Conspiracy Theories, Scapegoating And The Coronavirus

Conspiracy Theories, Scapegoating And The Coronavirus March 4, 2021

Kches16414: Combating Anti-Asian Conspiracy Theories / Wikimedia Commons

Conspiracy theories develop when people do not want to believe some inconvenient truth. They want to find an alternative truth which they can hold onto which does not inconvenience them. This often leads to the search for a scapegoat, finding someone to blame for a particular crisis, so that instead of doing what needs to be done in order to deal with the crisis itself, society is encouraged to attack the scapegoats. Since this does not deal with the crisis, the crisis worsens, even as a new problem develops as those who are blameless for the crisis are held responsible for it and are punished, one way or another, for the crisis itself. We can see this pattern especially when conspiracy theories embrace xenophobia and racism, so that innocent peoples suffer terribly at the hands of conspiracy theorists, and if society embraces conspiracy theory instead of the truth, those who are blamed find society persecuting them relentlessly, until at last, someone comes up with a “final solution” which seeks their elimination from the world.

This is exactly what we have seen around the coronavirus. Many people do not want to believe that a virus can develop on its own and cause havoc around the world. They do not want to believe that the spread of the virus is natural, and so they either deny the spread itself (saying the virus is a hoax), or they suggest various conspiratorial plots where nefarious groups of people are claimed to be behind the creation of the virus so as to use the virus to change the world. They do not want to believe the truth about the virus because it means they have to change their ways, to act in ways to take care, not only of themselves, but of their neighbors. They don’t want to be told what to do in order contain the virus. The pandemic is an inconvenience, and instead of blaming themselves and their own actions for its continuous threat, they either want people to believe it is not real, or believe that someone else is truly to blame and those who created the virus must be made to pay for what it has done.

It is with this mentality we see how many have embraced a racist ideology around coronavirus, suggesting it is the creation of Chinese Scientists, and so use Asians (not just the Chinese) as scapegoats. Trump certainly fueled the fire by the way he discussed the coronavirus. He didn’t want to acknowledge his policy failures and so, like normal, he had to push all the blame away from himself, and he did so by promoting xenophobia against Asians. We see the consequences of this in the way Asian Americans have found themselves treated in the United States, with a stark increase in hate crimes against them, many of which have left innocent people dead, as Cady Lang explained in Time:

Since the start of the pandemic last spring, Asian Americans have faced racist violence at a much higher rate than previous years. The NYPD reported that hate crimes motivated by anti-Asian sentiment jumped 1,900% in New York City in 2020. Stop AAPI Hate, a reporting database created at the beginning of the pandemic as a response to the increase in racial violence, received 2,808 reports of anti-Asian discrimination between March 19 and December 31, 2020. The violence has continued into 2021, and President Joe Biden signed an executive order denouncing anti-Asian discrimination shortly after taking office in January. While anti-Asian violence has taken place nationwide and particularly in major cities, the uptick in attacks in 2021 has been particularly focused in the Bay Area, especially in San Francisco and Oakland’s Chinatowns.[1]

The Christian response to the mistreatment of Asians (Americans or otherwise) must be to combat the racism and xenophobia which lies behind that mistreatment. Christians must denounce the hate. “The Church reproves, as foreign to the mind of Christ, any discrimination against men or harassment of them because of their race, color, condition of life, or religion.”[2] We must heed the words of Pope St. John Paul II:

To oppose racism we must practice the culture of reciprocal acceptance, recognizing in every man and woman a brother or sister with whom we walk in solidarity and peace. There is need for a vast work of education to the values that exalt the dignity of the human person and safeguard his fundamental rights. The Church intends to continue her efforts in this area, and asks all believers to make their own responsible contribution of conversion of heart, sensitization and formation. [3]

Christians must denounce the scapegoating which has put the lives of Asians at risk; Christians must encourage people to take on the truth of the coronavirus: nature can produce dangerous viruses, and if the danger implicit behind any dangerous virus is not acknowledged and properly dealt with, people, many people, will die. When dealing with a crisis, we can’t act as if things are normal; we can’t scream about our wants and desires, demanding their fulfillment, if those wants and desires help in the spread of the virus and end up with mass deaths. Christians must denounce all attempts to divert our attention from dealing with the true problem, the virus, for otherwise, not only will many innocents suffer abuse, but what needs to be done to put an end to the threat of the coronavirus will be ignored, and the virus will continue to spread, causing worse problems in the future as it mutates and becomes worse. And if Christians are not a part of the solution, they will find they are a part of the problem, no longer being the salt of the earth Christ intended them to be.


[1] Cady Lang, “Hate Crimes Against Asian Americans Are on the Rise. Many Say More Policing Isn’t the Answer,” in Time (2-18-2021).

[2] Nostra Aetate. Vatican translation. ¶5.

[3] Pope St. John Paul II, “Angelus” (8-26-2001). Vatican translation. ¶3.

 

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