What kind of mask?

GERALD COWAN’S PESONAL PERIODICALS • Number 557 • August 26, 2020


“Who was that masked man? …. people asked as the Lone Ranger shouted, “Hi-yo Silver, awa-a-a-a-a-ay,” and rode away from the scene of his latest act of heroism. A simple black mask kept his identity secret. Is that the purpose of wearing a mask today, to keep others from knowing who you really are?

Because of the current health threat the prescribed and often required mask is not to hide your identity – people recognize each other even with those masks in place – but to protect you from persons who are infected with or may be asymptomatic carriers of something you do not want to share, but also to protect other persons from you, in case you are infected or carrying something others do not want to share. But these Covid-19 masks do not hide the eyes or other identifying features of the face. They may be compliance masks, or awareness masks, but they do not reveal more about us than that.

In ancient times, the Greeks who were famous for the development, if not the invention, of the theater even coined a special word for the actors in theatrical presentations. The word they used was HUPOCRITOS, anglicized to hypocrite. Now the word has generally negative connotations – pretender or liar – but originally it just meant actor, not a performer such as an instrumentalist, singer, speaker, dancer, or instrumentalist but rather someone playing the part of another. Masks were worn in theatrical productions, sometimes to identify specific characters and sometimes to indicate the genre of the participant – who has not seen and cannot recognize those two symbolic masks of ‘comedy’ and ‘tragedy?’ Many decades ago, while a student at Freed-Hardeman College, to make a point in a chapel speech, I referred to the highly-regarded student theater group as ‘the Freed-Hardeman Hypocrites.’ Although it elicited some smiles and giggles the remark was not much appreciated, but it was true to the original meaning of the word. Hypocrite still means someone playing the part of another, pretending to be someone he or she is not. I do not know anybody who enjoys being called a hypocrite or being exposed as hypocritical.


Of course masks may be effective for hiding one’s identity. Full face masks and costumes or character dress-ups are used effectively at masquerade parties and certain festivals as well as theatrical performances. I’ve had kings and queens, princes and princesses, pirates, politicians, performers, and public figures show up at my door expecting candy or other treats – and I can usually pass it off as “fun.” But I’ve also had imposters and impersonators seeking improprieties try to make contact. I can usually disengage from them without calling them hypocrites, though I admit there are times when I want use that word to address them, since they are assuredly pretending to be someone or something they are not.

A mask does not have to be a facial covering. A badge, false photo identity card such as a driving license or passport, a counterfeit birth certificate, or even a hand-signed written letter or note of introduction (as from a bank, business, or government office) – all easily counterfeited, may be used as proof of identity while being patently false. Current technology such as an eye scan of retina is precise and certain. More particularly, extractable DNA from any surviving cells of a body, even a long deceased body, is currently safe from counterfeiting and can provide precise and reliable identification, even of long-dead persons.

A common effective mask is pretending to believe something one does not really believe or pretending to be something one is not, and knows he is not. Combined with that is another very effective form of masking: “Just take my word for it.” If a well known or generally respected person – such as a former president, local public official, news-broadcaster or journalist, preacher, parent, or other authority figure – says it, it is likely taken at face value by those who hear it. Do not be naive. Do not think a person you love and respect has not lied or will not lie to you. It may not be a deliberate lie – one who loves you and seeks what is good for you may simply be ignorant, may believe what he is saying, but be wrong. But it may also be a deliberate attempt to deceive and manipulate you to get something the person you love and trust wants from you.

Test every person who tells you anything and asks you to trust him. Test everything that is said, to be sure it is the truth (1 John 4:1-4, 1 Tim. 6:20). Unscrupulous deceivers and ignorant manipulators are everywhere. Protect yourself and others from them. What you see or think you are seeing is not always what you get. The cover may not tell what is in the book. The figure may be “photoshopped,” which is another way of masking the truth. We are often disappointed victims of false advertising – the product doesn’t look like the picture or packaging.


All masked persons can be unmasked. Hypocrisy and pretense are sins. The sinner may not know when and how it will happen but is always aware and fearful that he and his sin will be exposed, become known to others from whom it was supposedly hidden. “You can be sure, your sin will find you out” (Numbers 32:23). Politicians, policy-makers, professors, preachers and pew-persons, parents — any and all pretenders are vulnerable: an unguarded word or action may dispel the most assiduously maintained and projected pretense and illusion. Character, reputation and position built upon masks may all be damaged and/or irretrievably lost in one moment of unmasking.

Another danger of wearing a mask is that one’s face and figure may conform to the mask and he may not be able to go back to what he was before putting on the mask. One may become the person he is portraying with the mask – people become so accustomed to the person with the mask that they do not recognize him without the mask.

In a certain Puccini opera one of the characters is named Butterfly, a geisha girl/woman typically made up and dressed to attract men into a certain relationship as sponsor, commercial escort, or marriage. This Butterfly had married a man who abandoned her and was separated from her for a few years. But he returned and wanted to see her. She hoped to be reconciled and restored to him. She asked a servant for help. “Bring me my face,” she said, indicating the make-up, mask, and costume that he was accustomed to seeing, so he would see her as the once-desired and valued person he had abandoned. But he only wanted the son she had borne him, he did not want her. Feeling betrayed and disgraced she gave him the child but committed a bloody suicide as a memorial punishment for him. It’s a sad story that presents both characters in a bad light – I only relate it here to make a point: what you see is not always what you get, and when you see what you’ve got you may not want to keep it. This is especially true of persons who turn out to be disappointing or disreputable.

A mask does not always hide true identity. I heard a masked person say to another masked person: “You’re not fooling me. I know who you are. I’ve seen you many times without a mask.” “Yes,” the other one said. “Same goes for me. I know you too.”


He does depend upon a stated description or even compare you to a prior photograph to identify you. Eye-scan and DNA are not needed by Him. He who gave you your soul and spirit at conception and watched it develop until birth and all time after birth (Psalm 139:13-16, Zech. 12:1). He who reads the heart and mind and spirit knows every person, knows what is in every person. Nobody and nothing is hidden from Him (Psalm 44:20-21, Heb. 4:12-3). Someday, in the great unmasking at the judgment, He will reveal the true identity of all and bring to light even the carefully hidden and secret things of each person (Rom. 2:16, 1 Cor. 14:25).

#geraldcowan #masks #hypocrisy