very strict mask rules and police presence on the streets. They then celebrated victory over the virus, only to see it return in December. I won’t even mention Sweden, where the government imposed almost no rules on their people and trusted them instead. The alternative to lockdown doesn’t have to be ignoring COVID completely, but it has been almost a year and he still hasn’t been satisfied, so maybe, just maybe it is time to rethink our relationship with him.
Personal relationship with COVID
COVID works in mysterious ways. For example, if the charlatans who call themselves politicians didn’t tell us about it, most of us wouldn’t even know of his existence. Most of us would confuse him with the flu and that would be a blasphemy. Somewhere in the middle of this world, dominated by the COVID cult, are people like me – those who have read the book, went along with the recipe for a while before realising this was not the way to go. When lockdown became the status quo, we questioned it. We wanted out. We weren’t happy that the beliefs and fears of the COVID cult ruled our lives as well. We had other worries, other values and other priorities. Sacrificing them to COVID was no longer an option for us. For me, the moment of realisation came early, back in April 2020. Others are slowly beginning to wake.
Of course, for every sceptic, there is a Trevor or a Gary – those who have seen the light and now have an undeniable personal relationship with COVID. They have experienced his power and his wrath in one way or another. They’ve seen what he can do to an old person with a weakened immune system or multiple underlying health conditions, who would otherwise live up to a hundred years if it weren’t for COVID. These born again Covidians, want more sacrifice. They want to please COVID by destroying jobs, killing cancer patients and lonely and desperate people through neglect and suicide. They demand their leaders to implement more restrictions so that these sacrifices can be made and COVID be satisfied. For now.
Covidians use the same flawed logic as members of other cults. They think that their personal experience is proof of what they believe to be true already. Just like my old friend Gary, they have a compelling story of how they came to know COVID and now believe we should all sacrifice our freedoms to him. I’ve seen someone share a story of a nurse, working in New York, who claims to have seen people die way too many times now. Her story sounds like a fabricated propaganda to persuade people to stay at home and wear a mask, but I don’t doubt there are nurses who, in between their TikTok routine rehearsals, have experienced tough times. Then again, we could find an overwhelmed nurse anytime and anywhere in the world, I’m sure. We could also find thousands of nurses who, apart from going viral on TikTok, have had a rather boring and uneventful pandemic.
The difference is that the stories like the one above, find their way to the surface precisely because they are rare, uncommon and, most of all, shocking. Recall from earlier the example of near-death experiences and how we never hear from people who nearly died, or even came back from the dead and saw absolutely nothing on the other side. We always hear from those who see their dead relatives or the god they happen to believe in. The reason is, nobody cares that an accident survivor hasn’t seen anything on the other side, just like nobody wants to hear about a nurse’s boring day taking urine samples.
In another example, four weeks ago I spent a day in the maternity ward at my local hospital. My wife was in labour with our son. Tina, the midwife who was looking after her, seemed to have had everything under control. The labour, however, didn’t go as planned. It was taking too long, and my wife’s contractions weren’t getting any stronger or more frequent. The baby was getting tired and Tina’s shift was coming to an end. When she had left, we were told our son had to be pulled out for his and my wife’s safety. They were both fine in the end, but let’s focus on Tina. She might have gone home that evening and told her husband that she’d just had a lady with a really long labour, the baby didn’t want to come out and she was really starting to get worried. Or maybe this was a normal shift to her. No doubt, she loves what she does but delivering babies might just be a routine to her and usually end with happy endings that have become such common place that she doesn’t inform her husband about every single baby she delivers. When he asks her how her day was, she just says it was busy.
Now imagine Tina having a really bad day. In 2017, according to World Health Organization, around 810 women worldwide died every day during childbirth. Of course, many of the deaths happened in developing countries, but let’s put one of these mothers to be on Tina’s bed. Now, her slow Tuesday turns into a nightmare she hoped would never happen to her. A woman dies in her care. It doesn’t even have to be such dark scenario. She might have a woman who’s expecting triplets and that is also very unusual and worthy of sharing with her husband. The point is, we aren’t interested in the average, only the extremely good or extremely bad and that’s exactly what we get and demand. If this happened to Tina, however, it wouldn’t prove that these things happen all the time. It would only show that they happen occasionally, but by collecting stories like Tina’s extremely bad or extremely good day, we could create an illusion that the work of midwife is full of twins and triplets and mothers dying at childbirth when, in fact, they only happen sometimes.
Let me give you another example. When I was a teenager I had a group of friends. We used to hang out all the time for a few years. One day, our group split after a minor argument and we never really got back together because adulthood got in the way. Some of us got jobs, girlfriends, went away to university and I left the country and came to the UK. For the last fourteen years, I’ve kept touch with half of the group and almost forgot about the other guys. I haven’t heard from them or about them, so their lives have most likely been uneventful or, in other words, not worthy of gossiping about. Just regular guys getting jobs, starting families and going on holiday to Turkey and Spain.
Until one day, in December of 2018, just before Christmas, I received a message from one of my friends. “Have you heard about Andy?”, he asked. As I later learned, even my aunt had heard about Andy by then. Andy, who I hadn’t seen since our group’s disagreement sixteen years ago, stabbed his girlfriend to death after a drunken argument and was then on the run. To make it worse, it all happened in front of her kids. I couldn’t believe it even when I saw the article with his picture and his name in it. Even though we parted our ways as teenagers, I remembered him as calm, shy, responsible and reasonable boy. As I then learned, his life had taken an unexpected turn and he fell a victim of alcohol and drug abuse.
It is no wonder that I hadn’t heard about him until that December morning. His daily life was no headline. I didn’t need my friends to update me whenever Andy went on holiday, got a new job or bought a car. These are all normal things that don’t need to be talked about. But when he did the unexpected and the unspeakable, horrible thing, everyone was going to find out.
Stories like this emerge out of nowhere, because they happen in the sea of school runs, nine to fives, birthdays and other regular and boring activities and routines. It is easy to fall for the illusion that these events shape the world around us. We are also hardwired to seek out the unusual. Our brains don’t like surprises. We are drawn to sensations and extremes, both good and bad. It is part of our survival mechanism that dates back to when our ancestors had to know the surroundings and anticipate the unexpected to be prepared for a threat. The legacy of that instinct now comes in the form of a shock when our old friend commits a murder and excitement when the horse we bet on wins the race. This is why after sixteen years of living his average life, Andy only made the headlines on my screen when he did what he did. And you know what is really messed up about his story? He will now spend the rest of his life paying for what he did, and I can’t help but feel sorry for him. I remember him as a charming and innocent seventeen-year-old, who we all looked up to, and I know that whatever led to that drunken argument with his girlfriend, he didn’t choose it. It happened to him. Somewhere along the way, he took the wrong turn and it led him to destruction and to the night when he took another human’s life.
COVID stories follow the same rules. Whether it is the “my uncle died of COVID” or “I had it back in June and it was horrible” or “I am a nurse and I’ve never seen so many sick people in my life” story, it is all the same. It is the extreme taken out of the sea of average experiences. We won’t hear from people who’s relatives haven’t died during the pandemic. That’s not news. The news needs to shock, surprise and scare. That’s where the money is. We won’t hear from nurses and doctors whose pandemic days have mostly been just another Tuesdays. No, we will hear the testimony of the overworked nurse who has seen people die even if her experience doesn’t reflect the experience of thousands of other nurses around the country. Whenever we see a compelling story of an overwhelmed nurse asking us to stay at home, because she has seen what this virus does to people, it’s worth remembering that one gambling friend we all have. He always seems to tell you about his winnings, but never tells you about his losses. It doesn’t mean he always wins but losing is so common it is not even a shock or a surprise anymore. It happens all the time, it’s the default, the status que, he loses regularly, possibly every day or every week, so it’s not newsworthy.
Early in 2020, Kobe Bryant died in a helicopter crash. It’s not everyday that a basketball star and his family die in such a way, so when it happened, nobody was glad and relieved that Michael Jordan was alright. This is yet another example how we pay attention to the extremes and the unexpected and this is what the media serves us all the time. Next time a celebrity dies, the headlines won’t read “David Beckham is still alive” (status quo), but “So and so was found dead in his mansion” (the unexpected). When Chadwick Boseman died of cancer, nobody knew he had battled with, last year, the headlines reported exactly that, not “The Rock doesn’t have cancer”.
COVID nineteen will always have his Garys, Trevors, Andies and Tinas. They will make it easy for the untrained mind to fall for his spell. He will have compelling stories told by survivors and relatives of the deceased. But when those emerge we have to remember about the scepticism and look at the bigger picture and realise that these stories are just the highlights of a mostly boring and uneventful pandemic which does not justify sacrifices that have been demanded of us. Personal relationship with COVID is a delusion that does not excuse the attention we have, collectively, given this newfound deity. It is time COVID, just like other cults, gets left behind. The leaders, the charlatans, who tell you what COVID wants and what he doesn’t like, need to be held accountable for their lies and deception. And those who claim to have had a personal experience with COVID need to understand that their experience does not define the reality we all live in and that we all have to move on and live our lives. Lives we have all earned with freedoms we have all been given by the one true god – the Flying Spaghetti Monster