Christian Nationalism and COVID-19

For the duration of the pandemic, and in recognition of the financial toll it will exact on many of us, I am making my Patreon posts publicly available. If you can't pay to subscribe, don't worry about it. If you can, it is very much appreciated, as my own income suffers from the inability to tour and perform public speaking events. It is my hope that I can provide some content to make some part of your lock-down experience a little easier  


In retrospect, the early desperate efforts to convey a message of “Don’t Panic” seem naive and misguided. As advance warnings from overseas outbreaks revealed exactly the type of devastation forthcoming to the United States, and epidemiological models showed, to a reliable degree of mathematical certainty, the projected scale of the infection’s spread without interventions, the nation showed an unwillingness, from the top down, to adjust behaviors in a meaningful way that would have significantly diminished the impact of COVID-19.

On March 14, when Seattle was already running low on medical supplies, The New York Times noted “it appears American night life is continuing without much interruption.” Photographs from the prior weekend showed thoughtless mobs in crowded lines waiting to gain entry into overfilled bars. News coverage from Florida showed beaches overrun with Spring Breakers unphased by the threat of coronavirus from which a viral video emerged of a fellow telling a reporter, “If I get corona, I get corona. At the end of the day I’m not gonna let it stop me from partying.” Defying social distancing instantly became an irresistible form of “rebellion” for those who would ennoble the self-serving irresponsibility of changing nothing about their daily lives as a bold stand for individual liberty. “Influencers” licked public toilet seats to keep their content edgy and timely, and soon the “coronavirus challenge” had attention-starved idiots on social media posting videos and images of themselves licking items in grocery stores to convey, apparently, a “hilarious” revolt against the oppression of suggested hygiene and social distancing.

It was a short-lived rebellion. Having suddenly and unexpectedly become the face of “pandumic” irresponsibility, the “if I get corona” kid, to his credit, issued an apology stating that he was regrettably late to realize the magnitude of the situation and now recognized that his behavior risked not only his own health, but the health of those with whom he might come into contact with if he contracted the virus. At least one of the toilet-lickers publicly lamented contracting the virus after. The madcap renegades who thought that their lovable product-licking antics would earn them the affectionate virtual noogies of a crowd of won-over followers instead found themselves berated for their shameful stupidity. They have receded into what is hopefully a permanent obscurity while more practiced and focused idiots have taken up the fight against the fight against COVID-19.

The evangelical resistance to social distancing measures and lockdown orders was not surprising. Not because there is a long-standing scripturally-based tradition in ignoring public health and safety -- though there is a history of zealots putting “faith” in prayer over seeking medical intervention -- but because of the evangelical movement’s marriage to the Republican Party. At the beginning of the pandemic, Donald Trump and his media allies at Fox News minimized the problem as an outsized and opportunistic response to a mild sickness being used to undermine the presidency. Fox Business anchor Trish Regan referred to proactive concerns about the virus’s spread as “yet another attempt to impeach the president,” adding, “Many in the liberal media [are] using, and I mean using, coronavirus in an attempt to demonize and destroy the president.” For some reason, only she was let go from Fox two weeks later as the network began hiring a team of lawyers to defend themselves against an inevitable wave of lawsuits resulting from their harmful misinformation, even as Sean Hannity -- whose broadcasts are a bizarre mix of outrage and virtual analingus performed upon President Trump -- remains without censure after suggesting the coronavirus to be a “hoax,” and various other Fox anchors regularly expressed similar sentiments. Now, of course, they all desperately try to re-narrate the events of very recent history to suggest that their downplaying of the virus as a hoax is, in fact, the real hoax. They took it seriously all along. But the damage was already done.

Trump’s evangelical base have long been accustomed to denying science, fully assimilating the message that Global Warming is a hoax, which itself was not at all a far leap given their insistence that Evolutionary Biology is a Satanic lie. For decades, Christian churches that have been manipulated into accepting a Republican economic agenda presenting deregulation as holy writ, have also denigrated any or all social programs or safety nets as communistic, Godless conspiracies. The notion of government scientists now telling them that churches needed to remain closed for the period of the pandemic was bound to not land well.

In an opinion piece for The New York Times, Katherine Stewart, author of The Power Worshippers: Inside The Dangerous Rise of Religious Nationalism, recognized the dysfunctional feedback loop between the Trump administration and the religious base he panders to, writing that the “denial of science and critical thinking among religious ultraconservatives now haunts the American response to the coronavirus crisis [...] By all accounts, President Trump’s tendency to trust his gut over the experts on issues like vaccines and climate change does not come from any deep-seated religious conviction. But he is perfectly in tune with the religious nationalists who form the core of his base. In his daily briefings from the White House, Mr. Trump actively disdains and contradicts the messages coming from his own experts and touts as yet unproven cures.” In personal conversation with me after the publication of her piece, Mrs. Stewart informed me that her straight-forward observations had earned her a flood of vitriolic hate mail and death threats. Either failing to read the piece, or failing to comprehend what it was they read, the violent outrage was directed against the notion that Mrs. Stewart was suggesting that Christianity itself is to blame for the virus. It's ridiculous idea for anybody to even believe somebody else to subscribe to, but perhaps a bit less ridiculous when you consider how many people are apparently blaming the virus on Satan.  

The Christian Nationalists have, of course, tried to make bald and disgraceful political gains from the pandemic. Some evangelical politicians have scrambled to put a stop to abortions in their states, declaring it a “non-essential” service, even while allowing most businesses to define for themselves whether or not they are essential. In fact, in Mississippi, Governor Tate Reeves seems only concerned with stopping abortions while resisting imposing any other restrictions on anything at all.

Following Trump’s lead, where on March 14th he declared a “National Day of Prayer” (“As your President, I ask you to pray for the health and well-being of your fellow Americans and to remember that no problem is too big for God to handle”), governors nationwide have been declaring Days of Prayer for their individual states. This move, however, appears less of an effort of symbolic comfort, and more of an effort to continue the battle to lay a foundation for theocracy when one looks at the wording on some of these proclamations. In Iowa, Gov. Kim Reynold’s proclamation, likely penned by the Congressional Prayer Caucus, or another theocratic organization for which she acts as a witless pawn, states in part:

WHEREAS, our nation’s motto is “In God We Trust,” with America being founded upon Biblical Judeo-Christian principles and values; and
WHEREAS, God’s word teaches us to “Rejoice in our confident hope. Be patient in trouble, and keep on praying”; and
WHEREAS, throughout our history Iowans have found peace, strength, and unity through prayer to God in humbly asking for His strength during times of difficulty; and
WHEREAS, God’s unconditional love by sending His Son, Jesus, to be Savior of the world is remembered and celebrated by Christians during Holy Week of Easter each year

If some of this looks familiar, it is because these phrases have been used incessantly to build the “history and heritage” case for bringing Christian iconography (exclusive) into public buildings and onto public grounds, and ultimately, these assertions of a “Christian Nation” are used in efforts to create arguments for the “religious freedom” to deny reproductive rights and the basic dignity of the non-Christian “other.” Putting this language into the proclamation was surely no accident.

Now, as I write this just a day before Easter, pastors nationwide are threatening a revolt against lockdown orders, calling out to their congregations to assemble in defiance. This happens even as churches are quickly becoming a primary vector for infection.

“Satan and a virus will not stop us,” Rev. Tony Spell is quoted saying. “God will shield us from all harm and sickness. We are not afraid. We are called by God to stand against the Antichrist creeping into America’s borders. We will spread the Gospel.”

In all likelihood, these gatherings will take place unimpeded by law enforcement. More certainly, however, if they do, there will be no insignificant number of deaths that directly result from this egregious act of irresponsibility. And of absolute certainty we can count on a future Fox News-style re-narrating of the entire affair, wherein years from now, when the pandemic is an item of history, we will be told much of the Christian charities that provided for those in need during the economic collapse. We will be told little of their initial refusal to act appropriately, and probably less regarding the provisions attached to their charity, and the government funds they pilfered in order to distribute it.

Let us do our best not to allow this revisionist narrative to take hold, and let us not fall back upon the typical social nicety that prevents some of us from criticizing the need for prayer and congregation during a time of crisis. This particular crisis renders congregating irresponsible, and the notion that prayer is effective prevents far too many people from seeing the reality of the situation. Let us not allow the forthcoming faithful infected to forget the role that their religious institutions played in their illness and, likely, the death of a loved one. Let them know that they were duped by a political party that long ago hijacked their religious identity. When next they say, “Satan tried to keep us apart,” don’t hesitate to remind them that they would have been better off listening to Satan.

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