Social Distancing Isn’t About Fear

One thing I keep reading and hearing from critics and opponents of social distancing and lockdown orders is that those of us taking those things seriously are “living our lives in fear” or “being afraid” of the virus. According to this line of thinking, those of us following the guidance from governmental and scientific authorities to practice social distancing and obey lockdown orders are giving into a paralyzing fear of getting a disease that has a low mortality rate compared to other viruses. Christianity Today did a good job of documenting the spurring of any type of fear by conservative Protestants recently. In the piece, they captured well the attitude I am talking about:

In some evangelical Protestant traditions, fear can also be seen as a betrayal of faith. A group out of Bethel Church—including aspiring politician Sean Feucht, who led worship in the Trump White House last year—is releasing messages online in response to the spread of coronavirus, aiming to “silence voices of fear.” Bethel leader Bill Johnson told followers, “This whole maneuvering in fear is crazy. I’ve never seen the spirit of fear spread so quickly. Internationally, things were many, many, many, times worse.”

This attitude, that we must not “act in fear”, has spurred many of the irresponsible actions taken by those who dismiss the severity of the crisis we face. One need only look as far as the news yesterday, when Vice President Mike Pence visited people recovering from Covid-19 at the Mayo Clinic, and was the only person in the building to not follow the protocols of the hospital and wear a mask. The Vice President wanted us to see he isn’t afraid, he isn’t going to be intimidated by this virus, an attitude consistent with that of the rest of the Administration he is currently a part of.

But here’s the thing: wearing masks, washing our hands, self-quarantining, social distancing, taking part in lockdown orders: none of this is about fear. We aren’t being called on to do these things, to do our part in the face of coronavirus, because we are scared. No one is sitting huddled in their house, shivering fear, jumping at the slightest sound of other human beings.

We do these things because we know that to not do so could cause sickness and death, not necessarily for ourselves, but for our neighbors, for our families, for those around us. We do it because we don’t know the comprehensive medical history of everyone around us. You don’t know if that old man you walked a little too close to at the supermarket has a compromised immune system. You don’t know if that lady at the gas station recently battled cancer and still feels the effects of chemo sickness. And unless you’ve been tested, you don’t know if you are a carrier of coronavirus, and just not showing symptoms.

(Even if you have been tested, you don’t know either; as experts have pointed out, we don’t have an accurate test developed yet.)

Being cautious, taking responsibility for how much we go out, making sacrifices in order to stay safe: none of this is about “living in fear.” Instead, taking these things seriously is to practice that most Christ-like of things: love of neighbor. We do these things because we care about those around us, even those we don’t know or have never met. We are staying safe because we don’t want to put others at risk through our own carelessness and thoughtlessness.

That’s why these defiant reactions against social distancing guidelines are so infuriating. To see people blatantly, and sometimes purposely, disregarding the recommendations of experts and leaders is to see a particularly dangerous and odious form of selfishness at work. Watching people so obviously put their own passing desires and need to consume or buy or gain attention ahead of the safety of those around them is sickening, and to do so is profoundly immoral. It goes against every idea of being your brother or sister’s keeper, of loving your neighbor as yourself, or of treating others as you want to be treated. It is, in short, inhumane.

By flouting social distancing rule, you aren’t proving to us how brave you are. You aren’t being couragoues. You aren’t “sticking it to the man” or exercising your God-given rights or liberties. You aren’t being Christlike. Instead, you are being selfish. You are being childlike and petulant. You are hurting others. I’m sorry to be so blunt, but this is apparently what some people need to hear right now.

Stay home. Wash your hands. Take care of one another. We will get through this, not by asserting our rights or being defiant, but by sacrificing our own needs and giving our hospitals and health care workers and supply chains the time they need to catch up and have the capacity they need to meet the need. It’s the only way to beat this.

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