Forgotten Neighbors

We effectively have in our society two types of neighbors; and in our churches as well, we essentially have the neighbors that we’ve decided warrant our love, and the other forgotten neighbors that don’t. How can this be, you may ask? That is crazy, you say, that isn’t true. But oh yes it is true, and I will explain so that you can see, if you don’t already see.

For almost two years now we have been told, and maybe have said it ourselves, that we need to wear masks for those neighbors who are vulnerable. We should consider these neighbors and love them as ourselves, and though it is an inconvenience or an annoyance to wear a mask, it is an example of sacrificial love and caring for others. It is Christ’s example we are following. I don’t disagree, wearing a mask can be an act of love.

But what if it isn’t simply an inconvenience or annoyance to wear a mask; what if it is significantly more than that, and is actually the cause of real physical, mental, and emotional suffering? From the very beginning we have trivialized the wearing of masks as only a simple inconvenience and annoyance, so that anyone who might have a more valid significant objection on medical grounds has been forgotten, marginalized or even chastised and ridiculed. So that only certain neighbors are worthy of our love, but not the others. We have decided that we must love the neighbors that want masks, but we have failed to even give a moment’s consideration, not any real consideration, nothing more than a momentary lip-service to loving those who oppose masks.

What might be a legitimate cause to oppose mask wearing? We don’t want to know, because then it makes the whole enterprise much more difficult. So we’ve tossed to the side any honest consideration of these legitimate objections right from the very start, so that our love has been a one way road, flowing only in the direction of those who want masks. Whole populations are suffering true distress, but they are asked to deal with it, and they are even shamed for raising the issues in defense of their suffering. There is apparently no practical love for these forgotten neighbors.

But, you may object, this is because Covid is such a horrible disease, and the vulnerable are at such a risk, so this issue outweighs all other considerations. I won’t disagree that Covid is bad for certain demographic risk groups. But how can we say, right from the very start without any debate, that these other issues are insignificant. Is death by suicide unimportant? Is death by overdose a triviality? Are the growing issues of addiction meaningless? We don’t know for certain what effect mask-wearing has on these things but I think it is safe to say that it hasn’t helped, and very likely has added to these issues. But that isn’t all. I personally know of several people who have panic attacks wearing masks; anxiety increases as well as increased blood-pressure, these are known issues in our society and masks are making these problems worse. People die from these things too.

But not only that. I know of children with autism, or other people with high sensitivities to physical stimulus that are literally tortured by having to wear masks over their mouths. I have first-hand experience with severe headaches and muscle aches that linger for days, brought on by mask-wearing. Loneliness, isolation and alienation are huge mental health issues in our society and wearing masks seriously exacerbates all of these emotional responses.  We can’t see each other, we can’t read each other’s expressions, and we are literally alienated from one another.

I propose that all of these things are not insignificant, and by trivializing all of them by calling them mere inconvenience or annoyance, is a grave mis-characterization, and a self-serving one as well. It allows us to love certain neighbors, to the exclusion of many other neighbors, without a guilty conscience. We’ve picked our winners and our losers and well, those forgotten folks should just pull it together, and try harder to love the ones we’ve chosen. Feeling suicidal, feeling isolated, feeling anxious or panicked by these masks? Get over it, and just love your neighbor.

No, I want the forgotten neighbor to enjoy the same attention as those we are currently loving, and have been loving for nearly two years now. We should be taking these other people’s needs seriously as well. We shouldn’t trivialize their needs. For example, couldn’t we also trivialize mask wearing? There is legitimate reason to think they are little more than a placebo, and they have very limited value against transmission. The argument could be turned on its head: why risk all of these serious negative results (suicide, anxiety, drug addiction etc.) by wearing masks, which have very limited or perhaps no material effect on Covid transmission. I’m not proposing this argument other than to show that trivializing the opposition’s arguments, while effective at eliminating them from our own consideration, does little to advance the cause of love. If we really want to love our neighbor, I think we need to do a better job of recognizing who our neighbors are, and what their needs are; it isn’t enough to forget whole swaths of neighbors, only to make it easier on our conscience as we proclaim love for the select few that we’ve chosen.  


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