“Sacrifice the Weak. Reopen TN,” said the sign. It was arresting. Shocking, stark and heartless, the sign was held by a woman at a protest rally in Tennessee, a gathering of people frustrated with a shut-down economy and tired of being ordered to stay at home to prevent the spread of the Corona virus. They want businesses to reopen. They want life to get back to normal. I suppose they think that by protesting they can make that happen sooner.
In the pictures in the news, the woman with the sign and others at similar protests are not following the proper protocols for physical distancing. Many are not wearing masks, although the woman with the sign was wearing one and her sign seemed to acknowledge the potential deadliness of the contagion. I can’t help but wonder how many of them will come down with the virus. I hope they don’t, but the odds are not in their favor. I wonder if they understand that. I wonder if they understand that even if they never experience so much as the sniffles they still might carry the virus home with them or into the grocery store, that they might pass it on to someone else who won’t be so lucky, that they might become the instrument of someone’s death.
In explaining their reasons for protesting, some of the protesters cite the stay-at-home orders and the shuttering of businesses as an infringement of their civil liberties. It’s true that certain rights are being curtailed for the time being in order to protect public health, to keep people from getting sick and dying. Other protesters cite economic concerns. They want businesses reopened. They want the money to flow. Sacrifices must be made, they say. And yet they don’t seem so willing to make the sacrifice of staying home to protect the health of others.
According to Planet Money, the podcast from NPR, the official US Government value of a human life is $10 million. There are all kinds of valid reasons why the government had to come up with such a number. (For more information about that you can listen to the podcast: Planet Money, episode 991: Lives vs. The Economy.) Thinking only in terms of numbers for a moment, that means that every 100 persons who have died because of Covid 19 represent a $1 billion hit to the economy. This doesn’t take into account the cost of hospitalization, equipment, medication, personnel and other costs associated with fighting the virus. So far we’ve lost more than 40,000 persons. Do the math. Clearly, the most cost effective way to deal with it is to prevent people from getting it. But that’s all just cold, hard dollars. Aren’t lives worth more than dollars?
The thing I find hardest to deal with is the attitude. Or attitudes. Plural. What are civil liberties worth if they are exercised without responsibility? Should their right to assemble jeopardize your right and my right to good health? How important is getting the economy running again if doing so kills ten percent or more of the population? What would be an acceptable percentage? Whose life are we willing to sacrifice? How do we decide that? On what basis?
I could pretty easily build a biblical argument to question this rush to get the cash flowing. “The love of money is the root of all kinds of evil,” springs pretty immediately to mind. (1 Timothy 6:10) “The lover of money will not be satisfied with money; nor the lover of wealth, with gain. This also is vanity.” (Ecclesiastes 5:10) But Jesus, as always, puts it best: “No one can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.” (Matthew 6:24 and Luke 16:13) So who is being served by a rush to reopen?
As for those who say they are protecting their civil liberties, I am mindful of St. Paul’s words to the church at Corinth, “If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.” (1 Corinthians 13:1)
I could go on. But I suspect that quoting scripture won’t mean much to those who carry signs that say “sacrifice the weak” or to those who believe their individual rights and freedoms outweigh the safety and health of others. I suspect that Christ’s words about serving two masters will be lost on those who are already dedicated to the dollar. I cannot help but wonder how these values became so widespread, at how so many stop short of critical thinking, at how many seem to have misplaced their souls.
Clearly this new status quo is already wearing thin for a lot of people. It’s working our nerves. Patience is not our strong suit in 21st century America. But it helps me to remember that we are all enduring this sequestering out of love. “Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” (1 Corinthians 13:4-7)
So let’s be patient. Let’s be kind. Let’s not be arrogant or rude or envious or boastful. Let’s not insist on doing things our own way. Let us not gleefully do the wrong thing. Let’s listen carefully for the truth. Let’s bear up under the circumstances. Let’s believe that with God’s help and each other’s prayers and help we’ll get through this. Let’s hope for the solution, a vaccine and better days. And until then, let’s endure. In other words, let’s love.