“You can get away with the most extraordinary offenses to morality and to truth in this country if you’ll just get yourself called Reverend” remarked Christopher Hitchens of the founder of the only university in America that’s about to reopen. In an extraordinary opinion piece about perverse pockets of resistance to self-isolating, Candida Moss duly notes this country’s raving reverends, its potted pastors, the flagellants at the journal First Things; she mentions too the South Korean cult at the heart of that country’s epidemic… She fails to mention the sometimes violent ultraorthodox cults in Israel, Europe, and the United States, but we need to throw them in…

She lists all of these disease-spreaders with respect, with the understanding that of course all such people and groups qualify as upstanding Christians and Jews, our brethren, part of the beautiful world (as a word in her headline puts it), of “faith.”

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Since we need to stop fanatics from killing us, let us examine precisely how ethically dense people like Moss help make this life-saving goal unreachable.

This week, as stores, restaurants and other businesses shuttered their doors to help stem the spread of coronavirus, a number of conservative Christians chose to frame their response to the pandemic in a different way: as an opportunity to choose “faith over fear.”

The rhetoric of that last phrase – an opportunity to choose – recalls Jack Gladney’s response to his wife’s choice, amid the “airborne toxic event” in White Noise, to regard the disaster as “a good time to cut down on fatty things.” To which Gladney responds:

I think it’s interesting that you regard a possible disaster for yourself, your family and thousands of other people as an opportunity to cut down on fatty foods.

Of course, the people Moss has in mind don’t really choose anything; they are proud submissives, majorly into suffering and dying for the lord or the chief rabbi or whatever. To them, the virus represents an opportunity to manifest submission. They’re not like hedonistic spring breakers; they’re compelled to prove something.

We’re talking snake-handlers here, many of whom die venomously while under the protection of the holy spirit – and I’m pretty sure Moss would extend the same ecumenical courtesy to snake-handlers that she extends to the Falwells.

Hers is a category error, not to mention a catastrophic mistake for humankind.

While religious activity may be an essential part of people’s lives, the assumption that social distancing equates to spiritual estrangement is up for debate. Should religious freedom be allowed to put the lives of the many at risk?

Religious; religious; spiritual; freedom – how kind of Moss to honor the kinkiest among us with these epithets. How kind of her to frame the problem of what to do with destructive masochists as a “debate.” Here are some better word choice suggestions from SOS: cultic; criminally negligent (I mean, let’s also honor with words like faith Christian Scientists who kill their kids: Or is Moss reserving judgment of isolation-resisters until they too kill family members?); stupid; socially toxic.

In her last paragraphs (how many readers will get to these?) Moss finally says the right stuff:

What is most frightening about these latest expressions of “religious freedom” is not just that they threaten to place others at risk, but that religious conservatives form a substantial part of Donald Trump’s voter base — his plan to reopen by Easter may be well timed to speak to them.

Now the phrase religious freedom gets the quotation marks it deserves; but Moss still considers fringe groups (think here of the Mormon church’s endless efforts to disaffiliate itself from backwoods polygamists fucking fourteen year olds for the lord) “conservative Christians.” Call them what they are, lady – disturbed reactionaries who damage the legitimate religions they parasitize, and who now threaten the health of nations.

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The attitude of religion to medicine, like the attitude of religion to science, is always necessarily problematic and very often necessarily hostile. A modern believer can say and even believe that his faith is quite compatible with science and medicine, but the awkward fact will always be that both things have a tendency to break religion’s monopoly, and have often been fiercely resisted for that reason. What happens to the faith healer and the shaman when any poor citizen can see the full effect of drugs and surgeries, administered without ceremonies or mystifications? Roughly the same thing as happens to the rainmaker when the climatologist turns up, or to the diviner from the heavens when schoolteachers get hold of elementary telescopes. Plagues of antiquity were held to be punishment from the gods, which did much to strengthen the hold of the priesthood and much to encourage the burning of infidels and heretics who were thought—in an alternative explanation—to be spreading disease by witchcraft or else poisoning the wells. We may make allowances for the orgies of stupidity and cruelty that were indulged in before humanity had a clear concept of the germ theory of disease. Most of the “miracles” of the New Testament have to do with healing, which was of such great importance in a time when even minor illness was often the end. (Saint Augustine himself said that he would not have believed in Christianity if it were not for the miracles.) Scientific critics of religion such as Daniel Dennett have been generous enough to point out that apparently useless healing rituals may even have helped people get better, in that we know how important morale can be in aiding the body to fight injury and infection. But that would be an excuse only available in retrospect. By the time Dr. Jenner had discovered that a cowpox vaccine could ward off smallpox, this excuse had become void. Yet Timothy Dwight, a president of Yale University and to this day one of America’s most respected “divines,” was opposed to the smallpox vaccination because he regarded it as an interference with god’s design. And this mentality is still heavily present, long after its pretext and justification in human ignorance has vanished.

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2 Responses to “Scathing Online Schoolmarm Scathes through an Opinion Piece that Perfectly Expresses What Must, Amid the Coronavirus Outbreak, be Called the Suicidal Acceptance of Any Mindless Cult that Calls Itself a Religion.”

  1. charlie Says:

    They can invoke whatever god they conjure up, Liberty U. needs those damn student loans to keep the lights glowing…

  2. theprofessor Says:

    It turns out, I see that

    1) Liberty isn’t actually “re-opening”–instruction has been shifted on-line

    2) The students on campus are nearly all internationals or ones from far away in the US. The percentage of students on still on campus, about 10%, is about the same as on my campus, and for the same reasons. Whatever can be said about my place, a plague of fundamentalist Christian administrators is not one of them.

    3) They are maintaining all of the required distancing mandates of the state.

    Hoax story, hoax media garbage.

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