I have a favorite spot that I like to go to decompress here in Lancaster, PA where I live called The Fridge. It’s a local craft beer and pizza restaurant that has long been my go to place to relax, enjoy some great food, and an amazing selection of craft beers. The staff know me by name and I count them as friends. I’ve not been there since February due to the pandemic and I miss it a lot. I really want to go back, chat with owners Kevin, Linda, and Jamie about what’s good to drink on a given day, to talk with Brie about our mutual love for Liverpool Football Club, and do something to elicit a chortle from Audrey whose laugh is a gift to the world. I want to sit there lingering over a couple of slices of pizza and a beer or two and let the world go by without having to think about the state of the world. Going to the Fridge is an act of self care for me that I really miss a lot, just like so many other people whose lives and self care routines are being disrupted by this pandemic. The thing I have to remember though, is that right now as the pandemic continues unabated, this isn’t about me. It must be about ‘We.’
Inexplicably, this crisis of public health has been turned into a partisan issue by the current occupant of the White House who has responded to this pandemic in typical Trumpian fashion. With bluff and bluster he spews a lot of baseless falsehoods driven by magical thinking with disastrous results that have seen the US lose 190,000 people to Covid-19. The anti-mask set hems and haws about personal liberty as if individual rights are the be all and end all for a person’s earthly existence, with some even proclaiming that it amounts to religious freedom, (1) as if there is anything in the Bible that proclaims abject selfishness to be a virtue.
Wearing a mask is such a simple and highly effective way to mitigate the spread of the corona virus. Sure, it can be unpleasant, and I would rather not have one on when I go outside to power walk for thirty minutes, but it’s not about me and my personal comfort. It’s about slowing the spread of a dangerous virus that is killing many people and causing numerous others to have lasting medical issues after recovering from the acute effects. Those folks refusing to wear a mask, with the extremely rare exception of those who truly cannot wear one for medical reasons, are engaging in a selfish act that puts others at risk. There is absolutely nothing Christ-like about refusing to wear a mask, nor is there anything Christ-like in behaving in such a selfish, and potentially life-threatening manner.
It might be helpful for Christians to remember that Jesus and his early followers taught and exemplified living in a manner that benefits the many rather than the few. When those following Jesus were hungry, he didn’t tell his disciples to feed only those who agreed with him. He fed them all. Jesus didn’t tell the Roman centurion that he wouldn’t heal the centurion’s slave because he was part of the oppressive Roman empire that was occupying Palestine. He provided healing. Jesus as I understand him, taught that in God’s kindom, people take care of one another, not intentionally harm them in the name of individual rights. Altruism and self sacrifice are Christian virtues, avarice and selfishness are not.
In the Book of Acts, we read that early followers of Jesus lived in a communal fashion sharing all that they had without a “needy person among them.” (Acts 4:34) Selfishness brought into that community had dire consequences for those whose motives were greed and selfishness. In fact, Ananias and Sapphira, who had sold some property and subsequently withheld a portion of the money from the community, they dropped dead when Peter called them out on it. ( Act 5:1-11) I wonder what the writer of Luke and Acts would think of those who choose to act selfishly thereby putting others at risk of a deadly illness, rather than experiencing a minor personal inconvenience from properly wearing a mask in public.
The American ethos of hyper-individualism and personal liberty trumping all other concerns is antithetical to following Jesus. It is deeply ingrained in our culture, so much so that the popular British Victorian era author Charles Dickens satirized America’s hyper-individualism and reliance on violence in his novel Martin Chuzzlewhit which was written after Dickens had visited America in 1842. In other words, what we are seeing from anti-maskers is not new behavior from Americans, and is evidence that shows a pathological level of selfishness from too many in the US. It was there in the early decades of the American experiment and has been made worse by decades of devotion to Ayn Rand, who declared selfishness to be a virtue, by political and business leaders, often from the conservative right. (2) Thus we find ourselves in a public health crisis that is being worsened by poor leadership and Randian style selfishness, all of which is a recipe for disaster.
If Jesus had decided during his life that “it’s all about me,” he would have taken the devil up on the satanic offer to give Jesus authority over all of the kingdom’s of the world (Mt 4 and Luke 4) so he could live a life of privilege and power over others. We know that the Gospel narratives do not describe Jesus in that way. Instead, he rebukes the devil, and chooses to live a life of service to others ultimately being executed as an enemy of the Roman state. Through it all, he showed no violence towards those who sought to harm him while standing up to oppression on behalf of the marginalized.
Jesus proclaimed that those who sought to follow him must take up their cross in order to do so. Putting on a mask is nowhere near as dangerous, painful, or deadly as taking up the cross. Not wearing a mask in a time of global pandemic is an act of violence. Wearing a mask however, is merely an act, and a very small act at that, of selflessness. To do says that my personal comfort and individual desires are less important than the collective good and protecting others. It says that I value the lives of others as much as I value my own. Wearing a mask shows me that someone believes in common sense, but more imp. Putting on a mask is a way to show that we love our neighbors as ourselves.
Mask up friends. It’s what Jesus would do.
Peace be with you,
Dillon Naber Cruz