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To Wear or not to Wear A Face Mask? CT

This weeks Christian Today article – looks at the burning issue of the week,…

To wear or not to wear a face mask?

(Photo: Unsplash/Denis Jung)

It’s extremely hard to predict the future. Imagine if a year ago you were in a group of people and you suggested that the big issue in politics and society would be whether we should wear a mask or not. People would have thought you were as crazy as if you had said that going to school, church and on holiday would be banned!

The mask question is fascinating. At one level it seems so simple and obvious to some people that wearing a mask is our Christian duty. It saves lives and surely if we love our neighbour then we should not be selfish, and simply mask up. On the other hand, there are those who argue that it is your Christian right not to wear a mask because the mask is a sign of a tyrannical government and besides which, isn’t it useless anyway?

I thought I would write about this a few weeks ago but discovered that there was such a wealth of material on this. Even as I write I am sitting with over 20 articles and papers on this one subject. I would read one article and think I have to wear a mask. Then another and think that there is no way I would wear a mask.

As this week facemasks are being made compulsory for shops in the UK, and for everywhere in public in Melbourne, and in many of the US states, I thought I would save you the pain of reading these endless opinion pieces and instead summarise what I have discovered.

The science is not clear

The big problem here is that there has been only a small number of trials and we are late in the pandemic cycle, which means there are no clear scientific answers. Most decisionmakers want to say they are ‘following the science’ and so find it easier to equate their politics, opinions and practices with ‘the science’. If your favoured epidemiologist does not agree with your opinion, you can always find another one – or even the same one in different circumstances. In April, Dr Anthony Fauci was telling us that wearing masks for the general public was not necessary and may even be harmful. In May, he was advocating wearing ‘some sort of a covering’.

On 6 April, the World Health Organisation said: ‘There is currently no evidence that wearing a mask (whether medical or other types) by healthy persons in the wider community setting, including universal community masking, can prevent them from infection with respiratory viruses, including Covid-19.’

It also warned that wearing masks in public could give a false sense of security. As someone else said, it’s like trying to stop a bullet with a chain mail vest. The trouble is that even the best medical masks can only stop Covid-19 around 45 per cent of the time. With cloth masks it’s only 5 per cent. And despite the reports, the science on this has not changed: there is no new clear scientific evidence that masks actually work as a protection for the wearer.

But although they do not protect the wearer, it is the case that they can be a significant help in preventing someone who has the illness passing it on through droplets and coughing. The trouble again is that even that is of limited value, with social distancing and handwashing deemed to be much more effective. The Norwegian Institute of Public Health, after reviewing the evidence on masks, suggested that 200,000 people would need to wear face masks in order to prevent one new infection per week. Given that the death rate from Covid-19 is now estimated to be between 0.1-0.5% of those infected, you would need to have 200 million people wearing masks to save one life!

Even if that were true, then surely even that would be worth it? After all, facemasks can do no harm? But therein lies the problem: everything has a risk/balance that we need to take into account. For example, if I told you that we could save tens of thousands of lives per year by one simple measure, would that mean we should take it? If we made all cars travel at a maximum of 5 mph, we would save those lives. But what would the cost be?

In terms of wearing masks, there are also risk factors. A paper published in MMJ Open in 2015 even suggested that wearing masks in order to prevent respiratory infection could cause harm. The WHO were concerned that the wearing of masks may also give a false sense of confidence. Ironically this appears to be the reason that some governments want their citizens to wear them; it will give them a sense of confidence that things are ok and that they and the government are in control. It’s almost as though the message is ‘don’t worry, we have this covered!’

And there is the psychological aspect. How long will we have to wear them? Will wearing them in shops reassure us or put us off going out in public? If the latter, what harm will that do to the economy and thus to people’s health? It is a complex issue with no clear and simple answers.

Politicians want to be clear

That does not suit our political leaders. They desperately need to be seen to be clear. If the science is confused that does not help. Which is why masks have become such a political issue. The BBC’s Newsnight reported that the WHO committee, which looked at the evidence for the use of masks in public, did not back them – but after political lobbying, changed its mind.

The fact that wearing a mask has become a politicised issue is an indication of the mess our society is now in. When wearing a mask or not is seen as a sign of political allegiance, we are in deep trouble.

The situation is confused

It’s not confusing in China or in other dictatorial regimes, like North Korea where anyone who does not wear a mask will face three months hard labour.

But in the UK and other more open countries, the situation is almost farcical. Face masks are compulsory in shops and takeaways, but not in cafes and restaurants, or gyms and cinemas. And although they are compulsory in shops, Tesco, JD Sports and Lidl among others have announced they will not be enforcing them; neither will the police. The NHS has advised workers with beards to shave them off. The UK government has even offered Pythonesque advice on how to make your own mask, which for some reason reminds me of the old government advice about how to create your own nuclear bomb shelter!

A clear position?

It seems to me that the Church can offer some basic Christian principles which can help us. Because we are concerned for other people and their wellbeing, we will wear masks when we are in situations where

a) that is the custom (ie South Korea),

b) where we cannot do social distancing (ie on a plane)

c) where there is evidence of significant community transmission and

d) where it is the law. From a Christian perspective, if the law demands that we wear masks then we will obey the law – but it would be much better if the governments did not treat us like children and attempt to legislate everything. In democracies we need the social contract to work and the government to treat its people like adults.

A different type of masking

While we are rightly concerned about our physical wellbeing, we must also consider a different kind of masking: the spiritual blindness that affects this world – “The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers so that they cannot see the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” (2 Corinthians 4:4 NIV)

We long for the light to shine into the darkness, which is why as Christians “we refuse to wear masks and play games. We don’t manoeuvre and manipulate behind the scenes. And we don’t twist God’s Word to suit ourselves. Rather, we keep everything we do and say out in the open, the whole truth on display, so that those who want to can see and judge for themselves in the presence of God.” (2 Corinthians 4:2 The Message)

In this world we wear masks; we cover things up. We cannot face the reality. We live, in a sense, as ‘hypocrites’ – those who put on faces. We could not stand to live in the light of the purest light. But there will come a day when we will see with ‘unveiled faces’; when we shall know, even as we are known. “And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” (2 Corinthians 3:18)

These teachings are not a biblical commentary on whether or not we should wear masks to deal with Covid, but they do remind us of a deeper and more important reality that we all have to face up to. May the Lord grant that all of us would be enabled to increasingly live with unveiled faces, and see and be transformed into His glory.

David Robertson is director of Third Space in Sydney and blogs at www.theweeflea.com

 

-After writing this I found this article to be an interesting perspective – Why the Swedes don’t insist on masks…https://unherd.com/2020/07/swedens-anders-tegnell-judge-me-in-a-year/?tl_inbound=1&tl_groups[0]=18743&tl_period_type=3

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9 comments

  1. “From a Christian perspective, if the law demands that we wear masks then we will obey the law – but it would be much better if the governments did not treat us like children and attempt to legislate everything. In democracies we need the social contract to work and the government to treat its people like adults.”

    Yes, this would be my position as well. Of course there will be others who choose differently because of what they do “intuitively”. But then if not following the law then it can be expected for others to follow the law with what they “intuitively” choose to be appropriate in principle. So then there is an argument that some have made at this time of funding the police less and putting more funding into the community.

    Of course what is there to stop anarchy in this case? “Anarchy for the UK” “I am an anti-Christ, I am an anarchist” was sung by the sex pistols in a punk movement that was popular in the 70s for a few years. But it was in the context of the church having greater influence at that time. And the lead singer John Lydon now says that all of that was just rhetoric, he didn’t mean it and he actually quite likes the queen, wondering why he didn’t get invited to play at the queen’s diamond jubilee celebration.

    So the idea of de-funding the police and having self-policing in community is not a new one in principle. But would you want what would replace current policing, current laws?

    I’ve in the last week been considering what I have been led to believe about Marxist-Leninism ans it’s making a lot of sense to me. The idea that you promote an oppressor/oppressed narrative and indoctrinate “useful idiots” with the belief that overthrowing the current systems and structures (because they are “inherently oppressive”) will bring about a utopia. So you create disruption and weaken the current system before having a “revolution” and bringing in a new one. At which point you dispense with the “useful idiots” because they know too much and may do the same to you if they gain momentum. Then you introduce a totalitarian government which benefits you while leaving many with great suffering and injustice.

    Doesn’t the disruption part of this look not dissimilar to “cancel culture?”

    “In this world we wear masks… We cannot face the reality.” OK to a degree we all wear masks of a kind in order to be accepted in our communities. And in one sense it is to guard out hearts that we do that. It simply is unhealthy to go without boundaries. In fact it is disobedient to Christ’s directive to guard the heart to “face the reality” in on every occasion. Jesus himself spoke in parables and said not to share pearls with swine because they will trample on them and may devour you in the process. So the kingdom was hidden to many in Jesus’ ministry. My guess is that he had learned to speak in parables after people wanted to throw him off a cliff for him speaking the reality that a prophet is without honour among his own people.

    On the other hand (and I think this is the point you want to make David) there is a time to take a stand to align with “a deeper and more important reality”. And of course what you are talking about is everyone being created in the image of God and in that there being glory. All that being “born of the Spirit” is as far as I am aware, is becoming aware of this and then serving with meaning and purpose in good works that God has prepared in advance to do with the empowerment that God provides and the most powerful force in the universe being his love shown in truth. This being the “purest light”. And even if that is as the light of a smouldering candle in you then that not being snuffed out. But the world considering this foolishness.

    Well – if you are the only one not being an anarchist when everyone around you is, then you will be perceived as foolish at best and at worse dangerous and someone to be taken out or “cancelled”, won’t you?

    Times are getting tougher.

  2. I’m trying to think of anything that could be more irrelevant during a pandemic than a Christian blogger wondering aloud if Christians should wear face masks – especially when all the evidence and issues you touch during this piece have got absolutely nothing to do with Christianity.

    This issue has got absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with religion and you framing it as such is pointless.

    1. You clearly have no idea what Christianity actually is – given the narrow and somewhat absurd nature of your comment. As Christians we are concerned with human life, health, justice, politics, loving our neighbour and obeying God. The fact that you are not aware of this or seem unable to work out how this ties in with how we deal with this pandemic speaks volumes.

  3. Confusion. We all want that fog to clear away,(except liberal theologians) but it seems that post-modernism has gripped science and embraced perspectivism with its computer model statistics and even opposition, from scientist to seeking evidence through proper research, such a double blind methodologies. Seems to me many are serving their own purposes, their own agendas, high profiles.
    In my experience Dr’s serve one purpose, the health of their patient. They do not take other aspects of life into account, such as financial situation, employment, family life.
    Politicians must take many factors into account. While many seek to make political credit from the situation, I’m unsure that it is bankable, for future use. I’m not for or against Johnson in this, but I do think he has been diminished in his abilities through contracting the virus and it has played some part in some decision making and return to full functioning.
    I’m not saying that it should play no part, indeed in may have played significant beneficial part, that may otherwise have been absent.
    I recall a senior management meeting in the NHS when we were all ask by Chief Executive, what would make us better managers. “Being a recipient of NHS in patient services”, was my contribution.
    But I get lost off today between what is law and what is guidance in the fluidity of change. My response, would be that to avoid or reduce the risk transmission by those infected (unknowingly) a mask may help, in confined spaces, such as public transport but there is little or no risk on the streets in open public places or shops where distancing has been effected, and I’m in a greater risk group, through a number of factors.
    As a Christian I don’t know why churches aren’t pressing to meet together, to include live, if amplified , singing and lively preaching, praying and reading, from the front, and we can all take cover with our shield (of faith) at the back of the building!
    Perhaps, at heart, I’m a non conformist seeing the self-righteousness of the liturgical dress code of mask wearing while self congratulating the freedom of my unadorned plain face.
    While on a different topic, the principle of 1 Corinthians 8: 9-13 comes to mind:

    9 But take care that this right of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak. 10 For if anyone sees you who have knowledge eating[a] in an idol’s temple, will he not be encouraged,[b] if his conscience is weak, to eat food offered to idols? 11 And so by your knowledge this weak person is destroyed, the brother for whom Christ died. 12 Thus, sinning against your brothers[c] and wounding their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ. 13 Therefore, if food makes my brother stumble, I will never eat meat, lest I make my brother stumble. ESV

  4. Very good and insightful comment from Adam, on David’s as always insightful and intelligent writings and prose, from a biblical perspective…

    I currently am based and live in Scotland, and Oh My Goodness, if the nonsense so called ‘Hate Crime’ law ever gets passed then think I will be off to the Bahamas, or somewhere else sunny and civilised .

    We know about ‘Pareto Law’ or rule or analysis, 80:20… I think that 80% of nationalists are brainwashed myopic, blinkered lenin-marxists who cannot think for themselves, and will simply follow the nats next zeitgeist. Anyone with a mere modicum of intelligence would know that Scotland would become hopelessly bankrupt with 12-18 months of becoming independent..!

    It is clear that we are living in ‘the end times’ and that the clock may be at a second to midnight, however in God’s perfect timing this could be another thousand years, and only He knows when Jesus will return…Somehow sense it will be in our lifetime…I think that all the ‘people nations’ (> 20,000) have now been reached with the Gospel, including the group in the Brazilian amazon rain forest..?

    On that subject, how can the richest guy in the world, (worth $160 bn or whatever it is just now…) get away with paying almost no tax in UK despite having sales of several billion, and with huge profits. Again another ‘nuts law’ that allows him to send an invoice for ‘management fees’ from the low / no tax HQ in Luxembourg, and pay a paltry sum to the UK treasury, via HMRC….and the modern day slaves at amazon get a tad above min wage..? Something is not right. In fact it is very wrong… The ‘High Street’ being a hub of local communities sadly and gradually closes down and we have many more vehicles on our already overcrowded roads, with drivers delivering the goods where apparently 30% of all sales are now on-line…oh dear…oh dear..!

    The ‘mask’ zeitgeist issue will be over soon, and then we will be on to the next one, which no doubt will be much worse than the current one…any thoughts or insight on what will be next..?

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