I am fascinated by those people refusing to wear face masks to protect themselves and others from the spread of the coronavirus.
It would be humorous if it were not possibly harmful to others. Yet these same people buckle up in their cars, stop at stop signs, show their ID when buying alcohol or getting on a plane. They generally do not park in handicapped spaces if not disabled, do not go the wrong way on one-way streets, and they do not pass in no-passing zones.
Yet, how many times have we heard some people declare, “By God, no one is going to tell me how to run my life!” Well, yes they are.
The issue has to do with the cost of individual freedom, our analysis of the situation. Is the cost of this choice worth the benefit I am deriving? It feels so good to have other people grumble at me about not wearing a mask and it shows that I will decide how to conduct myself. There is no other way to describe not wearing a mask other than it is completely self-centered, egotistical and arrogant.
I wonder: How much of this individual “standing up for principle” would be exercised if it cost $1,000 to do so?
What is it within us that so rebels against being told what to do? There are many ways to describe it, but the Bible does it best. In the well-known story of Adam and Eve, God tells them that they can do whatever they want except for one little thing: leave the apples alone.
Their response? “I would really like an apple for dinner.”
It is human sin, no matter how often or how energetically we try to deny it, or how much we resist that seemingly outdated term.
In the 4th century St. Augustine wrote in his “Confessions” the story of his mother forbidding him from taking fruit from his neighbor’s garden on the way home from school. He wrote that all day long he could not get those apples out of his head — although he had walked by them every day for months without a thought.
Of course, he stole the fruit and got in trouble, but it was the beginning of his growing awareness of the incredible and subtle power of human sin. The fruit itself was not the problem; the problem was that the fruit was suddenly forbidden.
But what if sometimes being told what to do is a good thing — even the best thing for our lives? That is what it comes down to in our relationship with our Creator who wants nothing but the best for his people.
For Christians the Great Commandment tells us to love God and our neighbor as ourselves, and there is a cost to being obedient. We must accept that the universe does not revolve around us, that we are not more valuable or important than anyone else.
We have to put the needs of others ahead of our own. We are to forgive even when we have grounds not to forgive. We must do our best to love others even when they do not deserve it.
And yes, in order to do that, we would even wear a mask when we do not want to.
The miraculous and surprising good news about living the Great Commandment is that we will feel better about ourselves than we have in a long time. That is because there is personal sacrifice involved, we are not putting ourselves first, and we are being our true God-created selves.
The Rt. Rev. David C. Bane Jr. is the retired bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Southern Virginia and a member of Christ Episcopal Church in Elizabeth City.