Reflections on Christianity and COVID-19

A Long Foreword to this Blog Entry: This blog entry is different from what I usually write. I have engaged in some soul searching, doing some reading when I consider what's been happening as a result of COVID-19. I've had to examine my own beliefs in the face of COVID-19, an virus that has killed so many. But what causes my examination isn't the illness itself. After all, plagues are not unknown to human beings. We are subject to the laws of nature
No, what causes the concern and examination of the soul is how believers have responded. If you are offended, then reassure yourself that I am a sinner, ignorant, needful of correction.

Michael the Archangel. Image Source: https://www.pxfuel.com/en/free-photo-xzmcd

Wrestling with Old Questions

Over the last year, I've been pondering some of the challenges with being a member of a religion. Raised as a believer, I have found myself...disappointed, perplexed at the antics of other believers:
The state [Mississippi] has now recorded 8,279 fatalities. But Gov. Reeves does not seem that worried.

"I'm often asked by some of my friends on the other side of the aisle about COVID … and why does it seem like folks in Mississippi and maybe in the Mid-South are a little less scared, shall we say," Reeves said at a fundraiser, the Daily Memphian reported.

"When you believe in eternal life — when you believe that living on this earth is but a blip on the screen, then you don't have to be so scared of things," he said, adding: "Now, God also tells us to take necessary precautions."

Reeves has refused calls for a statewide mask made in public schools.... (source)
A few questions have popped up in my head. The questions popped up when I saw fellow believers on the television...Are those believers on the path, and perhaps, I am not? Or, have they strayed from the path? The answer may not be so black-n-white.

A few other questions come to mind:
  • What would Jesus do? Would he get a vaccine and mask up? 
  • Would Jesus grab a gun, a holy text, and threaten and yell at people?
  • Would Jesus stand guard at his front door armed with a weapon and fear?
  • Would Jesus say, "COVID-19 is a precursor of my Second Coming? Prepare ye sinners!"
Oh, wait. A quick clarification. I do not see God as a vengeful, son of a gun who's going to destroy people because they put a mask on, and try to save the lives of other people, believers or not. In fact, this reminds me of what theologian Dick Westley calls "religion vs faith" conversation. 

Here's an excerpt from his book, Redemptive Intimacy:


In other words, Christianity is devolving into religion, where people are told what to do by an angry God from a holy text that can't be changed, even though it is a reflection of flawed understanding of our relationship with God. And in that flawed understanding, all sorts of bad things are possible yet blessed by God because that "god" is our made-up version of Him. Whew. In other words, if you act in the ways listed above, blaming it on god, that is a god of your own making.

Why?

To answer the Why? question, I've read a few articles, done some reflection, and listed some of my notes here. It's always been sort of obvious why some would want people to believe in an angry God. The big, bad god is going to smite you if you don't adhere to what he says you must do, and, of course, I have a keen insight into what that is. 

This is a way of controlling others, instead of assisting people figure out what God wants in their lives.  

As I reflect on the COVID-19 response from Christians, I am continually surprised by their take on President Trump, COVID-19 masks and vaccinations, and many more subjects.

To that end, I found these points cited in this article relevant. Let's take a quick look at those points, Why Some White Evangelical Republicans are So Opposed to the COVID-19 Vaccine:
  • 84 percent of white evangelicals agreed with this statement, "God controls everything that happens in the world is a core tenet of evangelicalism"
  • White evangelicals were more likely than any other Christian group to believe that God would punish nations for the sins of some of its citizens and that natural disasters were a sign from God. 
  • Evangelical Christians rationalize illnesses like cancer as God’s will. 
  • 28 percent of white evangelical Republicans agreed that “God always rewards those who have faith with good health and will protect them from being infected with COVID-19"
  • the pandemic also fits neatly into “end times” thinking — the belief that the end of the world and God’s ultimate judgment is coming soon. 
  • 64 percent agree that the chaos in the country today meant the “end times” were near. 
  • 69 percent of white evangelical Republicans who said they refused to get vaccinated agreed that the end times were near.
Now as I read that, I see that there does seem to be a bias against "white" evangelicals. That's who is identified in the survey results. I have no doubt that there are many others who fall into this as well, not all of them a particular color or ethnicity. Hey, I'm a white Latinx. I am sure there is a survey somewhere that labels me in less than delightful terms.

The Divine Punisher

You can see some of how the idea idea of punishing God who inflicts plagues and disasters on bad people is scary, right? But I see us as needing to push back on this idea of the angry Divine Punisher who is wiping us out. That's a really old-fashioned idea from when we didn't have better ways to explain why and how illnesses, diseases, and disasters come from. 

Christianity is much more than just an explanation for bad things happening to people. God, loving and forgiving and with us, is more than just a caricature of our basest beliefs. If you were to take people's concept of "god" out of the equation of COVID-19, what would make the most sense to do?

It would be to do whatever stops the dying happening as a result of COVID-19. That includes masking up and vaccines. But that's not happening...you may have noticed a lot of folks believe it's their right to ignore scientific fact, and justify it with their religious beliefs, their conception of a god who can keep them safe, who brings order to the world.

Rejecting Ideas

As you might guess, I found these percentages of concern. I reject the following points:
  • God does not control everything in the world. The god involved here is our conception of whatever we believe. I don't think that my God is wrathful as described in the Old Testament, and that plague/disasters are his way of sending a message. Rather, there are other processes at play that we simply don't understand.  We DO KNOW, from experience, that Bad things are going to happen, and we must do our best to mitigate the effects. I love the story of The Drowning Man (more on that in a moment). In the final analysis, however, those bad things won't matter if we cling to faith and accept that faith as a gift of God. Theologian Dick Westley put it this way in his book, Redemptive Intimacy, and I have not found a more clear rendition anywhere else: 
    • Religious view: "Fear not, trust in God and he will see to it that none of the things you are afraid of will happen to you" (this is the view I suspect evangelicals have adopted when they eschew anti-vaccination and anti-masking views)
    • Faith view: "Fear not, the things you are afraid of are most likely going to happen to you, but they are not really the sorts of things that believers ought to be afraid of, and have very little significance compared to transforming the world into the Kingdom." 

  • God does not punish, if He ever did, people and nations with bad things. Rather, when people and nations engage in actions out of alignment with His will, bad things happen, not because He is smiting them, but rather because these are troubles we bring upon ourselves. Simply, human beings are allowed to own the consequences of their own actions (or the actions of others). 
    • Climate change is the result of our actions (for which we have free will)
    • When we catch COVID-19, or any other disease, it may be as a result of our actions or in spite of them. God does not give out good health or prosperity to a nation as a reward for good behavior. Rather God gives us the freedom to act as we choose, and only will judge us for those actions when we stand before him at the Throne of Heaven.

  • The End Times are not for individuals, prayer groups, or any one group to predict or bring about because it suits our ends to smite our enemies. Our enemies will do their best to hurt us, and we will do our best to defend ourselves because we live in the world, not in heaven. An omniscient God must know that no longer live in Eden. Instead, we live in a dangerous space where our only solace are those who rise up and welcome his Spirit of lovingness and forgiveness. 

The Worst?

As for COVID-19 being a sign of the end times, and that vaccination is something to be spurned as thwarting the will of God, that reminds me of this story, The Drowning Man. You know the story...a guy is stuck on his roof and he calls on God to rescue him directly. At the end of the story, he finds out the problem with his idea of manipulating God to get what he wanted. 

You can read the whole tale at the link, but I find the following relevant:
Soon the water rose above the rooftop and the man drowned. He went to Heaven. He finally got his chance to discuss this whole situation with God, at which point he exclaimed, "I had faith in you but you didn't save me, you let me drown. I don't understand why!"

To this God replied, "I sent you a rowboat and a motorboat and a helicopter, what more did you expect?"
You know, it reminds me of Matthew 4:7-10, "Do not put the Lord your God to the test." Here's an interesting explanation:
If Jesus was in peril, God would have to save Him. Jesus refused to test God in such a way. We are to accept God’s Word by faith, without requiring a sign (see Luke 11:29). God’s promises are there for us when we need them; to manipulate situations in an attempt to coerce God into fulfilling His promises is evil.
If human beings live in fear of God, their greatest fears may very well be apostasy and this quote from Jesus:
“But whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea.” 
Can you imagine what children might reject the Gospel, their belief in the Christ, because their parents rejected vaccinations and masking in schools? What a terrible example we are setting.

Fear

People are dying, have been dying, and there is a bit of panic among Christians. It is the sort of panic that is strange, because the panic isn't about dying necessarily, but rather the embrace of a plague. 

If there is plague, it is inconsequential. If it is consequential, it is to be dealt with with prayer and faith, not human means. If human means are insufficient, if God doesn't intercede, then it is a sign of the end times.

Given that most American Christians are vaccinated against a host of diseases at birth, including (with their baptism) against the lies and snares of the Devil, I am disappointed at the reaction to COVID-19. That reaction includes efforts of Anti-vaccination, anti-masking, yelling and screaming, threatening violence to educators and withholding funding. 

I found this Salon.com piece worthwhile meditation this past weekend. It is entitled, "Evangelicals, science and the vaccine: Refusal is built on deep-seated fear." 

From Darwin to COVID the church has been wrong. It's really about fear among the Christian faithful when they turn away from science. Even scientific theory is dismissed out of hand by the church because of a fear that somehow science will prove that God does not exist
 
As the pandemic spreads from one church to another and global warming continues to be ignored by the evangelical movement, it is clear that practitioners of the current Christian faith have not evolved from their ancestors who condemned Galileo and Darwin.  

That science will have anything to say about God, immanent and transcendent, is laughable. But Science does have a lot to say about our current situation, the physical world we live in. I found the author's points spot on:
There is nothing to fear from scientific data and proper research. There is something to fear from the fearful and ignorant. Anyone who is not willing to question their own belief structure, or anyone that remains in their own echo chamber, is dangerous. That is why there is a pandemic of the unvaccinated. 
It is expressing the fear of people who claim to have none. It must be addressed, but that will not be easy.
Wow, that's really calling us out. If God is so doggone powerful, and our faith flows from his omnipotence and grace, why the heck are we so afraid of a vaccine, masking, and the idea that scientific reasoning may help resolve the existential problems of life? It's because of FEAR, a fear so unreasoning and central to who we are as human beings, that the possibility of science pushing "god" (our own flawed understanding of god) out is so horrible, we do everything to maintain the illusion, the fantasy.

Gamaliel's wisdom is needed here when considering vaccinations and human interventions to mitigate the spread of novel coronaviruses. 

Life has shown us that our religious version of a vengeful god is wrong. That the end times are not a time of sadness and fear, but an opportunity to rejoice. That scientific reasoning, and the fruits of that reasoning including vaccines, masking, is a benefit that God has allowed us (because after all, if God said "No," there wouldn't be any of it, right?). 

This brings me back to Dick Westley's Redemptive Intimacy quote:

"Fear not, the things you are afraid of are most likely going to happen to you, but they are not really the sorts of things that believers ought to be afraid of, and have very little significance compared to transforming the world into the Kingdom." 

So, let's work to save as many youngsters as possible, and their teachers, too. And the parents of those. Everyone that can be saved so that they may see God's hands are our hands, our spirit is His Spirit flowing through us, redeeming us and assuring us that even Death does not reign supreme.

A final note: This reflects my current thinking on the matter. I could be wrong about many aspects of what I've written here. 


Everything posted on Miguel Guhlin's blogs/wikis are his personal opinion and do not necessarily represent the views of his employer(s) or its clients. Read Full Disclosure

Comments

doug0077 said…
You are a brave man for tackling this subject, Mr. Guhlin! But an insightful piece. Sometimes you just have to write something out in order to clarify your own thinking. It's a bonus when it's shared with others.
Wesley Fryer said…
Miguel:

Thank you so much for this thoughtful post. There is much here, and I want to reflect longer on some of it and respond further. But this morning here’s what I have:

Look for the fruit. Look for Jesus. We must remember that there are many masquerading as “angels of light,” who do NOT represent God or Jesus or his Holy Spirit, but instead a spirit of wickedness, malice and evil. Heresy has always been with us as followers of Jesus, and it is rampant today in our polluted environment of disinformation. It is vital for followers of Jesus everywhere to know the truth and seek the truth, to compare the words and actions of those around us and those who we see with Scripture in God‘s Word and submit all these things through prayer to God‘s Holy Spirit for discernment.

I have become disenchanted with the term “evangelical” because of the immoral behavior of so many people who use that term to describe themselves. I have and continue to wrestle with many of the same ideas you write about here.

There is Good News! God is real, his son Jesus Christ is real, and Jesus’ call to us about how we live is the same today and tomorrow, whether we are “in the end times” or simply in yet another challenging chapter in the history of planet earth. We are called to be children of light, following Jesus and seeking to be like him in as many ways as we can, recognizing that we are sinners and we will continue to fall short of His holiness.

Look for the fruit of the spirit, my brother. It is evident in your life and in your family. Let us not be distracted and have our minds hijacked by those who use outrage and fear as a mechanism to control others through emotion and manipulation.

Look for the fruit.

Wesley Fryer
@pocketshare
https://www.wesfryer.com/theology/
Ha, not so brave, Doug. Just working my way through some ideas. Thanks for dropping by.

Regards,
Miguel
Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Wes. I agree, there's a lot to unpack.

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