Is Christianity dangerous?
For a Christian facing public health issues, the vocabulary tends to be taken from 17th century translations of Bible stories. Contagions are ‘pestilence’. Evil spirits are probably at work. The end of the world, ‘apocalypse’, might be at hand. As David Jeremiah, the Trump advisor, suggests, this is “the most apocalyptic thing that has ever happened to us.”
This might be divine punishment. Mike Lindell of MyPillow got a second to speak to America. No words of comfort to the sick, etc. He used it to encourage religious revival. “A nation had turned its back on God. And I encourage you: Use this time at home to get home, to get back in the Word, read our Bibles, and spend time with our families.”
Let me try to unpack the concepts here. Reading the Bible, with Republican politics and nuclear families, creates safety, wealth and divine favor. During the Obama years, God was exiled, but the 2016 election was a special act of grace. Now we must prove worthy. If we don’t, we die.
Thanks Mike, but I’ll get my own face mask.
For Evangelicals, the Coronavirus is not a health crisis exactly, though sometimes given the terminology of a sick body. America has been on “spiritual life support,” says Ekemini Uwan, the Evangelical commentator.
It’s a spiritual crisis. A kind of ‘spiritual virus’ is hitting a body already weakened by immorality, is the idea. It’s not caused by Christians, of course, but by non-Christians.
The ‘sinners’ around them have done this. Their poor morality, their families, their patterns of touching and affection, have led to systemic breakdown and divine wrath. They are the ‘virus’.
One can stand apart from Evangelicals, listening to them talk, realizing one is being pathologized as a disease—that the Creator is ‘curing’.
In America, many churches initially and still are defying civic authorities and continuing to hold services, with the heavy suggestion they cannot be made ill, for they are ‘godly’. If they do become ill, the thought processes go, they have healing rituals for each other. The ‘laying on of hands’ procedure would only be done on fellow Christians, accepting God’s special miracle for them. It would not be done on anyone else.
It’s true that Christian organizations have offered medical assistance. Samaritan’s Purse, run by Evangelical cleric Franklin Graham, organizes medical aid for the sick and suffering. They also require stringent tests for the “morality” views of personnel. To refuse to sign onto their slate of sexual positions, as James Finn discovered, was to be rejected. Are gay patients being treated with optimal concern? We’d have to recall that a Christian signing onto the anti-gay agenda is reading gay and sexually different people as demonic agents, whose death has often been understood in Evangelical theology as required by God.
The mayor of New York is “assured” all patients will be treated fairly — though Samaritan’s Purse doesn’t itself issue a statement on the matter. A doctor who works in the hosting hospital, Mount Sinai, cautions:
“Anytime there’s a disaster, there’s going to be people taking advantage,” said the doctor, who asked for anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to speak on the record. “We should not be politicizing health care in times of need, which is what this organization is all about.”
That is not blessed assurance that Evangelicals are going to behave. Nor is it clear that Samaritan’s Purse doesn’t become involved with a religious motivation: to proselytize, to fundraise, and to help the Christians who have gotten caught up in the contagion which “immorality” produced.
If facts were being scrutinized, then religion has been a primary spreader of the Coronavirus around the world. As Gurwinder Bhogal writes:
Religious rituals are now known to have played a leading role in the spread of the coronavirus across the world. The Shincheonji Church of Jesus was responsible for the vast majority of cases in South Korea. Two of the biggest viral clusters in Singapore have been connected to churches. A synagogue in Westchester County has been central to New York State’s worst outbreak. Pilgrims returning from Iran’s holy city of Qom — one of the most contaminated regions in the world — have spread the virus throughout Central and South Asia. A gathering of 16,000 at a Malaysian mosque became the pandemic’s largest known vector in Southeast Asia, spreading the coronavirus to half a dozen countries.
To make things worse, religious rituals are typically regarded not as a cause of outbreaks, but as a cure, and therefore many have responded to the pandemic not by winding down their rituals but by stepping them up. In Israel, nearly a thousand people gathered at the Western wall to pray for coronavirus victims, while in Bangladesh tens of thousands amassed to pray for an end to the pandemic. In Iran, some Shia pilgrims tried to beat the virus by licking shrines.
This isn’t different from many scenes playing out in Evangelical America. Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia tried to re-open to students, until bowing to pressure to close. It helped that a Coronavirus infection by an off-campus student was noted.
The message was shocking: Even Christians could “get it.” In Evangelical theology, Christians are typically understood to be “protected” when viruses are (by some kind of unclear process) determined to be “evil” viruses.
But God loves you, if you are behaving well and approved by the clerics, and so there remains an insistent wish to believe you will not be able to “get it.” Beth Moore cautioned against this belief, which is deeply ingrained in the Evangelical mind.
We see it as well in the scriptural references being passed around by Evangelicals to understand their situation—like Deuteronomy 31:8.
Do not be afraid or discouraged, for the LORD will personally go ahead of you. He will be with you; he will neither fail you nor abandon you.
This is from a story about God leading Israelites through the desert, promising to help them fight off giants.
To find medical advice and life advice in this narration wouldn’t seem possible, and yet it is a commonplace to do so.
The official position of Evangelical clerics is that no one in particular is to blame, for all of planet earth is evil. Albert Mohler sorts through the scriptures involved. “I do look at the COVID-19, coronavirus as a form of evil. Natural evil, yes. Explicable only by the fall, yes. Due to human sin amongst our first parents, yes.”
The verse he’d like to focus on is Romans 8:19–23, which seems to look forward, in his view, to some kind of apocalypse. He does find in Leviticus 13–14 the justification for quarantine for leprosy. We’d remember that this passage doesn’t have any reference to viral problems. The skin of the sufferer typically turns “snow white” and one is examined by a priest. It’s a spiritual condition. The Old Testament “leprosy” problem is unrelated to Hansen’s Disease, though the two were later associated.
The Bible is not a guide to good health in any modern terms. It has no consciousness of viruses.
The Bible has, that is to say, nothing to do with what Evangelicals are out selling: a reality-averse system of “good” people, who are “moral” and have nuclear families and fine reading habits, being sadly jeopardized by “bad” people,” who are immoral, have bad families, and poor reading habits.
The “good” people see the “bad” people as sick because of how they have acted and thought. But God is healing the sick body with viruses. And the “good” people now just have to wait until all the “bad” people are gone.
These are dangerous thoughts to hold toward members of one’s community or nation—even on some low, unconscious or sentimental level.
If Evangelicals holding such views won’t adjust into reality, the “bad” people might have to realize a kooky theological system has been weaponized against them.