“You do whatever you need to do to protect your family”
“If you need to protect yourself, that’s fine, just don’t try to force me to do anything”
“If I’m willing to take that risk what’s the big deal? I’m not asking you to do so”
“Everyone just has to do what they think is right for themselves.”
Last week, I shared about the fear that is driving a lot of responses to the current Coronavirus situation. The quotes above are not made up, but ones written or spoken to me or someone I know very closely. I want to make clear that I am not living out of fear, but I will (again) be addressing the thought processes behind these types of statements. At the end of last week’s post, I noted the biblical mandate to love one another is the exact solution to fear. That’s what I’m hoping to explore in this post. Besides sounding like a twentieth century Spanish novel, I firmly believe that love is the appropriate response during this pandemic time. So what does that look like.
Not me, but you
The first thing I would like to note is that, for many of us living in free and open societies, we have a view of individual rights as supreme. I do not mean to cast aspersions on the idea of how important individual liberty from government is. This is, no doubt, behind the strong reactions against government orders to wear face masks or to stay home.
But that’s not the way of Jesus.
The Jesus way is one of putting yourself second. “Don’t do anything for your own desires or wishes” writes Paul to the Philippians,
“Instead, humbly put others ahead of yourselves, for you are no longer meant to look at your interests, as individuals, but to the interests of others. In these relationships, one to the other, unite your mind with Jesus Christ, who, though he was fully God, didn’t think this was something to grab onto for his sake. Instead, he emptied himself completely, becoming fully a servant, by taking on the image of man. Being fully man to any who would examine him, he humbled himself still further, obeying authority to death–yes even a death upon a cross.
It is for this reason that God raised him to the highest place, giving his name a high place also, that at Jesus’s name, every knee would [humbly] bow, in heaven, on earth, and even under the earth, and every tongue proclaim that Jesus Christ is Lord, [solely] for the glory of God the Father.”
I do not mean, by pointing to this passage, that one should blindly follow the state as though such allegiance is what it means to love your neighbor. Instead, I urge you look to the above passage and consider how we might best love our neighbor during this time. It is possible that what the state asks of us, and what God asks of us, happen to coincide. The bible clearly lays out the division between state and the Kingdom of God, while still acknowledging the authority of the former. But that’s not the point.
The point is that your own personal rights, no matter how valid or justified they are, are always placed behind the rights of others. So I ask the question again, how do we love one another? How do we drive out fear? By putting our rights behind those of others. We consider their values first.
The Whole and the Individual
A lot of reactions are going around about different aspects of the government response to the present pandemic (I will state again that it is real, it is not part of a conspiracy, and it is serious). One strain of argument I have heard countless times is “Why can’t I decide to take the risk for myself to…go back to work/go to the store/not wear a mask/not socially distance?” This is usually backed up by some declaration of “you do what’s right for you.”
Except, that’s not how life together works. If you live within a society, you are automatically bound to other members of that society. In the same way that within a
family one person’s actions affect everyone else, so it is within a broader society.
The reason that fire departments exist as a municipal entity is because one neighbor’s home on fire is a threat to every neighbor’s home. There was a time, in the sixteenth and seventeenth century, where private fire departments would only hose down houses whose members had paid their fees. The results were disastrous, including, among many other issues, the Great Fire of London.
We should think of public health in much the same way. Your decision not to socially distance, doesn’t just affect you; particularly so when there is a long incubation period and asymptomatic transmission as is the case in the current situation. It affects the whole.
The same issue goes for masks. Cloth masks do very little to protect the wearer from getting a disease. They do something, but not much. To protect the wearer you need a properly fitted N95 mask (and most people don’t know how to properly wear one). That’s not their point. The reason that masks are common in many cultures is not because the wearer is worried about getting a disease, it’s because the wearer is concerned with not spreading the disease.
A cloth mask doesn’t mitigate all spread of disease. It does effectively remove a lot of water droplets (part of normal speech and breathing) that can hang in the air and carry the disease (but because it does not prevent all such spread, it only works in conjunction with distancing). However, masks do almost nothing to protect the wearer; and they only work when a significant portion of the population wears them, washes hands frequently, and maintains distance from those with whom they do not live.
I do not wear a mask because I fear for myself. I do not wear one to look out for my own family. I wear one for you. Even if you refuse to wear one out of some sense of freedom, thus putting my family I risk, I will continue to wear one. Because it is the loving thing to do.
A PR Problem
My wife, who has asthma among other health factors and is thus at increased risk of death from COVID-19, pointed out, amidst her frustration, that the politicization of mask wearing seems largely due to a PR problem.
In Houston, where I live, local authorities mandated that masks be worn, but offered no reasoning as to why it should be done. These local authorities are mostly from the Democratic party. The (mostly Republican) state authorities saw this, and immediately issued an order superseding the one of local authorities to not require face masks. The result was that the order in place to wear masks lasted only a couple of days, ones where the police openly acknowledged they would not enforce it.
The result is that many are actively refusing to wear masks or socially distance for the sake of making a political statement. They want to make it clear that “the government doesn’t tell me what to do.” Such persons are correct that they have every right to do so. But that is not love.
Nor are they correct in giving an individualistic account of things where “you do what you need to do and I’ll do what I need to do.” What you do affects me and what I do affects you. It is unavoidable. Perhaps the appeal should have been made on the basis, then, of love.
As my wife continued, she noted,
“It’s frustrating because the same people who are actively pushing back on these rules are the same people who would give you the shirt off their backs. The ones who would not only lend you their truck, but help you load and unload it and not ask for anything in return. A lot of these people are the exact ones who would be willing to make sacrifices for others if they were only asked in the right way.
“They need new PR. The message should have been
‘We’re Texans. Texans care for people. Texans help people. Right now there’s this virus and it is putting your grandma at risk. Not just your grandma, but everybody’s grandma. Wearing a mask is one of many things that can help our grandmas and lots of other people too. It may be uncomfortable, but we’re Texans and we can do this. We’re Texans and Texans help people’
There would have been open carry protesters, with masks on, handing out masks to everybody without one as they walked into Kroger and HEB.”
So I’m asking you, as a Christian, to show love for one another. You show love by staying home, by wearing a mask and staying distant when you have to go out, and by taking this seriously.
I absolutely understand the desire for many to get back to work. I have many close to me whom I know are struggling financially and unable to work. There are understandable fears and worries related to that. At the same time, though, is it worth the risk not just to that person, but to countless others? The failure of our society to care for the financial well-being of its citizens does not mitigate the responsibility to care for one another’s physical well-being. That is a false choice, and a dangerous one at that. Should something be done? Of course. How we do that, though, must be considered from a position of love, not financial well-being.
We show love by putting others ahead of our own rights, thoughts and desires. We defer to others.