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Don Rogers: Let our guide be helping others

Don Rogers

I know where I’m going when I die,” the woman at a crowded beach replied to the young man asking her if she’d like a mask, shaking her head no and fixing him with a long look. “Do you?”

So much certainty. No doubt in her voice. None. Like she really did know.

I’ve heard this before. Others have been saying the very thing lately with every bit as much conviction.

But this isn’t actual knowledge. She doesn’t really know. Neither do you or I. That’s the paradox, our deal with life. Boiled down, we are left to mere belief.

I wear my mask for you, and you for me.

I say “mere” only because faith in something does not make it so in objective reality, independent of human understanding, no matter how much you wish it so, no matter how many others agree with you.

Yes, we’re talking religion now. Scripture. The woman clearly had a lot of confidence in her faith, but she wasn’t speaking fact.

The mask, which bears its own burden of faith, has begun to symbolize fact, with our growing knowledge about this disease from science. How science came to collide with belief is beyond me, especially since science got such a great start as a means of understanding faith in the Abrahamic religions, beginning with Islam.

Such gains humanity made when Islam championed scholarship! Algebra perhaps most famously, but also anesthesia and astronomy, even the scientific method itself.

The sciences flourished in the Islamic world before dimming under more rigid fundamentalism. The flame passed to Christendom, where it more or less has remained while our civilization has grown ever more secular.

Judaism has its own fundamentalist impulses, to be sure, but overall seems to have the least issue with facts revealed through careful study and experimentation. Perhaps this is because, as one rabbi I read put it, rabbinic literature persists in asking: “How do we know this?”

Indeed.

UNCERTAINTY

Of course, a smug faith overstuffed with pride can’t be the only reason for the mini sermon at the beach. I think it’s also a reaction to timid souls who have cooked up another Black Death in their terror of this pandemic.

Worldwide, suicide and malaria are running a little under the pace of fatalities linked to COVID-19, and tuberculosis kills twice as many people every year, alcohol and tobacco more than that. Nevada County thus far has been an oasis with just one death to go with less than 350 cases confirmed since the pandemic began nearly six months ago. Our statistical surge in new cases roughly matches the increase in testing and 2.4% of tests coming back positive.

Still, prudence and care are more than warranted with a disease that in this country has proven three to six times more deadly than the flu, if less so than heart disease, cancer and in our area, getting in the car for a drive.

I’m reading a memoir by Osama bin Laden’s first wife and fourth son about the terrorist at home. It’s a fascinating story, at least to me, but one thing that stands out is how the fatalistic bin Laden left everything to God, speeding everywhere, fixed in his belief about where he was going. Inshallah, “God willing,” is so pervasive in the volatile Middle East that people pepper their conversations with the word. I don’t think he’d have worn his mask.

I wonder if the pandemic puts some of us into a sort of flight or fight between going brazen in belief or building up anxiety well beyond the actual risk. I wonder if these are two sides of the same coin in the face of uncertainty.

CONTROL

More people are wearing masks in public spaces, and both California and the United States’ daily new cases have dropped off, in our state definitively for the first time since we went into lockdown way back in March. The correlation sure looks direct and strong.

I like to think political posturing is giving way to good sense with face coverings, maybe even tipping toward just being good neighbors.

I wear my mask for you, and you for me. We have a measure of control, an exercise in community values, and we can help beat back a serious disease a little sooner.

The implicit message has the feel of the heaven sent, too, if asking what God’s will might be in our circumstances. Seems the science is plain enough.

Don Rogers is the publisher of the Sierra Sun and The Union, based in Grass Valley. He can be reached at drogers@sierrasun.com or 530-477-4299.


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