To Mask or Not to Mask… (Part 1)

by Dr. Joe Nichols

A few days ago, as I was browsing through my Facebook feed, I came across a post that, in the moment, rather disturbed me. It was a re-posting of a political cartoon featuring eight persons wearing protective masks. The caption at the top said “The Masks Speak…” Each mask contained one of the following messages:

1) I live in fear.

2) I believe CNN.

3) I will snitch on you.

4) I believe in Agenda 21.

5) I want safety, not freedom.

6) I want medical tyranny.

7) I love Bill Gates.

8) I do what I’m told.

I hate to admit this, but when I first read this cartoon, and the messages on the masks, I was furious. Perhaps it is because I have friends and family working in the hospitals, and they seem to think it is a good idea to wear masks. Perhaps it is because I had just earlier that day discovered that a close friend had tested positive for COVID-19, and that she was feeling very poorly. These considerations have influenced me to want to be more diligent to do what little I can do to prevent the spread this virus. At any rate, seeing this cartoon frustrated me greatly. Even more frustrating is the fact that several other posts on Facebook, many shared by my Christian friends, have expressed the same or similar sentiment as this cartoon.

Now, granted, I have no context, other than the text at hand, by which to interpret the intentions of this cartoon’s creator. (If there was a thoughtful article behind the cartoon, I was not able to access it.) However, I think we can all agree that the text of the cartoon suggests that anyone wearing a mask is only responding to the fear created by the media, and is just willing to go along without questioning the orders he is given. The suggestion here is that if you go along and wear the mask then you are willing to let others use your emotions to manipulate you, and you will likely allow them to manipulate you further in the future. In short, if you wear a mask, you do not think for yourself.

The irony here is that this cartoon, or its creator, commits the very same sort of fallacious maneuver to which it accuses mask-wearers of being victims. It uses fear and emotion to manipulate its readers to join its cause and abandon the wearing of masks. The very words and phrases it uses to caricature mask-wearers (“live in fear,” “not freedom,” “tyranny”) are designed to trigger an emotional reaction in readers. In fact, these very words and phrases may be rightly said to function on the basis of fear. It is a fear of being controlled. It is a fear of losing one’s own personal autonomy. It is also a fear of losing the respect of those who speak loudest for many of the positions which form significant portions of one’s worldview and preferred political narrative. For many, if not most, American conservatives, the suggestion that we believe CNN can provoke a visceral response. (After all, have we not signed our allegiance to Fox News and the narrative which they feed us?) Even invoking the name of Bill Gates and referring to Agenda 21 are designed to conjure up, in the minds of readers, certain conspiracy narratives regarding supposed overreach on the part of the United Nations and the powerful wealthy. (Apart from this sort of agenda, it is difficult to see how wearing protective gear has anything to do with one’s position on Agenda 21 or his opinion of Mr. Gates.)

A day later, I found that one of my friends had re-posted a meme which said the following: “When the Lord is ready for you to leave this earth, there isn’t a mask or amount of hand sanitizer that will save you.” I agree with this statement. I believe that the boundaries of life are established by God and that I cannot change them. However, I do not agree with the agenda which appears to stand behind this meme. This meme was apparently crafted to cause people to feel foolish about wearing a mask, when it will not actually prolong their lives. This same argument could be employed against the use of a number of devices and tactics we use daily in order to be and feel safe. Assuming that he shares my belief in the sovereignty of God, one might just as rationally say, “When the Lord is ready for you to leave this earth, there isn’t a seatbelt, medicine, motorcycle helmet, gun, brake pad, or deadbolt lock that will save you.” I believe that this statement is true, as well. And yet, I still use each of these items daily in appropriate ways. Am I being irrational or unreasonable? I do not think so. I use these items, because, regardless of whether they secure my longevity, I believe that they may well help to maintain the quality of my life. I wish neither to become gravely ill or injured nor to cause undue stress on my loved ones in the event that I were. While God may indeed control my beginning, my end, and all my comings and goings between, I do not know exactly what His plans entail for me nor how He figures to exact those plans. So, I feel compelled to do my part to preserve what He has given me. In the case of a potentially devastating virus, I feel compelled to do my part to preserve WHOM He has given me, as well. If my carelessness and callousness caused me to transmit such a virus to one of my church members who have compromised immune systems, I would feel quite horrible about myself. (This, by the way, is a real situation for several people in the local church where I serve.) More importantly, my church members would suffer!

Wearing a mask indeed may not prolong one’s life beyond the boundaries which God has placed upon it. But if COVID-19 just happens to be as real and devastating a threat as we are told that it is, a mask may help me to maintain the quality of my or someone else’s life in the event that I come into contact with it. Some early studies suggest that those who already have the virus are less likely to transmit it to others if they are wearing the mask than the are if they go about un-masked. Granted, it is early, and further studies may prove conclusions other than those upon which I have based my decisions, but this is at least part of the information that I have to work with at the moment. It is not unreasonable or irrational to make decisions based on this information. It does not mean that I have blindly gone along with controlling directives without thinking for myself about the issues; if you have read this far, it should be obvious that I have indeed thought about this. I can only assume that many people who choose to wear a mask have also arrived at their decision to do so after much careful thought.

Some have suggested that we are “being played,” so-to-speak, when it comes to the whole COVID-19 narrative and the mandates for wearing masks. Let us entertain that possibility for a moment. What would the party “playing” us actually gain from getting us to comply with this directive? Contrary to what some have suggested, it does not logically follow that if I follow this guideline, I will naturally fall in line later with a more sinister mandate. In fact, I know of some who are quite willing to mask-up in public, who have actually expressed that they would never get a vaccine, if that were the next step. This is not to necessarily suggest that vaccines are evil, but rather to demonstrate that compliance in one area does not dictate compliance in the next.

To wear a protective mask seems like a relatively small thing to be asked to do, given the present state of things. It hardly seems like a cause worthy of alienating others or dividing communities, particularly the body of Christ.

Please stay tuned for Part 2 of my rant.

Dr. Joe Nichols (PhD – Biblical Studies – New Testament, Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary) currently serves as the Pastor of Christ the Lord Community Church in Salina, Kansas. He also serves as an adjunct professor of Christian Apologetics at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City, Missouri.. In his spare time, he enjoys reading, hunting, fishing and motorcycle riding. 

Photo by Mika Baumeister on Unsplash

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