“I will not willingly die for the economy”

Mark Harris in his printmaking studio (May, 2019).

Mark Harris is an artist/priest I’ve known over 50 years. In our twenties, we did campus ministry and experimental worship together in Ann Arbor at a coffeehouse featuring concerts by Neil Young, Doc Watson, Ramblin’ Jack Elliott and David Ackles. In our thirties, we collaborated on an all-night Epiphany liturgy in a circus tent. Now entering his eighties, Mark takes issue, brilliantly, with the Republican suggestion that America sacrifice its elders on the altar of capitalism. As another elder, protest singer Faith Petric, once wrote in “Grandma’s Battle Cry”––”I’ll shield you with my brittle bones! I’ll nourish you with rage!” Mark originally published this “J’accuse” on his blog, Preludium, and he has kindly allowed me to share it here. As Mark makes clear, COVID-19 isn’t just about health and economics. It’s about values.


A little personal clarity. I’m 80 years old this year, provided I make it to May 21st.

1. If I am in hospital and the medical folk make a decision that others, younger than I, need to be treated first, or me not at all, I get it. Triage is a sometimes miserable ethical fact. Got it. Perhaps in some way my death could be a noble or valuable or even holy contribution to the life of the world.

2. If I am out there in the world (but of course social distancing) and the bumbling system of supply and manufacture of needed medical gear fail, and I end up in the hospital and am triaged out of care, I get it. But I won’t forget that the “greatest country in the world” screwed up. There is no reason for these shortages except poor planning and bad use of resources. I will die of systemic governmental and business failure. There it is. But it will not be noble, or valuable or holy that I died. It will be stupid.

3. If I am out there in the world and the President or the government, or whatever the powers that be, decide that social distancing and its value to the health and safety of the world is less important than the economic safety of corporations and business enterprises, I will die because someone decided that the triage decision is really about whether my life was worth attending to rather than the life of money-making entities. So when I get the virus, end up in hospital, find myself triaged there and die, I will die because Boeing and some damn cruise ship company would otherwise lose money, place, or even go under. Not because of too many people in hospital. Not because of lack of equipment. Because of the economy. I got it. I will die for the almighty dollar. They will say, no no, you will die because the wellbeing of so many relies on our keeping the economy going. You die so that others may live. But I know. I will have died for reasons of greed, not reasons of need. It will be evil.

If this third possibility takes place, I will hold those who made the decision to go for the economy and not for the health of the society accountable. If alive I will scream in your faces unmercifully. If dead, I will plea to return to haunt you, ruining your sleep, your digestion, and your health. I will be pissed beyond imagination.

Be warned. Old may be just a thing to you. Old is what I have. I use old creatively, and to mostly good ends. The years I have left promise to be some of my best, in terms of action for justice, truth and beauty. But if it ends for the “economic good” I say, screw it. I know about this reasoning. It is the reasoning that was used to weed out the gypsies, the Jews, the queer, the gay, and anyone else who stood in way of the State’s grasp for economic power.

I accuse: The proposition that death as necessary to the well being of the economy is a lie. More, it is evil.

Ask what I will give for the country, but don’t assume you can ask what I will give for the economy. That’s mine to give, not yours to take.

––– Mark Harris, who understands the difference between the cross and the dollar.


Related post: The Artist Formerly Known as Priest

15 thoughts on ““I will not willingly die for the economy”

  1. I, too, am 80, and have been since September. I was deeply moved by this article by Mark Harris. There is, indeed, a difference between the cross and the dollar. I have been appalled by the lack of concern and compassion, shown by our commander-in-chief and his minions, for the safety of the American people. His approach is businesses before human beings – in everything he does – and especially in this life-and-death situation.

  2. I am not a christian Elder Harris, but I am a humanist and I applaud your sentiment. Not only perfect in itself but wonderfully said. I hope I hear of your continued contributions to your community after this passes.

  3. Greed. Utter greed. Putting money ahead of people. My son, age 31, died July 2, because of greed. Big Pharma greed. Brendan, a self-employed carpenter, had asthma. He had (costly)health insurance that covered his meds. —including the long acting bronchodilator that worked for him for years. Until they changed the formulary . The new (still expensive) long acting bronchodilator did not work for him. Someone got a bonus for changing it. My son died. My son died for someone to get more money. Greed . No one cares. This is NOT the greatest country in the world. The people that run it care more about money than people.

  4. Right on!!!
    I am pissed-off, too!!!
    I refuse to be pissed-on.
    I will fight them forever.
    And they will hear my voice in November.

  5. Mark, thank you for a Post that is inspirational and provides cathartic relief. I currently do not recognize my country. However, I am fortunate for those in my country like you and others who fight for social justice!

  6. We come into this world in love, and in concert with the will of a generous and loving God. We leave the world for a number of reasons, reasons which often have nothing to do with any wrong turn we ourselves may have taken. But to place blame, as they say, is human. So when I take my leave, I will certainly in my last days, or minutes, pray for my family, my community and this world. Will I pay for America? I will pray for this world, that this world comes to a deeper understanding of Gods message, that of love, forgiveness, cooperation, and progress in those areas that serve the betterment of all. All, all Gods children.

  7. I truly love this. I don’t think anybody could have found better words. I am deeply inspired and I thank you. Sincerely, Nancy Mayer

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