In Bnei Brak, a suburb of Tel Aviv, where 95% of the residents are Ultra-Orthodox Jews, as many as 40% of the residents are infected with Covid-19. Ignoring the pleas of Israeli authorities and instead listening to the directions of their religious leaders who told him there was nothing for them to fear from the Coronavirus because God would protect them, Ultra-Orthodox Jews continued to gather in large numbers and even violently protest against measures designed to force them to accept social distancing.
In Louisiana and Florida in the United States, three Christian evangelical pastors have consistently refused to stop holding large church gatherings. This even though all three men have been charged by the police with not following public orders against large gatherings. Tony Spell, of Life Tabernacle Church in Baton Rouge not only dismissed the charges but insisted he would hold an even larger gathering on Easter. When asked by the media why he would not follow the governor’s warnings, Spell replied “We have a mandate from the word of the Lord to gather together.” Like all Trumpistas, he believes the pandemic is “politically motivated.”
Hobby Lobby, the right-wing Christian-owned arts and craft store in the US tried to evade orders to close in various states calling itself an “essential business.” David Green, the founder of Hobby Lobby, in a message to employees, said God had told his wife Barbara to push ahead and He would protect them. Hobby Lobby has since been forced to close all stores and furlough all workers…without any pay.
In the Iranian city of Qom, a group of “angry radicals” raided the shrine of Fatima Masumeh after the doors had been locked in order to protect the public against the spread of the Coronavirus. These radicals saw the closing of this shrine and others as a betrayal of their Islamic beliefs and called for an end to restrictions. They, of course, insist that their belief in God will protect them.
While organizing an all Sunni gathering in Lahore, Pakistan, Muhammad Ashraf Asif Jalali, a Pakistan cleric, insisted that “no man can get sick as per the will of God” and that if anyone did get sick at his conference the government should “hang him.”
In India, where Prime Minister Modi has imposed at least a three-week lockdown, members of his Hindu-supremacist party are still planning religious festivals.
In South Korea, a Christian evangelical doomsday church known as the Shincheonji Church of Jesus (which of course believes it is the one, true church – don’t they all) held a meeting in Daegu in early February where thousand of people sat closely packed together to pray. Their religious leaders would not let them wear face masks and told them they didn’t need to fear the disease. One 61 year-old woman, known as a super spreader, infected so many of her co-religionists, she is responsible for half of the Covid-19 cases in South Korea.
As a reporter in one Middle Eastern newspaper put it in a statement that applies to the entire world “Fundamentalist forces have a vice-like grip on the hearts and minds of large swathes of the global population.”
Misleading Their Followers
This is not a tirade against religion. While I don’t personally follow any religious tradition and don’t think that any amount of prayer will protect you from Covid-19 if you are a “covidiot,” it’s easy to see the value of religion in a time of global confusion. When people don’t know if they’ll get sick or if they’ll lose love ones or friends to the disease, religion provides an important measure of support. At a time when any port in a storm makes it easier to deal with this life-threatening cataclysm, religion can play a constructive role for many people.
It is not, however, a good thing when religion is used by unethical and despicable religious leaders to increase their power over their followers and to insist that they know better than science. Ultimately, all these charlatans fall back on the same claim – God will protect you. These religious leaders want us to believe that they have a direct line to the creator of their choosing who is giving them special instructions to hold these large gatherings or to ignore safety warnings.
Well, the Lord helps those who help themselves. It is perfectly possible to continue to practice religious beliefs by yourself in a time of global uncertainty. On the other hand, listening to these phony religious blowhards of any creed, who instruct followers to gather in large numbers, can become a death sentence for them or for others that they know and love.
It’s time for authorities in all countries to crack down on these religious hooligans. When we face a situation where a person’s religious beliefs can ultimately infect or kill many others, the religious belief must be superseded by the safety of others.