Many of us have heard of the theory of Pavlov’s Dogs, which teaches us the theory of Pavlovian Conditioning. In the 1890s, Russian psychologist, Ivan Pavlov, was researching salivation patterns in dogs in response to food. Pavlov predicted and was correct in the theory that a dog’s salivation increases as a response to food being placed in front of them. He later noticed that the dog’s salivation also increased as a result of hearing the footsteps of the person who was bringing the food to them.
This lead Pavol to a number of experiments that later proved that with a repeated conditioned stimulus, he could produce the same increase salivation in the dog. For example, when he produced the sound of a ringing bell to the dog, salivation would remain neutral, or stay the same. But after continuously ringing the bell right before bringing the food out, the dog’s salivation would increase at the mere sound of the bell ringing, even with the elimination of the food.
For a dog, food is an unconditioned stimulus, and salivation is an unconditioned response.
It happens naturally. So when you place a neutral stimulus in front of the dog (the bell), you get an unconditioned response (no salivation). But after repeated practices of the conditioning process (ringing the bell right before delivery of the food) you receive a conditioned response, (salvation from the bell, not the food.)
Let’s compare this theory of Pavlovian Conditioning to us, as human beings. For example, our need to protect ourselves from potential threats and dangers is an unconditioned response. It happens naturally. It’s hardwired in our brains and our muscles to be and feel safe. And if we find ourselves in a situation or circumstance where we feel unsafe it is an unconditioned response to remove ourselves from the situation or to apply the proper safety gear. This is why we teach our children to wear helmets when riding a bike or to look both ways before crossing the street. Because that is naturally the safe thing to do.
Staying safe is the right and proper thing to do in any dangerous circumstance, but that does not mean that we are free from Pavlovian Conditioning at times. So when something like the media or any leadership or authority comes out and tells us to “wear a mask” to protect yourself, naturally there are many who wouldn’t respond to that as a measure of safety at first, (because it’s a neutral stimulus). But after continuously producing information on mask-wearing as a form of “safety” we are naturally conditioned to comply, even if the information being produced is less than true. The mask then becomes a conditioned stimulus. Even if there isn’t a relation to safety from viruses by mask-wearing, we wear the mask and feel safe.
In the past three months, the world has been buzzing with information about COVID19. As a result, the whole world seems to be in commotion. Businesses are shutting down. People are now distancing themselves from their friends and neighbors. Our elderly loved ones are now dying alone, and those who are suffering from anything besides COVID19 are left to suffer by themselves. These are just the outward results of social distancing and the shutting down of America.
What we’re not seeing since this global shut-down is the increased use of pornography that destroys marriages and families, the increase of domestic abuse, and the increase of suicide rates because people were not built to live in eerie, lonely silence.
I understand the concept: we want to STAY SAFE. We have one global purpose under all of this bizarre behavior, and that purpose is SAFETY from COVID19.
So is what we’re doing really keeping us safe? Or are we simply conditioned to believe that all these rules and regulations are keeping us safe when in actuality, the government and the media have other intentions?
The intentions of the media and government are for you to study and come to a knowledge of the truth for yourself, but my purpose for this article today is to address and question the seemingly moral obligations we have to now wear a mask.
I am a devoted member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. I believe in a living God and Savior who suffered and died to save us all. I believe we have a living prophet on this earth today. And I believe that the secret to a happy and joyful life is by having a personal relationship with our Savior Jesus Christ. And how do we do that? By learning all we can of His being and characteristics, hearing His words and counsel to us, and doing all we can to emulate Him in our day to day lives.
This past week, the Utah Area Authorities of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints sent us all an email stating that they are now asking us all to “wear face coverings when in public,” and this short statement has left Utahns and other members of our church in an uproar.
Members who don’t want to wear masks are being ridiculed and blamed for further spread of COVID19, and members who are devoted mask-wearers are now pointing fingers and accusing non-mask wearers of the choice to not wear a mask as being immoral, or breaking covenants because we’re not being obedient to this new invitation for all to wear a mask. The overall feel of social media is now angry and accusatory because supposedly, our safety is being threatened if we don’t all comply with wearing a mask.
This article is not to generate more hate or anger amid the members of the church or to openly refuse any invitation that the general authorities of the church may offer us. This article is to point us in the direction that seems nobody has mentioned yet: and that is to our Savior, Jesus Christ; who is our perfect example for all life situations, traumas, or hardships.
As a devoted Christian, I know that Christ was never depicted in the Bible as one who would comply with social distancing or mask-wearing. Christ was depicted as a healer of hearts, wounds, illnesses, sins, and turmoil. Christ never avoided those who were sick or contagious, and He is often depicted in church videos embracing those who were burdened, touching the faces of those He was about to heal, laying hands on those who were suffering, and washing the feet of those who wondered if it was them who should be washing His feet. Christ went among those that society saw as “sick” or unfit to be among other people, and he dwelled with them and healed them.
Leprosy was considered highly contagious during biblical times. In fact, it was considered to be so contagious that those who suffered from it were often put in leper colonies where only leprous people could dwell so as not to spread the disease to other people. Does this not sound a lot like “social distancing?” And yet, Jesus never feared a single leper but instead touched them to heal them.
“And, behold, there came a leper and worshipped him, saying, Lord, if thou wilt, thou canst make me clean. And Jesus put forth his hand and touched him, saying, I will; be thou clean. And immediately His leprosy was cleansed.”
As Christians, are we not counseled in the scriptures to be like Christ and emulate what He did for others?
As someone who has suffered from a debilitating chronic illness for years and has spent those years interacting with others who suffer debilitating pain that is often ignored or downplayed by other people, I know firsthand the detriment of being left to suffer from illness alone. I know firsthand that loneliness will kill a person far faster than the illness itself.
I also know that the loss of HOPE greatly decreases one’s chances of beating any sort of chronic or terminal illness. I also have come to find that a single person that offers Christ-like love to someone who is suffering can produce healing effects as powerful as our Savior had and still has on his brothers and sisters.
But our government and the media don’t believe in “one nation under God.” They simply believe in one nation. And unfortunately, we live in a time where many of our religious leaders have forgotten where our power comes from and that as we live worthy to receive and practice priesthood power, we can use it to heal and serve those around us.
Jesus went against the grain. He healed others because they BELIEVED and had FAITH that He could, and similarly we can heal others as we believe, and obtain faith.
“And a certain woman, which had an issue of blood twelve years, and had suffered many things of many physicians, and had spent all that she had, and was nothing bettered, but rather grew worse, when she had heard of Jesus, came in the press behind, and touched his garment.
And he said unto her, Daughter, thy faith hath made thee whole; go in peace, and be whole of thy plague.” -Mark 5:25-27 & 34
Which part of those verses condemned her for touching his garment in hopes that she would be healed? Christ never condemned her. In fact, she was healed because of her great faith in Him. Similarly, Christ will heal us and help us to heal others as we lead with FAITH and leave no room for fear.
As someone who loves and sustains our prophets, I now feel deeply pressed to address the issue that one who chooses not to wear a mask is disobeying the prophet and church authority, and therefore breaking his or her covenants.
If there is any scripture outlining the covenants we make with God at baptism or in the temple that state that we are to obey every word the prophet states, then please correct me of my error. But I believe that our covenants state that we are to be obedient to our all-knowing, all-powerful, all-loving Heavenly Father.
Wearing a mask is a personal choice. It is not immoral to not wear one. It isn’t selfish to not wear one. And it isn’t an act of charity to sacrifice your health and well-being because people in authority have conditioned us to believe that we’re protecting others if we comply and keep our mouths shut. Our founding fathers would not suffer silence to be tolerated in a country that was built on freedom, one of our freedoms being freedom of speech. The scriptures never use the phrase "follow the prophet." We are instructed in the scriptures to follow Christ. Christ stated:
“Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” -Matthew 4:19
President Russell M. Nelson stated four years ago,
"In the coming day, only those men who have taken their priesthood seriously, by diligently seeking to be taught by the Lord Himself, will be able to bless, guide, protect, strengthen, and heal others." (April 2016 General Conference, The Price of Priesthood Power)
We are counseled to listen and take into serious account the things that leaders instruct us to do, but even Brigham Young once stated:
“I am more afraid that this people have so much confidence in their leaders that they will not inquire for themselves of God whether they are led by Him… Let every man and woman know, by the whisperings of the Spirit of God to themselves, whether their leaders are walking in the path the Lord dictates or not.” – JD, vol 9, p. 150
Later Ezra Taft Benson quoted J. Reuben Clark Jr. when he said:
“We need the constant guidance of that Spirit. We live in an age of deceit. “O my people,” said Isaiah in the Book of Mormon, “they who lead thee cause thee to err and destroy the way of thy paths.” (2 Ne. 13:12.) Even within the Church, we have been warned that “the ravening wolves are amongst us, from our own membership, and they, more than any others, are clothed in sheep’s clothing because they wear the habiliments of the priesthood.” (J. Reuben Clark, Jr., CR, April 1949, p. 163.)
Our prophet is a man to be respected as a prophet of God and I fully love and sustain him. With that said, our apostles and prophets have counseled us many times to seek personal revelation. To wear a mask or not is not putting my personal morality on trial. If the prophets or apostles advise us to do anything that is not backed up with scripture, it would do us well to fast, pray, and receive guidance from God himself via the Holy Ghost.
Even our beloved prophet Nephi, in the Book of Mormon, taught us the importance of trusting in God instead of trusting in the arm of flesh:
“O Lord, I have trusted in thee, and I will trust in thee forever. I will not put my trust in the arm of flesh; for I know that cursed is he that putteth his trust in the arm of flesh. Yea, cursed is he that putteth his trust in man or maketh flesh his arm.” (2 Ne. 4:34.)
The arm of flesh in our time includes government authority, media, medical professionals, sometimes church authorities, and ANYONE who isn’t promoting personal righteousness and following God before anyone else.
We now live in a time that teaches the exact opposite of what our Savior teaches us in the Bible and the Book of Mormon, and if you’re truly going to argue about “obedience to the prophets,” shouldn’t that mean all prophets that have ever lived; including those devoted and valiant men we read of every time we open God’s word?
I plead with you my beloved brothers and sisters in Christ: now is the time more than ever to seek for personal revelation. The more we talk to God, the more He’ll talk to us, and we’ll know without a doubt in our minds that it is Him who is speaking and not the thousands of other voices who are so much louder in our day.
Might I suggest that the solution to COVID19 is not mask-wearing and social distancing, but personal righteousness and repentance? This does not mean that if you practice repentance and personal righteousness that you are guaranteed freedom form Coronavirus or any other hardship. But it does mean that all sufferings that you are given at this time will be for your benefit, (D&C 122:7) and that God will not suffer your life to end before it’s time until you have finished your personal work here on the earth.
Repentance and personal righteousness are the balm this society so desperately needs. For when we repent of practicing the harmful traditions of men and instead practice those attributes of our Savior Jesus Christ, we are more inclined to serve, love, and live as He did.
Instead of letting society condition you to believe every rule and regulation that is robbing us of our freedoms, may we let God sculpt and shape us into the people that we must be in order to be protected and empowered during these calamitous times.
I may not be a mask wearer… but I am someone who loves God with all my heart. And I know that with choosing the path of God sometimes comes persecution and suffering for His sake. I’m not promoting wearing a mask, or not wearing a mask. I’m promoting personal righteousness, repentance, and personal revelation. If you wear a mask, then that's your choice and I will not ridicule you for doing so. But if someone chooses not to wear a mask, they should not be automatically shunned and mistreated because of it. I don’t believe that Christ would ever do that. Because I know my Savior, and His love for us and faith in His Father extends much further than that.