COVID-19, Scapegoats, and People of Faith
It seems that with every disaster scapegoats are required. We need someone to blame. In the Medieval period, Jews were often the target during plagues. They seemed not to get as sick as their Christian neighbors, so they must be causing the epidemic. If they are the cause, then they must be dealt with severely. That usually led to torture and even death. After 9-11, all Muslims in America became suspect. Many were targeted with invective and even violence. Since the stereotypical Muslim wore a turban, many Sikhs were attacked as well. It seemed that many Americans needed someone to take their anger out upon.
This time around, with the global spread of the Covid-19 Coronavirus, hitting the United States, it is the Chinese who are the scapegoats. After all, it was in Wuhan, China that the virus seems to have first broke out. Thus, anyone who is Chinese is to be blamed for its spread. We’ve heard persons from the President on down speak of this as the “Chinese Virus.” Politicians have called this the “Kung Flu” and suggested that this was caused because Chinese people eat bats (they don’t). It did spread from animals to humans, but as far as I know, the links haven’t been proven. Nevertheless, it doesn’t really matter how it started.
I decided to download a Kindle version of Daniel Defoe’s A Journal of the Plague Year, in which he gives an account of the plague that hit Europe in 1664. He writes there about its origins and its implications:
It was about the beginning of September, 1664, that I, among the rest of my neighbours, heard in ordinary discourse that the plague was returned again in Holland; for it had been very violent there, and particularly at Amsterdam and Rotterdam, in the year 1663, whither, they say, it was brought, some said from Italy, others from the Levant, among some goods which were brought home by their Turkey fleet; others said it was brought from Candia; others from Cyprus. It mattered not from whence it came; but all agreed it was come into Holland again. [Defoe, Daniel. A Journal of the Plague Year, written by a citizen who continued all the while in London (p. 1). Kindle Edition.]
“It mattered not from whence it came.” That is true today as it was then.
Unfortunately, this “need” for a scapegoat, has led to suspicions concerning persons who are Chinese, including Chinese Americans. As you might expect, this extends to anyone who “looks” Chinese, which means anyone who is Asian. So, today Asian and especially Chinese children are being taunted and bullied. A favorite taunt is “bat-eater.” Where do they get this idea? From adults of course, including our politicians.
Let us not seek scapegoats to blame and to even punish. After all, that’s what we do to scapegoats. We punish them. But, It matters not where it began. What matters is that we have a pandemic on our hands. Our neighbors are getting sick. We might be sick. People are dying. Hospitals are being overwhelmed. Medical personnel are putting their lives at risk treating patients without adequate protection. Instead of seeking scapegoats, let us do all we can to push through to the other side of this pandemic. In the course of this journey with the pandemic, may our better angels appear. In other words, may kindness define our actions in the coming days.
Now is the time for kindness. Kindness among friends and kindness as a national and international policy. Kindness involves the movement from self-interest to care for our family and neighbors to the wider affirmation of community relationships and national well-being to widest commitment to world loyalty. The word “kindness” is connected with the word “kinship.” The pandemic tells us that we are kin and that our well-being depends on kinship with all creation. [Epperly, Bruce G.. Faith in a Time of Pandemic (Topical Line Drives). Energion Publications. Kindle Edition.]
If we who are persons of faith commit ourselves to acts of kindness and neighbor love (and remember how Jesus defined neighbor love in the “Parable of the Samaritan” (Luke 10:25-37) then we will be able to come out of this difficult moment stronger than before. To get there we would be well-advised to follow Jesus’ message concerning the call to love the neighbor by following the example of the Samaritan. That means letting go of the need for the bigotry of seeking to find scapegoats for our current moment of distress.