Is Ebola Creating a Nation of Cowards?

When something new ignites our fear, we can lose our spiritual bearings.

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Posted in , Oct 28, 2014

Is Ebola creating a nation of cowards? Photo by Stocky Images, Thinkstock

Are we becoming a nation of cowards? I ask because of the controversy raging over the quarantining of health workers returning from the Ebola-ravaged nations of West Africa.

The debate came to a head with Dr. Craig Spencer here in New York, who came down with the disease following his return from a volunteer stint with Doctors Without Borders treating the Ebola outbreak in Guinea…but not before he traveled around the city using public transportation and went bowling in Brooklyn.

Are healthcare workers battling Ebola creating fear among the rest of us? Stocky Images.At the time he was monitoring his temperature, the first telltale sign of an immune response to the virus, and following CDC and Doctors Without Borders protocol, the latter being the organization with the most experience dealing with Ebola outbreaks.  

At the first slight sign of fever Dr. Spencer reported himself to public health officials and immediately went into an isolation ward at Bellevue Hospital to be treated. There is no factual basis for believing he was contagious before then.

Now restrictions have been put into place in several states mandating a forced 21-day quarantine for any returning Ebola health workers regardless if they are symptomatic.  

A returning nurse, Kaci Hickox, was held for several days in an isolation tent in New Jersey even though she tested negative for the virus and exhibited no symptoms. And there is public outcry for even more draconian procedures, procedures that are based in fear rather than fact.   

Let me ask another question. How many of you have gotten your flu shots? Even if you are sensible and got your annual immunization you still have a vastly greater chance of dying of influenza this year than of Ebola, assuming you don’t plan on traveling to West Africa.

What about the food you eat? More people die annually of food-borne illnesses than died in the September 11 terrorist attacks. We could reduce that number significantly by investing more money protecting our food supply (and considerably less than we invest in anti-terrorism). But we don’t.  

Many states have raised the federally recommended 55-mile-an-hour speed limit on highways, and a couple of states have abolished some speed limits altogether. It is an incontrovertible fact that lower speed limits save lives. But many Americans like to drive faster than 55 mph, including me.  

Then there are the parents who refuse to vaccinate their children against deadly childhood diseases, a step backwards in terms of public health, on the baseless grounds that the vaccines themselves present a greater risk.

The point is, we live with a certain amount of risk that we deem tolerable, whether we spend much time worrying about it or not. It’s only when something ignites our fear, something new or something we don’t understand, that we lose our bearings, especially spiritually.

Aren’t we taught that fear is the opposite, even the enemy of faith? Wasn’t a defining characteristic of Christ’s ministry on earth his compassion for the sick? He and the Disciples moved among the lepers and the other afflicted at a time when almost any illness could turn deadly. Yet they ministered to everyone without fear.

Would Jesus be thrown into a quarantine tent in Newark like that poor brave nurse? Okay, a silly question maybe. But many of the doctors and nurses traveling to West Africa are affiliated with Christian ministries like SIM, the organization Dr. Kent Brantly, who survived Ebola, worked with.

Shouldn’t all these incredibly courageous healthcare professionals be welcomed back with respect and gratitude, like soldiers from the front lines? Or at least be given the benefit of the doubt instead of castigated like Dr. Spencer?

Fear has always been our greatest enemy. Our fear of ISIS is not too much of a digression from Ebola. ISIS is a vicious terrorist group. But you are thousands of times more likely to be killed by one of your own family members than by a terrorist.

Both ISIS and Ebola must be eradicated at their root source. Neither can be allowed to infect our national spirit of inclusion and compassion.

Obviously sensible precautions are in order. Yet we can be careful and compassionate at the same time. We can be vigilant without being vigilantes. It is the way of faith not fear.

Now excuse me while I go bowling.     

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