by Nick Gier
It is our moral duty as Muslims that we take all steps necessary to safeguard ourselves and others around us from this terrible disease.—The Fiqh Council of America
Protecting human life overrides almost every other Jewish value.—The Rabbinical Assembly of America
We believed we were supermen. We hid the fact that we’d been infected by the virus and were led to the grave. Pious egotism kills!—Greek Orthodox Bishop Anthimos of Alexandroupolis
Faith leaders around the world have, by and large, have been cooperating with their government’s coronavirus protocols. However, radical Muslim leaders have joined with evangelical Christians, Greek Orthodox Christians, and ultra-Orthodox Jews in rejecting science-based rules. Before providing more details, I would first like to give you a coronavirus up-date.
Last month soon-to-be Ex-President Trump complained that “the Fake News media is not talking about the fact that Covid is running wild all over the world, not just in the U.S.” This is a candid confession of a fake president who has been saying for months that the virus will disappear. Several days later Trump reversed himself declaring that the end of the pandemic was just “around the curve.”
Virus Cases in Europe Down Significantly
Our news media have in fact been reporting about a recent spike in virus cases in Europe, but the reinstitution of restrictions (including places of worship) in every country has led, in some instances, to significant reductions. Trump gloated that Germany has experienced a sharp increase in virus deaths, but he neglected to check the overall rates: 886 Americans per million have died in contrast to 241 per million in Germany.
France went from over 86,000 virus daily cases on November 1 to about 14,000 in one month. During the same time period, Spain has gone from over 48,000 to about 17,000, hard-hit Belgium has come down from 24,000 to 2,000, and the United Kingdom and The Netherlands have cut new cases by more than half.
American Infects 59 in Germany
New virus cases in Germany have begun to taper off, but officials in Bavaria, Germany’s southern state, have issued stay-at-home orders for all residents. At least 59 virus cases have been traced to an American woman who broke curfew and held a “corona party” with her friends. Prosecutors are investigating and reported that she could face a fine of $2,425.
Sweden’s Attempt at Herd Immunity Fails
Americans on the right, led by Sen. Rand Paul, have touted Sweden for their hands-off approach to the virus. The good senator is now encouraging people to become infected so as to achieve “herd immunity.” At his December 8th Vaccine Summit, Trump declared that the U.S. was approaching immunity because 15 percent of Americans had tested positive. Experts, however, say that 70 percent is more accurate and that millions would die in the process.
Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar has insisted that “herd immunity is not the strategy of the U.S. government,” but Paul Alexander, one of Azar’s top deputies, in a July 4 memo urged that the “deliberate infection of infants, kids, teens, young people, young adults, middle aged with no conditions. We will use them to develop herd immunity. We want them infected.”
After months of rising deaths (seven times higher than its Nordic neighbors), Sweden is nowhere near herd immunity, and it is now facing a major health crisis as every ICU unit in the capital Stockholm is now occupied. Stockholm’s infection rate is 20 percent as opposed to 4 percent for New York City. With about the same population as Tennessee, where 19 percent have tested positive, Sweden has suffered 26 percent more deaths.
Resistance from Some Greek Orthodox Priests
Since the outbreak of COVID-19, Greece has had very few infections and has avoided lock-down. It now has seen 100,000 new cases since September 6. At the end of November, the Greek Orthodox Archbishop Ieronymos was released from the hospital after 12 days of virus treatment. Chastened by the illness, he announced that Greeks should “restrict yourselves, discipline yourselves, follow the rules.”
Greek Orthodox Communion bread is soaked in wine from a common spoon, and many priests have preached that the sacrament would prevent infections. Bishop Anthimos of Alexandroupolis has criticized these priests calling their sermons “criminal.” It is suspected that many clergymen are hiding the number of who are virus positive, but at least six bishops have tested positive and one has died.
North of Greece in Montenegro, tens of thousands attended, mostly unmasked and shoulder to shoulder, the funeral of a Greek Orthodox patriarch, who had resisted virus protocols and died of the disease. Hundreds of attendees rushed to the open casket trying to kiss the body. Two other bishops in that region are also virus fatalities.
U.S. Cases Indeed “Running Wild”
Primary because of Trump and his fellow virus minimalists, our cases are indeed “running wild.” Our death rate is considerably higher than Sweden’s, and about 100 million Americans live in areas where ICU units are near capacity. Our case numbers have doubled in the last two months, and our deaths, as of December 16, was 306,014.
With 4.25 percent of the world’s population we have 19 percent of the coronavirus deaths and 23 percent of the world’s cases. Even with the vaccine, virus deaths are expected to double by March 2021 and will easily exceed the 1918 total of 675,000. This is a total embarrassment for the U.S., which used to be a world leader in fighting infectious diseases, and Trump will be the main reason for this national disaster.
No Mask Mandate Equals High Infection Rates
Those states with highest infection rate are Idaho (51%), South Dakota (49%), Kansas (40%), and Iowa (37%). (Significantly, only Kansas has a mask mandate.) The national average is 12 percent, but six blue states come in at 3 percent and below. About a month ago some Midwest counties had higher rates of infection than 185 other countries.
One commentator reported that these counties were high consumers of right-wing news and voted overwhelming for Trump. Nurses in these states despair at the number of patients who refuse to believe that they are dying of the “hoax” virus. Some nurses are spat and coughed on and some patients even demand that the nurses remove their PPEs.
Indonesian and Philippine Religious Leaders Comply
Most Pacific Rim countries from Australia and New Zealand north to Japan have defeated COVID-19 with comprehensive testing, contact tracing, and mask wearing. (Small outbreaks have been controlled by these strict guidelines.) The exceptions are The Philippines and Indonesia, which have by far the highest virus death rates in the region.
In Indonesia, the world’s largest moderate Muslim majority nation, imams agreed to close their mosques and prohibit the return to home villages to celebrate Ramadan. The Philippine Catholic Church has responded wisely and has stopped the distribution of the sacraments and the kiss of peace, and the Muslim minority accepted mosque closures during the summer lockdown.
Religious Leaders in India also Cooperate
Even India, which reported increasing case numbers during the summer, has cut that number in half. Hindu temples, mosques, and churches were closed in March, reopened in June, and then closed again in most states. All faith leaders have been remarkably cooperative. The lowest number of cases and deaths have occurred in Kerala, which has the best health system in the developing world and where a large Catholic minority operates most of the hospitals.
Another success story has occurred in Mumbai’s largest slum, where Muslim clerics and doctors have distributed masks and enforced sanitation rules based on Koranic cleanliness principles. As Dr. Anwar Sheikh explains: “Along with clerics, we’ve been telling people if they survive it will be a reward for their willingness to embrace science and Allah’s decree.”
Nearby Pakistan, which has a large Muslim majority, has been frustrated in its attempts to control the virus. Over 80 percent of the mosques in Punjab state have refused to abide by government guidelines that recommended that attendance be severely limited, and that daily prayers be performed at home.
Israel’s and NYC’s Ultra-Orthodox Jews Resist
As Israelis faced their second wave, the country shut down again on September 14. At that time, when Israeli diplomats appeared at the White House for a ceremony celebrating a Middle East peace deal, they were the only ones wearing masks.
Israel’s ultra-Orthodox Jews, who make up 10% of the population, have accounted for over one-third of the country’s infections. Even with their resistance, Israel has managed to reduce its case numbers from 9,051 to 572 over two months. Lockdowns obviously work.
Just as in Israel, Mayor de Blasio has been frustrated by the city’s ultra-Orthodox Jews, who, although only 7 percent of the population, have experienced 20 percent of the new infections in the past month. The city fined them $1,500 (not nearly enough in my mind) for staging a wedding at which 7,000 attended—unmasked and shoulder to shoulder.
Korean Evangelical Churches are Super Spreaders
Korea has experienced super spreader events in its evangelical churches. In February, the center of this outbreak was the 245,000-member Shincheonji Church, which was initially responsible for 1,261 cases. By means of contact tracing, a total of 5,200 virus positives led back to this church—63 percent of Korea’s cases at the time. Recently, another evangelical church was responsible for 312 cases, which again was the major portion of the nation’s new infections.
Many U.S. Evangelicals Refuse to Comply
America’s evangelical churches have also become virus hot spots. In Charlotte, North Carolina, at least 187 cases and eight deaths have been attributed to two large convocations at the United House of Prayer for All People. Health authorities have forced the church to shut down, but its members are not cooperating in efforts at contact tracing. Across North Carolina 96 religious gatherings have been responsible for an additional 1,407 cases and 19 deaths.
Calvary Chapel in San Jose, California has been fined over $1 million for coronavirus violations, but, nevertheless, it received $340,400 in PPE loans from the federal government. The pastor at Destiny Church in Sacramento, California praised the December Supreme Court decision in favor of churches and synagogues in New York City as supporting a “biblical mandate” to gather. The ruling, however, made it clear that congregants still had to mask up and practice social distancing, which ultra-Orthodox Jews were not doing.
North Idaho Church Defies Virus Rules
Members of Moscow’s Christ Church are bragging about the fact that none of its unmasked 1,100 members or Christian school pupils has been hospitalized with the virus. I would like to know, however, how many are virus positive, or given their dismissive view of testing, how many have refused to be tested.
The Moscow restaurant Tapped, owned by a church member, was closed for two weeks because of virus infections, and recently the owner declared that he would resist any further government restrictions. In late November, he and Christ Church leaders appeared together with Idaho Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin in a news conference where they objected to Gov. Brad Little’s virus restrictions.
Historians will look back at America’s Great Pandemic and conclude that libertarians, most calling themselves Christians and preferring individual liberty over public health, were the main cause of tens of thousands of unnecessary deaths.
Nick Gier is professor emeritus of philosophy at the University of Idaho. He was Coordinator of Religious Studies from 1980 to 2003. Read his columns on Moscow’s Christ Church at webpages.uidaho.edu/ngier/Wilson.htm. His coronavirus columns are at http://nfgier.com (search “coronavirus”). Email him at ngier006∂gmail.com.