When this pandemic is over, I’m not so sure that we will go back to life as it was before. There is no going back. Overall, I predict the sobering of America and a new seriousness in our approach to life. Most of all, I expect there to be a religious re-awakening.

When the coronavirus started to affect our lives and we saw the first tumble of the stock market, a friend wondered whether it was a good time to buy shares in Delta Airlines. The price of their stocks had plummeted and following the common sense to “buy low and sell high,” he thought it a bright idea to buy airline shares because surely, after the crisis people would once more head back to the airports and start traveling like before.

I’m not so sure when it is all over that we will go back to life as it was before. Time like an ever-rolling stream never runs uphill. There is no going back.

This got me thinking about the ways the virus might change our way of life. Will people head back to the airplanes and cruise ships or will we be spooked? Suddenly all that travel which seemed so glamorous and pleasurable starts to seem rather awful. Instead of the pleasant destination and relaxing vacation, we think of the crowds, the security checks, the long flights on cramped aircrafts, the hassle of hired cars, the jostle of bus rides, and the mechanized, anonymous comfort of the tourist hotels. I predict that staying at home will become more popular, and those Delta shares may stay grounded for longer than we’d like to think.

If people stay home more they are likely to invest in their homes more. Maybe one should invest in Home Depot, not Delta. When people do take vacations I reckon they’ll look for a low-cost, low-tech, low-entertainment option. We may have a corporate epiphany in which we see all the high-tech, high-octane, super-expensive entertainment parks for the Kubla Khan-decadent pleasure domes they really are. Maybe we’ll just get sick of all the big-screen entertainment and go retro. I’m seeing state parks, mountain retreats, summer camps, the community pool, and our own homegrown beach resorts enjoying a comeback.

Maybe, because of the lockdown, families will learn once more the joys of cooking and sharing a meal together at home. Americans love restaurant dining, but if we are facing the austerity of a deep recession, restaurant dining will once more be seen as a luxury. This might make us see the downside of eating out: the overpriced drinks, the boring, fake decor at “themed restaurants,” the processed food, and the predictable menus. Restaurants may become fewer, and home cooking and sharing meals together may be the flavor of the month.

Overall, I predict the sobering of America. As the death toll mounts and the socializing restrictions continue, folks will have to re-assess their priorities. Unprecedented affluence has meant much of America has enjoyed a great playtime. Now we might become serious about life. If my hunch is right, we’d expect to see more young people who have been loafing and playing around suddenly decide that marriage and settling down is a good idea after all. Maybe all the silliness about alternative sexuality will wither away in the face of the new seriousness.

If we’re facing a time of austerity older people too will take each day at a time, learning to appreciate the small pleasures and the gift of life. Anybody over sixty will have experienced a wake up call. “It could’ve been me. I’m vulnerable just because of my age.” If retirement incomes are pinched because of a recession there will be more incentive to live local, downsize, cut back, and realize that small is beautiful.

Most of all, I expect there to be a religious re-awakening. If the pandemic forces people to confront the reality of suffering and death, then we will have been forced to confront the overwhelming question. We will have been forced to face eternity, and when people start to ask those questions they must, in one way or another, look to religion for the answers.

If this is the case we may also see a return to serious religion. The shallow amusement-type mega-churches with their coffee lounges, hip-hop preachers, rock bands, and dry-ice machines will seem impossibly tacky. The sentimental and bland ideologies of religious progressives will be revealed as the pablum they are, and the contemporary false Christianity of moralistic, therapeutic Deism will collapse into the quicksand it was always built on.

In the last public Mass I celebrated before the churches were closed I noticed an increase in the numbers. There were faces I had never seen at Mass before, and I began to wonder, “Were they there because of the crisis? Were they already beginning to look again at their lives and realize that they ought, perhaps to check their boarding passes and departure times? Were they there to put things right in case their number was called?

Now, at what might be the beginning of a long ordeal, I look forward to the good things that may come from this crisis. Perhaps we will all pause, take stock and re-calibrate our priorities. Perhaps, we may learn the prayer from the funeral service in the Book of Common Prayer which asks the Lord to, “Help us to use aright the time that is left to us here on earth.”

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