For me, in this time of pandemic, to wear a mask is a no-brainer. Even before it was recommended by health care professionals, I had a hunch that masks could do some good in preventing transmission of this virus. Like many, I’ve been so surprised to see that many Americans are refusing to wear masks right now and some are protesting government and health-care directives to require them to do so. The whole issue is now caught up in red state/blue state rhetoric, and we’re adrift in volatile conversations while the virus is raging and destroying human life. What is behind all this? I’m certainly no expert but I have a few observations.
Restrictive mandates are hard to accept in a population that is, and has been, infatuated with the idea that each person is a law unto themselves. This is the relativism and individualism that the Church often warns us to avoid in our journey of faith. Ours is now a culture where this mentality has come home to roost. Individual freedom and autonomy is the bedrock assumption of the secular mind and it governs the world out there every day. Freedom is understood as doing whatever one wants, without imposition from outside know-it-alls.
For Christians, freedom is another thing altogether. Freedom means following God’s will and rightful authority, complying with right reason and common sense. Freedom, then, is the result trusting in time-honored wisdom. Freedom is an internal state of peace that comes about with submission to an outside order. Adherence to this order is not forced but an act of a heart that trusts that others may know some things that, when followed, will make our lives productive and happy. Upon this freedom, we build a life and make our choices.
No wonder why so many in this pandemic struggle with compliance over wearing masks. Since the post-World War II days, ever so slowly, we have been building a society of free-thinking and non-compliance. Where duty was once the hallmark virtue admired by Americans, going-my-own-way is now our defining heroism.
Wearing a mask in a time of pandemic is based on common sense and right thinking. Trusting health-care professionals is indicated when death is lurking at the door. Why are we fighting over this right now and losing to the enemy?
Staying at home and social distancing is also a wise choice in these times. Why are so many ignoring this and gathering for social events and entertainment almost in spite of warnings right now? For several decades, we’ve experienced growing prosperity and stability in our country. As a result, Americans began to spend more and more time on entertainment, sports, hobbies, self-care and recreation. This has become our standard lifestyle. Even the poorest of Americans are able to gain access to some luxuries and relief from work and responsibilities. How can a society, now entrenched in this way of thinking and acting, be content with living with essentials only? Essentials-only are considered boring. Take away our distractions and we’re adrift and don’t know what to do! The simple pleasures of life no longer have much appeal. Sitting by a radio and listening with our families to FDR in the 1940’s has little appeal to most of us. Our minds are buzzing with future plans to get away to people and places which dazzle and excite.
We’ve forgotten, and no longer consider, the fundamental and simple realities of human life which once gave great satisfaction to people since civilized human life began -- like a day of good and wholesome work, time with family, relatives, neighbors, conversation, reading, music, simple and creative recreation – not to mention time with God, the enjoyment of prayer and worship and community commitment. As a culture, we’ve spun out and the pandemic has calmed the tornado and we don’t know how to handle the quiet.
One way of saying this is that we’re spoiled. We’re so spoiled that we won’t even comply with a simple thing like wearing a mask for our own good and the good of others. Someone recently asked me if I thought this pandemic was ushering in the end-times. I told him I didn’t think so. Looking back at my long life, I’ve heard people tell me the same thing about once every decade. No, I don’t think we’re on the brink of the end-times but I do think we might be on the brink of the end-times of our superficial lifestyles. If that’s the case, that’s one good thing that has come about because of this pandemic. It’s brought us back to realities that can yield deeper joy.