By now, you’ve probably seen the viral CNN clip of the woman heading to church in Ohio. Aren’t you worried about being exposed to COVID-19, the reporter asks? No, she says confidently, I am bathed in Jesus’s blood. But aren’t you worried about exposing other people? No, she says, angrily. I go to Wal-Mart everyday. I go to the grocery store. Those people could infect me.
The problem with these comments is not simply that Jesus never promised to protect anyone from getting sick. Think of all the sincere and wonderful Christians who perished in the Black Death, from smallpox, from typhus, from AIDS, and from countless other pestilences. (There’s a reason churches were closed when the plagues hit the ancient world, and again during the Spanish flu.) The real problem—and she is by no means alone in this, just look at the photos of people on beaches in Florida or congregating in parks in London or gathering in city centers to protest quarantine measures—is that people seem to only think about whether they can get sick.
A Stoic is rational enough to look at the numbers and realize that most of us are likely to survive the coronavirus, if we do in fact get it. Most cases are very mild. If you’re a healthy, relatively young person, chances are you’re going to be fine. Who knows, maybe believing in Jesus will insulate you further. But that’s not why we’re locked down, why we’ve inflicted trillions of dollars of losses to the global economy in an effort to “flatten the curve.” We’re doing these things to protect the most vulnerable amongst us—people for whom the mortality rate can be up to ten times higher. It’s to protect people with preexisting conditions, people battling cancer, people who are recovering from a lung transplant, people with only one kidney, and our elders from whom we would be remiss not to take this opportunity to learn from.
Remember what Marcus Aurelius said: What’s bad for the hive is bad for the bee. A society that is callous and indifferent to the weak and the vulnerable destroys itself. A society that betrays its elders—even if those elders have been indifferent and callous themselves—betrays itself.
The fruit of this life, Marcus wrote, was good character and acts for the common good. When we take actions, we have to always think: What would happen if everyone did this? What are the costs of my decisions for other people? What risks am I externalizing? Is this really what a person with good character and a concern for others would do?
Jesus said to love thy neighbor as thyself. The Stoics would have agreed with that. And they would have said that it’s your duty to protect them, to help them however you can. In fact, this is a sacred duty. There is nothing more admirable and virtuous than a person who takes it seriously—and nothing less Christian or less Stoic than blowing it off.