Professors Reflect on COVID-19: Dr. Christine Jeske, Anthropology

Christine Jeske on June 17, 2020

COVID-19 exposes lies that Americans have built their national identity upon. To start with, there’s the lie of perpetual prosperity. In a recent episode of Planet Money, a woman unemployed because of the pandemic said with a doubtful laugh, “There's got to be a happy ending. It's America.”

The truth is, for millions of Americans that happy ending has never come. Worries about running out of paper products, paying the rent, or securing life-saving health care, while multiplying in this crisis, are life as usual for many. For the prosperous, this virus opens cracks to see that prosperity is not simply earned or deserved, it is also hoarded, stolen, taken for granted, and used to build walls to block the stories of those with less.

In the Bible during times of crises, prophets consistently called people to come to God not just as individuals, but as societies, willing to renounce lies and change the systems that dishonor God. We trusted in the lie of capitalism that money can make our lives meaningful. We trusted in the lie of the Enlightenment that science can save our bodies. We trusted the lie of manifest destiny that citizenship can make us great, and the lie of whiteness that brown bodies deserve their suffering. We trusted the lies of marketing that pharmaceuticals and cosmetics can make us immortal, and the lies of social media that clicks can make us loved. In this generation, we may conquer a virus, but will we conquer the lies that sicken our society and our souls?