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.