In 1979, the E.F. Hutton investment firm marketed itself on television with a commercial in which someone would mention that E.F. Hutton was managing their investments. Immediately, people near that speaker stopped what they were doing to overhear the conversation, leading to this catchy end of the commercial: “When E.F. Hutton talks, people listen.”
Too many people today seem not to be listening.
The surging tide of infection, sickness, hospitalization and death because of the COVID-19 pandemic prompts one to question why people have failed to heed warnings, instructions and pleas from physicians and public health experts about how we should behave to protect ourselves.
A year ago, there was no vaccine available in the world to treat this highly transmissible and life-threatening disease. Now, although free vaccines are available across the United States, people are refusing to be vaccinated. Some politicians in so-called “red states — including in Arkansas, where I live — openly object to vaccines being required. It is heart-breaking to know that people are becoming infected, sickened and risk dying because they refuse to be vaccinated, refuse to wear face masks and refuse to follow public health admonitions to practice social distancing.
The American Academy of Pediatricians has reported that after declining during the early part of the summer, child cases of COVID-19 “increased exponentially,” with more than 750,000 child cases of COVID added between Aug. 5 and Sept. 2. About 252,000 child cases were added the last week of August alone.
The surge of infections, hospitalizations and deaths surrounding COVID-19 shows that moral incompetence can be deadly. And it reminds me of a warning found in the first chapter of Proverbs about the dangers that befall people termed “simple,” “scoffers” and “fools.”
According to Proverbs, “simple” people suffer because they are gullible. They are easily misled because they do not recognize the difference between what is good and true and what is harmful and false. “Scoffers” scorn knowledge, truth, warnings and pleas that would prevent them from danger. In doing so, they expose themselves and those around them to unnecessary risk of harm. “Fools” are moral idiots who expose themselves and others to harm because they do not use good judgment.
“According to Proverbs, ‘simple’ people suffer because they are gullible.”
The message of Proverbs is that humans exist in a moral universe where the principle of cause and effect is as real as it is in the physical realm. People who are simple, scoffers and fools behave as if that is not true. Meanwhile, they do not want to be reminded of the consequences of living that way.
Most people dislike hearing the words, “I told you so.”
- We want the freedom to make mistakes but don’t want to be told when we have ignored counsel that could have avoided being mistaken.
- We want the freedom to take risks but don’t want to be reminded that we were warned that the conduct we intentionally took would be unsuccessful, or worse yet, harmful.
- We want to be recognized for making decisions that work out well but we don’t want people to tell us or others about the decisions we made that didn’t work after we were told they wouldn’t work, or that they would work in unpleasant ways.
We don’t like to be reminded when we have been wrong. Each of us is vulnerable to what behavioral scientists call the “self-serving bias,” the tendency to take credit for our successes but to deflect blame for our failures.
Yet, the ability to learn from our mistakes requires the humility to admit that we make mistakes. We goof. We ignore warnings. We blow it. Honest faith requires that we recognize that truth.
Honest faith requires us to recognize that the consequences associated with simple-mindedness, scornful disregard for truth and moral idiocy are painful, preventable and deserved. There is a moral order to life that applies to everyone. There is no exemption or exception to the principle of cause and effect — and no exemption or exception from the law of gravity — for people who are simple, scornful and fools.
“There is a moral order to life that applies to everyone.”
As Proverbs reminds us, the laws of morality are not mocked. People reap the effects of their conduct.
Planting peanuts does not produce a harvest of potatoes.
And Proverbs reminds us that at some point, people who are simple, scoffers and fools are stuck with the consequences of moral incompetence.
They are stuck with the results of ignoring or rejecting appeals to wake up, heed wise instructions and live differently. At that point, they must suffer the consequences of their simple-mindedness, scornfulness and foolishness.
We are witnessing the bitter fruit of moral incompetence surrounding COVID-19.
Some people have been infected, sickened, hospitalized and died who said they didn’t need to wear masks and be vaccinated because God would not let them be infected with Covid.
Children are being infected, sickened and are dying because adults refuse to wear masks and be vaccinated.
People ridiculed medical and public health leaders who pleaded that we wear masks, practice social distancing and be vaccinated. Unmasked people by the tens of thousands are flocking and breathing on each other for hours in football stadiums weeks after such gatherings were prohibited for the Olympics, in open defiance of pleas to wear masks, practice social distancing and be vaccinated.
People who know they are not livestock are deliberately purchasing and ingesting ivermectin — a drug prescribed to de-worm farm animals, but which has never been tested or approved to treat or prevent COVID-19 — rather than taking medically tested vaccines that are proved to be safe and effective.
The death toll from COVID-19 is surging. Children who cannot be vaccinated are being infected at an alarming rate. Hospitals are crowded. Health care workers are worn out. Funeral directors are overwhelmed.
These are some of the obvious consequences of the pervasive moral incompetence surrounding COVID-19.
Are religious leaders saying so? If so, are people listening? If not, are we being simple, scoffers and fools, or cowards?
Wendell Griffen is an Arkansas circuit judge and pastor of New Millennium Church in Little Rock, Ark.
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