I’ve seen it before, especially in the years I lived in the conservative Anglican world. Christians could be conveniently quietist. Often about others, whom they told to suffer an injustice or indignity rather than fight it. God, they would say, piously, will work it out. When the matter is more personal, as n this case, people who don’t want to do something they’re being told they should do, will suddenly throw all responsibility into God’s lap. They become the helpless servants of an inscrutable God.
In America, wearing a mask has become, like pretty much everything in American life, a political marker. The protesters range from what I call the “look at the hair on my chest” conservatives and their “Ain’t no one gonna tell me what to do” peers to the more moderate “fight the liberal elites” and “we must defend our freedoms” conservatives. That wearing a mask should be a simple act as charity (as I argued here) they reject.
For example, a comment on a Facebook friend’s post: “Your kindness is noted but only God can take the breath away from His creation. I wear the mask to lessen the fears of a very fearful society, not that I believe I have the power over life and death.” In another comment, she declared masks completely useless and said she wore one just to be kind to “the frightened.” The writer was a sober and sane writer, not one prone to the hysteria of some of her ideological peers.
She has no power over life and death, she says. No power? She can’t take a knife from the kitchen drawer and stab the annoying neighbor? She couldn’t make sure the family who started sitting in her pew bought the poison brownies she made for the bake sale? She can’t give the grandmother from whom she’ll inherit the house a shove down the steps? She can’t throw herself off a bridge? Of course she has power over life and death.
And of course she exercises that power in normal life. She’d put on a gown and mask to see a friend in the ICU. She’d stop a stranger from absent-mindedly stepping into traffic. She cleans her hands before cooking dinner for her family, and throws out the spoiled meat rather than hiding it in a stew. She stays out of the nursing home when her nose is streaming and she’s coughing from the flu. She expects people to do all these things for her.
But when she talks about wearing masks, suddenly she’s powerless to change anything. Suddenly whatever will be, will be. It’s all the mystery of Providence. If anyone with whom she comes in contact lives or dies, that’s entirely God’s doing. Nothing to do with her.
This shows how deep the political passions run and how much they can distort our thinking.
We easily twist the faith to support a cause. “I have no power over life and death” sounds like pious submission to God’s will. It’s not. These people don’t do that in any other area of their life. It’s abusing theology to advance politics. It’s a way of taking the Lord’s name in vain.
Jesus makes us responsible for others. That by itself tells us we have the power to change their lives. We can make their lives better, or we can make them worse. Jesus’s challenging declaration that when we neglect the least of these, we neglect him, and the judgment that follows, that we will go away into eternal punishment, don’t make sense otherwise.
The commenter forgets all the Bible teaches about our responsibility for others. Because liberals or elites or liberty, or something. But if the sins of the fathers are visited upon the children (Numbers 14:18), the virus-laded droplets of this woman are visited upon her neighbors. She has the power to keep them to herself, which can be a power over someone else’s life and death. She wears a mask anyway, and good for her, but she proclaims a deadly idea of Christian responsibility, that others will act out more consistently than she does.
David Mills is editor of Hour of Our Death and is finishing a book for Sophia Press titled When Catholics Die.
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