Not wearing a mask in a pandemic is fundamentally unchristian

Not wearing a mask in a pandemic is fundamentally unchristian

Raulston Nembhard

Wednesday, November 18, 2020

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As the novel coronavirus pandemic continues its deadly trek across the world, some countries, even in the developed world, are returning to the dreaded lockdown of their economies. This in an effort to control a virus which has proven to be a formidable enemy of humankind.

It has been universally acknowledged that the wearing of masks is one of the most effective ways to contain the spread of the virus. In this pandemic the phrase “masks save lives” is not a cliché but a statement of fact. Yet, there are still many who do not believe in wearing masks.

In places like the United states, the political and cultural divisions that persist in the country have spilled over into the fight against the pandemic where supporters of largely the Republican Party refuse to wear masks. This was evident in the just-concluded presidential elections, in which thousands of people gathered at political events held by President Donald Trump. It is now becoming evident that the surge in viral infections all over the country can be traced to these meetings. You do not bundle thousands of people together in mass meetings, where most people are shouting and bellowing support for a candidate and not wearing masks, and don't expect that an easily transmitted respiratory virus will not have a field day of infection.

Even to this day many do not wear masks. They believe it is an intrusion into their personal freedoms that are guaranteed by the constitution. But a man's freedom to do as he wills ends where his behaviour and activity is a clear and present danger and threat to the well-being of another. The wearing of masks in a deadly respiratory pandemic has never been about personal freedom, but the scientifically accepted fact that wearing one significantly prevents the spreading of the virus. This is especially so when it poses such an existential threat to everyone, especially the elderly and those suffering from co-morbid conditions.

There is an insane libertarianism which argues that, because one lives in a free and democratic society, one can do whatever one likes with one's life; that one has control over one's life and one can do pretty much what one pleases. I wish life were that simple. This could probably work in a world where you are the only inhabitant, but it certainly does not in one in which there are almost eight billion people like yourself.

In a real sense, we all live an unwritten contract which upholds the view that your safety is as important as mine and that I should not indulge any activity that violates your right to safety and security. Crimes committed against a person may be the most glaring example of the violation of what should be this common norm. You do not get to do as you wish if your activity will bring harm to me. And neither do I if I trespass on your space.

There is no need for any legislation to capture this fundamental truth, especially in the midst of a pandemic. It is a fundamentally human and common-sensical consideration which brings respect for the dignity of the life of the other person. It is a charitable and Christian activity.

I wonder how many of those who do not wear masks or do not observe the COVID-19 protocols are Christians? Outside of a health situation which precludes one from wearing a mask, it is a fundamentally unchristian act not to wear one. It is not just that you are enjoined to love thy neighbour, but not wearing one is a strong demonstration of selfishness which, as far as I know, would have no backing in any faith tradition. Furthermore, it is hypocritical.

As John enjoins in his epistle, one cannot claim to love God and yet live at enmity with his fellow men with whom he interacts every day (1 John 4: 20). How much do you really love people when you expose someone to a deadly virus by not wearing a mask in public?

Rest well, Canon Ernle P Gordon

One of the towering religious figures of the 1970s and 1980s, Canon Ernle P Gordon, has died. He was a colleague priest who was dedicated to the work of ministry. Gordon understood that the call to ministry was not just about keeping church and preserving the status quo, but a call to a radical transformation of the individual; and that the interpretation of scripture could not be divorced from the social, economic and political realities of the day which impinged upon the people he served and the wider society.

He lived in an age of religious and political ferment in Jamaica, when the emergence of democratic socialism forced the Church to re-examine certain assumptions about its reason for being. He found common cause with the People's National Party (PNP), although I am not sure if he ever became a member of any political party.

He found the message of equity, self-reliance, and social justice to be coterminous with his beliefs regarding the liberation of the full human being from the tyranny of any oppressive order. This interpretation led him to embrace liberation theology, which had by then become very popular in Latin America and the Caribbean. This theology believed that God had an option for the poor and oppressed and that society should be ordered in such a way that their best welfare would be attended to. Redemption and salvation were not just personal themes, but societal. Discipleship, then, meant engagement with principalities and powers to bring justice to the harassed masses.

He was passionate about this subject and it gave him a certain notoriety in Jamaica, the Caribbean, and other Third World countries where liberation theology had taken root. His passion showed especially when I challenged certain assumptions concerning the proximity of liberation theology to radical communism and the radical overthrow of an oppressive Government.

Gordon was tough in what he believed, but we had mutual respect for each other, and he was generous if he had to concede a point. He loved not only those he directly served as a priest and shepherd, but even those he did not know, and especially those who needed his help. He loved the Church, but not as much as he did the Lord of the Church. He has fought a good fight and has now gone on to his rest. My condolence to his family, friends and parishioners who he served so faithfully. Rest well, my brother. 

Dr Raulston Nembhard is a priest, social commentator, and author of the book WEEP: Why President Donald J. Trump Does Not Deserve A Second Term . Send comments to the Jamaica Observer or stead6655@aol.com.


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