About Faith, Fear and Toxic Positivity in the Midst of a Global Pandemic
Everything and everyone is getting on my last nerves right now. It’s Day whothehellknows anymore of being quarantined in the house, trying to avoid a microscopic savage in the form of a virus and I’m side-eying EVERYTHING. My attitude is such trash right now and my usually low levels of patience are nonexistent.
Why? Because people.
I’m annoyed by people because lawmakers have to create policy to get us to sit in the house as a collective since we cannot be trusted to self-govern for the greater good. There are more than a few people who are still seeing COVID-19 as some overhyped thing. Some of these people are using religion to justify their selfishness and delusions, which they consider to be strong faith in their invincibility. Which, to me, is a collective hustling backwards.
That is why I’m at the phase of the quarantine where all the people who go “WHY DO YOU WORRY WHEN YOU CAN HAVE FAITH?” are annoying the whole entire hell outta me. Toxic positivity is real and some people hide behind religion to escape real life and real circumstances. And it’s dangerous.
What’s toxic positivity? It is the idea that you should always have a positive response to every situation, no matter how severe the circumstance is.
I see it on these interwebs a lot. The intent behind it is admirable: that we should find the good in everything, in an attempt to keep our eyes on happy. But it is harmful.
Sure, constantly wallowing in negativity is not healthy. However, what makes this positivity toxic is that it invalidates feelings and makes people feel weak for not being able to plaster a smile on their faces at all times. It is a way to sidestep dealing properly with our lives. You know what toxic positivity often is? Denial. Avoidance. Evasion of reality.
Everything does not have an immediate upswing or feel good to it and that’s okay. Life can be a cruel summabitch sometimes and we can face shit that will knock the wind out of us. What we should do is feel our feelings, take the time and then move forward. What we do is pull our Jesus card and skip over the part where we actually deal with facts. We love a Christ crutch.
Christians are champs at toxic positivity. We excel at it because we have been taught that faith and fear cannot co-exist. We’ve been Instagram graphiced to pieces about how there is no way we can believe in God, yet still be anxious. It is an oversimplification of scripture and a flattening of what is normal human experience. Even people who aren’t religious or spiritual have received the message that to be courageous is to be fearless. So add that with the God guilt that we tie to fear, and we have the perfect storm of people made to feel inferior for daring to apprehensive. It’s an oppressive state of affairs and I’m judging us HARD.
People die and folks will retort with “well, at least they’re with God now.” Or “Everything happens for a reason. It’s part of the plan.” Which, okay cool. Glad we believe that. But when we invoke those words at a time when someone is feeling pain that is as physical as it is emotional, it says that whatever their feelings are should be soothed by the platitudes of looking at the upside. It isolates and others them in their pain.
That is what is happening with this COVID-19 pandemic. As news of this pandemic spread, and we started being told to social distance and then quarantine, I saw way too many people play their Christianity card like the Big Joker in a Spades game. When we were told to start avoiding going anywhere that wasn’t essential, we were still seeing people post videos and pictures of them in church, sitting side by side in pews with hundreds of other people. As if somehow the virus would stop at the behest of the usher, respecting the boundaries of the white gloves and the sanctuary. What’s even crazier is churches are full of elderly people who are especially vulnerable to COVID-19.
When challenged on it, the retort is often “My God is going to protect me from viruses.” As if Jesus is some type of armor against dust and grime. DID YOU JUST CALL CHRIST A LYSOL WIPE??! Who said the Blood of Jesus was bleach?
Anointing oil is not hand sanitizer. It’s as if God is somehow this holy magician who is supposed to come and clean up all of our messes that we make. Humans have free will and God is not our housekeeper. Being Christian is not a “Get Out of Pandemic” free card.
It’s wild to me. Folks acting like no Christian ever died young, and we only die from old age, after living long lives where nothing ever goes wrong. That is not how any of this works! God never promised us time. God never promised us good health. God never promised us protection from loss. So please make it make sense how you ain’t got no worries right now in the middle of a worldwide health emergency where 50 PRIESTS have died in Italy alone. What makes your holy ass exempt? I know we say favor ain’t fair but did you tithe extra or something? Is it because you think you’ve earned healthiness? Because what I’m seeing is an entitlement to GRACE, which is a gift.
We are weaponizing religion in the face of real things happening in the world and acting like we are here to defy all laws of science. Usually, we can say “go do you” but we can’t because every person who refuses to take this pandemic seriously put the rest of us in danger. Their recklessness and foolishness literally affects the rest of us. So now we gotta shout at them and tell them to livestream church.
If you have so much faith, shouldn’t you believe Jesus is everywhere, including in your living room where you can watch service in the peace and virus-freeness of your own home? The same faith you use to believe the sight unseen of an all-knowing being should be the same belief you use to believe in a destructive microscopic pathogen that is ravaging communities right now. “Faith without works is dead” and folks gotta do the work of washing their hands and staying home, unless the work that pays them needs them outside. DO THAT WORK, SAINTS AND AINTS.
Even some of the folks sitting at home are acting like people who believe in God shouldn’t worry right now. Well, I’m here to tell you that you can be a christian or spiritual or a monk and still worry. You can be connected to a higher power and still be anxious. It’s as if you are somehow doing spirituality wrong by still having the nerve to be worried. Worry is a part of life. It is especially valid as over 500,000 people in the world have contracted an illness and 23,000 have died. IN TWO MONTHS. If now ain’t the time to worry, when is?
Congrats to those of you who are not worried. I’m clapping for you, and what might be your trauma response. But some of us are legit scared, even if not for ourselves but for the people we love, and for society at large. And for what feels like world-shifting crisis. I wish I could tap into the Well of Unbothered here but alas. It is dry.Yes, I’ve tapped into The Word to maintain the last ounce of peace I’m holding on to. But, there are times that we will be anxious because we have a real reason to be. Toxic positivity with that underlayer of religion almost shames you for it.
Everyone has their different coping mechanisms, but I hope we are coping in realness, not surface happiness to avoid what is actually happening. It’s cool to be chipper and shit, but I currently don’t have time for the “Oh, it’s fine. Your legs just got cut off, but at least you still have your arms!” folks. NAWL! How about you recognize I’m in pain instead of rushing past it?
We can be worried and we can have fear. When I give talks, I always let people know: listen, I’m afraid half the time. Fear is here. It is present. But my goal is to do whatever it is that I want to do, that I am compelled to do, anyway. I acknowledging that I feel this thing and that it feels scary and uncomfortable, but I go forward anyway. Don’t let folks and their Bible thumping tell you not to be scared right now. No, be scared, but move forward and live. That’s what matters. This is also why my second book is The Fear-Fighter Manual. We gotta tackle this issue.
I’m not saying we have to run around panicking either. The goal isn’t that we won’t feel negative emotions; it is that we don’t let them consume us. Whether you’re a Deacon or a Heathen, do not feel like you are failing at life because you are not always on Hashtag Gratitude mode. Worrying doesn’t mean you don’t trust God. It doesn’t mean you’re weak. It means you’re human.
God is in control but our actions matter too. We can pray for mercy and hope for grace, because we’re down here acting a fool in Christ’s name.
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