With the Springfield City Council passing a mask ordinance that begins this evening, I’d like to deep dive back into the Covid situation and draw some conclusions about mask wearing, civil disobedience, and the like. Buckle up.
Where’s the End Zone?
The Covid crisis has been challenging on a number of fronts, and as such I have argued from the beginning that there should be a broad note of charity and a broad window of acceptable behavior. By which I mean that if someone were to walk around with a string of garlic and onions around their neck to ward off the virus, I think we should, with good cheer and a healthy appreciation for body odor, let them do so.
Any enterprise with a definitive goal is more likely to succeed than one undertaken aimlessly, just as a voyage is more likely to end if the destination is predetermined. In the Covid case, we all agree that we want the virus gone. “I was hoping we were done with this” has been uttered more than once. But since this is an impossibility for the foreseeable future, what is the goal? Where is the endzone? When does the buzzer go off? This lack of a goal leaves us at the mercy of ever changing statistics that lead to ever changing policies which cause social and political turmoil. We are wilderness wanderers and as such there are likely to be squabbles. My best guess at the end-game here is either 1) the development of an effective vaccine that will reduce the infection rate, or 2) the development of therapeutic medicines that would lower the fatality and hospitalization rate, or 3) the development of herd immunity that would lower the infection rate. But if option 3 is selected then we kind of need healthy, young people to get exposed to the virus and develop natural antibodies. If we choose option 1, then what is an acceptable fatality rate until a vaccine is developed, and what is Plan B if the vaccine proves ineffective? Personally, I like option 2 the best as my faith in a viable vaccine is minimal and I think achieving herd immunity is unlikely.
There is a huge disconnect between the pace of information and its delivery. Since we demand news 24 hours a day we want to know how many new cases of Covid there are and then we look around for something to blame it on (especially in our polarized political climate). But we must account for the time it takes for the virus to transmit, produce symptoms, and receive test results. So if you pass a mask ordinance today and the number of positive tests decreases tomorrow you cannot attribute that change to the mask ordinance. If a state “opens” and the next week there is a surge in positive tests, that cannot be attributed to the reopening.
There are other problems with statistics in general. The perceived need for up to the minute information means that some of the measures normally employed in rigorous disciplines get overlooked. It will probably be years before we know how much of what we think is true turns out to be true. How many people have died with Covid as opposed to dying from Covid? How many false positives are being reported? I recently read an article by an American who splits his time between France and America and basically scolded America for not addressing the Covid crisis well. But if you look at the statistics, we are doing much better than France at keeping people from dying. Unless you want to argue that point, and then you can interpret the statistics a different way.
That doesn’t mean we should trying to use the information we gather, but we should keep in mind that you can prove anything with a study if you set it up right. Statistics are the luggage that we take with us on the train we are riding, so it makes sense that the same luggage can travel to different destinations based on who is carrying it.
Science is almost synonymous with certainty in our materialistic age so certain people are losing their ever blessed minds. Medicinal science requires large sampling pools over time (years!) and even then, medical dogma that is readily accepted today could be overturned quickly. This need for certainty is a symptom of our age. I think it has to do with the fact that we are a lost, neurotic people because we have confused that which is ancient for that which is old. We threw out the ancestral things of God, hearth and home with the wagon and now we drive around our subdivision in our air conditioned vehicles with anxious hearts and restless fears. Apparently it takes a pandemic to force people to face the fact that they will one day die.
When it comes to mask wearing, one of my favorite lines was “Masks, in conjunction with other social distancing measures, may reduce the transmission of the virus.” Yup, and my sugary cereal, in conjunction with a bunch of other foods, may be part of a complete breakfast. That statement is not “science”. It’s a guess – made by someone deemed an expert – until we know otherwise. So those “governing by science” may turn out to be justified in mask mandates because somewhere down the road we actually conduct some rigorous, peer reviewed studies that back up this claim. But they may not. It’s more likely that the debate will rage on with each side claiming it is “settled”.
If you’ve ever asked “Why doesn’t someone do something about that?” rest assured there is a politician who wants to try. You will probably be disappointed with the results. Legislated solutions are the most painful, bureaucratic, and costly solutions, albeit necessary at times. Because 2020 is an election year, the media hates Trump, and politics are polarized in general, it’s very difficult to have a discussion with any level of objectivity. Every event becomes political and polemic.
Politics’ unholy alliance with science has been nothing short of a disaster, one example being the ecological disaster that has been used as a means to support various legislation and taxes over the last forty years. Just bear in mind that the disaster never actually materialized. My examples may look like I’m dogging the left, but only because the political left is so utterly deserving of it. When governors can tsk tsk protestors who want to buy seeds from greenhouses while simultaneously attending political demonstrations that are violations of the state’s social distancing policy and all the while maintaining that policy is being driven by science, the snort gets caught pretty deep in my throat. And the place where the wheels really came off was when a bunch of “medical experts” managed to say with a straight face that public protests would somehow, magically I suppose, not spread the virus, but church gatherings would. I’m not arguing the validity of the protests; I’m just gauging the lack of impartiality required to make such a statement. Maybe the protests were worth the risks, but to pretend the risk doesn’t exist is nonsense. Which, these days, is synonymous with politics.
And in the middle of all this we live in the most self-righteously hypocritical generation that ever was. People are just dying to show you how righteous they are. Some might even set buildings on fire. Maybe soon we can have a reality TV show called “Mask Off” where contestants design masks with various leftist slogans and designs. At the end of the show the winner can walk around and rip off the losers’ masks to the roars of the Twitterati and a lifetime of contemplating their own intolerant fragility.
I grew up listening to attacks on Christianity that had to do with how judgmental Christians are, but we are novices compared to the social media warriors who are proud of how quickly they can cancel a non-conformist. Look, when JK Rowlings has become a lightning rod, there’s a problem. She’s not exactly Rush Limbaugh. So how much of this pressure to pass mask mandates comes from a genuine belief that they are efficacious in the containment of Covid 19 and how much of it is just about “optics”? There’s nothing a public figure fears more than the wrath of the media or the contempt of the social media mob.
A necessity of a trustworthy media is impartiality. The level of media hatred towards Trump is such that his endorsement of a particular medical treatment results in big headlines bashing him regardless of evidence that suggests it might actually save lives. While the media’s hatred of Trump might be well deserved, they are without excuse in their partiality. One (of many) issues I have with President Trump is his ability to pull others into the gutter with him. Others who should know better. The standard of reporting on Covid-19 from the start has been par for the course of a media who has made it their mission to find a narrative – regardless of how ridiculous that narrative might be – to destroy the President.
Did CNN really waste an entire year on the Russian collusion story? You betcha. Did they spend the next year driving the impeachment narrative? Right again. Have they lavished praise on the governor of a blue state where deaths counts are massive while piling criticism on the governor of a red state where the death count is far lower? Of course. Do we really think that when Trump is no longer president that the media will right their course and become the objective reporters we want? Don’t hold your breath. And some will write this off as the ravings of a Trump supporter when I am, in fact, not a Trump guy (I know, I just lost the other half of my readership!) But I will waste no sympathy on a media that feels it only gets propaganda from the President when that media has been pumping out propaganda for the last 20 years. I’ve been toying with a blog post entitled “Trump and the Media: a Match Made in Hell”. Stay tuned.
Which brings us finally to masks, where to my own surprise I would tell my brothers and sisters in Christ that if a mask ordinance is enacted, you should obey that ordinance. The question is not whether or not the ordinance is reasonable but whether or not the ordinance is within the civil government’s jurisdiction. So a few thoughts here.
In an age of government interference it is not unreasonable to look askance at any new requirement. I believe a responsible citizenry is vastly preferable to a bloated bureaucracy. But we do have laws on the books authorizing civil authority to respond to an emergency health crises. If these laws do not carefully delineate the extent to which a government may impose rules on the population, then the correct course of action is to elect officials who will resolve that issue by clarifying the laws.
The 2 points that need clarification are as follows: 1) Is Covid-19 a true state of emergency?, and 2) does the government have a right to mandate behaviors to those are are NOT sick. The answer to both of these questions is somewhat grey. To the first, Covid-19 is not an emergency in my geographical region while it is closer in others (based on deaths, active cases, and hospitalizations), but I appreciate that the governing body is taking steps to make sure it does not become one. It would be unreasonable to only allow the civil authorities to act when the situation is out of control. An ounce of prevention would seem prudent. To the second issue, I believe this lies in the individual wording of a State’s Constitution.
Without clear answers to these questions, Christians should default to submitting to “every ordinance of man” as long as that ordinance does not violate the law of God, and/or that the ordinance is in fact a lawful ordinance. (I believe it is unlawful to obey an unlawful ordinance.) In the mask scenario there is not sufficient clarity to determine that these ordinances are unlawful, even when appealing to the Constitution. I have not puzzled it out yet, but I very well may differ when it comes to the matter of a “shut down” in which the government is depriving citizens of lawful rights to assembly, speech, religion, and business.
With this in mind, we are to a large extent at the mercy of the wisdom of our local and state governments. I am in favor of how my county has handled this issue:
Presiding Commissioner Bob Dixon said he feels the county’s current resolution that passed in June, which recommends wearing masks when keeping six feet apart from others is not possible, is best for Greene County as a whole. “We feel that we can obtain a higher level of compliance with this approach in the other parts of the county,” Dixon said. “And again we remain open to a variety of approaches.” – https://www.ky3.com/2020/07/14/greene-county-will-not-create-mask-ordinance-amid-springfield-vote/
As we don’t live in North Korea, there are a lot of legitimate responses to a mandate with which you disagree. First, you should vote. Somehow that official passing that bill that you don’t like got elected as an official representative of your city or state or country. So go exercise your right to vote for someone who will not follow in their steps, and let your elected officials know where you stand (without being hateful).
Second, don’t be hateful. “Let your moderation be known to all.” There are hills on which I am willing to die, but masks is not one of them. I don’t think that wearing a mask is a sign that I am being conditioned and if someone else wants to interpret it that way it’s on them. We don’t need to exhaust our emotional energy on every single issue.
Third, understand that most battles are won or lost before they are actually fought. The fact is that a large percentage of the electorate not only goes along with these mandates but also approves of them. That kind of scares me. Culture is upstream of politics. More on that another time. But you can bet that if city and state officials were receiving feedback from the majority of their electorates that these types of ordinances would not be tolerated, then the ordinances would stop. So go win your culture.
Fourth, if you believe that masks do really help then by all means, wear one out of love for your neighbor even if it isn’t mandated. If you think it might help when visiting someone who is at risk to wear a mask, then wear a mask. There is no reason to bind one’s conscience on this matter and I pass no judgment on those who wear masks as a courtesy to others or as protection for themselves. Maskers should not assume the worst about Naked Faces, and Naked Faces should not assume the worst about Maskers. Matt 7:1 does get pulled out of context a lot, but it also does mean something.
Fifth, it’s been a really weird year. ‘Nuff said.
So if you read this far you really do deserve a cup of coffee. If you’re local and want to talk about this maybe we can meet up. I’m told masks are not required when eating or drinking.