Safety is Not First

 Safety should never be first. Miss Jean Brodie (she of her prime, in Muriel Spark’s brilliant novel) had some bad ideas that truly harmed her students, but she was dead on when she inveighed against the motto “Safety First.” The human being has a high calling; we might call it Beauty, or Truth, or Love. As we might well say, God comes first.
    My fellow pilgrims in Corona-tide, we must not learn the wrong lessons at this time. We must not start thinking that Safety is the important thing above all.
    Goodness, if safety were preeminently important, we might as well pull the plug on the human race and stop having children. Nothing is so vulnerable—so downright risky—as becoming a parent to a child!
    I was a young adult during the Aids crisis. There was a novel virus amongst us; there was fear and, initially, much confusion about the different ways it might be transmitted. People became afraid of hospitals (could we catch it in blood?), of the communion cup (in saliva?), not to mention . . . you know, the S-word.
    Sex, which was promising liberation and fun, turned out to be a potential transmitter of death.
    Out of that period arose a new ideal for intimate human behavior. People starting saying—guardians and social influencers started teaching—that everyone should practice “safe sex.”
    Note the adjective; note the appeal to safety. Despite the good intentions behind this advice (the intention to minimize harm, even deadly harm), the motto advances a false human ideal. It’s our old friend, “Safety first.” But sex is never safe; intimacy and vulnerability are always risky.
    This feature of the world we live in is even stronger now than it was with Muriel Spark’s Miss Brodie or in the Eighties. Powerful elements in our culture tell us to be careful, that the most important thing is safety. These elements are like the air we breathe: they are everywhere, and they are all but invisible. But it seems to me a Christian needs to register a dissenting view. To elevate safety to the highest of human values will crush our humanity.
    We need to be careful what lessons we take away from a crisis. As the bishop of Dallas (among many others) has recently said, Christians have an understanding of the human being that is a precious gift for the world.
    If the Word of God had put safety first, he would never have become a baby.

The Rev. Canon Victor Lee Austin. Ph.D., is the Theologian-in-Residence for the diocese and is the author of several books including, "Friendship: The Heart of Being Human" and "A Post-Covid Catechesis.: