By Annie Laurie Gaylor
Freedom From Religion Foundation
When I was a kid, my mother dubbed me “Miss Malaprop,” a teasing nod to the 18th century character in a play who famously and humorously mistook one similar word for another. Going down in family annals was my Lucy-to-Charlie-Brown style advice to a younger brother not to go swimming after eating. I warned him, “If you do, you’ll get the cranks and start to drown, and the Safeguard might not be able to save you.” (Safeguard was the brand name of a deodorant soap, by the way.)
I’ve recently embarrassed myself with a new malaprop: Several times I’ve caught myself complaining that the anti-vaxxers are why we have not reached “herd mentality.” Of course, I meant herd immunity.
But maybe I’m on to something. Isn’t herd mentality the crux of the problem? Religion, in this case, conservative Christianity, preaches a herd mentality that has driven out reason and science. Years of credence to blind faith, the rewarding of orthodoxy and closed-mindedness has dummied-downed the United States. The Trump era championed the concept of “alternative facts,” that evidence doesn’t matter, that truth and belief are equivalent, that there is no bonafide reality. Is it any surprise that when a major percentage of the population continues to subscribe to creationism that many Americans deny that Covid-19 is real, and is evolving more contagious variants?
What should embarrass, shock and dismay Americans is that many of our elected officials are part of this herd mentality. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, a religious fanatic who has specifically warned FFRF not to “mess with Texas,” unbelievably issued an order banning mask mandates in public schools. Children under 12, of course, are not yet cleared to be vaccinated. As of Aug. 8, there are an average of nearly 12,000 new daily cases. What can Abbott be thinking? Oh, that’s right, Abbott has a habit of not thinking. (That governor is getting to be a bad ‘Abbott.) Only religion could persuade a public official to take such cavalierly reckless and irresponsible actions.
The great Texan and Nobel Laureate, Professor Steven Weinberg, who died last month, had the problem with faith figured out. Weinberg received FFRF’s first Emperor Has No Clothes Award for his genius insight: “Religion is an insult to human dignity. With or without it you would have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things. But for good people to do evil things, that takes religion.” Maybe Abbott doesn’t deserve the moniker “good person,” but his actions certainly qualify as “evil.”
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, governor of the state with the nation’s biggest outbreaks, also just issued an executive order against wearing masks in public schools. Now DeSantis is carrying his powers to the extreme, threatening to cut off funding to schools that enact masking mandates, and withhold paying salaries! FFRF has condemned the despicable political opportunism of his other announcement vowing to let parents move children from any public schools with masking requirements to private, invariably religious schools, at public expense. With about 7 percent of the U.S. population, Florida is hosting about 20 percent of new Covid-19 cases, with a positivity rate of nearly 12 percent. Last week some 84 percent of hospital beds were occupied, according to The Hill. Once again, only religious righteousness could blind a public official to the extent of his harmful actions, perversely flying in the face of the public good.
Then there are the preachers, those “most irresponsible of all talkers,” to quote George Eliot, spouting nutjob nonsense against masking or vaccinations. To provide only one of many examples of irresponsible talk by clergy, just this past weekend preacher Joshua Feuerstein, — who was at Washington, D.C., during the Jan. 6 Capitol putsch — told his mega-church sheep that “you don’t have to wear the mask, you got Jesus. You don’t need the vaccine, you got Jesus.” If they follow their pastor’s wacky advice, some of them will “come to Jesus” sooner than they expected.
Fortunately, resistance is growing, with Dallas schools defying Abbott’s order and the Southern Center for Child Advocacy filing suit. Likewise several suits have been filed in Florida.
Unfortunately, the delta variant — a side effect of America’s fizzling vaccination rate, still only at 50 percent fully vaccinated — is also growing. And the numbers show us who’s responsible for the spread of the pandemic: It’s the religious conservatives and the folks living in states that voted for Donald Trump, who are basically one and the same. White evangelicals are the most opposed to being vaccinated of any religious group. Similarly, Republicans, who have the highest percentage of believers and the lowest percentage of unaffiliated among their ranks, are the most likely to refuse the Covid-19 vaccine, according to a PRRI/Interfaith Youth Core poll.
The genuine threat isn’t the novel coronavirus — the perpetual danger is the ancient virus of religion. The only safeguard against religious crankery is freethought — the willingness to critique religion based on reason, rather than faith, tradition or authority. Only then will we achieve a “herd mentality” that embraces herd immunity.