Please read the whole thing before commenting, lest you assume I am actually expressing an opinion. Rather, this is a thought experiment.
In the 1930s & 1940s the Nazi persecution was led, symbolically, by the swastika. During the Crusades, the Christian persecution was led, symbolically, by the cross. In both instances, a group of people felt it was within their right to persecute others who did not believe and live the way they did. In these two examples it crossed over into killing, but persecution does not need to go that far to be labeled persecution.
This morning I saw a video of a woman, who was not wearing a mask, shopping at a grocery store in NY. She was the only one without a mask. Everyone else wore one and the situation escalated quickly. The mask-wearers were yelling at her, cussing at her, and threatened her to the point that, fearing for her safety, she had to leave the store. This is an example of persecution of someone who did not believe nor live the way others wanted her to. And what was the symbol? It was the mask.
Somehow, the public has turned the mask into a symbol of a caring, thoughtful, careful person who is doing their part not to spread COVID-19. In fact, this is what Dr. Fauci just said. If you wear it, the public identifies you as the embodiment of these characteristics. If you don’t wear a mask, however, the public has labeled you as someone who doesn’t care if others die, making you heartless. It has also labeled these people as anti-science. The mask has become the symbol of a perceived better way to live. It has also given those who wear the sign the perceived right to persecute those who don’t.
Some may think that I am going overboard. That this was an isolated incident. And while I don’t think this level of persecution happens frequently, from my own experiences I have found this to be true. I have watched as commenters post hateful, scathing posts on Facebook aimed at those who refuse to wear a mask. I have watched the furroughed brows behind the masks of those who are looking at those who are not wearing masks. At Costco, where everyone is asked to wear a mask, I watched scowls form and heads shake in disbelief as they watched someone who did not wear a mask.
On the flip side, I have seen posts of anti-maskers posting reasons why they don’t wear a mask. But here is the difference: I haven’t seen one post (and I’ve looked) of an anti-masker tearing apart another for his decision to wear a mask. They get testy when they are forced to wear a mask, but they don’t persecute those who choose to do so. I don’t see those who are not wearing a mask at a store look at others and say, “You idot! Wearing a mask won’t help you or the people around you!” They generally keep their opinions to themselves and maybe a small group of friends, but let the pro-maskers wear their masks without persecuting their choice.
Could it be that the mask is the new symbol of socially approved persecution? Whether or not wearing a mask works, and whether or not we should or shouldn’t isn’t my point. Do I think that those who wear masks and persecute those who don’t are bad people? No. My point is that symbols can embolden us to do what we would not normally do – to take rights and liberties to persecute another.
I bring this thought experiment up not to debate on whether the mask should be worn or not, but to rather ask, “What symbols might I adhere to that artificially give me the right to persecute others?” It could be as simple as wearing a name-brand piece of clothing with the thought that those who can’t wear it don’t have enough style or class or money and then we treat them as lower-class. Or maybe those who don’t prescribe to my religion are somehow less than I am. Or those who don’t act in a certain way are less civilized and therefore, I have the right (even duty) to set them straight.
I believe just about everyone does this to some degree – some more than others. It is human nature. But to what degree do each of us do this? I saw a quote by a leader of my faith, Quentin L. Cook who said, “There are some who feel that venting their personal anger or deeply held opinions is more important than conducting themselves as Jesus Christ lived and taught. I invite each one of us individually to recognize that how we disagree is a real measure of who we are and whether we truly follow the Savior.” If we were to secularize it, we could say “There are some who feel that venting their personal anger or deeply held opinions is more important than conducting themselves as (a kind human being). I invite each one of us individually to recognize that how we disagree is a real measure of who we are.”
It is never that the cross for Christians was meant to incite persecution, but the Crusaders interpreted it that way. It is not so much that the symbol justifies our actions, as it is our interpretation and then acting on it.
“What symbols might I adhere to that artificially give me the right to persecute others?”
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