Eternal Vigilance and COVID-19, or Love Your Neighbor and Your Nation


“Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty.” -Thomas Jefferson

Good morning, Minnesota! How does it feel to wake up and know that leaving your house, unless you have an exception, is now illegal? Before you try to correct my reading of the Stay-At-Home order, ask yourself if you are willing to be liable if you are wrong. If you are unsure of which activities count as essential, you need only apply online and wait indefinitely for an answer, while you cower at home in anxiety. Because if you are wrong, you could go to prison.

graves 2816822 1920It feels great, some might say, to be saving lives! This rhetoric is strong, and makes us feel so good. But, truthfully, it is impossible to spread a virus that one has not contracted: Many Minnesota communities have no confirmed cases of COVID-19. It is also true that every Minnesota community has had devastating economic and financial consequences, which research proves leads to a higher death rate. So, whose lives are authentically being saved with this order?

In writing this piece, my thoughts swirled around many facets of the COVID-19/Stay-At-Home concern, but my ultimate thesis has been distilled to this: Over the ages, corrupt governments, in pursuit of power, have sacrificed millions more lives than COVID-19 will ever take.

And now, though I believe with sincere intention, my own government has limited my freedoms: Freedom of Assembly, freedom to practice my religion, freedom to peaceably protest, freedom of due process. This is not okay.

I am sincerely grateful my family is not sick. I am fervently praying for the health of my neighbor. My daily life has not been oppressively disrupted. I am abundantly living the goodness of life at home. But, that doesn’t mean I believe the government’s decision is the right one.

Why not?

Because, today, if I go to my church alone to pray, I may be subject to 90 days in prison or a $1,000 fine.

I can fill up my gas tank and drive for pleasure, fill my cart and hoarded toilet paper, fill my car with wine coolers, fill my hamster’s belly with treats, possibly spreading the pestilence all the while. And yet, these actions will not subject me to prison or fine.

“There is not a single instance in history in which civil liberty was lost, and religious liberty preserved entire.” -John Witherspoon

I write, not because I don’t care about those who are likely to be affected by COVID-19, but because my concerns are diverse. I write, not because I don’t love my immune-suppressed neighbor, but because I love all of my neighbors. I write, not because I feel sorry for myself, but because I am certain there many others out there with concerns like mine, but have no words to express them.

Sudden Segregation

How can the government presume to define which services are essential, and which are not? One month ago, every job was essential. Every job contributes to not only the economy, but a person’s self-worth.

Ironically, there has been one class of people continually underrated by the government, but this class has suddenly become indispensable in this crisis: stay-at-home parents.

As all previously under-appreciated stay-at-home parents know, the government has been wrong before about who is essential. In fact, our nation shamefully allows the ranking of human lives that many citizens disagree with: Abortion is legal because adult lives are viewed as infinitely more important that those of unborn babies. Many in our country’s leadership have sacrificed everything to allow and encourage the legal sacrifice of human lives in abortion, more than will ever be killed by a potent virus. Why do we suddenly trust that the government would know exactly whose job is essential, and whose job is disposable, whose lives are worth saving, and whose are not?

The world I lived in, until yesterday, viewed artists with their paints (and ideas), historians with their books (and vision), philosophers with their theories (and discernment), and many other professions as "essential." But now, they are deemed unnecessary. In fact, perfectly healthy individuals are now considered a threat to the health of others and must stay home. Even if that means personal devastation, not just emotionally, but also physically. A mandate that uses labels fundamentally treats people as nothing more than bodies that can carry germs, not human beings with minds and spirits, who have "essential" needs beyond what can be recognized through a job or an errand.

What about the small business owner who was already struggling to make ends meet, working hard for the American Dream? Now, his livelihood is shut down, labeled by the government as “less-than-essential.” Now, he has no income at all, and will feel the ramifications of a bankrupt business, both personally and financially, for the rest of his life, from no fault of his own. You tell him he can apply for a grant. But he doesn’t tell you it won’t buoy his shame. There’s no economic recovery package for that.

“The greatest evil is not done in those sordid ‘dens of crime’ that Dickens loved to paint. It is not even done in concentration camps and labor camps. … It is conceived and ordered … in clean, carpeted, warmed, and well lighted offices, by quiet men with white collars and cut fingernails and smooth-shaven cheeks who do not need to raise their voice.” -C.S. Lewis (writing as Screwtape the Demon)

How long can formerly-essential, presently non-essential, persons go without their jobs, their paycheck, and their sense of worth? It was two weeks, now four-to-eight weeks, with no specific end goal or criteria in mind. How long can even loving families, stressed beyond precedent, succeed without their physical and spiritual support systems? Many are stressed, to the brink of hopelessness.

Seeking mental health services won’t get a person in trouble with the Stay-At-Home order. But, who with mental health issues can figure that out? Struggling people do not have the energy to set up care or find a practitioner or call insurance and see what might be covered or wait on hold for three hours for help while work-from-home employees get their new home offices set up. Anxious people already worry they are a burden, and now, they must also take the initiative to find help when there are so many people out there with “greater” needs? How many individuals will fall through the cracks, even die, because of panic that has led the government to condone the breaking infrastructure of our society? Why does no one care about them? Or rather, why has the government valued their lives as less "essential"?

This order segregates our communities. Not by race. Not by class. But by the labels “essential” and “non-essential.” The “essentials” are hailed as heroes on the “front-lines,” and provided with childcare. The “non-essentials” are ignored, sequestered at home to be “out of the way,” and may suffer irreparable personal damage. Because the government says so.

Protecting Everybody? Or Vocation?

Do what you can to keep your germs to yourself, COVID-19 or not. I did pass the second grade. I know that germs can spread by air, contact, and touching surfaces. I stay home when I am sick. I also know how to wash my hands, and was doing it before the CDC told me to.

I wish it were different, but I have to tell the truth: My actions cannot protect everyone. Neither can yours. Even your best intentions could actually put someone at risk—like the card you sent to an elderly friend, the time you touched your cart while shopping, the person in emotional trouble you were too socially-distanced to talk to.

I dare say even that God does not expect me to protect everyone from a virus I may or may not have. I am called to serve my concrete neighbors around me; I am not called to serve an unnamed everyone. To believe it so is a fundamental misunderstanding of vocation. I know there are starving people in Africa, but there are also hungry children in my home. I help others with my own excess, and also with my own sacrifice, but I cannot physically help or protect them all. I do my best for those in my midst, and for me, that means staying home. For others, the best way they can can serve is by going out, regardless of their government label. It takes only cowardice to judge what is in their the depths of their hearts, regardless of their supposed essence in society.

Guilty, Until Proven Innocent

I am not necessarily against the content of the Governor’s order; if fact, in some ways, I wish it were more conservative regarding which activities and jobs are essential. What I am opposed to, however, is the fact that it is no longer a prudent and virtuous recommendation to follow, but rather a removal individual rights with the threat of imprisonment or fine. Before the order, I made the choice to stay home out of love, but now, it is no longer my choice.

Since the Stay-At-Home order, citizens cannot use their own gift of reason to determine what is essential and what is not. We can only use government-determined labels. Citizens are not to be trusted to either think for themselves, or even to be hygienic. See that person next to you in the store? He probably doesn’t need to be here. See the lady walking her dog? She might be contaminated! The order breeds judgement between others.

Rather than making a choice to socially distance, we have been forced into isolation by threats. For what reason? To stop the spread of a virus that all authorities have agreed cannot be stopped, and that, without democratic process, and no specific criteria named when our freedoms will be returned. Due process has been disturbed, as well as the right to assemble and practice religion. Why are healthy Americans suddenly guilty, until proven innocent?

Did you know that on Wednesday morning, Minnesota’s diagnosis numbers went down for the first time since our first case? That happened because of citizens voluntarily helping others. And then, Wednesday afternoon, the Governor issued his order, that beginning today, if we don’t choose the Government’s plan, we could be imprisoned or fined.

Many Minnesotans read the new order, or a summary of the new order, and were surprised! They had voluntarily stayed home from getting take-out, and visiting pet stores, liquor stores, and craft stores, but the order allowed them to go out! It was more liberal than they had volunteered to live! How freeing!

And then, Minnesota's diagnosis numbers went up. After the order.

My personal experience confirms this. We live on a fairly busy street for dog-walkers, joggers, and pedestrians, but the last two weeks (even on the warm days), the street looked like a ghost town. We saw only a total of two people go by in the course of a week. But, after the order came out, we saw more people out than ever before: over 50 in 24 hours, and the weather wasn’t even that great.

Do It For the Children!

As a family, community, state, nation, and world, are collectively experiencing loss: the loss of the lives of loved ones from death, for many. But also the loss of our normal, peaceful routines. However, many posit that we must Stay-At-Home for the sake of the next generation.

I am isolated in a sea of six children. I’m dealing not only with my own sense of fear, loss, and grief, but also six individual manifestations of similar feelings, including a five-year-old who cried out this morning, “Mommy, please, please, please pray that God won’t let them put the dead babies in the corona-vaccine!”

I love my children. I chose to be with them at home daily, even before there was a mandate to do so. I can only imagine the struggles of others who have been forced into this position. But much, much more concerning to me than the overwhelming care they require, or the fact that they might catch a virus and even die from it, is the fact that my children might grow up in a nation without the same freedoms I had. This post is my fighting for them.

“Freedom is a fragile thing and is never more than one generation away from extinction. It is not ours by inheritance; it must be fought for and defended constantly by each generation, for it comes only once to a people. Those who have known freedom, and then lost it, have never known it again.” -Ronald Reagan

Yesterday, on a walk with my children, we passed the playground. They asked why we couldn’t play there and I told them the simplest truth: out of love for our neighbor. Tomorrow, on a walk with my children, we will pass by the playground. They will ask we we cannot play there, and I will tell them the simplest truth: it is illegal.

Voluntary Vs. Involuntary

Those happily quarantining their healthy selves have every right to do so, and to encourage others to do the same. But when they happily comply with a government mandate that does not so much as allow them to privately pray in their own empty church? That is a fundamental misunderstanding of liberty, masked in the name of love. It is a fundamental misunderstanding of the reason so have laid down their lives for this country over the centuries: Men took up arms in the name of freedom, so citizens could virtuously choose what is right. No one can be compelled to goodness and beauty with a mandate. Those who gave their lives for our country would be proud of citizens choosing to put their freedoms aside to protect others. But, I believe they would be concerned and suspicious of a government which demanded it, with no concrete end in sight.

Ask an elderly veteran of the Armed Forces. Ask an immuno-compromised person, like my own father. Do they demand that churches close and businesses go bankrupt and the economy breaks down and the suicide rate increases to protect them? Or do they see it as their own responsibility to do their utmost to protect themselves, as all of us might during a time of illness? They might request you consider them and their needs, but most would never think that the government should compel its citizens to do so.

Championing liberty and the freedom to exercise religion are virtues that even the elderly and immune-compromised desire and appreciate. Choosing between a prison cell and meditating alone in my empty church is not the choice of a free American, even in the time of pandemic.

Critical Thinking and Data

What about the statistics? Science tells us that Stay-At-Home is necessary, right?

The scientists do not agree. The doctors do not agree. The epidemiologists do not agree. You cannot quote “statistics!” to show how serious this pandemic is. Every day, new interpretations of the data are released and other data is retracted. Is not the model of American freedom strong enough to stand, even in a pandemic?

In only takes looking in a history book to understand that governments that promote governing against the rule of democratic laws pose the greatest threat to human lives. Even scientists, doctors, and epidemiologists can agree on that.

As a citizen, it is my vocation to demand that my government think critically and offer concrete solutions and goals, not the remove of freedom due to a panic based on insufficient data. Reflect on the the Stay-At-Home order for a moment. Were answers given to any of these imperative questions?

  • How long do the hospitals need to prepare space and equipment?
  • Are we certain that the mandate will flatten the curve?
  • Might there be other factors in play that we haven’t yet considered?
  • What are the possible harms of this mandate?
  • With 35 exemptions to stay-at-home for business and 6 for personal reasons, how many citizen are really stopping the spread?
  • Are all of the exemptions really necessary?
  • Do extra exemptions prolong the need for the stay-at-home law?
  • How will the law be enforced?
  • What is the number of diagnoses that the curve must flatten to before we receive our freedoms again? Can the same goals be achieved by personal choice, wisdom, and prudence, rather than government force?
  • Are other studies being done?
  • How will we move forward easing into our new normal, rather than just procrastinate exposure?
  • Where will you draw the line of taking away basic freedoms?
  • If we meet our number goal early, will we enjoy our freedoms sooner?

Why do other citizens not demand these questions be answered by our leaders? Why, instead, do many of my fellow citizen hush these questions with illogical and fearful cries to comply—as if I am not and have not been already, and as if it were already illegal to think and question!

Some readers might think this concern about championing freedom degrades the very real concern for the vulnerable during this pandemic. Instead, consider that this pandemic needs individuals with foresight that extends beyond five weeks, 18 months, or even the lifetime of this virus. Freedom and human rights extend beyond any illness, any national boundary, and even beyond time itself.

“Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.” Benjamin Franklin

Alternative Solutions

Well, what’s a better idea that Stay-At-Home? Shouldn’t I just close my laptop now and stop typing if I don’t have an alternative proposal in our country’s time of need? While it is not my vocation to research or formally propose the following ideas, I list them here to demonstrate that people who think critically, study history, and live virtuously can and do have alternate ideas that might work. (Perhaps these have already been considered and rejected by our leaders; if so, I am unaware of it since it hasn’t been communicated with the community.)

I’m sure there are many other possible solutions others could come up with, as well. This is just a start. Why don’t leaders admit there are myriad ways to handle this situation, even many they haven’t thought of? Could it be because they are afraid that empowered people won’t comply? Do they not consider that perhaps citizens can be both competent and compassionate?

Thank God there are treatments for COVID-19! I have heard about three promising possibilities in the past few days, and perhaps many more will emerge from the brilliant and gifted minds of our nation. Perhaps, even, an ethical vaccine can be developed that won’t require ingredients in quantities known to be harmful to humans, or RNA sequencing that rewrites human DNA, or innocent babies to be slaughtered for its creation! I can pray for that! But, these possible treatments do not negate the vital importance of preserving a free and virtuous society so these advancements can take place. These possible treatments do not negate the very real and certain threat of the potential lives lost though economic crisis and corrupt governments seizing freedom.

Conclusion

My heart goes out to anyone suffering. Yet, I must express my sincere belief, while I yet have the freedom of speech, that the sure and certain suffering resulting from the breakdown of societal infrastructure, as well as the suffering caused by tyrannical governments, must not be ignored in the midst of the suffering of the ill.

I can and do give thanks for my freedoms that remain. I pray for the healing of my nation. But I don’t pretend everything is okay.

When the government forces individuals who are well, not sick, to be quarantined, it is called tyranny, even for a most excellent cause. If this is an exaggeration, then at least I am exaggerating in good company, the company of America’s Founding Fathers, who fought a personally costly war to preserve freedoms that have now been put on hold.

“Is life so dear, or peaceful so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take, but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!” -Patrick Henry

 

You might also enjoy the articles The Lord's Prayer or The Apostle's Creed in the Time of Pandemic

orWhat Would Socrates Ask You about COVID-19?

 

Mrs. Marie K. MacPherson, vice president of Into Your Hands LLC, lives in Mankato, Minnesota, with her husband Ryan and their children, whom she homeschools. She is a certified Classical Lutheran Educator (Consortium for Classical Lutheran Educators), author of Meditations on the Vocation of Motherhood (2018), and editor of Mothering Many: Sanity-Saving Strategies from Moms of Four or More (2016).

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TAGS: Healthcare, Worldview, Christianity, Liberty, Socialism, Interposition, Religious Liberty, COVID-19

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