The Muskox Response To COVID-19

Archpriest Michael Gillis | 22 January 2022

Last night I watched an episode of Dr. Oakley, Yukon Vet on Disney Plus.   It was about Dr. Oakley treating an muskox.  The episode is called, “One Angry Muskox.”  In order to treat this animal, they had to tranquilize it, but before they could tranquilize it, they had to separate it from the herd.  And the reason they had to separate it is what I want to talk about.  They had to separate it from the herd to tranquilize it because if the (male) muskox were to fall down, the other muskox would take advantage of the opportunity to attack it, injuring or killing it.

My first reflection on hearing this was, “How terrible these animals are!”  However, on further reflection, I saw that these muskox are only mimicking human behaviour—or worse yet, human beings are only mimicking the worst aspects of animal behaviour.  

I think the reason this idea hit me so profoundly is that in the past three days I have had no less than five pastoral conversations with people deeply troubled by the rending of friendships and family relationships due to differing opinions about how best to respond to COVID-19.  

It seems in so many situations we have forgotten to be Christians.  We have forgotten that good, well intentioned people may not always see eye to eye (such as the Jewish and Gentile Christians in the New Testament).   We have forgotten that our Kingdom is not of this world, but is a Kingdom of righteousness and peace in the Holy Spirit (Romans 14:17).  We have forgotten that mercy triumphs over justice (James 2: 13).  

We all want a just and safe society, and if human beings could easily agree on what that looked like, there would be no need for mercy, no need for patience or the bearing of the burden of others—that is, to bear the burden that the other often is.  If human beings easily agreed with one another, Jesus wouldn’t have to tell us to go the extra mile, turn the other cheek, or love our enemies.  

Fear and anger, however, seem to trump common sense and faith in God.  Fear and anger open in us a floodgate of animal passions making it seem appropriate to demonize (or de-humanize) those we disagree with.  Fear and anger release our inner muskox ready to trample those who are less clear thinking than we are, less concerned for liberty or the common good than we are, less eager to create a just and safe society than we are—or at least that’s how it appears to us.  And we don’t have time to listen, truly listen, to one another.  Fear and anger create urgency so that we don’t have time to listen, we don’t have time to care, we don’t have time to be Christians.

We all have acquaintances, friends and family with whom we disagree, about our response to COVID-19, or about a thousand other very difficult and very important matters.  Will these disagreements trump our faith?  Will we love and be kind and generous and patient when it is most difficult to be so?  Or will fear and anger (and maybe a bit of self-righteousness) open the floodgate of the inner muskox?

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