Most of us are at home trying to avoid the coronavirus, an invisible force that has brought the world to its knees. Its deadly tentacles seem to be reaching everywhere. It has shut down the economy and forced people to take refuge in their homes.
It reminds me of the angel of death in the Old Testament. The Jewish people smeared blood on the top of their doorposts so death would pass over them. Rather than blood, we are using social distancing.
America was broadsided by this deadly pandemic. It seems so medieval, like the plagues of the 14th century. In the 1300s, the “Black Death” eventually spent half a decade tearing across the European continent.
The populations of whole towns were wiped out and it was said that the living spent most of their time burying the dead in mass graves. “We see death coming into our midst like black smoke,” the Welsh poet Jeuan Gethin wrote, “a plague which cuts off the young, a rootless phantom which has no mercy or fair countenance.”
Medieval physicians tried to combat the disease using bloodletting, lancing and other crude techniques, but with little understanding of its cause, most fell back on the belief that it was a divine punishment for their sins. Some Christians, in search of a scapegoat, blamed it on Jews and launched bloody massacres.
The Black Death subsided around 1353, but not before it killed as many as 50 million people ― more than half the population of Europe.
Today there is a kind of hush falling over the world as we see how vulnerable we all are. Rugged individualism is no match for our present day plague. What is needed is cooperation, less “me” and more “we.”
That’s what has been needed all along, but American hyper-individualism has diminished it in recent years. It wasn’t that long ago when a politician said, “it takes a village to raise a child,” and she was ridiculed.
Friends, we have lost our social cohesiveness, our “we.” It has been mocked and labeled as “liberal,” when in fact it is essential for any society to properly function.
Our politics reflects our inability to cooperate. The Republican Party is more “me” orientated and proclaims capitalism as the primary way to fund the American enterprise.
Truth be told, the beneficiaries of capitalism are primarily corporations and the wealthy. It has facilitated the largest shift of wealth in our history from the lower and middle classes of people to the richest 10 percent. Too much “me” and not enough of “we.”
The Democratic Party is more “we” orientated. Legislation that is “we” focused is often labeled in a disparaging way as socialism. What do the United States Postal Service, public utilities, public education, public libraries, the highway department, Medicare and Medicaid, the military, fire department, police services, public transportation, environmental regulations and Social Security have in common? They are examples of socialism and start from the premise of “we” rather than “me.”
This coronavirus is forcing us to see beyond “me” to the importance of “we.” I pray this awakening will serve as a corrective in our society that has been way too “me” focused. Without this awakening, I fear for our future.
Our president is an extremely “me” focused person. It is obvious that he would rather be a dictator and has been using his power to weaken the pillars of our democracy. Friends, we are standing at a pivotal time in American history.
If there is a blessing in this pandemic, it is the realization that our society has become too “me” focused and must restore the emphasis on “we.” Our survival depends on it.
During this holy season, it’s time for the narcissistic “me” to die. As we move past Easter Sunday, I pray “we” will be resurrected and regain the prominent place it once had in our society.
Robert Kippley is a Lutheran minister in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. He resides in Caņon City.