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Are Evangelicals “Crippling” Our Coronavirus Response?

Yep, according to this New York Times op-ed by Katherine Stewart:

This denial of science and critical thinking among religious ultraconservatives now haunts the American response to the coronavirus crisis.

Stewart, whose disdain for evangelicals is passionate, objects particularly to the President’s invocation of Easter rather than “mid-April”:

Mr. Trump’s expressed hope that the country would be “opened up and just raring to go by Easter.” He could, of course, have said, “by mid-April.” But Mr. Trump did not invoke Easter by accident, and many of his evangelical allies were pleased by his vision of “packed churches all over our country.” 

“I think it would be a beautiful time,” the president said.

Perhaps a Presidential wish that we will be back to business by Earth Day would have mollified Ms. Stewart. 

When a strong centralized response is needed from the federal government, it doesn’t help to have an administration that has never believed in a federal government serving the public good. Ordinarily, the consequences of this kind of behavior don’t show up for some time. In the case of a pandemic, the consequences are too obvious to ignore.

Experts and Officials

Stewart goes on to excoriate a few evangelical pastors and government officials for overly optimistic statements in the early days of the pandemic. Her silence on the dismissals of the pandemic by decidedly secular experts is noteworthy. Experts without a wisp of evangelical fervor confidently encouraged citizens to travel, mingle in crowds, and shop with renewed passion. Notably, several of these experts and government officials made their pandemic-denying pronouncements in New York City, which is now ground zero for COVID-19 in the United States. 

Scapegoating Evangelicals

Several thoughts come to mind:

  1. It’s reprehensible for Stewart to write, and the New York Times to publish, a partisan political hit using the pretext of the pandemic. There have been misjudgments galore on COVID-19, and those of secular experts and government officials are far more pervasive and deadlier than those of (a few) pastors and Christian politicians. Why were our borders for so long open to individuals traveling from Wuhan and regions afflicted with this pandemic? What did the CDC do to prevent this scourge? Our scientific experts knew in November that this deadly virus was raging in China. Did they recommend a travel ban on individuals likely to be infected? Did they recommend preparation for the necessary medical response? What exactly did they know, when did they know it, and what did they do about it?
  2. Stewart has it exactly wrong on global warming skepticism. A more thoughtful evidence-based scientific skepticism about hyped apocalypses like global warming would have freed the scientific community and the government to focus resources on real dangers to Americans, like viral pandemics. New York City hasn’t been inundated by rising seas or baked by scorching heat, but it has been deluged by COVID-19. Has allocation of money for research on threats to our citizens been based on real science, or on hysteria fed by ideologically hyped “consensus”? For example, from 2003 to 2010, the U.S. Federal Government spent $106.7 billion on global warming-related projects. How much was spent on protection from viral pandemics? Might those billions have been better spent on protection from pandemics? Global warming skeptics would say: the question answers itself.
  3. The fundamental cause of this deadly pandemic is the incompetence, corruption, and malice of the Chinese scientific and political establishment. China’s handling of this crisis is textbook politicized junk science — the perversion of science to accomplish political ends. The few courageous Chinese doctors and scientists who did speak up to warn of this epidemic were silenced by the Chinese government and scientific establishment. In an interview before his death, Li Wenliang, the Chinese doctor who warned of the pandemic before he died fighting it, gave eloquent voice to skeptics who speak out about the “scientific consensus”: 

“I think a healthy society should not only have one kind of voice.”

Stewart, in scapegoating evangelicals, ignores the salient scientific and ideological source of this pandemic. 

It’s Not Evangelicalism

China is hardly a cauldron of evangelical fervor. The source of this pandemic is the largest and most fervent atheist nation on earth. China’s scientific culture is atheist through-and-through, and is infested with Darwinism, which spread to China in the early 20th century: 

Yan Fu (1854-1921), a famous Chinese thinker, was the first to introduce Darwinian theories to China. He is well-known for his translation, first published in 1898, of Thomas Huxley’s Evolution and Ethics, which not only initiated dissemination of the idea of biological evolution in China, but also had a far-reaching social impact on disseminating science, intellectual enlightenment, and the ideas of reform and social revolutions.

COVID-19 didn’t arise from a Baptist church barbecue in Alabama. It’s (another) wholly secular Chernobyl. Anti-Christian bigots like Katherine Stewart use this crisis to misrepresent the real incompetence and corruption that unleashed this plague on the world. The cause of this crisis is secular, and it is a secular scientific culture notably free of evangelicals. We need to be honest about where and how this pandemic arose, and it is reprehensible to blame it on evangelicals who are on the front lines of the battle against this plague. There are tens of millions of evangelical Americans — nurses and aides and doctors and truck drivers and stock boys and workers with myriad skills who daily risk their lives providing food and services and health care in the eye of this pandemic, and for whom their Christian faith is an indispensable source of strength. 

Evangelicals didn’t cause this plague, and we desperately need the courage and wisdom that evangelicals have always brought to bear against pandemics. Millions of evangelicals work as we speak to save lives, and they deserve better than this slander. We would be wise, when this crisis subsides, to look closely at the real ideological and scientific “consensus” — a wholly secular consensus — that inflicted this misery on humanity. 

Michael Egnor

Senior Fellow, Center for Natural & Artificial Intelligence
Michael R. Egnor, MD, is a Professor of Neurosurgery and Pediatrics at State University of New York, Stony Brook, has served as the Director of Pediatric Neurosurgery, and award-winning brain surgeon. He was named one of New York’s best doctors by the New York Magazine in 2005. He received his medical education at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons and completed his residency at Jackson Memorial Hospital. His research on hydrocephalus has been published in journals including Journal of Neurosurgery, Pediatrics, and Cerebrospinal Fluid Research. He is on the Scientific Advisory Board of the Hydrocephalus Association in the United States and has lectured extensively throughout the United States and Europe.