To mask or not to mask? That is the question, to paraphrase the Bard, that has our attention for the foreseeable future. Of course the crazy thing about the mask controversy is that it has turned — as nearly everything does these days — into a political statement.
We don’t need voter IDs or people wearing Trump hats or cars that still bear Obama stickers. We can go out and about and distinguish who is conservative and who is liberal by what is or is not on their faces.
Just as recently as the second week of July the director of the CDC said we could have the virus under control in just three or four weeks if everyone would wear a mask when they went out in public. The science is there, and people have either advocated science for relying on their faith, or they just don’t care, wanting to assert their rights to do what they want regardless of the common good.
In the third week of July, Georgia Gov. Kemp banned masks by executive order, basically overriding all local masks orders that were in place. Savannah Mayor Van Johnson, a Democrat, gave his response to the news by tweeting, “It is officially official. Governor Kemp does not give a damn about us. Every man and woman for himself/herself. Ignore the science and survive as best you can.”
At the same time, on the same day, Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey, a Republican, like Kemp, issued a statewide mask mandate as her state has seen new cases averaging about 1,500 a day. I have seen no evidence of Democratic leaders’ shunning the mask, but I am sure there are some, as we cannot seem to agree on anything these days.
Now, I can see not agreeing on what the speed limit should be, whether you should have the right to bear arms or how intrusive you want the government to be in your private life. I would chaff at the government’s wanting to know how often I went to church, or how often I went to the grocery and what I bought, although I think someone somewhere already has figured out how to track all that stuff.
As you can see, I am a person who is leaning in favor of the science and not arguing for your rights over science.
Those arguing for the right not to wear masks say that it is one of their fundamental freedoms that is being trampled on or taken away. Was there a 27th Amendment that I missed somewhere that said, “It is your right not to wear a mask?” Just as the Second Amendment gives you the “right to bear arms?”
In fact that most fundamental of all rights is seen not in our Constitution but in the Declaration of Independence, which says, “all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
Some argue that I am young, and therefore I won’t get the disease. My chances are less than, say, someone in their 50s, 60s and even older. And yet, the newest wave of infections is happening in the age group that is between 30 and 45.
Some of these 30-year-olds still live with their parents. So when they unknowingly contract the disease, likely by not wearing a mask and being in a crowd, they bring it home to their older and more vulnerable parents. Now the parents pursuit of “life, liberty and happiness” has been denied by those who are younger and did not exercise some basic cautions.
Others argue that it may not be political at all. God will protect me, and I will rely on him and my faith in the Lord to get me through this.
Being a Christian doesn’t mean you check your brains at the church door. God has given men and women the minds to explore these viruses, to see how they work and what their deadly potential is as well as to research how a mask can help and how not wearing one can spread one’s spittle much farther than if they were wearing a mask.
I’m all about faith, but put your faith into action, since it is a action verb. The same people who argue that they will live by faith ignore the same God who said, “Do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others, “ Philippians 2:4.
Or how about Romans 15:1? That says, “We then that are strong ought to bear the infirmities of the weak and not to please ourselves.”
I admit wearing a mask is a pain. It is smothering in this heat, it fogs up your glasses, and it is not the most comfortable thing as it slips and moves around on your face.
But, again, the science has told us many can be asymptomatic and bring home the virus to a physically weaker loved one, and the result can be tragic all because one did not care — or did not want — to think of anyone else but themselves.
I suppose that is my greatest argument and gripe about the issue. It is not, in my opinion, a political one but a human one, and one that is needed if we are to control the spread of this disease, which evidently is stronger than a flu, because it has been eight months since the outbreak in Wuhan, China, and a typical flu season is only about six months long.
Our president first compared our response to a war. I have thought about that a lot. In World War II people sacrificed and went without so that the war effort could be greatly helped.
My grandmother always wore aprons with patches she had sewn on them, and her grown children had patches on the knees of their jeans. She caught rain water to water flowers when it was dry, and she reused aluminum foil over and over. Why? She grew up in that Greatest Generation and knew what it was like to ration gas stamps, to only be able to get sugar or flour maybe once a month at the grocery and to have metal drives to turn hub caps and old scrap metal into tanks and bullets.
And we, the most affluent generation on earth, which has seen prosperity largely handed down to us by the work of our elders, cannot even sacrifice by wearing a mask in small amounts of time.
Don’t tell me how much you love Jesus if you can’t show real love and selflessness for your fellow man. Since this has been compared to an invisible war with an invisible but deadly enemy, I would say by the standards of other generations, we are losing the war. And we are losing not because we make due with less, as they did, but because we want to be selfish and hold onto my rights at the expense of the greater good.
We really have our priorities all out of balance, and may God move in our hearts to do what may not be convenient but what may be necessary to help those around us.
James Pence is minister of Pleasant Grove Christian Church of Martinsville.
[July 30, 2020]