September 29, 2021
The current COVID19 pandemic has created an enormous challenge to the public and private health care system in the United States, and contributed to economic inequality in our nation. Christian leaders as well as many government leaders and legislators, doctors, economists and sociologists are trying to respond to the uncertainty and questions of today’s society in the face of this pandemic.
The Christian Faith does not have all the scientific or medical answers to the challenges that COVID19 is presenting. For many evangelical believers, the following questions arose:
How is it possible that we had to stop gathering in the temples to worship God because of the possibility of infection by a microorganism?
Where is God in the midst of all this? And what about the gifts of healing given to the church? Is it possible to reconcile the crucified and suffering Christ of Catholic theology with the triumphant Christ of the resurrection of Protestant and evangelical theology?
If history shows us anything, it is that it is cyclical, or as the Hebrew wisdom literature expresses it:
“What is what was? The same that will be. What has been done? The same that will be made; and there is nothing new under the sun.”
“Is there anything of which it can be said, Behold, this is new? It was already in the ages that have gone before us.” (Ecclesiastes 1:9-10. NKJV1960).
The Reformer Martin Luther and the bubonic plague.
At the height of Martin Luther’s reformation, the bubonic plague struck Europe in 1527 and caused millions of deaths, since there were no advances in modern medicine, this presented a challenge to the young reformer and he responded in a letter to the Reverend Dr. John Hess, his friend and confidant, which is recorded in the book of Luther’s works, volume 43, page 132 “If one can flee from a deadly plague” and which quotes Luther as follows:
“I will ask God mercifully to protect us. Then I will fumigate, help purify the air, administer medicine and take it. I will avoid places and people where my presence is not necessary so as not to contaminate myself and thereby inflict and contaminate others and thus cause their death as a result of my negligence. If God wanted to take me, He would surely find me and I have done what He expected of me, so I am responsible neither for my own death nor for the death of others. However, if my neighbor needs me, I will not avoid the place or the person, but will go freely as stated above. See, this is such a God-fearing faith because it is not shameless or reckless and does not tempt God.”
For many Christians of Luther’s time the bubonic plague was a judgment of God, some fled with great fear to other towns and cities and spread the plague, some thought that the time of the end had come, so the reformer considered it necessary to guide in this letter what should be the role of the ministers of the gospel.
The Corona Virus: Conspiracy Theories.
At the beginning of the pandemic many conspiracy theories circulated and unfortunately many of these were accepted by many evangelicals, for reasons of space we will only mention three of the most popular ones.
First, the theory that the virus was a U.S. invention to harm China became very popular among many, its proponents arguing that the U.S. used this biological weapon to stop China’s economic growth, but as the weeks progressed and it became clear that the U.S. was one of the most affected countries, and then the noise of this theory died down.
Secondly, the theory that the virus was a Chinese invention to harm the United States, and eventually displace that nation from first place as an economic power. Some media outlets referred to Covid19 as the “Chinese virus”, a xenophobic expression that contributed to the increase verbal and physical aggressions against people of Asian origin in the US.
In third place, and perhaps the most popular of all, the theory that the virus is an invention of Bill Gates, the billionaire owner and co-founder of the Microsoft company, this because in a TED TALK conference in the city of San Francisco in 2015, where the philanthropist who has donated billions of dollars to science, and the fight against hunger and poverty, warned that the greatest threat to humanity was not a nuclear war, but most likely some kind of infectious disease caused by a deadly virus. The video on YouTube where Gates makes these statements went viral with millions of views.
On the Internet many echoed the false news that Gates was associated with the pharmaceutical laboratory Pirbright Institute of England, and that they had obtained the patent of the virus, the theory implicates Gates as a financer of the institute and in trying to profit economically with the creation of a vaccine to prevent the spread of the virus. The Pirbrigth Institute had to clarify that its research is not related to human viruses, but is focused on obtaining a vaccine to prevent or cure respiratory diseases in farm animals.
Social networks and conspiracy theories.
One of the biggest challenges, after the pandemic itself, is misinformation, in part due to the access to social networks that has given us the facility to express our opinions and share information, something that was previously reserved only for communication professionals in radio, television or printed newspapers.
The challenge is that now anyone can share information through the various social networks, often misrepresented or simply false information, which ironically spreads even faster than the virus itself, one of the greatest challenges of humanity, the pandemic of misinformation. Many conspiracy theories were widely circulated on YouTube, Facebook and other social networks.
The reason why people spread rumors, fake news, without having scientific evidence at hand was the subject of study by a team of researchers, including: Gordon Pennycook, Jonathon McPhetres, Yunhao Zhang & David G. Rand, from the Hill Levene School of Business, the psychology department at the University of Regina. The School of Business, the Institute for Data and Statistics, the Department of Cognitive and Brain Sciences at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Two studies in the United States involved 1,600 people from different social, educational, economic, racial and gender backgrounds, as well as geographic location.
The main conclusion of the study was that:
“People share false claims about Covid19 is in part because they simply do not think enough about whether or not the content is truthful when deciding what to share on their social networks.”
Study 1 indicated that participants were very bad at discerning between true and false content when deciding what to share on social media when asked directly about the accuracy of the information. Participants who possessed greater knowledge of science showed more analytical thinking and were more demanding in their beliefs and sharing of information.
In study 2, they found that a simple reminder at the beginning of the study asking participants to judge the accuracy of the headline related to Covid19 doubled the level of truth discernment in participants’ social media sharing intentions. The result suggests that motivating people on the accuracy or truthfulness of information is a simple way to improve choices about what people share on social networks.
On the other hand, the social platforms implemented some measures that have had a positive impact on reducing the large amount of misinformation about the current covid19 pandemic. Facebook Vice President Guy Rosen posted the following in a blog post on April 16, 2020:
“We will begin displaying news feed messages to people who have liked, reacted or commented on misinformation about covid19 that we have since removed. These messages will connect people to Covid19 myths debunked by the World Health Organization (WHO), including those we have removed from our platform for causing imminent physical harm. We want to connect people who may have interacted with harmful misinformation about the virus with the truth from authoritative sources in case they see or hear these claims again outside of Facebook. People will start to see these messages in the coming weeks.”
So the next time you receive via YouTube or WhatsApp or any social network the latest conspiracy theory, it is best to ask yourself before forwarding it, without even thinking about it, is this information confirmed by serious and credible sources?
Mission Talk Editorial Team