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Is Anything More Important Than Living?

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man getting haircut at barber shop

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Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick doth proclaim: “There are more important things than living.” Are there?

Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick has me thinking. Speaking on easing restrictions on social distancing, Patrick said, “There are more important things than living.” While many of my friends—all of us self-proclaimed liberals—were outraged by this notion, I decided to take it more seriously.

There are more important things than living. My aunt died of COVID-19 today. When she was raced to the hospital several days ago, she was adamant that the medical staff was aware she had a DNR. Per her “do not resuscitate” order, if she were to die, no attempt should be made to bring her back to life. Why? Because she valued death over a technology-sustained life that would have kept her “alive,” while at the same time, make real living impossible.

As a Jew, I was taught there are things more important than living—the notion of Yehareg ve’al ya’avor: “Let oneself be killed rather than transgress.” Imagining Jews being forced to engage in actions by their oppressors, the ancient rabbis listed three categories of actions in which one should refuse to engage, even if the alternative were death: idolatry, sexual immorality, and murder. Whatever your thoughts on these three actions, it’s clear that “there are more important things than living.”

A pastor friend of mine told me that Jesus’ willingness to die on the cross to save those who believe in him from eternal damnation was another affirmation that life is not the most important thing. While his resurrection three days after his crucifixion might make his willingness to die somewhat moot, I can honestly say there are people for whom I would be willing to die: my 4-year-old grandson, for example. Of course, I have the advantage of not believing in a God (Jewish or Christian) for whom forgiveness, atonement, and salvation depends on the shedding of blood (Leviticus 17:11; Hebrews 9:22).

One of my few MAGA friends said that American soldiers give their lives for the sake of democracy and capitalism. If this were really true and people were driven by love of country, we wouldn’t have needed a draft in WWII, Korea, or Vietnam, and we would have as many wealthy soldiers and poor ones. While my experience in the military is limited (three years as an Air Force chaplain), my sense is that people are willing to die for their fellow warriors and not something abstract like capitalism.

Putting all that aside, however, I’m trying to make a list of what is more important to me than living? Bowling, tattooing, and getting a haircut? No, they don’t seem, to me, worth dying for—though that may be because my bowling scores are embarrassingly low; the thought of a tattoo needle piercing my skin terrifies me; and I cut my own hair—but even so, who wants to die for a 4-7-10 split?

While I appreciate the need of shop owners and their employees to make a living—certainly I know I do—if they are counting on me to risk my life for a gluten-free pizza, a salad, a plate of grilled salmon and broccoli, or an hour on a treadmill, they will be very disappointed. I mean it is one thing for them to risk their lives opening up; it is another thing altogether for me to risk my life walking in.

Nevertheless, we will be going “back to normal” sooner rather than later. And the fact that “back to normal” means once again choking on polluted air; poisoning our waterways; encroaching evermore deeply into animal habitats; and pretending that hedge fund managers are the real essential workers so we can go back to exploiting nurses, cashiers, delivery folks, and first responders, will only make the insanity of “normal” all the more insane.

While there may be few “things more important than living,” there are multitudes of things more important than living the greedy, violent, exploitative, poisonous, pretentious, and arrogant lives we call normal.

Want more? Read Rabbi Rami Shapiro’s take on our need for fearless love as a pandemic response.


Rabbi Rami Shipiro

Rabbi Rami Shapiro is an award-winning author, essayist, poet, and teacher. In the print version of our magazine, he has an advice column, “Roadside Assistance for the Spiritual Traveler,” addressing reader questions pertaining to religion, spirituality, faith, family, God, social issues, and more. His latest book is Surrendered—The Sacred Art. Rabbi Rami hosts our podcast, “Essential Conversations.”


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