Safety First?

Should we really be putting safety first? Sure, it’s important to us all, and we should try to be safe. But does it override all other conditions? There was a story a few years ago about police and fire responders who watched a man drown because they didn’t have the proper personal protective equipment. Is that proper? If not, why not? Anna Mussmann over at The Federalist thought about this the other day.

“Be safe,” we shout. It would be nice, of course, if everyone also made an attempt at kindness, wisdom, courage, and compassion; but safety is the one thing we demand.

Safety is a code of conduct that transcends class and creed. It is a duty all have been raised to acknowledge, and therefore it allows us to speak to others, to tell them what to do. We aren’t supposed to chastise other people’s children in matters of morals or manners, but no one blinks at, “Don’t do that, or else you’ll get hurt.” No one is shocked at rules developed “for your own safety.”

In a religion of safety, it is only natural that suffering is the ultimate sin. […]

And we are reminded that safety isn’t a virtue at all. Because when a shooter is active, real virtue doesn’t hog the safest spot. Virtue tells others, “Here, stand behind me.” When fires roar through neighborhoods, virtue runs toward the smoke and flames to evacuate hospital patients from buildings surrounded by scorching wind. Real virtue is dangerous. Real virtue actively chooses the path of pain and potential suffering.

The violence in Vegas and the destruction in California’s wine country are both terrible reminders of the brokenness of our world. Yet in the dark shadow of these events we see also the breathtaking beauty of love and self-sacrifice. We see that the cold faith of materialism—the brutal selfishness of a religion that puts our own physical wellbeing above all other things—is not enough.

Because, of course, self-sacrifice-as-virtue doesn’t make any sense unless reality is bigger than human life. People who give up their own lives in order to save others are either the ultimate criminals against truth, or else they are witnesses to the truth of an eternity that changes the meaning of what is good and what is evil.  And national tragedies force us to ask which of those statements is a lie.

She’s right, you know. We don’t honor Audie Murphy, or George Washington, let alone The Light Brigade because they put themselves first. They cared about themselves and did their best to protect themselves, but it wasn’t the most important thing, was it? That was the mission, whether it was taking the Russian guns, founding America, or protecting his comrades, something mattered more than their safety.

Granted we are well advised to attempt to be safe, we are not likely to accomplish much by throwing our lives away, but ‘Safety First’ is a false religion. Other things, other people are more important.

If one talks to almost any of the many military heroes of America, one finds that whatever they did to earn that bauble was done to save somebody else. That is our definition of a hero, a man or women who is prepared to sacrifice himself for another. Anna ends with this, and it summarizes quite well.

Our neighbors suffer because they are sinners. So are—and will—we all. The question is not how to escape the pain of being human. The question is: how ought humans to suffer? We have seen the first responders, the courageous bystanders, and the self-sacrificial victims who tried to shelter others. All are witnesses to the truth that humans are more than a body to be kept safe. Humans possess a soul. As the old revival meetings told us, souls can be saved; but Jesus also tells us “whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”

Our culture values safety above all things. In the end, this teaches us to value only ourselves. The real tragedy is that as we rush about protecting our bodies, we are losing our souls.

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