Category Archives: Politics & Religion

No More Bullshit

 

American author Norman Mailer was running to be mayor of New York in the early 1970s or late 1960s. He had a simple campaign slogan—“No More Bullshit.” I am not running for office and Norman Mailer came in last in that campaign but I always liked it. Now I think it is very appropriate.

Anti-vaxxers have had their days in the sun.  Now it’s time for them to get back to move on and  get real. As Tome Brodbeck of the Winnipeg Free Press said,

“Vaccines are working. The number of COVID-19 deaths in Manitoba has plummeted since the beginning of the vaccine rollout, from a monthly high of 350 in December to 11 deaths in August. The death toll has dropped every month since January, except for a slight increase in May and June during the third wave. New deaths fell nearly two-thirds in July compared with the previous month, and another two-thirds in August (even with the wider circulation of the delta variant and fewer public health restrictions than in the spring). Hospitalizations and ICU admissions are way down and the vast majority of those who require a hospital bed are not immunized. The effectiveness of the COVID-19 vaccine is nothing short of spectacular. 

The challenge now isn’t so much scientific as it is sociological: how to free enough Manitobans from the hypnotic forces of misinformation and indoctrination to boost vaccine rates above 85 per cent. No one really knows how to do that. It seems everyone knows someone in that category — a friend, a relative or a neighbour who has been influenced by (or considers themselves to be) an amateur vaccine scientist who has “done their research on the internet.”

 

Brodbeck also explained that we need more people to get vaccinated. Ontario’s scientific advisory board has calculated that 85% of the eligible population must be vaccinated before it makes sense to relax restrictions completely. Manitoba is only at 77%.  Until that goal is reached, we will have to live with restrictions and the only ones who can change this are the unvaccinated people. They are holding up our return to freedom. It is time for the unvaccinated to get with it.

Brodbeck summed it up very succinctly and very well: “The mandates won’t be lifted until a sizeable portion of the unvaccinated decide they want to rejoin the human race.”

Frankly, it’s well past the time where anti-vaxxers should have admitted defeat. The game is over.  We have experience now. More than a million Manitobans have had the vaccine. More than a billion world wide.  Very few have had serious side-effects. The scientific evidence is overwhelming that Covid-19 is a serious illness and the vaccines work extraordinarily well.

Dr. Roussin, Manitoba’s Chief Public Health Official says his team has failed to identify one single death due to the vaccine. A very small number have got Covid-19 after being fully vaxxed. The anti-vaxxers say they want their freedom back. So do the rest of us and there is one, and only 1, reason we don’t have it back and that is because too many Manitobans have not been vaccinated. It is their fault that we are not back to normal. As many health care professionals have said, this is now a pandemic of the unvaccinated. But all of us are suffering not just the anti-vaxxers. People with serious medical conditions can’t get help because our hospitals have too many people with Covid-19. They are interfering with our freedom, not the other way around. We have put up with too much bullshit from them. It’s time to stop enabling them. No more bullshit.

Science and the hobgoblins of fear

 

This photo was taken by me yesterday at an anti-vaccine rally in Steinbach where the message was that we should not give in to fear.

A reliance on reason, evidence, analysis and critical thinking is the hallmark of Enlightenment thinking and its progeny—science. Science is reason refined.  Science is not perfect nor is it the only way to understand the world,  but it is certainly the best. That does not detract from the arts and other disciplines. It adds to it.

 

The historian David Wooton reminded us how much the thinking of people has changed since 1600, the approximate time when the Enlightenment began.  He said that in 1600 the educated Englishman believed the following:

“He believes witches can summon up storms that sink ships.

He believes in werewolves, although there happen not to be any in England—he knows they are found in Belgium…He believes Circe really did turn Odysseus’s crew into pigs.  He believes mice are spontaneously generated in piles of straw. He believes in contemporary magicians…He has seen a unicorn’s horn, but not a unicorn.

He believes that a murdered body will bleed in the presence of the murderer. He believes that there is an ointment which, if rubbed on a dagger which caused a wound, will cure the wound. He believes that the shape, colour and texture of a plant can be a clue to how it will work as a medicine because God designed nature to be interpreted by mankind. He believes that it is possible to turn base metal into gold, although he doubts that anyone nows how to do it. He believes that nature abhors a vacuum. He believes the rainbow is a sign from God and that comets portend evil. He believes that dreams predict the future, if we now how to interpret them. He believes, of course, that the earth stands still and the sun and stars turn around the earth once every twenty-four hours.”

 

Steven Pinker in his book Enlightenment Now pointed out that within 150 years of the Enlightenment starting the ordinary educated Englishman no longer believed any of those things. That, when you think about it, is an astonishing achievement in a remarkably short period of time. That really is a revolution. And that is what the Enlightenment and science brought to us, and that is not an insignificant achievement. Pinker goes farther when he says, “It was an escape not just from ignorance, but from terror.” That is an achievement we should shout about. We should celebrate it. It is a magnificent accomplishment. This achievement allowed the world to escape from unreason. As Robert Scott a sociologist said, until then “the belief that an external force controlled daily life contributed a kind of collective paranoia.” Escaping the forces of unreasonable fears is vastly important, and we don’t think about that often enough. We have not escaped all unreasonable fears, and that is regrettable, but to escape so many, is magnificent. Science allowed us to escape what R.A. Scott called  “the hobgoblins of fear.”

Everywhere until then people were paralyzed by those hobgoblins of fear that were ushered in by superstition and irrational thinking. So, people thought the sea was filled with monsters, forests with scary predators, thieves, ogres demons, and witches. Everyday activities were governed by the belief in omens, portents of danger, and scary thoughts. It was difficult to carry on ordinary life under such circumstances.

The vaccine rebels keep harping that we should not be controlled by fear. I agree entirely with them on this point.  But their way is not the way to do that. In fact, I would suggest, they are actually giving in to fear.  If we listen to them they will bring us back to those hobgoblins. More on that later.

In times of pandemic we need science more than ever to escape the hobgoblins of fear. We need to turn from paranoia to the light. That is what enlightenment is all about. That is exactly what the anti-vaxxers don’t understand.

When Ideology Swallows Sense

 

I have been struggling to understand this amazing phenomenon that regions with a high prevalence of Christians and conservatives, such as southern Manitoba where I live, also have a high prevalence of vaccine hesitancy. Why is that the case?  What unites these two ideologies with nonsense? I think this is a very important question.

 

I have been surprised by the number of people that won’t take the Covid-19 vaccines because they don’t trust the government. To me that seems ludicrous. I have managed to dodge the prevailing political wisdom that assumes anything the government does is bad while anything the private sector does is good. I hear it all the time.  It is particularly prevalent here. That has been the prevailing political belief since at least the time of Saint Ronald Regan. Even left wingers are subject to this ideology; it is so common and so pervasive.

Some people blame the internet for this problem, and it is a partial cause.  But it does not explain enough. One of my favorite political commentators in my favorite newspaper (now a magazine), Nesrine Malik of The Guardian, pointed out something very interesting when she said,

“People with the wildest theories about the pandemic can be found in countries even where most people don’t have access to the internet, cable TV or the shock jocks of commercial radio. A common impulse is to write off those espousing conspiracies, consigning them to the casualties claimed by WhatsApp groups, disinformation or silent mental health issues. These things may be true – but vaccine hesitancy is a symptom of broader failures. What all people wary of vaccines have in common, from Khartoum to Kansas is their trust in the state has been eroded. Without understanding this, we will be fated to keep channeling our frustrations towards individuals without grasping why they have lost trust in the first place.”

 

Malik emphasizes that governments around the world, particularly in the developing world, have earned this distrust. Endemic corruption breeds justifiable distrust. I agree entirely with that. But what about countries like Canada with governments that are not as corrupt? Why is distrust of governments so common here? Not that our governments are perfect, but they have at least a modicum of integrity.

As Malik said,

“Vaccine rejection doesn’t happen in a vacuum. It’s easier to dismiss hesitancy and conspiracies as unhinged behaviour; it makes us feel less unnerved by displays of unreason from those who we think are, or should be, rational people. Sure, among vaccine-hesitant people are those who are simply stubborn, misanthropic or selfish. But, just as the pandemic exploited the weaknesses of our economic and public health systems, vaccine hesitancy has exposed the weaknesses of states’ bond with their citizens. There are no easy answers for how to deal with those who repeat conspiracy theories and falsehoods, but scrutinising the systems that lost their trust is perhaps a good place to start.”

 

I also want to point out that in the west since the 1980s during the reigns of Saint Ronny, Princess Maggie, and Prince Brian in the US. UK and Canada respectively, people have been fed a steady diet that the state is unreliable and predatory.  As Saint Ronald Reagan said, the most scary 11 words in the English language are, ‘I am from the government and I am here to help.’

 This is all part of neo-liberal dogma/propaganda that the government can’t be trusted only the private sector is worth our trust. Of course, this ideology has for decades served the interests of the wealthy who care more about minimizing their personal or corporate taxes than the plight of the less advantaged. As a result many of them  have used their wealth to convince us of its truth because it is in their interest to do so. This ideology is now so prevalent that even people whose best interests would be served by government are reluctant to accept its help. Vaccines are a case in point. Governments provide many things of enormous value that the private sector is unwilling or unsuited to provide including hospitals, roads, libraries, universities, parks, environmental regulations, health and safety standards to name only a few. For decades we have been taught and many of us believed that governments are bad and private enterprise is good.

Now we are paying a heavy price for blindly following that ideology.

Spreading Falsehoods in a time of pandemic

 

Steinbach, religion, and vaccine resistance is in the news again. Recently the Carillon News in Steinbach published an article about a family of 12 that came to Steinbach all the way from Lac du Bonnet to publicly protest against Manitoba’s official response to the Covid-19 pandemic.   I was struck by one of the photos that showed a very young girl, probably less than 10 years old carrying a sign that read “They killed babies to produce vaccines.” Needless to say that was a shocking statement. Absurd actually.

It took me a little while to realize that the sign was likely referring to the claim that stem cells from aborted fetuses had been used to produce one of the vaccines. These stem cells were “harvested” decades ago. Long before anyone ever heard anything about Covid-19. Yet I can see some argument here, namely that if those who think  that abortion is always murder, we should not try to “profit” from the murder. But the sign of course could not get into the complexities of examining that moral judgment. This is a complicated issue and I won’t get into here. Perhaps later. For now, I just want to say no babies were killed for the purpose of the vaccine as the sign suggested.

Each of us are entitled to our own opinions, even very young girls carrying signs.  But the moral issue is a little more complex than a sign at a protest might lead one to believe. Leading people to believe that vaccines were created by killing babies is a case of gross misstatement that is not acceptable in the midst of a health pandemic where people need the best information available. I will leave this issue with that comment for now.

Other family members of this young protester also carried signs. One read, “prayer and worship are the solution.” I would strongly suggest that in the case of such a pandemic good scientific data and advice from scientists should not be avoided in order to get answers to prayers. There is nothing wrong with prayer but if the desire to pray interferes with getting the best scientific data during a pandemic I am opposed to that.

Another family member held a sign that read, “First communism, then starvation.” This again reflected the right wing bias of many protesters. It show the strong connection between religion, right-wing politics and what I call unreason. Frankly, suggesting that Manitoba health orders are part of “Communism” is absurd.

I also recognize that historically many anti-vaxxers were left wingers, but I think in this pandemic most belong in the camp of the conservatives. If anyone thinks I am wrong I would ask them to enlighten me.

The father of the young protesters was interviewed by the Carillon News and he said, “The vaccine prevents nothing. Prayer and worship is about the only thing we can do, so that our way is to have a little bit of resistance to the government.” This statement again shows the frequent connection between anti-vaccines, Christianity, and right wing politics—the toxic brew as I have been calling it.

That is the statement that really bothers me. There is plenty of evidence that the vaccines are enormously important at preventing serious illness from the coronavirus. We see it every day in Canada and the US where since the vaccines have become widely available here in North America, the pandemic has largely turned into a pandemic of the unvaccinated.  Doling out misinformation that vaccines don’t help is seriously wrong.  I think the father should be ashamed of himself. I wonder if spreading such misinformation should be a criminal offence. It certainly should not be tolerated.

In a pandemic spreading nonsense or what I have been calling unreason,  can have serious consequences. We should all remember that. Every day in the Southern Bible Belt we have more unreason. It is blossoming. And the flowers are black.

 

Vaccine Unreason in Southern Health Region (Again)

 

I live in the Southern Health Region of Manitoba. While our region is very diverse, it also has many conservative Christians and conservative right wing people as well. I know I have been going on and on about these people and everyday I want to switch to another topic and then something else comes up. This happened again.

Our region also has the lowest rate of Covid-19 vaccinations in the province. Is that a coincidence? Or did that happen for a reason?

Last week, one day there were 56 new Covid-19 cases in Manitoba. Of those 22 were in the Southern Health region even though it only has a population of 211,986 people. Winnipeg, on the other hand, has a population of 791,284 people and it had only 18 new Covid-19 cases. The next day Southern Health had 41 new cases and Winnipeg had 29 new cases.

I think these numbers tell a significant story. What do you think?

At the same time, many people in our region complain how “my rights” are being trampled on by government health restrictions. Really, Winnipeg should complain about the alt-right Christians. Some people no doubt think I have been too hard on the Christian right in southern Manitoba. I think I have been too easy on them.

Since then our region has seen rallies by the Christian alt-right in Winkler and Steinbach. Both were similar with people saying their rights have been trampled on by health restrictions imposed by our government. It is interesting that our government is in fact a conservative government elected be these same people. Imagine how the people would protest if a heathen left-wing government did this to them.

 

One of the Winkler protesters said this: “mask use reduces oxygen levels, that she doesn’t believe in vaccinations and that, as a Christian, she trusts God to protect her from illness.”

The protesters include people of strong faith. The suggest that if they get a vaccine they don’t trust God anymore. They say they trust in God to heal them. That is all the protection they need. Vaccines can’t save them only God can do that. This makes me wonder if they have a tooth ache do they wait for God to heal them or go to a dentist? If they have a broken leg do they go to a doctor? What about if they have sever abdominal pains? Do they not have faith in God that he can heal them? Do they lock their doors when they go away on a holiday or let God protect them? How do they pick and choose what God can heal and what requires expertise? I really would like to know. Perhaps one of my faithful readers can enlighten me.

Hating Facts

 

Sometimes facts are uncomfortable. Sometimes we don’t want to face the facts. And sometimes the facts are so bad that we hate them.

Recently more and more people seem to hate the facts so much they won’t accept them as true. When that happens we are in trouble. As Paul Krugman, an opinion writer in the New York Times and Nobel Prize winning economist said,

“Republicans spent most of 2020 rejecting science in the face of a runaway pandemic; now they’re rejecting democracy in the face of a clear election loss.

What do these rejections have in common? In each case, one of America’s two major parties simply refused to accept facts it didn’t like.”

 

Of course, many in Canada are the same. This is not just an American phenomenon. Many people claim that they don’t believe that wearing a mask to protect against the coronavirus that causes Covid-19 is effective or necessary even though the overwhelming scientific consensus is that they are wrong. Many people in the US claim that the 2020 presidential election was stolen even though there is no evidence to support that claim and even though there is a lot of evidence that tends to debunk it. Paul Krugman said this about the die hard Republicans who still believe the election was stolen:

“the point isn’t that the G.O.P. believes untrue things. It is, rather, that the party has become hostile to the very idea that there’s an objective reality that might conflict with its political goals.

 

It is like a strong religious faith. It cannot be overturned by any facts. Faith works that way. That is why it is so dangerous. In the US, as Krugman also said, “At this point, you aren’t considered a proper Republican unless you hate facts.” It seems to me it is the same with the coronavirus among the deeply evangelical right in southern Manitoba. When Kyle Penner, a Mennonite Pastor in Steinbach gently asked the faithful to get vaccinated because they wanted to see them in church again, he was called a “traitor against Christ.”

In the United States conservatives venerate Ronald Reagan pretty much like a saint. As Krugman said,

“The main point, however, is that under Reagan, irrationality and hatred for facts began to take over the G.O.P. There has always been a conspiracy-theorizing, science-hating, anti-democratic faction in America. Before Reagan, however, mainstream conservatives and the Republican establishment refused to make alliance with that faction, keeping it on the political fringe. Reagan, by contrast, brought the crazies inside the tent. Many people are, I think, aware that Reagan embraced a crank economic doctrine — belief in the magical power of tax cuts. I’m not sure how many remember that the Reagan administration was also remarkably hostile to science.

Reagan’s ability to act on this hostility was limited by Democratic control of the House and the fact that the Senate still contained a number of genuinely moderate Republicans. Still, Reagan and his officials spent years denying the threat from acid rain while insisting that evolution was just a theory and promoting the teaching of creationism in schools. This rejection of science partly reflected deference to special interests that didn’t want science-based regulation. Even more important, however, was the influence of the religious right, which first became a major political force under Reagan, has become ever more central to the Republican coalition and is now a major driver of the party’s rejection of facts — and democracy.”

 

In this blog I have been trying to show that too many of the religious people, though not all, have been content to cast reasoning and evidence based reasoning aside in favour of blind faith. I think that is very dangerous. This is being proved right now during this pandemic. Giving up on critical thinking in favour of faith is dangerous. We do so at our peril. But it is difficult for some people to avoid this tendency. As Krugman said, in reference to the crazy lawsuit that was launched by Texans to challenge the 2021 presidential election won by Joe Biden,

 

“For rejecting facts comes naturally to people who insist that they’re acting on behalf of God. So does refusing to accept election results that don’t go their way. After all, if liberals are servants of Satan trying to destroy America’s soul, they shouldn’t be allowed to exercise power even if they should happen to win more votes. Sure enough, a few days ago the televangelist Pat Robertson — who first became politically influential under Reagan — pronounced the Texas lawsuit a “miracle,” an intervention by God that would keep Trump in office.”

 

I am deeply troubled that a significant part of our population holds so tightly to their convictions that nothing —no conceivable facts–can shake them loose from their beliefs. When beliefs reach such a state, we are in deep trouble. It seems to me we have reached this stage. The rejection of facts by the Christian alt right has been conspicuous during this pandemic. We may yet pay a heavy price for it.

As one of my favourite poets,  W. B. Yeats said, “The Best Lack All Conviction While the Worst Are Full of Passionate Intensity.”

Christians, Conservatives and Unreason

 

I do not think it is a coincidence that so many Christians and Conservatives have had such a mesmerizing journey to unreason. In both cases many among the groups have abandoned all standards of truth seeking. In fact, many in both camps have abandoned truth entirely. Once the standards of truth, and even worse, once all respect for truth itself, have been abandoned in one area such as faith without evidence, or belief in things that are so obviously untrue like stolen elections, it is very difficult to get those important standards back when they are urgently needed. For example, we need them now when we confront an international climate crisis that may be the crucial crisis of our generation, or when we confront an international health pandemic such as Covid-19, it is almost impossible to retrieve those standards no matter how urgent it is to do so.

That is why we must always be so careful not to abandon evidence based decision making and critical thinking Those skill are vitally important.

In the US the conservatives are led by the Republican Party. According to Nobel Prize winning economist Paul Krugman,

“Here’s what we know about American politics: The Republican Party is stuck, probably irreversibly, in a doom loop of bizarro. If the Trump-incited Capitol insurrection didn’t snap the party back to sanity — and it didn’t — nothing will.”

In the U.S. the Republican Party very briefly after the insurrection on January 6, 2021 flirted with the idea of dealing with Trump. Their Senate leader Mitch McConnell said what Trump did was impeachable but then soon abandoned that position and now seems to support him as do so many other of his party. The leader of the party in the House of Representatives also briefly said Biden won the election and Trump bore some responsibility for the attack on Congress but soon began to kiss the ring of Trump. It does not matter that Trump is unhinged. This is how Krugman described the Republicans: “In other words, the G.O.P.’s national leadership, after briefly flirting with sense, has surrendered to the fantasies of the fringe. Cowardice rules.” In Texas the party adopted the QAnon slogan “We are the storm.” QAnon is about as loopy as it get, but the Republicans are close behind. In Oregon the Republicans endorsed the claim that the insurrection on the Capitol was a left-wing false flag operation.

Part of the problem is the incredible rise in extremism fuelled in part by their cheer leaders at Fox News. This is what Krugman said about that,

This opens the door to a process of self-reinforcing extremism (something, by the way, that I’ve seen happen in a minor fashion within some academic subfields). As hard-liners gain power within a group, they drive out moderates; what remains of the group is even more extreme, which drives out even more moderates; and so on. A party starts out complaining that taxes are too high; after a while it begins claiming that climate change is a giant hoax; it ends up believing that all Democrats are Satanist pedophiles.

Like I have been saying, when you give up evidence based decision making, it is difficult to get it back when you need. Republicans show no signs of wanting to get it back. Instead, as Krugman said, “One of America’s two major political parties has parted ways with facts, logic and democracy, and it’s not coming back.”

In Manitoba we are currently plagued by an evidence free zone created by conservatives and Christians particularly in our southern health region where I have the misfortune of living. Particularly in a time of pandemic this sleep of reason is a very dangerous thing.

The Theology of Vaccine Resistance from Winkler to Arkansas

 

I doesn’t matter much whether you look at vaccine resistance in Southern Manitoba or the United States. In either case it has some common characteristics.

For one it is often found among conservative religious people and conservative political people. The common denominator seems to be distrust of government. Allan Levine described it this way in the Winnipeg Free Press:

“You can only shake your head in dismay at such distorted thinking. From Winkler to Arkansas, the unvaccinated, who are now petri dishes for the Delta variant and putting themselves and everyone else at risk, explain their untenable decision (apart from the tiny minority with medical reasons) in a variety of ways. This includes everything from fearing needles and concern about insufficient medical data to believing crazy conspiracy theories about the vaccine being a nefarious plot to implant tracking microchips in arms.

Mostly, though, their position is about not trusting government, often combined with fundamentalist religion (as a Winkler resident put it, “I trust in God. I trust he’ll get us through this”), and anti-intellectualism and anti-science.”

 

In both countries the adherents to the theology of vaccine resistance share similar political views based in deep feelings of mistrust about governments. As Levine said:

 

In the U.S., it is no surprise that these sentiments are most prevalent in Republican-dominated states such as Louisiana, Arkansas, Texas, Wyoming, Florida and Tennessee, where rejecting the effectiveness of the vaccine is official policy — as are the absurd denunciations and threats directed at Dr. Anthony Fauci for his work managing the pandemic and promoting the vaccine (in Florida, the Republican slogan is “Choose Freedom over Faucism” and there are T-shirts emblazoned with “Don’t Fauci my Florida”).

The ideology of vaccine resistance is ultimately based on a rejection of science in favor of fundamental religious beliefs that reject science and evidence based decision making in favor of faith in the cause. For example, in the late 19th century and early 20th century Christians increasingly battled the advocates of scientific reasoning in favor of “truths” learned by faith, which usually involved beliefs that had been inculcated by parents in their children in hopes of assuring for them eternal life and avoiding eternal damnation.

Charles Darwin, perhaps the greatest scientist of all time, developed a theory of evolution by natural selection that had a profound effect on science. His theories were so deep and well argued that they changed the course of history and even religion. Darwin shredded the religious view of the day which presumed that the world we live in was created by God with a divine purpose in mind. This resulted in the igniting of a debate that rocked the 19th century world and continued unabated until at least the famous Scopes trial in 1925.  In many places religious views strained to resist the new science which they felt contradicted their faith. As a result, as Levine said,

“during the summer of 1925 in a small courtroom in Dayton, Tenn., (southeast of Nashville). By then, the very same states whose governments and citizens currently question or reject the vaccine — Tennessee, Oklahoma, Florida, Mississippi, and Arkansas — had passed legislation banning the teaching of evolution.’

 

Today in southern Manitoba communities like Winkler and Steinbach reflect the same trend—namely, conservative evangelical religion and conservative politics, against modern science.  Both groups give a pass to truth seeking in favour of faith based thinking.

 I  know that some believe this is  opinion controversial if not wrong, but it seems to me that everyday in this pandemic there is new evidence that supports it.

Anti-vax Insanity

 

Charles M. Blow of the New York Times has written about unreason in relation of vaccines. He also saw that part of the reason for vaccine hesitancy could be explained by reference to their holder’s political beliefs. Unfortunately, in the United States and Canada, Covid-19 has become a hot political issue. This started when Conservatives asserted that they did not believe Covid-19 was real.  This movement was led by Donald Trump the President of the United States who originally said ‘Covid is a hoax’. He believed and convinced many of his followers that left wing liberals were trying to make him look bad and were trying to interfere with their freedoms. As a result, astonishingly, the richest country in the world became the largest victim of covid-19.

Blow summed up the history this way:

“Nothing better exemplifies the gaping political divide in this country than our embarrassing and asinine vaccine response. Donald Trump’s scorched earth political strategy has fooled millions of Americans into flirting with death. And now thousands are once again dying for it.

Almost from the beginning, efforts to combat the virus were met with disdain from a president who felt the crisis made him look bad. The science was denied. We came to live in a world where masking was mocked and ingesting disinfectant was offered up as a possible cure.”

 

This is what a world messed up by politics looks like. Every day I hear stories about people who refused to take the vaccine for the feeblest of reasons. Repeatedly people distrust physicians and government officials in favour of something they have “learned” from the Internet or their friends. How can that be?

Blow recognized that religion brought with it unreason in its trail. And that was not a pretty sight:

The optics of countless socially distanced funerals is less offensive to those conservatives than the optics of being socially distanced in a Fuddruckers.

It was all lunacy. It is all lunacy. This should never have happened. There are people dead today — a lot of them! — who should still be alive and who would be if people in the heights of government and the heights of the media had not fed them lies about the virus.”

 

 

The result of course is frequently disastrous. As Blow concluded,

So, we have a situation in America where people are dying and will continue to die of ignorance and stubbornness. They are determined to prove that they are right even if it puts them on the wrong side of a eulogy. This is like watching millions of people playing in traffic.

 

As Goya said,” the sleep of reason brings forth monsters.” What else can one expect?

Vaccine Unreason in the Bible Belt

 

I am still trying to answer my friend’s question: ‘Why is there so mu vaccine resistance among conservatives and Christians?’ I think this is a very good question. It is particularly important to me since I live in an area stuffed with Christians and conservatives.

 

Conservatives distrust government. This is particularly true of those born in Eastern Europe where they had very bad experiences with their government. But they came here, to Canada, presumably to get more freedom and better government here. Yet they are also distrustful of Canadian government. I have talked to clients who are convinced the government is out to get them. They really believe that the government is using Covid-19 as an excuse to take away their freedom. Everything governments are in fact doing, such imposing restrictions, points in that direction. Even born in Canada Christians, it seems to me, have a strong tendency to distrust government. Why is that?

This summer I talked to one an acquaintance who comes from a family of fairly conservative Mennonites. They live in Winkler. When the vaccination uptake rate in Winnipeg was 70% in Winnipeg it was only 40% in Winkler. I believe that is because so many of them are conservative Christians who don’t trust the government. Our friend told us recently her father did not believe in Covid-19, but he was very ill with very serious cancer. He was immuno-compromised as they say. If he does get sick, he is likely to die. Meanwhile, his friends and relatives also don’t believe in Covid-19, so when they come to visit him they do not wear masks, nor do they remain socially from each other. Some of her father’s friends in fact actually had Covid-19 and but till did not believe they had it, nor that it was real. Even when they were sick with Covid-19 they disbelieved! Instead they came over to comfort her father, risking his life.

Recently a Christian pastor from Steinbach, Kyle Penner, gave a short invitation to get vaccinated to the community on a TV ad, in a casual non-judgmental manner. He did not castigate or blame the unvaccinated. I found it hard to believe anyone could be offended by his remarks. Yet he was piled on by members of our community. He was called “a traitor to Christianity.” Vicious rumours spread around town about how he had been paid to lie about Covid-19. The only payment he received was a $50 gas voucher to pay for his gas to the TV station in Winnipeg. I would say, the complainers were blinded by unreason. This can happen in the case of religious disputes.

Eventually, he had to close his social media account as he could no longer tolerate the harassment. It was as if he was speaking blasphemy. And that brings up an important point. To many people, one’s identity is tied up to one’s position on Covid-19. Covid-19 beliefs are like religious beliefs. They are sacred in other words and any one attacking them, no matter how gently, is in for a spiritual battle. Those are the worst kinds of battles.

Charles Blow of the New York Times described a similar situation this way:

“All the while, the patients on ventilators gasped for breath, and refrigerated trailers filled with bodies. Death is one of the ultimate truths of life, and yet not even it could dissuade the headstrong from casting doubt on the science.

And then, a miracle.”

 

The miracle of course, was the Coronavirus vaccine. And sadly, much of the Christian right rejected that miracle.

Of course, Blow detected this intimate connection between religious views among evangelicals, political views among conservatives, and the rejection of the science of vaccines. They all had a common thread—they were all religious views, and as a result this meant, in my view at least, that they were not adopted by reasoning or thinking, but instead by inculcation. This is what Blow said,

“As the Delta variant surges, there is an uptick in the pace of vaccinations in the country. It’s almost like religion: Many disbelievers will call out to whatever god there may be when the reaper is at the door. Fear of ideological defeat is no match for the fear of imminent death. And yet, it shouldn’t have taken another surge of sickness and death for good sense to set in.”

I add to this the observation that frequently, such beliefs were in fact just as strong, if not stronger than, the fear of death. As John Loftus observed, the consequence of holding such religious views is that it is not possible to dissuade someone of his or her religious views by reason, because the beliefs were not adopted by reason. Just as you cannot convince a Christian to become a Muslim, or a Muslim to become a Christian, you cannot convince someone to take a vaccine for Covid-19.

 Of course, there is a second religion involved, at least in the United States. This is the religion of Trump. As Blow pointed out,

“Why were Americans turning away a vaccine that many people in other parts of the world were literally dying for? Many did so because of their fidelity to the lie and their fidelity to the liar. They did it because they were — and still are — slavishly devoted to Trump, and because many politicians and conservative commentators helped Trump propagate his lies.”

 

The mixing of religion, politics, and disparagement of science, if not truth, has created a venomous brew. And it will haunt us.