We Are All Judas: A Lament

In the midst of this global pandemic, there is a lot of adulation for workers on the front lines who are putting themselves at great risk for the sake of the rest of us. I’m certainly not saying this isn’t warranted, but I was having a conversation last night with one of these workers and we started talking about how it’s much easier to hero worship than it is to demand businesses, organizations, and our government protect people over profit. Healthcare workers in scrubs are now being thanked at gas stations on their way home from work, the way some people thank service members in uniform at airports. While the thanks are nice, I know hospital workers would MUCH rather have the PPE they should have when treating COVID-19 patients. They should all be provided with N95 masks and face shields–full PPE–not just one flimsy surgical mask per shift. Every person who has to work in a hospital where COVID patients are being treated, as well as all of those in constant contact with the public, should have the appropriate protective gear to keep them safe.

I know a lot of us have seen, heard, (or maybe even felt) the “This is America! How is this happening?” sentiment, but if we look closely at our system, it really shouldn’t be a shock. Our money reads “In God We Trust” because money is our god. We have allowed our government to put money and profit over everything. We send soldiers off to war without the full protection they need. When veterans return home, they face a system that denies them the life-saving psychiatric care they need to survive PTSD. They face so much red tape to get medical care, that many of them have to go into massive debt to get the care they need or they just have to go without and suffer. There is always plenty of money to invest in weapons and machines that profit the owners and investors of massive corporations, but never enough for the service people who are bearing the burden of decisions made by people who care only about money.

We send students and teachers into schools that are unsafe and under-funded while millions of dollars go to corporations that make test after government-required test to the detriment of true education. We’ve accepted school shootings as the price of “freedom” while gun and ammunition manufactures are rolling in profit.

I’m sure if I kept going I could come up with example after example that show money is really the god of this nation. That is why it shouldn’t surprise us at all that at this time of global crisis, U.S. healthcare workers do not have what they need. Hospitals make money from expensive elective procedures, not from treating poor, sick patients. The system is designed to maximize profit, not to make sure the sickest among us receive life-saving care or that employees are safe. Heeding warnings about a possible pandemic and investing heavily in a stockpile of PPE would never fly because that would cut into profit. And that is the same reason our national government looked the other way for months and did nothing while people were dying. There was no one out there framing preparation as an opportunity to profit.

We idolize the rich, equating the ability to make and hoard massive amounts of wealth with some kind of inherent goodness. We refuse to scrutinize this system or insist on fair wages/healthcare/community investment because we buy into the lie that if any of us work hard enough we might someday rise to riches. And if we did, we wouldn’t want anyone taking away what we “rightfully earned.” But this is all a farce. It’s the people working at checkout lanes, cleaning hospitals, harvesting crops, transporting goods, treating patients, fixing the machines that manufacture toilet paper–those our system exploits, oppresses, or otherwise abandons–that are allowing any of us to have anything we need right now. And many, many people are going without.

This is America, where we idolize wealth and power, turn a blind eye to the poor and suffering, and worship profit at the expense of human lives. But at least we cheer and thank the people who are literally risking their lives to do their jobs right now, calling them heroes as they continue to show up for work because they need a paycheck. We keep propping up a system that is literally killing people, because we don’t want see the truth.

We are all Judas, betraying perfect love for the status quo and monetary gain.

But we don’t have to be. We can take this time to pull back the curtain, to look with clear seeing at our own values, beliefs, and actions. We can spend time thinking about what is truly important, what is truly fair, what is truly right. We can repent of the idolatry of wealth and power and individualism at the expense of others. We can look at how tightly we’ve been clinging to the idea of individual rights over shared responsibility. We can insist on a system in which everyone has what they truly need.

I started writing this as a short Facebook post to make the point that hero worship doesn’t make up for the lack of PPE and safe working conditions, but it turned into this much longer lament that I’m not sure how to wrap up. Perhaps that’s because resolution in any aspect of life seems like a distant dream right now. If you’ve managed to read this far, thank you. Please be safe, be brave, and be kind.

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