Skeptophilia (skep-to-fil-i-a) (n.) - the love of logical thought, skepticism, and thinking critically. Being an exploration of the applications of skeptical thinking to the world at large, with periodic excursions into linguistics, music, politics, cryptozoology, and why people keep seeing the face of Jesus on grilled cheese sandwiches.

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

An epidemic of lunacy

The news over the last few days has been nothing but COVID-19 over and over.  I understand it -- a pandemic on this scale is pretty stupendous -- but it's having the effect of making me not want to look at news sites.

The reason for that reluctance is not because I don't want to be informed, but because I'm tired of reading about people's idiotic responses to it.  Today the focus seemed to be on evangelical religious leaders, whose reactions are so absurd they beggar belief.  Here's a sampler:
  • A group of pastors in Arkansas who think the virus doesn't exist, that it's an evil liberal plot to disparage Donald Trump.  "One pastor said half of his church is ready to lick the floor, to prove there’s no actual virus,” said John King, lead pastor at Second Baptist church in Conway, Arkansas, who unlike some of his fellow ministers, at least was urging his congregation to take precautions.  "In your more politically conservative regions, closing is not interpreted as caring for you.  It’s interpreted as liberalism, or buying into the hype."
  • Evangelical blogger Lori Alexander, who says that God is using the coronavirus as a way of "pushing a lot of women back into their homes."  She adds that she "is not a hand washer" and treats her own respiratory illnesses with elderberry juice.
  • Jerry Falwell, Jr., who we can always count on for some entertaining counterfactual nonsense, says that COVID-19 is a plot by the North Koreans and Chinese and at the same time a plot by Democrats to take down the Trump presidency, so he's not closing Liberty University because that'd be capitulating to the Forces of Evil.  On Fox & Friends (of course), he said, "The owner of a restaurant asked me last night, he said: do you remember the North Korean leader promised a Christmas present for America back in December?  Could it be they got together with China, and this is that present?  I don’t know, but it really is something strange going on... It’s — you know, impeachment didn’t work, and the Mueller Report didn’t work, and Article 25 [sic] didn’t work.  And so maybe now, this is their next — their next attempt to get Trump."
  • Two conservative religious leaders, Rabbi Meir Mazuz and Pastor Steven Andrew, are in agreement about the cause of COVID-19 -- it's God taking revenge on the world because of LGBTQ people.  "All nations are being afflicted," Mazuz said, "except for the Arab countries that don't have this evil inclination."  Neglecting the teensy problem that Iran is one of the hardest-hit countries, but people like Mazuz never let a little thing like facts get in the way.  Andrew agrees, saying, "God’s love shows it is urgent to repent, because the Bible teaches homosexuals lose their souls and God destroys LGBT societies."  Which certainly sounds like the textbook definition of "a loving God," doesn't it?  He goes on to say, "Obeying God protects the USA from diseases, such as the coronavirus...  Our safety is at stake, since national disobedience of God’s laws brings danger and diseases, such as coronavirus, but obeying God brings covenant protection."
  • Then there's the Alabama pastor who went a step further, saying that people who test positive for the disease should come to his services, that he and the congregants shouldn't be afraid, because God and prayer and so on.  "I am somewhat moved over the fact that all it takes to disassemble God‘s church is the threat of sickness by germ spreading. It seems the early church wouldn’t have made very far with this type of timidity," said Chris Bartlett, leader of the Boaz Church of God.  "Our top priority is not primarily the safety and health of our members, but that they advance in faith and godliness even on occasions at the expense of their safety and well-being...  So with boldness of faith if you have the coronavirus or feel threatened by such, you are most welcome at Boaz Church of God Sunday morning at 10 AM.  We will gladly anoint the sick with oil and pray the prayer of faith over you!"
  • Lastly, there's Guillermo Maldonado, of the King Jesus International Ministry of Kendall, Florida, who said there was nothing to worry about.  "Do you believe God would bring his people to his house to be contagious with the virus?  Of course not," Maldonado said, adding that even if he was wrong, "If we die, we die for Christ!"
For years the right-wing talking heads -- people like Rush Limbaugh, Jerry Falwell Sr. and Jr., Ann Coulter, and more recently, Tucker Carlson, Sean Hannity, and Laura Ingraham -- have been spreading the message that (1) you shouldn't believe the experts, (2) you shouldn't believe anything if Democrats agree with it, (3) everyone in the media is lying to you, and (4) conservative white Christians are being discriminated against, if not outright targeted for elimination.  What this has done is to create an entire group of people who are completely insulated from the facts.  Anything that happens is forced into this mold.  A pandemic?  The epidemiologists are lying.  The media are lying.  It's the evil Democrats trying to damage Dear Leader.  And besides, God will protect us even through adversity, so why bother following directives for isolation and quarantine, or even hand-washing?

[Image is in the Public Domain courtesy of the World Health Organization]

What's ironic about all of this is that unless the pandemic dies down a lot faster than most experts believe it will, this group of people will be uniquely susceptible to infection.  You have to wonder what would happen if 90% of the congregation of one of these lunatics contracted COVID-19.

Nothing, is my guess.  People of this stripe seem to have as their motto, "Death before admitting I'm wrong."  And they don't see that the measures being recommended are intended to protect people, not to hamstring right-wing politicians, and that taking precautions not to infect yourself or others makes sense whether or not you believe in God.  After all, evangelical Christians still look both ways before they cross the street.

Or at least, I'm guessing they do.  The attitudes of the wackos mentioned above suggest that even that might be a stretch.

Let's hope that at least they don't take "Jesus, take the wheel!" literally.

Whether or not you're religious, a more sensible approach is the one recommended by Vermont-based clinical psychologist Lindsay Jernigan.  "Try this perspective shift," Jernigan said.  "Instead of seeing social distancing and travel bans as panic, try seeing them as acts of mass cooperation to protect the collective whole.  The plan is not about individuals going into hiding.  It's a global deep breath, an agreement among humans around the planet to be still.  Be still, in hopes that the biggest wave can pass without engulfing too many of the vulnerable amongst us."

But I'm guessing even that would fall on deaf ears.  The words "collective whole" would come up, and after that, the aforementioned wingnuts would hear only "socialism liberal plot hurr durr" and that'd be that.

You can't win, not against a wall of disinformation that's been built up this carefully for this long.  I can only hope that the human cost of these decades of anti-intellectual propaganda won't be too high.


This week's Skeptophilia book recommendation of the week is a classic -- Martin Gardner's wonderful Did Adam and Eve Have Navels?

Gardner was a polymath of stupendous proportions, a mathematician, skeptic, and long-time writer of Scientific American's monthly feature "Mathematical Games."  He gained a wonderful reputation not only as a puzzle-maker but as a debunker of pseudoscience, and in this week's book he takes on some deserving targets -- numerology, UFOs, "alternative medicine," reflexology, and a host of others.

Gardner's prose is light, lucid, and often funny, but he skewers charlatans with the sharpness of a rapier.  His book is a must-read for anyone who wants to work toward a cure for gullibility -- a cure that is desperately needed these days.

[Note: if you purchase this book using the image/link below, part of the proceeds goes to support Skeptophilia!]

1 comment:

  1. "But I'm guessing even that would fall on deaf ears. The words "collective whole" would come up, and after that, the aforementioned wingnuts would hear only "socialism liberal plot hurr durr" and that'd be that."
    That made me laugh out loud. Sad but true. And I'd like to add: you are a kinder and more generous soul than I. I say- if they all go out in a holy jeebus blaze of fevered glory- good riddance.