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How Our Masks May Change Us

It takes centuries to make a culture, and to understand that culture, a person must study with diligence the deepest thought of the centuries that formed it. To destroy it might be a much easier task.
By George Hofmann

The first six verses of Psalm Ch. 13 read:

1  How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? 2  How long must I bear pain in my soul, and have sorrow in my heart all day long? How long shall my enemy be exalted over me? 3  Consider and answer me, O Lord my God! Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep the sleep of death, 4  and my enemy will say, “I have prevailed”; my foes will rejoice because I am shaken. 5  But I trusted in your steadfast love; my heart shall rejoice in your salvation. 6  I will sing to the Lord, because he has dealt bountifully with me.

I’ve written positively about face masks as expressions of liberty and responsibility right here on Broad + Liberty. But they also hide something sinister.

I’ve long believed that we see God in each other as we walk by on city streets open and free. But now our faces are shielded with masks–sensible, necessary, but it causes faces too be blank. One looks just like the other. We know that behind our masks we feel safe, maybe, but ashamed, too, because we are not a people of fear. We are people who fight. People of purpose. We always have been.

 

Yet masked and tinged with the shame that we are a potential threat to each other, our eyes avert, and we each drift seemingly unnoticed. We reach a place where all we hold dear is left at home and hidden away. The face of God is not seen well in shadows, especially shadows we cast ourselves. Yet from shadows of the darkest night, wars, storms, pandemics, we emerge, reflected in the love of the faces upon which we gaze.

But right now faces are hidden, and in these shadows our souls sleep and death becomes the focus. Death is the result. We are godless as we refuse each embrace and lost without the signposts of eye contact and smiles.

We will outlive the biological threats. The disease that infects our culture, however, may leave more lasting damage

Promise awakens us as we see a path out of the shadows. A vaccine may finally lower our masks, but we must then remember to turn toward the light instead of shielding our eyes, for we have been asleep for a long time. A sleep so long that it has grown devoid of promise, except that of powers taken, rules handed down, families separated by decree. That is the loss we must overcome when we look to the light unmasked, as we awaken from the sleep of the dead, as we dare to make positive promises and keep them. With confidence in our community. Open. In love.

It’s been a year wearing these masks. In this year, covered like criminals, not only the face of God has been shielded. A moment ascendant has risen in the cover of darkness to proclaim that before we masked up we were all wrong. Ideas that gave us human rights and material wealth have been twisted into enemies. Enemies now slain by marauders holding the weight of conformity and bludgeoning the very civilization that gave birth to the science that will defeat this virus and the faith that makes defeating it at all worth it very much.

The virus is new. Intolerance at the scale we witness it today is new. Hidden behind masks, thieves have raided the treasures of our founding. The Bible has been cast aside, irrelevant. We will outlive the biological threats. The disease that infects our culture, however, may leave more lasting damage.

It takes centuries to make a culture, and to understand that culture a person must study with diligence the deepest thought of the centuries that formed it. To cast this off and start anew in a generation is to leave a people bereft of common cause, simple understanding, and shared ideas as points of reference down from which we root our very being. We are diverse, yes, but in a deeper sense, we are a people fired as one in a forge with a long past.

We have proven we can shut things down. My fear is that this newly discovered tool placed in the hands of those who seek to smite our passion for freedom will be the lasting result of the virus.

Throughout that past, viruses came and went, but the ideas that birthed us have held fast, changing only incrementally, standing proud before all comers who aim to disrupt them. Now, statues have been toppled and books are suddenly being banned. Masked invaders are coming for the ideals and ethics that inspire liberty and faith. With people locked alone afraid of stepping out and coming together, cowering at a distance, separated by dictate, there’s barely been a fight.

We have proven we can shut things down. My fear is that this newly discovered tool placed in the hands of those who seek to smite our passion for freedom will be the lasting result of the virus.

The infection that truly sickens us, an infection with uncertain immunology, is the march to expunge history. These infection rates are rising. The virus has given vengeful barbarians cover, and they evolve into variants that slice to pieces our shared faith in the fact that we, in all of history, are exceptional. Yes, we are exceptional, and centuries from now some new culture will read us as either a touchstone or a footnote. The psalms were written over five centuries as many as 3,000 years ago. You can draw a line along the faith they follow and locate us here. All that belief, the laws established, are reflected in the present. That connection to the past gives our present meaning. Here, compared to the flame of that history, we are a flash in the pan, but a brilliant, nourishing flash we are. That briefest light has given us the enlightenment and liberal democracy. Now a movement that unwittingly benefits from this advance in human flourishing wants to diminish or extinguish that flame.

Acceleration of rejection and the dismantling of the Judeo-Christian ethic smother the kindling we light in each generation to bless our culture with vitality and a future of positive promise. Behind masks, we mumble, blistered by the assault. Centuries from now, will we be forgotten forever, or will we continue to burn?

 


George Hofmann is the author of Resilience: Handling Anxiety in a Time of Crisis. He writes on religious liberty and American politics at The Psalms Meditations Project. George lives in Philadelphia with his wife, their daughter, and two poorly behaved dogs.

 


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